An Excerpt from LOST SISTER

The first thing I do is pick up Barbie, who has fallen from the dead ficus and is lying face down and naked on the grey dirt, one arm stretched over her head. Judging by the tan and sky blue eye shadow, this one must be Malibu Barbie, or whatever they call her these days. Not much has changed: she still has pointy breasts, a freakishly small waist and heels that never touch the earth. Bald and smudged, her lipstick gone, her toes chewed off, this Barbie is a long way from Malibu.

I push her tired arm down to her side. “Is this your doll?” I ask Ginger. She shakes her head.

“Where did it come from?”

“I don’t know. It’s been here for a long time,” she nods.

“Do you like Barbie dolls?”

She makes a face, shakes her head again.

“I didn’t either,” I tell her.

It’s true. Dolls bored me; I didn’t understand them. I wanted cap guns and cowboy hats, microscopes and sea monkeys. It was my mother who, in an effort perhaps to reshape my destiny, foisted Barbie on me. I didn’t know what to do with her; she couldn’t even bend. All she could do was lean up against the vinyl wall of her livingroom, which was also her carrying case, and wait for someone to change her clothes. Her life was pointless. Hoping to nudge my homemaking instincts, my mother redoubled her efforts and bought me a Ken doll. He only made things worse. I couldn’t respect Ken: he had no skills, no life apart from Barbie. Once or twice I pressed them against each other but it didn’t work for them and it didn’t work for me. Not until my friend Sara left her Prom Barbie at my house one day did the game become interesting. My doll was the Malibu model, the most popular one at the time. She was the more daring, I decided, of the two, and not at all embarrassed when I made her kiss Prom Barbie. They both enjoyed this and so I laid them down. There they were, their eyes locked in amazement, shy Barbie in her scratchy pink dress, reaching upward, and bold Barbie, in a red bathing suit, poised on tip toes above her. Ken was completely useless after that and I forgot all about him.

Ginger doesn’t want the doll and so I slip her into my backpack where she can enjoy a few hours of hard-earned privacy. At some point I will wrap a cloth or newspaper around her and put her in the trash, and eventually she’ll end up at a dump surrounded by legions of other lost dolls whose hard plastic bodies will not let them leave this earth.

The Right Thing To Do

There is a story in my forthcoming collection, SURVIVAL SKILLS, that involves a rescued greyhound and a troubled woman. Over the course of this story the two learn how to heal each other. I hoped to strike a chord with this piece, to bring awareness to dog racing and the lasting damage this industry inflicts on helpless creatures.

There is no need here to cite the grim statistics, the number of race dogs that are maimed or destroyed. The fact that these animals are kept in cages is more than enough to shame us. Thirty-eight states, acknowledging this abuse, have banned commercial dog racing, which begs the question: Why is it allowed anywhere? Why does anyone have the legal right to profit from this egregious “sport?” I cannot understand why there isn’t a nationwide ban on dog racing, but if we can’t rely on our leaders, we must turn to ourselves to do the right thing.

Public figures wield untold power. They can unify the population or they can further weaken it; they can promote compassion or they can fan aggression. Last week, encouraged by a television show host, thousands of people swarmed Chick-Fil-A’s in support of their COO, a man who has voiced his opposition to marriage equality. The effect was stunning. For equal rights activists and same sex couples it was a disheartening event, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many people would have patronized these stores that day had the COO spoken out in favor of allowing every citizen the right to marry and enjoy the benefits that marriage confers.

But mostly I thought about greyhounds. I wondered what would happen to our remaining racetracks if the issue of dog racing inspired similar fervor. What if the next time a greyhound race was scheduled, not a single spectator showed up? Ticket sales: zero.

Now that would be something to cheer about.

A Born Skeptic

A born skeptic, I find myself fascinated with optimists. I assume there’s a genetic component, and a reasonably secure childhood probably helps. But how do they persist? That’s what baffles me. Given the headaches, heartbreaks and horrors that attend human existence, how do these people sustain their cheerful dispositions?

Insuperable strength, maybe. A faculty for pulling themselves from the pit as many times as required. Or a stubbornness, a flat-out refusal to confront the unpleasant. Perhaps they don’t quite feel the unpleasant. It could be that pessimists are born with thinner skins; they bruise more easily and they likely don’t last as long. Like blue-eyed blondes, those of us who see the glass half-empty might one day be bred out of the population, replaced with tougher versions of humanity.

Optimism is defined as the tendency to expect the best and see the best in all things. Wow. Imagine that.

“I think I was born that way,” says an optimistic friend of mine, “but I work on it, too. I don’t allow myself to mull over the bad stuff. I do something else. Anything.” Ah, I thought. Distraction. You throw yourself a ball to run after.

I know I don’t throw myself enough balls. I am seduced by the pit, can feel it pulling me in. If pessimists anticipate the worst, by accommodating agony, sitting with the intolerable, perhaps I am preparing myself for annihilation. The worst is death, right? By the time I arrive there, I might be less afraid than those who are chasing balls. But maybe not. You see how easily I fall back.

My partner is used to my gloomy views and likes to poke fun at them. Often we laugh over one of my bleak remarks. Occasionally, though, her patience will wear thin and she will say, “Stop it. Stop going there.” And I will; I’ll acknowledge the sense this makes and I will attempt to correct my wrong think. It feels like stepping into another world. I can’t stay, but I enjoy the brief visits.

I don’t believe that optimism can be acquired along the way. I think it’s like religious faith. There are those who readily believe in God and those who might want to but can’t. I do my best. And it’s not like I don’t love life. I love it beyond expression. I can’t wait for the sun to come up and I never do. I spring out of bed. Dawn, bird song, a fresh chance. Every day a new chance to get it right.

I envy those who live on the bright side, I admit it. If I were choosing a business partner, I’d certainly select from the positive team. She’d keep the vision; I’d keep the books.

But for a dinner partner? Give me one of my own.