My neighbors, my friends, my colleagues, they all say I should "lighten up" as a mother. "Children are allowed to have fun. It doesn't ruin their aspirations or steer them away from their dreams." They don't understand. I want my daughter to be successful, unbridled by regrets and missed opportunities. I want her to have fun too, but I also don't want her to be haunted by her past.
When I was Abigail's age, six to be exact, I was just like her. I loved Mom. My father faded in and out of the family portrait. I was bright, and intelligent. I was reading at three and by six years, I had skipped a grade. Mom made sure I received every outlet and took advantage of any educational opportunity. Abigail and I only have one difference: my bedroom was full of dolls. Tall ones, short ones, white ones, black ones, human ones and animal ones. My room was full of them, an audience watching my childhood.
Out of the entire collection, there was only one doll I didn't know. It hadn't been on television recently and Mom hadn't passed it down to me. It was a beautiful piece, an ebony porcelain doll with polished matching brown eyes. It wore an elegant, bright teal dress with white lace trimming. Its hair was long, black and curly. It looked just like me, and thus, it became my favorite.
I took it everywhere, like any little girl would, including to stores, school and sleepovers. I named her Cecilia. One day, I even asked Mom to fashion my hair like hers. She thought it was adorable and happily obliged.
An entire year passed. I was entering the third grade at this time. In America, that means students begin taking standardized tests. Their academic progress is closely tracked so they learn and grow at a competitive pace. Mom and I weren't too worried about my scores. However, she did want me to perform well. We knew I was advanced, but we need paper to show it. Later, I learned Mom was planning to send me to an upstanding private school after elementary school and would need scholarships. Outside of school, we would practice together and hold mock standardized tests. This took most of my time. Instead carrying Cecilia around, I carried books. Most of all, I loved it, to learn, to read.
One night, Mom trusted me to study in my room rather than in the dining room. Under a small lamp, I carefully read novels under the light. If my memory is correct, it was an American Doll series. I sat in my bed, reading the words intensely.
A trick of science, light is. The surrounding atmosphere seems darker when a lighter object contrasts it. However, when that light is off, the atmosphere seems clearer when in reality, it's basically the same darkness. I had finished my reading for the night. I reached over to my desk nearby, set down my books, and turned off the lamp.
When I turned to lie down, Cecilia and I caught each other's eye. The same fake, dark eyes stared down at me from the shelf. I froze. I wanted to look away; I wanted to just go sleep, but I couldn't. The white of its eyes seemed brighter than usual, its pupils and irises darker and smaller. I even saw the nude, pale brown lips curl into a smile. I broke away from the glare and slid under my blankets, like a turtle retreating to its shell. Though uneasy, I eventually fell asleep.
My eyes popped open to the same polished whites and small black pupils close to mine. I opened my mouth to scream for Mom, but nothing but only desperate inhales and choking escaped. The same curled smile mocked my childish attempts. It's hair filled the remaining of my vision. Cecilia was all there was. I could feel her weight, much heavier than any other doll. She seemed to tower over my body, like a teenager pinning down a younger sibling during a tantrum. Cecilia had grown.
Just as I felt the last gasps for air growing weaker, I gripped the cold, porcelain wrists only to hear my own wailing and crying. Mom burst in with a phone in one hand and one of her tennis rackets in the other. No one was there. She dropped both and went to hug me.
"Shhhhh. Shhhhh," she cooed. "It's okay, honey. It was just a bad dream."
"I want," I said between sniffles, "I want Cecilia."
"Of course, sweetie."
That's when I felt my own weight be lifted from the shelf. The sudden feeling jarred me out of my shock as I watched the scene through glass. Mom carried me to my outstretched arms, but the child that begged for Cecilia was not me. It was seven years old, had ebony skin and long black hair with brown eyes, but it was not me. It gave me a cold, devious glare and curled its nude, brown lips into a smile.
That night, I stood alone and helpless on the shelf while the seven-year old child tossed my books to and fro. She kicked my papers and broke my pencils. I couldn't move. I was a doll. I couldn't even cry, but I could get angry. Inch by inch, Cecilia edge closer and closer to the edge. A few times, the seven-year old would look up with that same smile, taunting me. While she was busy with her destructive work at the furthest corner of the room, I had reached the very edge. The child gave me another evil look, proud of her work. I mirrored her and moved another step. The slight rush of air through my black curls was the last thing I felt.
The next morning, I woke early and cleaned Cecilia's mess, except for the shards of her body. I let Mom find her. She looked at the pieces for a little while and suddenly, a horrified look washed over her face.
"This was Mom's doll," she whispered. "Then it was mine."
"I'm sorry, Mom. I-I didn't mean to break it."
"No, honey... I'm sorry." It was as if she knew, or she remembered. "She was supposed to go away."
Mom got my uncle Joe, who worked at a factory, to toss the pieces into the furnace the company used to recycle materials. Strangely, it was a toy factory, but it was our only effective choice.
So yes, children can have fun, and yes, they can have dreams. My daughter will have fun, and my daughter will have dreams, but not dolls. She doesn't play with dolls.
Written by TaylorE628