When I was a very little girl my mother took me to a place called Apple Tree Learning Center for preschool.
I remember snippets. The chain link fence overgrown with honeysuckle. The naptime cots and their green fabric liners we decorated with puffy paint. The wooden kennel on the playground lined with sawdust where an iridescent and irascible peacock lived. The static-lined plastic yellow slide my friend Lyndsey would race down so quick her short blonde hair would stand on end.
And I remember the girl everyone was afraid of. I remember her blue eyes and her plump face and the colorful scarves she’d wear around her head, tied by her mother just so, so you could still see the sparkle of the studs in each of her ears.
Our teachers told us she had cancer, but how much does a little one really understand of that? All we knew was that she was strange, often gone for weeks at a time, prone to tearing off her scarf to reveal her perfectly round, bald head when the boys got to picking on her.
I remember thinking her head resembled something of an onion. Or maybe, more accurately, the wispy, round iris bulbs my grandmother sent my mother in our Christmas box, gently wrapped in newspaper and dusted with red Oklahoma soil. Fragile and out of place.
I was afraid to be near her. To talk to her. Especially to touch her. They tell you cancer isn’t catching, but what does that really mean?
But I did it anyway. And I don’t remember why. Maybe pressure from my mother or my teachers. I just remember knowing it was the right thing to do, to be her friend, even if my heart was racing and the boys were mocking and I fell asleep afraid all the hair would fall from my head.
I think about her sometimes when I make amigurumi dolls. It’s the heads. They all go through a stage, before you add the hair or the hat or the hood, where they’re just an onion bulb. Fragile and out of place.
I don’t remember her name. I don’t remember if she was younger or older than me. The place that was once Apple Tree Learning Center is now abandoned. The old vines brown and sparse. The peacock kennel now just a scar in the ground.
I do wonder if she made it. Certainly she was fierce enough. Smart and wily. How many people do you know who would rip off their hair scarf to frighten off a pack of unruly boys? Looking back, I think her brief time in my life was my first proof that life is not fair, not kind, not always beautiful.
Each time I stitch up an onion bulb, I remember, and I hope she’s still around to prove me wrong.
Want to make your own amigurumi doll? This foxy gal was made with Lydia Tresselt’s Fibi Fox pattern. Find all her wonderful patterns on her Etsy: Lalylala.