Raggedy Ann smiled at me today. It was unexpected and delightful. Sitting, as she was, on my living room shelf, grinning like an idiot without a care in the world. I was at once comforted and annoyed. It occurred to me while I had been sitting here fuming over the fact that I couldn’t remember what had happened to my childhood—or at least to my little red sewing machine my mother gave me when I turned five—that perhaps Raggedy Ann would do as a substitute comfort.
When I turned to reach for her, there she was… smiling… waiting. In that smile was thirty-five years of understanding, commiseration, and empathy. It was a fortuitous moment indeed. Only old Anney could possibly understand the torment of that particular instance of need, that unique and urgent gasp born of dreamer’s breath.
You see, I am the restless spawn of a myriad of turn-of-the-century forbidden love stories adorned with secret kisses and clandestine weddings delicately cloaked in darkness and shrouded in mist. Romeo & Juliet, Samson & Delilah: These are the tempestuous plots that shape my predawn. I am a great grandchild of a coterie of hopeless romantics doomed by virtue of birth to a life of sweet torment.
I discovered this at thirteen. My eighth-grade class was instructed to do a family tree of stories, a novel of sorts relating an oral map of my heritage. I set out eagerly to find my history in the tales of those who made me. I asked grandparents, great-uncles, and old neighbors for stories of people I’d never met. I hunted through old trunks for clues, finding crumpled taffeta ball gowns, forgotten photos, and a $5 honeymoon hotel receipt. A fascinating web of remarkably similar dramas emerged: the debutante disowned for embracing (and marrying) a man beneath her social status, the Catholic and the Protestant exiled from the church for eloping, the rescue from war-torn Europe finding forbidden love in the middle of the Atlantic.
And so, I realized the day I completed that chart my fate was sealed forever. I was a child of romance, a child of drama. Suddenly, my habit of splashing barefoot through mud puddles in the drizzling rain didn’t seem so odd. The somber wraith of an image emulating a faded Morton Salt tin suited me. I liked it. I like the solitude—the image—the melancholy of it all. My peculiar penchant for gloom now took on a hopelessly and heartbreakingly romantic sheen—for that was who I was.
Raggedy Ann smells like 1975. I was ten. She smells like summer humidity and sand dunes and Fancy Pants, my best friend who died years later at the ripe old age of seventeen (119 in cat years). It was she who stretched the boundaries of my imagination far beyond the borders of the small New Jersey farm town of my adolescence. Fancy was an adventurer seeking the forest whenever possible, all the while bringing home exotic treasures to deposit beneath my bed.
It occurs to me that she never used the front door. That would never do for the Indiana Jones of the cat world. She used my second story bedroom window. We were adventurers together like Darwin & Fitzroy or Lewis & Clark. Many new species of bug and rodent were discovered over those seventeen summers. Fancy knew how to live and told me many stories of her explorations. There’s not an inch of forest she didn’t creep nor a single lofty branch from whose perspective she didn’t gaze across the treetops.
I should be so lucky to see that much of my world. And I guess that’s what I’ve been doing: living in different countries, traveling whenever I can, settling as far away from Jersey as possible, all the while leaving a trail of men (or rodents, if you will) beneath my bed. It occurs to me that I’m still trying (and succeeding) at being hopelessly, heartbreakingly melancholy.
Fleet of foot with what appears to be my heart recklessly pinned to my sleeve, I’ve never landed in one place long enough to take root. The sea called to me and I answered, alighting in this new place that smells dangerously like a home. Recently someone remarked that I seem to live inside of a movie—that my little beach cottage and nearby village are a dreamland, almost not real, like living a life that doesn’t exist…. That’s when I suddenly wanted my little red sewing machine.
I almost sold it once, for seventy-five cents. Lisa Chambers and I were playing Yard Sale selling off “old junk” and “clothes only good for Good Will.” I brought out the sewing machine. I mean, we were just playing right? But Lisa paid me seventy-five cents and took it home with her. I cried for the rest of the day. When Lisa’s mom made her give it back, Lisa was mad and we weren’t friends anymore.
I don’t know where she is now. Nor can I remember the ultimate fate of that miniature appliance. Suddenly that little toy stood for everything that was permanent and solid and real. In my young imagination, my little red friend could fix anything—and at this moment, I needed it to fix everything.
But Raggedy Ann is here. I think she likes my little house by the sea. Her ever-present smile tells me so. Yet, maybe her smile hints at a peace that I don’t yet know. She accepts her fate and is happy with what she’s got. She just is who she is and is happy about it—sitting on her shelf all content with the world… always smiling. The secrets behind that smile are as seductive as the Mona Lisa.
I wonder if she might like to come down off the shelf more often. I think we’ll talk some—get reacquainted. I notice a small tear on her dress that I had sewn shut when I was seven—my first official mend. Maybe she can help mend the tear in my heart. I feel as if my chest is branded as hers is with an “I LOVE YOU” in little red letters right in the middle—tattooed there like a banner of affection with no one to read it. Hers, hidden beneath the red flowered dress for years just waiting to be rediscovered and cherished. Mine, new and raw, waiting for a gentle hand to heal the burn. Maybe we can mend my broken heart together, and someday someone else will discover the little red message that is there, concealed and protected, just waiting….
Raggedy looks very raggedy today—me too. It occurs to me that she is so raggedy and worn because she has been so loved. She has given and received quite a lot of adoration and twice as much hugging and clutching. I think she will be hugged a lot more from now on. Perhaps I am growing raggedy because I have been loved. I think so. I am wiser for having loved and lost—maybe too many times—but wiser nonetheless. I love so well it wears me out, leaving me a little shabbier from each experience. Yet each fine line on my face or scar on my soul tells part of the story of my life.
Raggedy’s got a big brown stain right smack in the middle of that smile. It doesn’t make her ugly—rather it endears her to me even more as that must be the place I kissed her each night before falling asleep. Her left leg is wrapped at the ankle in masking tape that has gone soft and translucent over the years. Her right leg dangles—stuffing protruding at the knee where little red stitches have given up. Her red yarn hair has frayed soft and cozy from twisting it around my fingers in earnest contemplation. Tattered and old and stained, she still smiles with all the ardor and wistful vision she always has.
She is telling me who I am just as I was beginning to forget. She whispers to me of a life well lived that leaves traces of itself behind on my heart and my visage. She shouts of adventures through the forest, of breathtaking views high atop the brink of ordinary life, of a heart broken but also well broken-in to be ready and waiting for true love when it arrives, and finally of a unique and romantic journey that, with a little luck, will find me stumbling upon an inner peace and satisfaction to last a lifetime upon the shelf. She smiles at the beauty of my life because it is mine and no one else’s, because it is singularly magnificent and secret. I smile back at her because I know when I tell my grandchildren the story of my life, my branch on the family tree will be wild and twisted with extravagant colors and leaves. And when I tell them, I will be holding Raggedy Ann, and I will be smiling.
Actor, earth mother and wannabe witch, Robin has been secretly writing prodigiously since she was a child. “Tattered Heart” is the first piece she has unveiled to the world while she builds up her courage to open the Pandora’s box. A graduate of Villanova University and a lifetime globetrotter, she is currently more than knee deep in developing her first novel.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Tattered Heart”
We discovered this piece not as a submission to the magazine, but among the stories posted in the workshop at the Silver Pen Writers site (www.silverpenwriters.org), where we have found a number of others pieces we’ve published. We liked how author Robin Lange took the adult narrator back to her childhood to re-experience and relearn the lessons of one’s youth. A strong character and a well-written resonant story are a recipe for a successful piece for us.