June 6, 2000
Rescuing Maggie


Bits and pieces of a dream I had during the summer of '85, when my daughters were just toddlers:
The girls and I are standing on the banks of a great rushing river.

The sun is shining, and we can hear birds singing. We are all dressed up, getting ready to go to a wedding: three year old Jamie is wearing the long pink dress her babysitter gave her.

Just then I notice something bobbing in the water, near the middle of the river. At first I think it's trash, or a toy thrown into the river by my one year old, Kacie ... but suddenly I realize in horror that it is Jamie's beloved rag doll, Maggie. The doll is being swept along by the current and is heading for certain peril at the falls ahead.

My heart sinks. If we lose Maggie, it will break Jaymi's heart. She might not survive the loss.

I see a man standing on the opposite shore, and I shout at him, telling him to try and grab the doll as it floats past him. But he doesn't hear me.

I realize then that I am the only one who can save my daughter's precious friend. So I plunge into the icy water with all my clothes on and begin swimming as hard as I can.

Just before the falls, I catch up with Maggie and grab hold of her.

Dream ends.

~ From The Memory Book ~

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I remember that dream as clearly as if I'd dreamed it just last night.

I remember, too, all the things that dream made me feel. Horror. Helplessness. Dread. Rage against the deaf man on the riverbank, who couldn't/wouldn't help us. Sorrow. Fear.

A weird sort of déja vu: I lost my favorite doll when I was just about Jaymi's age, and I still remember how much it hurt.

And curiousity. How did the dream end? Did I manage to save Maggie? Did I toss her to safety on the riverbank? Did I save myself afterwards? Or did we both go over the falls? Like a potboiler missing the last ten pages, this was a story without a satisfactory conclusion.

But the primary emotion of the dream -- the thing that drove my dreamself to jump into a raging river, wearing the only good dress I owned, without any thought to personal safety or water temperature or Maybelline ...

... the thing I remember most about that dream, fifteen years later ...

... was the desperate need to spare my daughter from pain.

No matter what the cost.

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Ironically, just a few weeks later the dream became self-fulfilling prophecy.

We came home from a family outing to Lake Sammamish State Park, where we'd spent the day attending my husband's annual company picnic.  As I tucked Jaymi into bed, I suddenly realized that Maggie wasn't laying in her customary spot, on the pillow next to my daughter.

I knew immediately that Maggie was gone.

Aunt Debi, Maggie, Jamie
~ Jay with her Aunt Debi and Maggie, 1985 ~

A thorough search of the house ... the car ... the yard ... turned up nothing. I placed calls to the Lost & Found at the park every day for over a week. Ray's sympathetic boss even went back to the lake and checked the picnic area for us.


Jaymi was every bit as devastated as I knew she would be. Maggie was more than just a doll to her: she was a friend, and a comfort, and a tangible (albeit somewhat smelly) extension of her three and a half year old self.

Her pain was almost more than either of us could bear.

Right away, I made some wrong-headed attempts to *fix* the problem. I encouraged Jaymi to "adopt" her little sister's rag doll ... an identical twin of the missing Maggie. "You can even name her 'Maggie,' too, if you want," I told her. Kacie didn't care: she was infinitely more interested in her fire trucks than in dolls, anyway.  Jaymi began to cart Surrogate Maggie around the house, the way she had Original Maggie ... changing her doll clothes, hostessing tea parties together, taking her for endless tricycle rides up and down the driveway.

But the effort seemed forced and half-hearted.  I think we both knew that it just wasn't the same.

In retrospect, I believe it would have been much wiser  --  and much kinder  --  to simply allow Jaymi to grieve, and to find her own way back from that grief, than to force the situation by foisting Surrogate Maggie on her. But I was a young mother, and I was inexperienced, and I was doing what I thought was the right thing at the time.

I was trying to spare her from pain.

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More of that interesting irony stuff: by the time Jaymi had finally begun to get her arms around her loss, a little ...

... Maggie was suddenly returned to us, in spectacularly dramatic fashion.

Ray came home from work one evening, carrying a large paper bag. The girls and I, sitting in the living room watching TV, looked at him expectantly as he stood in the doorway, smiling his big dopey smile.

"I have an announcement to make," he said. And he pulled Maggie out of the bag.

I burst into noisy tears.

Jaymi ran to her dad, grabbed her long-lost doll and hugged her like there was no tomorrow. And that was it. End of drama. By morning, life had been returned to normal, and Surrogate Maggie had been returned to an indifferent Kacie (who swiftly tossed the doll under her bed and went back to playing with her fire trucks).

I wasn't expecting a happy ending that time. I got one anyway.

I knew it was sheer dumb luck, and not any particularly good parenting skills on my part ... but at least my daughter wasn't in pain anymore.

      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Fast forward to the present:

I am standing alone on the banks of a great rushing river. 

The sun is shining, and birds are singing, and I'm feeling happy and healthy and strong.

Just then I notice something bobbing in the water. At first I think it's trash, or an old tree stump, or Celine Dion's career ...

... but suddenly I realize, to my dismay, that it is my daughter. She is being swept along by the current and is heading for certain peril at the falls ahead.

My heart sinks. If something were to happen to her, I'm not sure I could survive the loss.

I see a man standing on the opposite shore. I shout at him, telling him to toss her a rope, or to try and grab her as she floats past him. But he can't hear me. (That's OK: I can't hear HIM, either. It's probably just as well.)

I know I am not the only one who can save my daughter. But *I* AM the only one who just happens to be standing there by the side of the river, wearing a wetsuit and holding a life preserver. So I plunge into the icy water and begin swimming toward her as hard as I can.

I may not be able to keep her safe from all pain ... but I'm sure as HELL going to try and keep her from going over the falls.

throw a rock