Long before I graduated to dressing barbies and enacting their dramas, I had a doll named Joey. I can’t imagine naming him that, so it must have been on the box or a soft floppy tag sewn into the seam of his rectum. My housekeeper Vernell insists I loved that doll like no other, and when she says it, she stops what she’s doing and looks into the air. Conviction. “Oh, yes, Stephanie, you loved that doll, you did. Carried it with you everywhere. You used to want to take him in the bath with you, even.” Joey was a boy doll, but you wouldn’t know it from his cloth-stuffed, gender-neutral body. His head was hard orangey plastic; he had a bowl cut and wore a navy blue pea coat. Sometimes I’d undress him for bath time, but I was never allowed to bathe him. “He’ll be ruined by the water.” I imagined my mother was implying Joey was a witch. He’d melt, I was certain, if I’d gotten him wet. Instead, I propped him up on the closed toilet seat where I could see him from the tub while I bathed. Then I’d use colored paint soaps to finger paint stories on the tiles of the bathroom walls until my fingers pruned.
Despite my love for Joey, I scribbled with pen and markers all over his face. His new flaws made me love him more, not less. To me, he was just Joey, my friend. I think that’s what happens when you really love someone. When I ran out of space on his head, I “wrote music” on his cloth body, beneath his clothes.
A brown upright piano stood against my playground basement. The basement smelled of water, but not mildew, due to the flooding when storms came. Somehow, the piano always worked, despite the floods. I liked sitting on the stool; it opened and was filled with sheet music I couldn’t read yet. Instead, I assigned alphabetic letters to each key on the piano, and once I created a song I liked, I’d write the “keys” on Joey’s body. GGGabvdagggacccddddd. You know, like that.
I miss being a kid, but I think, with my choice of profession, my drawings, menus, photographs, and writing, I still make sure that need is met. I still play, and I’m happiest doing just that… making my own music in my very own way. It’s right up there with lunchboxes and old-fashioned grilled cheese sandwiches.