Alice came up to my room last night just before bedtime, teary-eyed and fretting.
"What's wrong?" I said.
"Lucy made me a doll," she said.
"Okay," I said, not really following.
"It's as big as I am and she shoved it at me and she said, 'It's your new best friend.'"
"What's the problem?" I said, inviting her into my bed for a snuggle.
"I don't want it."
"Did you tell her?"
"Yes," Alice said. "I told her! I told her I don't a new best friend. I have you."
"What did she say to that?" I asked, impressed with Alice's excellent answer.
"She said I had to keep the doll. And I really don't want it. It's made out of GARBAGE." Alice melted down utterly. She didn't want to hurt Lucy's feelings, but she really, really didn't want to have anything to do with the giant doll Lucy had made.
I told her just to take it for the night, and that I would deal with it in the morning. "You know I don't keep the things Lucy makes out of odds and ends. I will be the bad guy."
"You don't understand," Alice said. "She wants me to have this doll and if I say no, I will have to live with that feeling forever."
I knew exactly what she meant by that. We so don't want to hurt the people we love that we sometimes end up suffering ourselves instead. It can feel like an all-or-nothing process. Still, I was damn curious about that doll. What on earth had Lucy made?
I kissed the top of Alice's head, squeezed her tightly, and told her to get ready for bed. As she was off getting her jammies on, Lucy came into the room.
"What is Alice so sad about?" she asked.
"Tell her," Adam said.
So I explained Alice wasn't sure the doll was going to be her new best friend. Lucy produced a dramatic tear the size of a ripe pear and let it fall down her cheek. The she excused herself and returned with the doll.
And OH MY GOSH. SWEET MOTHER OF ALL THAT TERRIFIES. MY EYES!
Alice's new best friend had the head of a pink and black striped cat taped to a bamboo staff that had been wedged into an empty cardboard box, all of which had been covered by a black contractor bag that hung like Death's shroud below a decidedly undersized fur head. Coat-hanger arms jutted out from the side, one terminating in a forlorn white glove, the other in a pastel sock.
Lucy held the mess of it together with strips of silver duct tape, one of which wrapped around the cat's neck like a collar, from which she'd hung a spare Christmas star made of golden plastic. The crowning touch, however, was a surgical mask attached to the top of the cat's head.
As Lucy explained it, "I had to cover the bamboo somehow."
After we got over the shock, Adam and I burst into laughter. The cat doll was bizarre, disturbing, insanely creative, and 100 percent made out of love, the hideous offspring of a nightmare and a dream with good intentions.
Thankfully, Lucy also thought it was hilarious. And so did Alice when she came back in her pajamas. We laughed for a while as we looked at the thing leaning awkwardly against the wall of the bedroom. And then we tucked everyone in for the night.
The whole thing reminds me of the one sermon I remember from going to church in my childhood (well, besides the one where the priest made a long and tortured analogy to scrambled eggs).
In the story, a man and woman had come to the end of their marriage. The husband wasn't entirely sure what had gone wrong. The wife, fed up with his cluelessness, offered a metaphor for the demise of their relationship: "And you always made ME eat the heel of the bread!"
After a moment, the husband replied quietly: "But that was always my favorite part."
The story struck me then as somehow being awful and true. Sometimes the things we do and give out of love are completely missed. Worse, they're sometimes misunderstood. The heel of the loaf of bread, the giant, ugly cat with the Christmas neck star and scary hat ... given in love, received with revulsion. Love should be easier. But if we're lucky, once we stop crying, we laugh.