I've tried not to hold onto the memories of that time, though it's the following year that is a true blank canvass. It's as though I skipped over age ten. I can't picture a day, an item of clothing, a teacher. An entire year of my life is just white noise. I think that my mind short circuited after California, providing a necessary respite and believing that if it blocked out everything, it could kill the memories left behind.
But I did keep an object from those Calamitous California months; a Pink Panther autograph doll.
For Christmas that year, my Aunt Eddie thought an autograph doll was the perfect gift for a little girl new to Los Angeles. California was supposed to be movie stars and endless sunny days. My aunt had the best intentions when she handed me the glossily wrapped gift. Inside, sewed to the stuffed Panther, was a black, felt pen for important signatures. Fearless, I uncapped the pen and inked my own name across Pinky's chest. Within a month, my nine-year-old bravado would be stamped out. But that Christmas, I still believed in the promise of oceans and starlets.
Fast forward thirty-four years and whatever autographs were scrawled across Pinky are long faded. The stuffing has condensed so tight that the doll is basically armless and neckless, flopped forward like a drunk insect.
Over the years, she (he?) has nestled in the toy-boxes of my children, burrowed into storage bins for years at a time and slept in the back of my closet. But recently, Pinky has made a comeback.
For the past few weeks, my husband and Pinky have conspired to expose his (her?) true daily activities. Pinky shaves his (her?) face. Pinky reads my Kindle. Pinky uses my back-scratcher to relieve an itch. Pinky locates the word "panther" in the dictionary. I am stunned by this duet between Pinky and my husband. Because, if you were to peel me open to locate my heart, you would instead find this doll. Pinky is the visual representation of every experience I've had since that terrible year. Pinky is a reminder, an honoring of who I am - all of the parts, from the wilted, damaged limbs to the chubby, stained paws.
So what my husband has done in these past few weeks, as he partners with Pinky to leave daily Valentines on my bed, is more meaningful than he could ever have guessed.
Welcome back, Pinky. And thank you, Kevin. After twenty-six years of Valentines, this one tops them all.