Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
We’re Selling the fantasy
When my daughter was three weeks old, I bought her a Raggedy Ann doll. I went with Ann because she had more hair than any other rag doll I could find, and hair was what I needed. My daughter liked to tangle her fingers all up in my hair when she nursed, and I’m a wuss about hair-pulling, so I was looking for a surrogate. That was almost 14 years ago. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
My daughter loves that doll.
She calls her Baby.
I thought she was kind of freaky from day one. Her eyes are too OPEN. Her mouth is too CLOSED. And where are her damned top eyelashes? But, I needed hair that wouldn’t hurt when it was being pooped out, you know?
And she was colorful, and she was safe, and I hoped that maybe she’d buy me a little relief. I had no idea who she was going to become.
While We Live the Reality
I tried once, when my daughter was about four and Baby was starting to show some pretty obvious signs of wear, to replace her with a new Raggedy Ann. That doll is still somewhere in my closet, covered by the blankets we never use, and the clothes that are supposed to go to Goodwill.
She’s still shiny and new.
And I learned that you can’t replace love like that. My daughter didn’t care what she looked like, she only cared who she WAS.
Children get that about love. But somewhere along the way, the truth gets lost.
Everyone wants the world to see the shiny. To see the new. They show off the wedding photos and the school pictures and the cap and gown and the class ring. They shout from the rooftops about first smiles and first steps and first kisses. They mail graduation announcements and engagement photos and those photocopied family newsletters that fall out of embossed Christmas cards when we rip open the envelope; letters highlighting the prettiest moments of the year, as if they were the only moments. They want us to ignore the rest, like we don’t know. Like we won’t understand. Like we haven’t been there. They want to hide what love really looks like.
They want to share everything they have nailed down, and under control, and handled, and hide the rest. Hide what’s broken, and shattered, and undone. And because no one wants to be the only one showing scars, we hide right back.
But we can’t help each other that way.
Because that’s not what love is, and we know it, and still we pretend. We “like” their perfect pictures of the scenery, knowing that behind them lies the truth.
And the truth is that love looks like 2 a.m., and you’re washing vomit-soaked sheets while a sick two-year-old clings to you crying;
And love looks like a screaming teenager saying she hates you;
Love looks like showing up every day even though you know that the Alzheimers is going to yell at you without knowing who you are;
Love looks like wrinkled skin, and menopause, and stretch marks,
and like a manic midlife crisis;
It looks like walking through a mental health diagnosis and everything that comes with it even if you feel like walking away,
because you said for better OR worse, and worse came around.
Love is not posed pictures with scenic backdrops.
Those are moments put together for everyone else.
And I’m not saying that love can’t be picture perfect now and then. It can.
But being careful and prepared, or tidy and sterile…that’s like living in a china shop. Nothing can grow in a china shop.
And love is supposed to grow. It’s supposed to shed its skin, and upset everything in its wake. Love should be reborn. Again, and again, and again. Love should transform.
And it should transform us.
Love is a shapeshifter.
It’s a lost and found.
In its infancy, it’s an idea. But for love to mature, action is required.
And the idea of love is beautiful.
The act? Not so much.That can’t be planned. Or stolen. Or bought.
It can’t be held tightly, or locked up, or covered in bubble wrap.
It isn’t safe, or quiet, or predictable.
In motion, love is messy. And gunky. And scary. And sometimes it sucks big time. But you don’t give up on it, even when it’s faded, and torn, and gutted, and it’s lost all of its hair.
Because in the end, it’s the only thing that makes us real.
Alexainie is 42, a single mother of two and making it work. She’s lived in Alaska for 33 years, where, in a village of 75, she shoveled shit for dogs whose front paws were insured for more than she was worth. She experienced a 7.1 earthquake from the 18th floor, and was held hostage in an outhouse by a brown bear (luckily, she was in just the right place to shit herself). And, she notes: “And although I doubt I’ve gone more than a week without seeing a moose, whether walking down the highway, nibbling on the birch trees in my yard, or blocking my front door, I’ve never been chased by one. My grandma TOTALLY was, though. And the loss of that 8mm cassette is one of the single greatest regrets of my life.”
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