Dollhead

by Vanessa Mártir Read author interview January 4, 2016

I was up in the plum tree when I saw him climbing over the piles of trash—plywood with rusted nails jutting out at weird angles, tires and license plates, bushes that pushed through all that trash. His face was twisted in concentration as he stepped gingerly over the hypodermic needles. I wondered how he’d learned to climb like that. I’d been doing it for so long it was natural to me. But him? Ramon wasn’t a climbing-over-trash kind of boy. He was always well dressed, shoes spotless, pants with a sharp crease down the middle, collar crisp and white. Me? I always had scuffs on my shoes. I stared down at my legs and picked at a scab on my knee. I had scars up and down my shins from climbing that plum tree in my backyard. There he was beneath me, looking up at me. That’s when I noticed the brown paper bag he was carrying.

Ramon smiled and brought it up over his head, holding it like that monkey in the Lion King held Simba up for all the animals to see. “I made this for you.”

“How’d you know I’d be here?”

“You’re always up there.”

I giggled then froze when I heard Mom. The last time she saw me talking to Ramon she caught me in the shower that night and beat me with the thick leather belt she got on her last trip to Honduras. She called me “puta” over and over. The “Ho” from the Honduras lettering stayed red on my thigh for days.

Mom was in the kitchen of our first-floor apartment, talking on the phone looking out at the yard. “Bajate d’alli,” she yelled. Then to the person on the line, “Esta muchacha si es machuda. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with her.” She moved away, out of sight, into the apartment.

I put my index finger over my lips telling Ramon to shush. I mouthed, “I’m coming down.”

I climbed over the dilapidated wooden fence that separated our yard from the junkyard and faced him. “So, whatchu got in there?”

Ramon pushed the bag toward me. He avoided my face while I stared at him. He had a thin mustache and a big nose, and I thought he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

“Open it.” I crossed my arms over my chest and waited.

Ramon pulled out a doll. It had a mass of reddish brown hair and big blue eyes.

I’d remember that head anywhere. Back in December we went to the church down the block to get gifts that were donated to the pobres by the riquitos in Long Island. The priest had pulled that head out of the bag and handed it to me. I’d thrown it into the trash can on the corner. There was now a body on that head.

“I made it for you,” Ramon said. That’s when he finally looked at me. “Look, I made a body out of a rice sack and filled it with frijoles.” He searched my face. I just kept looking down at the doll. That dress. I recognized the yellow cloth. I rubbed it between my fingers.

“You gave my sister that dress a few years ago, remember? You said it didn’t fit you anymore.”

I put the doll back in the bag, tucked it under my arm and looked at Ramon. He was drawing circles into the soil and gravel with the toes of his sneakers.

I grabbed his face, kissed him hard on the lips and climbed over the wall.

To my mother, I said, “Ya voy.”

About the Author:

Vanessa Mártir is a NYC based writer, educator and mama. She is currently completing her memoir, Relentless, and chronicles her journey in her blog. A five-time VONA/Voices fellow, Vanessa now serves as the organization’s workshop director and the newsletter editor. Her essays have appeared in The Butter, Poets & Writers Magazine, Kweli Journal, As/Us Journal, Thought Catalog and the VONA/Voices Anthology Dismantle, among others. Vanessa has penned two novels, Woman’s Cry (Augustus Publishing, 2007) and The Right Play (unpublished). Most recently, she was accepted to Tin House’s Winter 2016 Nonfiction Workshop where she will be working with Lacy B. Johnson.

About the Artist:

Nia Andino is a visual artist and writer from New York. Raised with the culture of Caribbean stories in her home, she is drawn to elements of visual and verbal expression that reflect culture and the condition of the human soul. Nia holds a BFA in Interior Design from Parsons, has shown work in a number of galleries around NYC and featured twice as a poet at the Nuyorican Poets Café. You can view her work at www.andinostyles.com.