I met Tyler Wentworth in 2003. That was the darkest year of my life, but meeting Tyler helped me through it just a little bit. And I needed every little bit I could get that year. When Tyler and I met, my world was spinning out of control. It had been just over three months since I lost my first husband to cancer. He died three months after our wedding day. At age 29, I found myself both a newlywed and a widow.
Overwhelmed with grief, I was unmoored and devastated. I quit my job and barricaded myself inside my apartment most days, where I wept continually and surrounded myself with photos and reminders of my late husband. My mother was desperate to pique my interest in anything that would motivate me to leave my apartment and live again. So she dragged me to the doll industry’s now-defunct East Coast Doll Expo in Washington, DC.
Mom had read about the expo the day before in the Washington Post. She knew nothing more about it, except that it had to do with dolls. And mom and I loved dolls. We’d been collecting Barbies together for about ten years. So she drove to my place, dragged me out of bed, and pushed me into the Metro.
As we traveled to the hotel that was hosting the expo, I began to feel guilty at the prospect of possibly enjoying myself at the event. In those early months of my grief, I feared happiness as much as I did my constant misery. Being miserable at my loss somehow kept my husband’s spirit more present to me. In those days, grief was tangible, and the only thing I could rely on.
When we arrived at the hotel, mom and I were taken aback at the size of the event. I will never forget the moment we walked through those ballroom doors into the massive showroom. There were dolls of every shape and size as far as the eye could see. Mom and I had previously only attended small doll shows dominated by a pink sea of Barbie and friends.
I like to say that it was at that moment of taking visual stock of a room full of artist dolls unlike any I had before seen that Barbie died to me. This was especially the case when I stepped up to the Tonner Company’s considerable display and beheld for the first time Tyler Wentworth in all her couture beauty. Barbie was a pathetic little fairy in comparison. It was clear our relationship was over.
I quickly pulled my mother over to the booth and showed her Tyler. We thought she was enormous compared to Barbie, and I had never seen outfits so exquisitely tailored and detailed. Everything fit her so well. There were little buttons, little belts, sparkly jewelry, and handsome handbags. There were business suits and swim suits and gowns. Mom said she would buy me one of these little masterpieces, and I poured over Tyler and the members of the Chase Modeling Agency, looking for the face that spoke to me most.
Now what mom and I failed to understand was that these particular dolls were not for sale. The primary purpose of the expo was to provide a showroom for retailers looking to put in their orders for the year. So when I picked up a brunette “Super Stripes” Tyler and brought her over to no less than Tom Courtney, asking to purchase it, he gave me an indulgent smile. Tom, who headed up Tonner’s marketing and design team at the time, gently explained to me that these dolls were not for direct sale, and he handed me a piece of paper that listed the dealers that sold Tonner’s products, mostly online.
My mother and I spent the next few hours wandering around the room, discovering new artists, some of which I still collect to this day. But no other doll made quite the impression that Tyler did. When I returned home, I immediately logged on to my computer, and Savvy Stripes Tyler was on her way to my apartment. My mother would tell me years later that it was that day at the expo that she saw me smile for the first time since my husband’s death.
Since that fateful day nearly thirteen years ago, my life has gone in totally unexpected directions. The raw pain that ravaged me upon the death of my first husband slowly dulled with each passing day, month, and year, and today I am able to recall him with warmth and joy rather than pain and sorrow. He is always with me, but as a source of comfort rather than sadness.
I have since remarried a wonderful man and gave birth to our beautiful son. I have a successful career and good friends. I can’t complain. Life has tossed me occasional curve balls, but I have successfully fielded each one and come out on top.
Doll collecting continues to play an important role of my life. I have made many friends in the community, and I even founded a local club. I’ve gone to several conventions and have been delighted with the kindness and creativity of the doll collecting circuit. And, of course, I started a blog that has attracted an enthusiastic following for which I am so grateful.
I still have that first brunette Super Stripes Tyler. She has traded her striped swimsuit for a sharp business suit, and I’ve accessorized her with glasses, stylish boots, and a brand-name handbag. I like to think that she represents me after I was able to dig myself out of the deep hole of grief that once threatened to consume me. She has seen me through a period of tremendous change, and she will likely see me through much more.
The doll who started it all – Super Stripes Tyler