Closets are very personal spaces. Even anonymous ones, like hotel closets — cool and spare, empty as they are, offer glimpses of passing guests after adding their clothes and shoes. We know something about the person behind those clothes and shoes just by looking at them.
Donna’s closet is the same. As I look through the bins and hangers and boxes, Donna’s things spilling out, those things lead me to memories. So many memories. Wonderful memories, bittersweet memories. They are visceral reminders of the person who was, but no longer is. Our Donna.
Donna didn’t love the typical pink and purple choices offered for girls. She loved black and navy right along with her pink. And she was particular. And delicate. I could buy her a white cotton broadcloth blouse and not worry for a moment about stains. That is a rare quality, indeed, in a two, three, and four year old.
In the bins above, I remember the sweaters, some hand knit, that she wore so well. There is the pink ombre skirt she rocked with black Cons and a tank top. There is the blue floral blouse that she wore to pre-school and ran around the front yard chasing bubbles in, laughing all the way. There are the striped leggings that always reminded me of the witch from the Wizard of Oz. She was bald when she wore those. And so very tiny.
On top is the baby blanket our dear family friend knit her. The blanket came with a hat to match. We didn’t know if Donna would be a boy or girl, so the colors are sweet and pastel. We wrapped Donna in that on the way home from the hospital. Her little two day old self refused, absolutely and loudly, to wear the matching hat. Pffft. She was smarter than us even then. Who needs a hat in the middle of July?
Donna hated hair bows. Hated them. When you are a Cancer Mom, the hair on your child’s head is a big deal. A very big deal. Donna lost her hair three times. She had beautiful curls to start, just like her brother. Beautiful curls.
In the midst of treatment, I always imagined a long haired Donna sitting on my lap hearing stories about how she was so sick as a young child. That was never to be. When Donna’s hair would grow back, it was not the same. It was straight and the texture was much stiffer than her original hair. We have science to thank for that. Her treatment was strong enough to permanently change the texture of hair that grew on her head.
The one hair decoration Donna would consent to was a black crochet spider. She was so her own little being.
Thank goodness Donna loved hats. Hats are crucial to a kid going through cancer treatment. They are worn for both warmth and sun protection. Donna had dozens of them, some mailed to us by strangers, their love in every knit stitch.
I remember well Donna’s big, almond shaped eyes peering out from under the brim of whatever hat she had chosen that day. She had the most lovely eyes. Piercing and knowing and wise. And so blue. Just beautiful. I miss those eyes staring back at me, twinkling at me. I even miss the tears flowing from them. Under the hat, too, was always the surprise of a bald child.
And now my tears flow. Each of these hanging pieces have meaning to me. I have this odd knack of recalling exactly where we were when Donna wore what. Maybe it is from all the photos we took to document a girl we knew wouldn’t always be there with us. Regardless, I am so very grateful for the memories.
The pink tutu was a gift from Grandma. Donna loved to wear it inside over her shorts or jeans or pajamas and dance. She always loved to dance around the house, wherever there was music. The kimono was a gift from a dear friend who lived in Japan. The toys in Japan are about a thousand times cooler than the toys in the States. So are the kimonos.
The green fairy dress brings back lovely memories. In June 2007 Donna wore it at home when she was so sick from her first dose of chemo. We had no idea what we were in for at that time, but there is a video of Donna coughing and wiping her dripping nose as she retrieved plastic fruit hidden all over the living room. All the while in her green fairy costume.
The next year, on Halloween day, Donna decreed she wanted to be a Fairy Flower. Out came the green dress. With a few felt flowers and green leggings, POOF, Fairy Flower she was. What a glorious day that was, Halloween 2008. Perfection in every single way. I was deep into my pregnancy with Mary Tyler Son. The sun was bright, the temperature unseasonably warm, the light delicious. And there was our little Fairy Flower, working hard to climb every stair to get her sweet treats from the kind folks charmed by her. My Dad and sister joined us. Halloween 2008, despite sensing it would be our last Halloween with Donna (and we were right, as Halloween 2009 was Donna’s memorial service), goes down as one of my best days ever.
There is the red floral broadcloth shirt Donna wore to her first and only school picture day. The navy blue knit and pleated dress worn on the first day of school. That same day the teacher pulled me aside, complimented Donna’s dress, then gently informed me pre-school was no place for dainty dresses. Sigh. I chuckle at the memory.
There is the sailor suit Donna wore to my Dad’s 75th birthday party. She had had brain surgery, her third tumor resection, just ten days earlier. Didn’t matter. She sauntered into the party loving her frock. There is the floral dress worn on the 4th of July when we were guests of the Mayor of Downers Grove, Illinois at their annual parade. There is the canvas jacket that looked so hip on her. I always wondered how Donna did hip so effortlessly. You can’t force hip. It just is.
Finally the teal wool coat with the velvet collar bought by our friend in Iowa from her local thrift shop. She saw it and said it screamed DONNA to her. It did. It still does. Donna wore it to the North Pole Christmas party at O’Hare Airport, a guest of United Airlines. It was snowing that day and as Mary Tyler Dad carried Donna to the car, the snowflakes were big and delicate and sat perfectly against the blue wool and the red beret she wore to match. She smiled, held in her Daddy’s arms, safe and warm in the snow.
So many memories, all lovely, in this closet. So much Donna. And still, it is time. As we grieve our girl, our hearts flutter with the thought of a new baby. How happy that would make Donna, another brother to love. She knows. She always did.
We love you, girl, still and always. We’ll meet you there.
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