I had the light-blue checkered dress.
I had a small, brown stuffed dog who I called Toto (even though her name was Sheila). I had a basket for Toto that was supposed to be for the toilet paper in the bathroom. I had some black patent shoes that my mother and I soaked in glue and covered in red glitter. I had the Rainbow song down. I had the yellow-brick-road skip perfected. And I nailed the instrumental “ree-ii-deet-dee-dee-dee-dee- dee” portion of the Off to See the Wizard number every time.
For four consecutive Halloweens, I was Dorothy and one year I made my family join in; Dad was the Tin Man, Mom was the Scarecrow, little brother was the Lion, and my sister was a Carebear (we ran out of Oz costumes). Every year I wore the same Dorothy dress. Every year my Dorothy got a little more inappropriate as I grew and the dress didn’t.
Every year for Christmas we made ornaments. My brother made Christmas trees, my sister made candy canes. I made Dorothys.
The neighbor’s garden was my poppy field. And everywhere I went, I searched for the yellow brick road. I spent many late afternoons standing at the top of the hill overlooking our swooping, rural, Minnesota back yard, alone. Searching. And as the sun set, the grass, the trees, the sky, the lake, the world as I knew it turned a unique Midwest-evening-gold color. I carefully scanned the scene for evidence of yellow bricks that could carry me to my destiny. I knew they were there, I just could never find them. I feared that made me a pretty miserable excuse for a Dorothy.
Then, on my fifth birthday, I received the best gift my Dorothy heart could ask for; two tickets to the local community theater production of The Wizard of Oz.
I wasn’t even sure what a play was, but I knew it meant I was going to see Dorothy. I was going to see Toto and Glinda and the munchkins. I was going to OZ. And I trembled with excitement when I realized I was finally going to see the yellow brick road.
When the day of the play finally came, I Dorothy-skipped around the house screaming “I’m off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz because because because because BECAAAAUUUSSE….” That night I put on my too-short Dorothy dress, my black shoes that left a trail of red glitter, grabbed Toto (Sheila) and tied a leash around her neck, clicked my heels and I was ready.
I remember sitting in the theater before the show began. It was packed with people and a growing murmur of excitement—community theater at its finest. My mother and I were on the aisle about twelve rows from the stage. I was talking to her. Nonstop. Very loudly. I had many questions. Will the tornado hurt us? What do flying monkeys eat? Is that man in front of us with no hair a munchkin? She answered all of them, she always did, but in a hushed tone. Just as I was about to inquire where I could get my own floating bubble, the room went dark, the curtains opened, and the show began.
It was magic.
I saw Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, Mrs. Gulch, rode in on her bike (and almost right into a barn that was plywood painted by high school kids, but Uncle Henry grabbed her bike basket just in time). Toto was there and only peed on the stage once. I cowered in my seat as the tech crew banged on pieces of metal backstage and the light crew flashed the lights a few times to simulate a tornado. I adored the munchkins, envied Glinda’s pink prom dress, and covered my eyes at the sound of the green witch’s cackle.
And then there was Dorothy.
She was as beautiful as I had remembered in her blue-checkered dress. I sang along to every word as she stood by the wagon with hay and sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I nodded in agreement as she noted she wasn’t in Kansas and I gasped as she put the ruby slippers on her feet.
They were real rubies. It was all real.
I sat quietly in my seat, mesmerized.
Glinda pointed her wand to the floor of the stage and said in a voice as sweet as the curls in my pigtails,
“Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”
The munchkins repeated the sentiment.
Everyone on the stage was pointing to the floor….
And there was nothing there.
No bricks. No stones. No paint. No brick-shaped-stickers. Not even a few pieces of yellow and orange construction paper. Nothing that even resembled a Yellow Brick Road.
I frantically looked around the theater. Was no one going to say anything? Did no one else see something very, very wrong with this picture? I knew I had to do something.
I stood up in my chair and shouted in my loudest outside voice:
“THERE IS NO YELLOW BRICK ROAD!”
Everything stopped. The actors fell silent. Everyone turned. Everyone stared at the three-foot-tall Dorothy in a miniskirt holding a stuffed dog on a rope in one hand and an angry finger pointed to the stage with the other.
Yeah. I blew that wide open.
More than once I have felt this way—like there’s supposed to be a yellow brick road, and like other people are following it, and like I’m the only one who is staring at an empty stage with a bunch of people in costume pointing at a phantom path. Part of the reason I loved being Dorothy was because it seemed so easy. I knew all I had to do was find the yellow brick road and then follow it to the Emerald City. Skip and dance and meet friends along the way, maybe get hit in the head with an apple or two, get a makeover and I’d be there. My destiny.
How was I supposed to get where I was going in life if there was no yellow brick road?
After the outburst, my mother placed a graceful hand on my shoulder and helped me back into my seat. She leaned over to whisper that it was OK, it would be OK. I whispered back (with five-year-old-whisper volume) with genuine concern, If there was no yellow brick road how do Dorothys ever meet the wizard? There, in a dark theater, while mediocre actors made their way down a nonexistent road, my mother leaned over and spoke in a way that only mothers can.
“Sweet Kindra. Most Dorothys have to find their own way to the Emerald City. Real life Dorothys create the yellow brick road with their imaginations.”
I sat back in my seat, trying to take it all in. For the rest of Act 1 and all of Act 2, though I had waited a lifetime to see that glowing golden road, I had no choice but to use my imagination to make the Land of Oz the place I knew it to be.
When the show was over we walked into the post-show chaos in the lobby where, as if he had been waiting for her, the Scarecrow jumped out and hugged my mom. She hugged him back, told him she loved the show, and then introduced me….
I couldn’t speak. I stood there, my jaw on the ground, Toto (Sheila) dropping from my arm and hanging lifeless, inches off the floor, from her leash.
My mom never told me she was friends with The Scarecrow. (I think he was her chiropractor).
He took one look at the starstruck little Dorothy, swooped me up in his arms, and took off running, yelling back to my mom, “She needs to meet Dorothy!” His straw was scratchy on my legs as he raced down flights of stairs. My head was bouncing and glitter was flying off my shoes as we made our way to the dressing rooms. He pounded on the door yelling “Dorothy! Dorothy!” just like Uncle Henry did during the tornado. The door opened and there. she. was. Illuminated by the glow of twelve light bulbs framing the mirror next to where she stood. Dorothy turned to look at me… and everything made sense.
She wasn’t wearing her Dorothy dress, she was in jeans. Her ruby slippers had been replaced with tennis shoes and her curly locks had been pulled into a haphazard ponytail. She was nothing like I expected her to be. There was no magic, no sparkle, just a girl with pretty brown hair, a nice smile, and a kind voice.
I thought, “If she can make it to the Emerald City with no yellow brick road… I think I’ll be just fine.”
We made some Dorothy-to-Dorothy small talk until The Scarecrow brought me back to my mom, I said goodbye to the Land of Oz, and we went home.
I am still Dorothy.
I am still journeying to the Emerald City, seeking my destiny. I have danced, skipped, sung songs, and traveled with an unlikely crew of characters who would do anything for my happiness. I have fought flying monkeys, been lost in the forest, had apples tossed at my head, and fallen asleep when I should have been forging onward. I have also come face to face with the Wicked Witch, who tries to rob me of the future I desire. But for me, and all real-life Dorothys who wear jeans, tennis shoes, and haphazard ponytails, the greatest obstacle to my happiness is not some woman in a pointed hat with an unbecoming cackle.
The greatest obstacle… is me.
With every moment of self-doubt, every hour of procrastination, I watch my skin turn various shades of green. I see the words painted across my sky and hear them echo inside my head, “Surrender Dorothy,” and though I wish all it took was a bucket of water to make the problem melt away, I don’t live in the Land of Oz.
Where I live, there is no yellow brick road waiting to be found and followed. And as a real-life Dorothy, I’ve stopped searching for it. That is something silly little girls do. Instead, I carry with me a heap of yellow bricks.
I create the golden road as I go.