A story of two toys.

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Photo by Marina Shatskih on Unsplash

The things we leave and the things we bring with us tell their own stories.

When we were emigrating, my parents told me to bring only one toy. I had a box full of toys, mostly different toy guns. We gave all my toys away, except for the one I decided to bring with me — a blond, blue-eyed doll named Erica.

I didn’t choose Erica because I had a great deal of love for it. Dolls, generally, creep me out. But Erica wasn’t a doll my parents bought for me, either.

This is how I came to have my doll, Erica: When I was 11 years old, I brought home a little dog, a gray terrier mix. He followed me home. Sure, he just followed me home … after I petted him and played and ran with him. He had a glorious wet nose, and I finally had a dog, something I’ve wanted since I was … always. Something I’ve wanted always. I didn’t have a memory of any point in my life of not wanting a dog.

But, of course, we lived in a small apartment, and my parents were already planning on leaving Soviet Union. A dog was the last thing they wanted or needed, and we couldn’t bring a dog from Belarus to the U.S. via Italy. So, later that day, a friend of the family came over to our house, bringing with her a doll, which was thrust into my arms as the dog was taken away. I stared at the doll, confused as to how anyone could possibly think that a doll that opened its eyes when upright and closed them when laying down was in any way a substitute for a magnificence that was this beautiful dog. But an exchange happened quickly, and I don’t know if I even cried. I was just stunned. One moment I had a dog and everything was perfect. The next moment I had a doll and my heart was broken into tiny, jagged pieces. I remember looking at the woman, who must have been in her 20s, and hating her so much, it felt like a brand new emotion. Her name was Erica — so I vowed, silently, never to forget this woman — complicit in the abduction of my new pet, and called the doll Erica.

Why did I choose Erica over the gray, rubber little donkey with a white snout? Why did I choose Erica over a plastic gun that fired ping-pong balls? To this day, I am not sure. I think I wanted to be reminded that I had a dog once — even if only few hours. It feels like such a spiteful reason to pick a toy — and perhaps the wound was still fresh in my soul.

But the one toy I should have brought, which is a great regret that my mother also shares with me, was not bringing a dark yellow teddy bear that I always had.

It was well-loved by me, bald of most of the original fur, had a tear down the back that was sown with a zig-zag pattern on its back, had round black shiny eyes and an almost rubbed-out dark yellow nose at the end of its snout was made of thick string. God, how I loved that bear! And I learned that this teddy bear was a gift my father gave to my mother during the two years they were dating.

So, why didn’t I bring it with me?

That decision was made by my parents. Honestly, the teddy bear was rough looking after being “loved” by me for more than a decade. No one could call it clean. And my parents were young, my mom in her late 30s, my dad in his early 40s — they weren’t the most sentimental of people, and when packing up for a new life in a new land, there was no room for old, worn-out stuff.

Sentiment and regret comes with age, sometimes. And so it was that the toy I took — a doll that I never really loved or played with much, and the toy discarded — a teddy bear that was loved and a sentimental treasure — played their part in my childhood, making me into the person I am now — the proud owner of several dogs during my life (currently two dogs) and owner of a doll that sits on my parent’s bookshelf in their home office.

Written by

Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.

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