I am the only child of five to have brown eyes, brunette hair. Like my father. Like my father’s mother. My brothers and sisters are blonde and blue-eyed. I should clarify that they were all blonde when we were children. My younger sisters thick mane turned light brown as she got older. I was also the only girl of three who liked playing with dolls. I don’t remember being disappointed because dolls were always blond and blue-eyed. Nor do I remember asking for a doll that had brown eyes. I doubt I even considered that there was such a thing. I was awed when my mother gave me my brown-eyed brunette Madame Alexander baby doll for Christmas. An extravagant gift for our family. Although I didn’t know that at the time.
It was supposed to have come from Santa, but I knew it was a gift, a message from my mother to me. I was not an easy child to please. I didn’t pretend I was excited about or liked something I didn’t. My brothers and sisters were acutely aware of what mom wanted them to feel. They became adept at pretending they were thrilled by whatever they received. That way mom didn’t have to give it another thought. Her duty performed, she could move on. I made things much more difficult for my mom. She couldn’t tolerate what she considered my unreasonable selfish demands.
My refuge from the chaos and fighting in our home was playing house. My dolls were my children. I made sure I kept them safe and always meticulously met their needs. Feeding, changing, and rocking them to sleep. Tucking them into my dresser drawers, their cribs. I muttered reassuring promises as I scurried around my bedroom house, “I will never let anyone hurt you.”
I made my brothers and sisters knock at the door before they could enter my home. Before I let them in they had to promise to be careful and quiet while they were visiting. Which wasn’t often. They thought I was a kook. I spent hours held up alone in my room with my babies. Singing them to sleep, then cleaning and organizing ‘our’ home. To me, my dolls were as alive as I was.
I don’t remember how old I was the Christmas my brown-eyed baby was born. I was strong enough to pick up and swing a five gallon bucket half full of coal at my father’s head. It was Christmas Eve. My parents were drunk and fighting. Somehow the battle ended up outside in the driveway. Dad pounced on top of my moms back. His hand, a claw gripping the back of her scalp; he was grinding her face into sharp shards of stone that covered the driveway.
When the bucket hit the side of his face he barely flinched. Not sure what hit him he searched madly for the culprit. Springing to his feet he spun around, locking his wild eyes on me. I launched the coal bucket into the trees and took off for the house! To this day I have no idea how I managed it. I squeezed myself into the space between the wall and the hot water heater which was only about four inches wide. Stuffed into the crack like wood putty, I held my breath. He stormed through the door! The moon shining through window gave everything an eerie blue glow. He raged through the room. To look under the bed he flipped the mattress and box spring upside down. He tore the closet apart, tearing clothes from hangers, ripping the rod right out of the wall. I could hear his snorting breath. Smell beer, his musk, my fear, as he frantically searched for me. He saw me go into the my room and knew there was no way for me to escape. It was an old house and all the windows were painted shut. When he couldn’t find me he flipped on the light. Stood silent as death, listening for my breathing, he sniffed the air like a wolf. Finally, the light went out and he was gone. After he passed out my sister and I tried to squeeze ourselves into my hiding spot. No matter how much we sucked in our breath we couldn’t make our heads small enough to fit.
The next morning we all piled out of bed and headed for the tree. My parents sat mute with their coffee and cigarettes. My brothers and sisters pretended they were surprised and happy about what Santa had left under the tree. No one said anything about mom’s black and blue face. Little frowns cut into her left cheek. Dad sat slumped over his coffee. Mom bruised, indignant. Both seemed stunned. Trying to make it ok us kids erupted into neurotic yips and chatter. Christmas morning cheerleaders. Hey, did you see this? Wow! I can’t believe Santa remembered, I wanted this so much! Big sad smiles plastered on our bewildered faces.
When I peeled back the wrapping paper, saw her, my brown-eyed baby, I was stunned. I don’t know why but I looked directly at my mother. She was studying my reaction, staring at me hard, as if to say, Is that good enough for you miss prissy? And indeed it was. I was delighted! She was the most beautiful doll I’d ever seen. The front of the box a clear plastic window. Carefully posed she was wired into place. It made me smile when I looked at her chubby beautiful face. Her tiny arms reaching for me. “She has brown eyes,” I squealed!
Dad gently cut her out of the box and carefully handed her to me. “Here ya go honey.” Her dress, the most beautiful dress I ever saw, a delicate butter colored chiffon. I was dazzled by her matching silk booties and the beautiful bow that adorned her coffee-colored hair. Her wrinkled feet and hands curled like someone was tickling her and I felt loved.