Lost & Found: Part IV of IV

Lost & Found: Part IV of IV

By Derek Cernak

Almost twenty ago, a new house was built. A family with a baby girl moved in. They gave her an adorable bedtime doll. Sometime shortly after, some jerk stole it, took it into the woods, and hung it from a noose. As time passed, the noose snapped, and she fell to the ground, where she was consumed by earth. There she stayed. Until…

The bulldozers had now been giving me migraines for months. Our beautiful woods would soon be sawdust. I couldn’t leave the house to escape it. The world was literally burning. People had lost their jobs. Friends out west had lost their homes. Over 200,000 had died. The pandemic wasn’t getting better. Work wasn’t fun. And oh yes, we had just had an election.

My friends and I needed our annual day of playing in nature, so we decided to give our race, The Day Bat, a swan song. To minimize risk, we split it into two days. Eight people would run each day. We strung up the flags. We hid the peacock and the hummingbirds in their secret places. God gave us the perfect November day.

Friday was my day to run the race, but after eight hours of moving on a bad knee, I was done. For the sixth year in a row, I would not finish. On my last lap, I said goodbye to Harvey the Flying Spider, I sat down, and I cried. I was already year-long exhausted. Now I was physically and emotionally wasted. As I retired, several friends were concerned that I had no color. And I had to reset and do it all again the next day.

On Saturday I was a mess. My legs barely worked. But since I was sure that the woods we had enjoyed for so long would soon be plowed under, I decided that I would go walk our trails one last time. It was a pretty day, so after the runners started, I bush-whacked out to Binda Luma, our peaceful little glade in the forest. It was still so peaceful there, far away from the world. But on this morning, it wasn’t helping. I was lost. The world was lost. I gave up hope. I started back home. But as I was leaving, of all the places in the universe that I could have stepped…

I looked down. There, encased in mud…. was a tiny smile. I remembered the tales from the year before. Runners had been freaked out after seeing a creepy doll. In all my timesout there I had never seen her. I suddenly remembered the toy soldiers on the bottom of a river. I remembered my lost dinosaur. I thought about my son’s bear bear. I welled up. I thought about the chaotic cruel world of the pandemic.

This little doll would NOT be remaining in the mud.

It took some doing, as ferns were literally growing through her. But I pried her up, and on very sore legs, I hobbled back to base camp. There, I cut off the noose and set up a bubble bath in a bucket. It was spa day for dolly. I posted a pic of her glowing face smiling in the bubbles. It gave me joy. People replied with killer doll memes and warnings. I knew they were joking, but it bothered me. “No! She is a good toy.”

I wanted to know who she was and how to clean her up, so I got a few parents groups on the search. Mostly, I got more mockery, until I found a group called “Let’s ID Our Dolls”. I asked there.

The group overwhelmed me with kindness. These people didn’t look at me like I was nuts. They didn’t make jokes. They showed nothing but empathy for this doll, and for me. Dozens of people helped string together clues. We determined that she was a 2002 Fisher Price soft-body Disney My First Princess Bedtime Doll. That sounds oddly specific, but you’d be shocked how many dozens of Cinderella My-First-Princess lines there are out there!

I spent the next few weeks, cleaning off the wounds of time, making joyful trips to the laundry room to give her another bath, watching her come cleaner and cleaner every time out of the wash. I got the help of all sorts of toy restoration experts. Like humans, she might never be the same again, but she went from stained rags and a body full of weeds, to a magical little girl.

The months since have been restorative, and in ways I would not have imagined. For starters, laundry was no longer a chore. Every basket has become a symbol: an opportunity for renewal. I saw the need and started making her dresses. There is now a small group of us who talk fabric on a regular basis. Apparently, I was not the only football player whose mom taught him to sew. You haven’t lived until you’ve run up and down mountains all night, talking with a welder and a real-life ninja about the merits of chiffon vs tulle.

In December, I brought her on a mountain run, where others heard her story. Everyone fell in love. In her they saw hope and kindness. As a little doll heals, so can we. Some beautiful souls have shared her story in this magazine, some others have made her clothes, sent her gifts, carried her on their adventures in their backpacks, and treated her like a daughter.

It’s funny. The Day Bat is gone and the woods might soon follow. The pandemic has scarred us all for life. But I’m OK now, because of this little lost toy. Because she reminded me of my purpose… to care. I’m just like her at times. Maybe you are too: lost, abused, neglected, ripped, muddy, feared and mocked. But all it takes to wipe all that away, is for someone to care, and pass that on in turn. Thank you God. Message received.

By Derek Cernak


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