From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

I’m Going to Buy a Paper Doll . . .

I have learned that to have a good friend is the purest of all God’s gifts, for it is a love that has no exchange of payment.

Frances Farmer

Most Sunday afternoons after church, my best friend, Pat, and I sat huddled close together at the dining room table, sharing crayons, paper and scissors, and making clothes for the latest paper doll figures that appeared in the funnies section of the paper that day.

We would patiently draw around the forms of the dolls, always remembering to include the essential tabs at all the right places so the clothes would stay on, and then begin designing the most elegant and beautiful, or outrageous, costumes eight-year-olds could imagine.

After we were satisfied with our pencil work, we colored them, cut them out and added the latest creations to the decorated shoe boxes that we pretended were steamer trunks.

This entire adventure with paper dolls, as I remember, consisted not so much of actually playing with them, but in seeing which of us could make the prettiest clothes. Pat usually won the competition. Even at an early age she had a certain flair, which makes me sad that she didn’t pursue a career in fashion design.

Our fascination with paper dolls lasted for several years, until Sunday afternoon activities began to center more and more around our own clothes, experiments with makeup and boys. After high school, Pat married a local boy and started a family, then became a widow a few years later when her husband died suddenly and unexpectedly.

Following high school, I went away to college, married and lived in the East for a few years. During the time I was away from Texas, Pat left our hometown and moved to be near her dad, both as an escape from her memories and for help in raising three young children. Our contact over the ensuing thirty-plus years was limited to birthday and Christmas cards, occasional telephone calls, and even less occasional visits. Despite this, we remained best friends.

I had not thought about our paper doll days in a long, long time. That is, until about a month ago, when I learned my best friend, Pat, was terminally ill with cancer in both kidneys.

Three weeks ago, I went to see her. As I drove, I rehearsed over and over in my mind what I would do and say. Even that didn’t prepare me enough. I found Pat, who had always been doll-sized compared to my generous frame, swollen to twice her normal size, having difficulty breathing and unable to do basic things like bathing or preparing a meal for herself.

After hugs of greeting, we sat down at her kitchen table and over coffee, talked about how spring was early this year, what our children and grandchildren were doing, and how long it had been since our last visit. Our conversation then shifted to more serious matters: the pain she was having, the terrible side effects of the medication she was taking and how she was managing financially, since she could no longer work.

She looked puzzled when I finally opened the shopping bag I’d brought and took out a shoe box, some crayons, lined paper and a pair of snub-nosed scissors. Her puzzled look vanished when I handed her the Barbie paper doll book. Leafing through it, we commented on how the books still didn’t have enough pages of clothes. Then, just like so many years before, we huddled close together and began designing the most elegant and beautiful, or outrageous, clothes we fifty-year-olds could imagine. Afterward, we held hands and cried.

I am glad I went to see her, although it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. For a brief time, we laughed and talked just like old times, and I noticed as I hugged her good-bye, her eyes seemed brighter than when I’d arrived.

Pat died just two days after my visit, but I won’t forget her. Or my mother’s words of long ago: “Remember, honey, God only gives us one best friend in a lifetime.”

Carol J. Rhodes

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