By Chris Miskiewicz
. the rosebush awning, 1979
. Seeing where the dolls went
We made the long drive out to the island where they lived encapsulated in one of those towns that exist only as an exit sign on the L.I.E. Just a flash of green with a number marking that led you off the highway onto the two lane roads that spread out into the great suburban expanse that followed.
My Grandfather didn’t come, but then he never came on those kinds of outings. Somehow he had managed to remove himself from making an appearance at all family functions, even if they were his side of the family, as was the case on this particular afternoon.
My grandmother and mother would go to make face, quietly gossiping in broken Italian about various family members on the way there and the ride back home. I could never understand why we went, or trace the strained family bloodlines which measured how these people were tied to me. I understood uncles only because I had one, but once the bloodline expanded past that to cousins, 2nd cousins, and further relations, I could no longer understand with any certainty how these people were family.
I would also lose all bearings of where in the world I was once we left Brooklyn. The world, or other boroughs, caused my head to ache when I tried to place my position without the aid of the Empire State Building or the Twin Towers to guide myself by. I understood our Brooklyn neighborhood, and where Manhattan was placed in relation to it, but the rest just seemed to be a collection of ramps going off the highway.
We pulled up to a house that was surrounded by a plot of large open land. The neighbors had a farm and the backyard of our relative’s house was connected to it through a rose covered opening in a fence. Thick red bulbs lined the awning giving it the impression of some magic gateway that led to a great expanse beyond. I imagined some kind of wilderness. I thought about forest animals. I pictured the texture of mountain walls.
Several large 1970’s cars were parked along a gravel driveway that led to a house, which was small in comparison to the amount of land that it occupied.
Inside, several different sects of the family were colliding. The older generation represented by my grandmother, then my mother and the other thirty year olds, and then their kids, which I was a part of. It was this collision of generational altitudes that I found confusing, as well as the realization that I was being grouped with the other children who I couldn’t understand or get along with.
I remember being introduced to a small assembly of boys by an older woman I had never met before. Their names came flying at me as quickly as the spray from a garden hose, and were equally forgotten with the exact amount of speed. The woman then retreated into another room where I could hear my mother laughing with the rest of the adults. I looked at the men with their moustaches and the way they grinned. Fat, like a fever. It was something about the slickness of their skin. I turned back to the rag tag collection of boys who after a moment of calculated behaved silence returned to being unruly and evil, pushing and snarling in animal smiles as soon as the older woman departed.
I realized very quickly that there was no order there. None of the boys were leaders and the games they invented simply involved running around and hitting each other. I took a few moments to weigh my place in all of it. I wandered through the house and soon enough found myself standing with a group of girls who were close to my age. Several of them giggled upon noticing me and immediately went back to dancing and shaking in high-pitched squeals. But there was one among them who was interested in me. Her name was Susan, and she left the others to speak with me.
She took me upstairs to show me her bedroom and dolls. The room was pink. Not entirely pink, but since so many items in it were pink it all seemed to blend together. I looked around as she crouched on the floor beside a box that was filled with Barbie dolls. I picked one up and stared at it. Then I picked up another that had black hair only to turn my attention back to the first one again. I looked at Barbie’s Camper and then at her Dream House. Barbie seemed to get around. I held the doll and asked Susan “What do they do?” Then, waited for a few moments as she showed me.
I was curious. I wanted to know their story. I wanted to understand what she pretended about them. I wanted to know what kind of lives the dolls had when she was alone with them in her room.
She tried to explain by putting Ken and Barbie into a car together and moving it around the floor. She looked up at me with a smile. She had brown hair that ended in heavy curls and large blue eyes. They locked onto mine for a few seconds and it caused an uncomfortably warm sensation to go through my body.
Her mother came into the room a moment later and ushered us out towards the other children. I remember that she was incredibly uncomfortable by the fact that we were alone, so she took us outside to where the other kids were playing.
The girls were grouped together giggling, and the boys were running about and screaming with one another. I looked at the other boys playing. I still didn’t get it. I didn’t understand what the point of their game was. They seemed like chaos, and somehow I knew that these kids would be around me for my whole life and I would never get them, nor would they get me.
“Do you want to see my favorite place?” Susan asked me.
“Okay,” I said, as she walked us towards the rose covered awning.
We stood there looking out through the other side where the farm was. Sunlight fell through the breaks in the clouds against a long field as shadows moved like dark water against the grass. The light seemed so bright, like white paper that was both translucent and liquid at the same time. Maybe it had to do with my eye surgeries, but it seemed like I could see the very atoms colliding within the light as they hit the earth.
We stood there quietly watching this for an unknown amount of time. I turned back to see that Susan was standing very close to me. She was a few inches taller than I was. I looked up into her blue eyes. Within moments that same warm feeling that I didn’t understand began to flow through me again.
We didn’t speak. She just stared into me and grinned. I did the same, taking momentary glances up towards the red petals while trying to understand this sensation. The longer I stared at her, the more I felt like I wanted her to take something from me.
Moments passed while the boys ran by us making war with each other, with screams and flashes of white sneaker stripes kicking dirt into the air.
–Photo by India Kushner