I look back now, assessing the math of the situation: my family had only just graduated from the Dark Days where food stamps were involved, we were shifting out of our Blue Period, and I wanted a Cabbage Patch Doll that my mother couldn't really afford.
The dolls seem silly now: Homer Simpson-coiffed, with hard heads, soft bodies and fake names — like strippers.
I didn't know any better. I'd seen the commercials with the laughing girls tossing those little freak shows in the air, I'd been to friends' houses, who had two or three dolls already and moms who were relaxed and happy to give the neighbor kid a Capri-Sun, and dangit, I was tired of feeling different from everyone else at school. I wanted to belong. How do you fix something like that when you're little and young and dumb?
You don't. You ask Santa for a Cabbage Patch Doll. And so I did that very thing, I wrote it down in crooked, smeared, left-handed longhand and then I clicked off the flashlight and snuggled into my sleeping bag, because even though we weren't on food stamps any longer, my brother and I didn't have beds yet.
And then it was Christmas morning. For some little, young, dumb reason, I still believed in Santa, and for some selfless, amazing reason, my mother hadn't told us otherwise. So Brian and I tiptoed down the hall and into the living room, and there it was — the weirdly shaped box, with the tall, straight back and the angled front.
I shoved my brother out of the way and ran to the base of the tree, dropping to my knees and gasped in horror. The wrapped box had been destroyed, as if Donkey Kong had punched the front in.
"SOMEONE STOLE MY DOLL!" I howled.
My mother ran out to the living room, probably bleary-eyed and slightly annoyed, and witnessed her yellow-haired child bent over a Christmas present, clutching the sides and wailing like an Italian widow.
"Oh, honey, don't you think maybe your dolly is just out exploring?" she asked, gesturing in the direction the doll must've been hidden. "Don't you think maybe she just got bored, and broke out and is running around looking for you?"
"NOOOOOO! Someone stole my dollllllllll!" I moaned. (To be fair, we did live in a rough area of California, where you didn't leave anything unlocked, you didn't make eye contact with strangers, and the thought of a Cabbage Patch Doll being stolen from under a tree wasn't insane.)
After about five minutes of weeping through my mother's encouragement to look around a little, two things happened: 1. She realized her cute Christmas trick had gone horribly wrong; and 2. I was united with said doll near the dining room table, along with a sliver of Aunt Mae's lemon meringue pie.
I don't know where Ona Lisa the Cabbage Patch Doll is today. But it's the holidays, and I'm thinking about moms out there trying to figure out what to do for their kids to stave off hard realities a little longer. Thank you, Mom, for getting me the doll that year. And to the moms out there who can pull off the equivalent of a Cabbage Patch Doll: don't get fancy; just leave it in the box.