R A C H E L A. L E V I N E
CREATIVE WRITER & Visual Artist
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When I was seven my mother made a powder blue leather suit for my Barbie Doll. But first she had hand-knitted a smart tweed suit for her as well. To my mother, suits were “classy.” A woman could be a lady and be sexy at the same time. In her powder blue leather suit with mother-of-pearl buttons as small as babies’ fingernails, my Barbie was attired to chair the board and then go out for a night on the town.
I’ve referred to that suit before, but I haven’t actually thought about it for years; I mean really remembered it. The way it felt in my hands; the leather not that soft, but not hard either. It had a little give. That faint leather smell when I brought it to my nose. The pale blue lining with just a hint of a stripe. But now I am missing my mother so terribly that I seem to be grabbing for the tangible things of our life together. Perhaps this is a stage of grief not written about. Beyond denial and acceptance. This is the powder blue leather suit stage. And the truth is, I wish I still had it.
In fact, I have no idea what happened to it or to the knitted suit, or to the doll herself. At seven I had a happy family consisting of father, mother, live-in grandmother, two brothers and a turtle named Herman who lived in my room, sheltered by a green plastic umbrella. My Barbie doll had an equally secure if more sophisticated existence. Her wardrobe was the envy of all the other Barbies on our Brooklyn block whose own clothes all came shrink-wrapped from musty toy stores. But by nine, everything had changed. There was a divorce full of rancor and betrayal, suicide attempts, “other” women and the chronic moving from place to place. In one of those many moves perhaps I left behind that powder blue suit, and in another, perhaps I left its knitted companion, and finally, I suppose, in one of those moves, I left behind the doll herself.
Long before she died, I asked my mother if she had any idea what had become of my doll and her outrageous wardrobe and my mother admitted she did not.
“But those were crazy times,” she added. Then she asked, “Do you remember that blue leather suit?” as if she herself could not quite believe she had ever had the time, the patience, and the eyesight to hand-make clothes for a sixteen inch doll. But she had. She had also made thirty-three unique construction paper birthday hats for my third grade class one June, to accompany the hand made birthday cupcakes with sprinkles, and cookies with faces. Then she surprised me by re-decorating my room so when I came home from school one sunny afternoon, suddenly I had the red and white room I had longed for. It was a longing she understood well, having had so very little herself as a child. A shoe box and one doll kept her imagination alive for a long time. And here I was with a red and white bedspread, red and white checked linoleum and red fiberglass curtains that filtered the sun in a way that made me feel sad and excited all at the same time.
Things meant more to her than they do to me, I realize now that she is gone and I have so many of her things that I don’t know what to do with. She saved all the trinkets and cheap statuettes her children had given her over the years. She displayed, and dusted, some awful objects, many hideous, others just ridiculous. I am more like my father, inclined to throw things away. I collect nothing and cringe in antique stores. Hobbies that involve creating and then, God forbid, displaying objects, fill me with dread. The junk mail doesn’t even make it to the kitchen table. I clean out my closets regularly. I am merciless with broken objects that might "one day" get fixed.
But oh, to have my old Barbie doll back, and her hand-made powder blue leather suit, and the unexpected joy of an ordinary school day afternoon with my mother at home making tuna casserole and planning the most wonderful things for me and my Barbie.
Copyright 2018 Rachel A Levine