The question didn’t truly hit me until about a week ago. As we (“he” as I’ll call him and myself) stood outside of the bar on a warmer-than-usual winter night my mind raced as I pictured the object sitting gracefully at the foot of my bed.
Me: Are you home?
Erica: Yes ma’am
Me: Can you please movie Julie?! I’m coming home!
Erica: Yes of course!!
Me: Omg thank you thank you
Erica: Got her
A minor favor from my roommate saved me from what I assumed would be extreme embarrassment if he saw it—or should I say her—sitting in my room, as noticeable as the collage of pictures on my wall or the colorful rolling rack of clothes in the corner.
I brought my childhood doll, Julie, with me to college when I moved into my dorm freshman year. This didn’t shock my parents or my two older brothers, considering Julie was practically the sixth member of our family when I was growing up. This surprisingly didn’t shock my new roommate either, and after a few weeks of small talk and getting to know each other, one night we had a conversation about our respective childhood objects. She slept with an old teddy bear, which was an immediate bonding moment between us as I was relieved I wasn’t the only six-year-old trapped inside of an eighteen-year-old’s body.
As the conversation came to a natural end you could hear the tiredness in our voices.
“When do you think we’ll stop sleeping with them, though?” I wondered aloud.
“...I guess when we start sleeping next to someone else, permanently” my roommate said between slight chuckles of laughter.
“Haha, so true” I responded, though still very much confused in my head. Well that’s not happening anytime soon.
“Oh well. ‘Night Sar.”
It almost seemed unfathomable to imagine sharing a bed with someone for the rest of our lives, especially given the twin-XL beds that college-life provided, which were pretty undeserving of the adjective “XL”. As I fell asleep that night wondering when I would be able to finally “grow up” and put my precious doll away forever, I woke up the next morning with those thoughts erased from my mind. Three years later, I am reminded why this question perplexed me so much.
She doesn’t seem like much when you look at her today. In fact, there’s been far too many instances where I have to explain that no, I don’t know how her face ended up with a five-o-clock shadow; yes, I promise her bonnet was not always ashy grey, and—most importantly—no, I didn’t give her the name “Julie” myself. Julie is the name she came with, or as my childhood self used to love to say, the name that was given to her in “the patch,” since she is a Cabbage Patch doll. And to be clear, that five-o-clock shadow was formed from years of being adored by a little girl, which often meant being dragged across floors, into doctor’s offices, and through grocery store aisles. But I don’t see these as flaws. I see proof of a childhood companion, one that was by my side through every birthday, family vacation, first day of school, and everything in between. And now that childhood companion has become a seemingly lifelong companion, whether I choose to accept this or not.
If you’re able to get over the fact that you’re looking at a maybe creepy, definitely old and slightly tattered doll, you might be able to see the stitching from the “surgery” my mom once performed on her back, or hear what’s left of the jingle inside of her that clearly doesn’t have the spunk that it used to. If you look hard enough, you’ll see two thin lines that form eye brows, a permanently painted on half-smile, and even a chin dimple. If you’re still looking, you’ll probably notice the sparkle that was carefully included on the stickers that form her somehow still visible, bright brown eyes, or the tiniest of flowers sown on to the top left side of her head. It’s no surprise that my mom constantly insists on getting her restored, but just the thought of doing that horrifies me. To me, taking her to a shop that specializes in restoring dolls back to their original appearance means taking away their history, and taking away the life that inevitably was shared between a child and an object.
To put it simply, my doll accompanied me everywhere as a child. No place was too public or too formal for Julie, and no outing was complete without her tucked under my arms. It’s funny, because I don’t think I really understood my dependence on her until the feeling of losing her left me with a panic so overwhelmingly strong I didn’t know what to do with myself. After a few minor—though at the time major—incidents when Julie was left at a hotel in Chicago or lost in between couch cushions, my mom suggested I leave her at home when we went to California for a week-long trip to Yosemite National Park and San Francisco. I was opposed to the idea at first but like many young girls, I trusted my mom’s opinion.
It was mid-August—who am I kidding, it was August 18th, I don’t think I could ever forget that day—and we were on the first leg of our trip at Yosemite. After a long day of horseback riding through the woods we went to the one place in every hotel that all kids weirdly love: the indoor pool. My two brothers, my dad and I were playing around in the water when my mom rushed in telling my dad that his brother, Uncle Peter, was on the phone for him. This was weird, for one because my dad and Uncle Peter weren’t especially close for him to be calling us while we were on vacation, and also because my mom was holding a landline; he had reached us by contacting the hotel after my parents missed the call on their cellphones. I wish I could say I had a gut feeling that something was wrong, or that my overly observant nature kicked in as I watched my dad talk on the phone, but nothing could have prepared me for what he was about to tell us.
“There was a fire,” he began to explain.
My heart began to race. Fire? How? We weren’t even home and hadn’t been for days.
“There was a really bad thunderstorm, and lightning struck the roof and our house caught on fire,” he continued.
Within seconds, before anyone could react, the words exploded out of my mouth.
“What about Julia?!” I screamed, as my voice boomed in an echo around the room.
The rest of my family began asking more questions, questions that could actually be answered at the time as opposed to my impulsive reaction. The lightning bolt struck my brother Ben’s room, where he probably would have been if we were home, watching the Cincinnati Reds baseball game like any other summer night. Our next-door neighbors noticed the fire, called the fire department, and worked to figure out where we were and how to contact us. They ended up connecting with my dad’s brother Peter, who broke the news to us as soon as he could. But these details didn’t matter, at least not to me. It was extremely selfish of me; I will admit that. I was crying—bawling my eyes out—but not because I was upset about our house or the fact that this easily could have severely harmed our family had we been home. I just wanted Julie. I hated my mom for telling me to leave her at home. Why would I ever agree to that?
After we ended what would become the most memorable vacation to date, we arrived back home to see the condition of our house. It was a surreal experience to say the least. The main floor of our house seemed untouched, if you could somehow ignore the overbearing scent of smoke and burnt well, everything. Since the lightning struck the attic, the whole upstairs floor, which included my brothers and my bedrooms, was virtually destroyed as well. The fire department had begun rummaging through our rooms and salvaging all of the items that they could. I remember receiving the trash bag full of things from my room—mostly stuffed animals, some clothes, and a random assortment of toys—and being disgusted by the smell they possessed. I could barely hold any of it near me, including my beloved Cabbage Patch doll.
I think everyone in my family was equally as relieved that Julie survived the fire, since I hadn’t stopped talking about her, wondering where she was, and asking when I would get her back for the past three days. It was as simple as that; I had Julie back, she was mine again. She had survived the fire, and I was eternally grateful to whatever God I believed in that she was okay. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized just how much my doll defined this moment in my life. This one object was all that I cared about, all that I could think about, when the most horrific nightmare became a reality.
Julie was (and is, as I sit with her next to me) a doll. I won’t deny that, and I don’t think I would have denied that as a child either. But in many ways, Julie was more than a doll. She was a “she”; something I carried on to planes rather than packed in my suitcase, something I only reveal to those who I feel close enough to, and something that at this moment, I can’t imagine not having with me through every stage of my life. She is a little piece of home when I’m far away, and was a loyal companion when being in the comfort of home just wasn’t enough. But what does that say about me?
I consider myself to be a very independent person. Growing up, my mom’s favorite reply when I would ask for a snack or a favor was, “of course, help yourself!”. I have been doing my own laundry since eighth grade, which I didn’t think was a big feat until I arrived at college surrounded by peers who had no idea how to work a washing machine. I enjoy alone time, and doing things by myself without the help or even distraction that can result from constantly being around other people. I have carried this “do it on my own mentality” with me for as long as I can remember, but I have also carried Julie with me.
As I lay in bed the next morning—alone, but reunited with my doll—I can’t help but wonder when I will be able to let Julie go, or for that matter, if I even need to. Yes, I successfully slept through the night without my Cabbage Patch doll, but at the first chance I had I immediately curled up in bed with her in my arms. I am twenty-two years old, and essentially,so is Julie. While I am not the same little girl who screamed for her doll when she thought it was destroyed, I am a girl who keeps that memory close by. I am a girl who still finds comfort in an object, but knows the time will come when this object will be replaced by something else. To say this is terrifying is an understatement. Would it have been easier if Julie was destroyed in that fire, or left in Chicago forever? Probably. But would I be the person I am today without this object? Definitely not.
Call me crazy for saying that an inanimate object had the power to teach me about independence and the importance of being vulnerable, but without Julie I wouldn’t be able to appreciate what I have without knowing what it means to feel loss. I wouldn’t have learned what it meant to care for something other than myself at such a young age. I wouldn’t know who is worthy of knowing these personal details about myself. I wouldn’t even be questioning my independence, which I now know is a very humbling experience.
And when the time comes, I will let her go. But that day is not today.