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.