A true story about self-realization, superstition, and the signs that led to a fortunate visualization.
About ten years ago, before I left my home state for what would be the first of many adventures, I took my little sister out to a place where I used to hang out all the time when I was younger. It was a billiards hall named The Spot, and we played some pool there. One of the things she had always been amazed by was how long my fingernails got without my even trying. On this particular day, while we were playing pool, one of those long nails (more than a centimeter in length) broke off. Desperately seeking any sort of object she could keep forever to somehow feel that I wasn't all the way across the country anymore, she insisted on keeping it. In case it isn't already apparent, my family is pretty strange.
Skip forward a few years. I had done my time in the south and moved back north for a while just to get my feet back on the ground before setting them on the road again. It was my birthday or Christmas or perhaps no special event at all when she gave me a box. The box was wooden with a small latch on the front that folded over to lock, and all sides except the bottom had symbols and words burned into the surface delicately. On the top of the box was a symbol from one of our favorite fantasy book series, and all around the sides were inspirational quotes from authors.
My sister has always been good with crafts, and her gifts are always so well thought out -- I couldn't wait to see what was inside. When I opened the box, it was stuffed with a thin lacy cloth with a piece of paper sitting on top of it. Anxious as I was to find out what was under the cloth, I set the note aside for a moment and removed the delicate bundle, unfolding the edges carefully. My expectation was something fragile, but when the last fold came undone it revealed a small purple doll. Handcrafted, it had buttons for eyes and was made from what I immediately recognized as cloth from an old shirt of mine. The hand-stitched seams were solid, almost perfect, and it stared at me with its dark button eyes as if looking into my soul.
Confused, I opened the note.
"Enola, I used a few things that were yours to make this doll. Inside of it is the fingernail that broke off when we were playing pool that one time. This doll, from now on, is an extension of you: I hope that you take care of it, the way that I hope you will one day learn to take care of yourself."
Despite the scrawling of good intentions, I was infuriated by this. I am no stranger to occult practices, and even in all of my poor choices in that field years prior, I had never stooped to voodoo. This doll, I knew, was made with all of the intentions of a voodoo doll. Superstitious or not (as my own stance on the topic ebbs and flows depending on my mood), it was not at all a comfort to know that someone had made a voodoo doll of -me-.
I will admit here that I never have fully forgiven this. Again, whether I believed that it could actually harm me or not, it was the idea more than anything that bothered me. Of course, I voiced my displeasure to my sister, who defended herself with the long list of reasons why she had made it for me. She had wanted to make something personal, and wanted to put to use the fingernail that she had kept for so many years (again, yes, we are strange). More than that, though, the entire idea behind it had been to force me to finally care for something that could potentially effect my own well-being.
Partially out of respect for her and partially out of fear of what might happen if I didn't care for the thing, I kept the doll. Wrapped in lacy white cotton and stuffed in a box with the same note that had always been with it, the only change I ever made was the addition of a handful of dried rose petals to prevent the inevitable musty smell that can form when things are left alone for too long. For the rest of its life, it would sit like that: hidden in this box where nobody could see it or hurt it -or hurt me.
Every time I've moved since then -there were at least ten more instances of my packing up boxes and relocating- the box was put inside of another box where all of the little boxes filled with memories were tucked safely away. Whenever I got to my new "home", it would be unpacked, set on a shelf, and left alone. If anyone asked what was in it, I would tell them it was just a doll that someone made for me. They didn't need to know more than that.
When I lived in the Centipede Graveyard, the entire basement area that I was renting had flooded. Before removing my electronics and protecting the things that could easily be destroyed and rendered useless, the first thing that I did was pulled this box out of its storage space, lifted it to somewhere safe, and made sure that it was thoroughly dry before I set to the terrible task of dealing with the rest of the house. That moment, I think, was a big turning point. I realized, then, that I really had done my best to take care of it, and that it wasn't just because of the symbolism. I thought back to other times when I had taken the doll's "feelings" and comfort into consideration: its placement on a windowsill during the summer so that the sun could reach it, moving it to the dresser when it started to get cold, keeping it always somewhere visible just in case, ensuring that my cat never messed with it or tried to knock it down, never smoking too close to it for fear of accidentally setting it on fire and...and what? And it was then that I realized that a much bigger part of me than I had been willing to admit fully believed that, if something bad happened to this doll, it would happen to me.
Three months after coming to this realization (which I was happy to pretend was a conversation that myself and I had never had), I was packing up whatever I could fit into my car and moving across the country again. My boyfriend, Kyle, was helping me move, and helping me make sense of the process-of-elimination that's required when you understand that you can't take everything that you have with you. Every time I have moved long distance, most of the things that I owned have been left behind. This process is to determine what things are most important: what has to come with me, what I want to come with me, and what things I can live without.
When he asked about the box, I told him the real story and the meaning behind it. He, of course, voted to sort it into the optional pile, and only bring it with if I ended up with extra room after all of the non-optional things were packed. I refused. This box and its contents had to be with me — that wasn't an option. He didn't understand or agree, and I cannot blame him. A part of me, even writing this now, feels foolish for being so stubborn about it. I couldn't help thinking, though, what might happen if someone else had the doll. What if they didn't take care of it? What would happen to me? It was no longer about the symbolism that my sister had intended, and was now entirely about the idea that this doll held my livelihood in its hands.
Several times, we had to go back through the non-optional pile and figure out what was going to have to become optional. There just wasn't enough room for everything to go, and I had to compromise and re-prioritize all of my belongings. Each time we came to the box with the doll, we had the same disagreement: it took up too much space and was just going to sit on a shelf, but I couldn't let it fall in the hands of anyone else.
In the end, the box came with us. This time, however, it wasn't tucked neatly into another box and packed with the rest of my things. In order to fit as much as we possibly could into the car, everything was taken out of boxes and fit wherever we could stuff it in the car. So I packed this box last, making sure that I left room for it right behind the headrest of the driver's seat. There, I could see it in my rear-view mirror while driving, and could know that it was safe.
The trip from my home up north to my new home down south would be two days of driving consistently. All the while, the box was in my view. We stopped at a few tolls, and were almost out of the city by the time we hit the last toll. It was well into the winter night at this point, and the only light was the one inside of the tiny booth the operator stood in. As I rolled down the window and handed the money to the man in the booth, he looked directly at me and said, "What's done is done."
At first, I had no response, and the only thing I could force from my lips was, "Excuse me?"
"What's done is done," he repeated, matter-of-factly, but that still didn't clarify.
"I...I don't understand," I replied, becoming increasingly paranoid about what exactly that was supposed to mean.
He nodded at me, and explained, "The quote on the box behind you. 'What's done is done. William Shakespeare.'"
My heart-rate almost instantly returned to normal. I laughed nervously. "Oh, yeah. It's a good quote," I replied, still feeling a bit off but at least no longer freaking out about whether this guy was threatening me or something. It sounds silly, I know, but in the pitch dark on the outskirts of a city, when a strange man starts spouting off words of wisdom, one tends to assume he is crazy.
"It's good advice," he said, eerily expressionless, and handed me my change. I thanked him and waved goodnight before driving through the toll, still feeling a bit strange about the whole thing. The rest of the night was without incident, and we stayed the night at my brother's house — the convenient halfway point between the point of departure and our final destination.
The next day we set out for the final half of our trip, and stopped about two hours in for food and gas. We had pulled up to a drive through that was just a block from the gas station just off of a 3-lane city street. After taking the food through the window, I left it rolled down as I made a right hand turn onto the road. A loud clunk sounded, and immediately I thought that something had broken in my car. That would be my luck, after all, and every possible issue that could have made the sound raced through my head as I drove carefully to the gas station. Nothing felt different, but that didn't mean something wasn't wrong.
Something was very wrong, in fact, and I realized it as soon as we pulled into the gas station. As I glanced into my rear-view mirror, I saw that the box was gone. Instantly, I understood where the sound had come from, and I asked Kyle to fill up the tank while I went back to get it. He looked at me like I was crazy, of course, but that wouldn't dissuade me. I'd been crazy my whole life, and that was not about to keep me from continuing the rampage of nonsensical decisions that was to thank for most of my adventures. More than that wild determination, though, there was the sudden feeling like I could die at any moment if someone hit that box. It was big enough that there was no way someone wouldn't notice it in the street, but the traffic had been moving so fast that it really was a gamble.
I ran the block back to where I had heard the sound, just outside of the Wendy's or Taco Bell or whatever cursed place had set this series of events into motion. There in the middle of the road was the box, broken into pieces. The doll had been tossed into the middle lane, and the note floated up down with every gust made by the passing tires. Dried rose petals were dancing scattered across the road, and the white lacy cloth was now covered in thick dark tracks that had turned it almost black.
I knew that I could get it. There would have to be a pause in traffic at some point, since there was a red light not far back from there. I could wait until the road was clear and run out to pick up the doll and the note and whatever I could salvage of the rest of it. The box, at least, had mostly survived, and the doll was still in one piece. Its cold dark button eyes stared at me, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of dread. I knew, suddenly, that I would die if I went out there. What was even scarier was the intense need I felt to go out anyway, to get hit by a truck right after the doll had been hit by a truck.
Watching the cars, I judged the timing. I could make it. This feeling was wrong; I could easily get to the doll. Even if a car came, it was a clear and sunny day — there was no way they wouldn't see me and slow down. I took a step closer to the road.
What's done is done.
Frozen, I stared into the dolls cold dead eyes as another truck came and ran it over. It bounced and tossed in the road, farther away from me and farther away from salvation.
What's done is done.
I stepped back. Another car whizzed past, driving right over the doll without hitting it. Its eyes bore into me, begging me to walk out there, to come save it, not to leave behind these memories, to take care of myself like I'd promised, to die here like I was meant to.
What's done is done.
I turned and walked away. The truth is, I hadn't been taking care of myself or the doll: hiding it away from everyone, lying about what it was and what it meant to me, pretending I was caring for it when really it was just neglected. That wasn't taking care of it. Neither was leaving it in the middle of the road, but how much care could I possibly have for my own life if I was foolish enough to run into traffic?
As I walked back to the car, I was simultaneously heartbroken and relieved. I heard the pop as another set of tires plowed over the wood in the road — its last call to me. Don't you dare walk away.
When I got back to the gas station, Kyle was in the car waiting for me. His questioning gaze rested on my eyes as I smiled, blinking back tears. "Well?" he asked, finally.
I shrugged. "What's done is done."