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In 1964, when Esme reaches the tender age of seven, she is handed a box wrapped in pink tissue paper and is told to open it. She carefully pulls the pretty paper off, and her face lights up when she sees perfectly round eyes with painted on lashes, a tiny nose and pursed lips looking back up at her. Collin comes running in on his pudgy legs as his big sister admires her new baby doll. “Colly look,” Esme says, trying to make her four year old brother jealous. Collin looks through the plastic and locks eyes with the doll. Within seconds, his tiny face fills with terror and he bursts out crying. He runs, heart beating wildly, adrenaline pumping rapidly. Esme realizes how afraid her brother is of her new toy and manages to keep it out of his sight for the remainder of the week.
A week later Esme assumes that Collin has gotten over the fear and invites three of her friends and their baby dolls over for a tea party. During the party he rummages through his mother’s drawer hoping to find something interesting but doesn’t. Collin’s insatiable curiosity takes him to the living room. Before he can start searching for knick-knacks and treasures, he sees a pink fleecy piece of fabric sticking out from behind the couch and cannot contain his desire to stroke it. As he pulls the fabric out from behind, he is taken aback at the site of a baby doll, dangling from a pink thread hanging off of its bonnet. His tiny fingers tingle, and his throat tightens up. He feels a colossal knot in his stomach. The scent of the doll, consisting of a nauseating mixture of baby powder and plastic, permeates the room. Tears swell in his eyes and just as he is about to have an episode, Mrs. Detwiler sees him and carries him out of the room.
“Collin honey, there is no need to be afraid of a doll. It won’t hurt you,” Mrs. Detwiler says soothingly as she rubs her son’s back.
“But Mommy, it’s a plastic baby. It smells real though. And its eyes look at me.”
“That’s the point sweetie. It’s a realistic toy.”
Collin remains afraid.
Mrs. Detwiler cannot handle her son’s fear of Esme’s doll so she hides it in her closet and only allows Esme to play with it when Collin is out of the house. Mrs. Detwiler makes sure Collin attends an all boys’ school where he will most likely never interact with a doll. He is content with his friends, racing trucks through block built obstacle courses, playing tag on the street and digging for treasures.
Esme has just finished the 9th grade at The Sycamore High School in Massachusetts. She decides to donate the doll collection she accumulated over her childhood years to charity. Collin is relieved when he hears the news. He can’t help but remember the secretive rectangular packages that came in every Christmas and seemed to disappear into the closet. Although he hasn’t set eyes up close on a doll since the traumatic incident he experienced when he was only 4 years old, he still possesses lucid memories of the moment. He remembers the circular eyes with painted on lashes looking up at him. Collin shivers and rubs his eyes from the memory, hoping it will fade. Fear takes hold of him. Esme, who has just entered Collins room, recognizes Collin’s fear and says “Don’t worry Coll, The dolls are gone, gone, gone.”
“They aren’t. They are still there in my eyes.”
“For heaven’s sake Collin, you’re 12 years old. Get over it,” Esme snaps.
“I can’t help it” Collin mutters.
In the year 2000, Collin reconnects with Donna, his first serious girl friend from college. Collin rides his bicycle through Central Park and sees the familiar head of red curls and long thin legs from afar. He rides as fast as he can until he reaches the girl, whom he believes is Donna. “Donna!” he cries. The girl turns around and a large grin stretches across her face displaying her flawless teeth. Collin stands hunched over and bites his lip hoping he doesn’t make a fool of himself.
“My god, Collin Detwiler, you haven’t changed one bit, still awkward and adorable.”
The two spend the evening together in a bar talking about their boring, loveless lives. An awkward silence builds a wall between Donna and Collin for a couple of minutes. Collin can tell by the way Donna fidgets with her jewelry that he is being boring. Donna calls a waiter over and asks him to bring her another martini. The few seconds that the waiter spends in between the two gives Collin enough time to engage in his anxious compulsions before having to face her again. Donna, audacious as she had always been, breaks the silence when she finishes her drink. “Collin, we’ve spent enough time here. Let’s go.” Collin agrees.
On April 25th, 2004, Donna and Collin give birth to their first child, Monica. Donna is lying in the hospital bed as Collin obsessively touches every thing he sees, and straightens out his clothes 20 times before he is satisfied. After three hours of labor, Donna finally gives birth. As the baby is placed in Collin’s arms he doesn’t just see a doll now. He sees a real baby, his own child, resting in the crook of his arms. As he looks into her circular eyes, he pauses. He smiles.
Collin wakes up every day in the morning to the sight of rosy cheeks and a tiny smile. He truly believes that he has never seen anything more beautiful than Monica Detwiler in his life. Her unique blend of Donna’s red curls and Collin’s black eyes and pale skin make her irresistible to look at. Collin and Donna cannot take Monica anywhere without being stopped several times for people to pinch her cheeks and rave about her beauty.
At two years old, Monica grows quite shy or so Collin thinks. She stops smiling at people who wave to her and she backs away from even her parents at times. When Collin sticks his face in her face and does something silly, Monica doesn’t giggle or even smile. The two suspect that she just needs a little more confidence, but as she grows older it doesn’t change. Collin gets down on his knees facing Monica and says “I love you Monica, do you love Daddy?” Monica looks up, then down, then to the side and walks away. Donna watches Monica shake her hands and flap her arms uncontrollably. She hears small mumbling noises emerge from her mouth but can no longer make out what she means. She hears her whimper and scream when not a thing has touched her or even approached her. When Donna goes to pick up her daughter, she kicks furiously. Donna watches other children of Monica’s age hug and kiss their mothers and fathers. It has never fully occurred to her that Monica backs away every time she even tries to stroke her hair or kiss her head.
It has been 3 months since Monica is diagnosed with autism. Collin and Monica express their devastation only with each other. Collin sees a change in Monica’s eyes, once full of wonder and character and now vacant, just like the doll’s. It is as if the two parents seem afraid of their own child. Anxiety controls their lives.
In the year 2010, Donna decides to bring Monica to a new behavioral specialist. The previous ones have not been effective. In the waiting room Monica spins in circles and jumps up and down neurotically. She stops abruptly when she sees a plastic foot sticking out from behind a chair. She tackles the item and looks into its circular eyes, a task she has not yet done with a human. She tugs on its snarly hair and hugs it passionately.
“Monica Detwiler?” The lady in the front questioned.
Donna then picks her daughter up and hastily sits her down in the room before she can throw a fit. “Monica,” the specialist says firmly trying to lock eyes with her. “May I take the doll away from you?” No response.
Donna then intemperately rips the doll out of the girl’s hand and throws it on the ground. The specialist senses the rage emerging in Monica.
“You know, I better leave. Maybe it’s best for Monica to be alone with you,” Donna apologizes and exits the room.
Monica and Dr. Lawson spend an hour together. The doctor seems to think that the doll helps Monica stay calm. She suggests that she keep it at her side and believes that if Monica strokes the hair and smells the plastic, she will not have as many tantrums. Donna, unaware of her husband’s phobia of dolls, agrees to let Monica keep it.
Once Monica and Donna have returned home, Monica immediately sits in her room and begins silently chewing on her doll’s plastic hair and poking its eyes. Collin crosses the threshold of her room just as her aggressive fingers begin pulling out the dolls hair and squeezing its rubbery face. Collin scans the room for Monica who prefers sitting behind her bed. He playfully crawls behind it to kiss her. Monica then throws the doll into his face, and Collin starts to sweat. Thoughts race through his brain. Memories engulf him. He looks up at his daughter and down at the tattered doll, then slides himself out from behind the bed allowing Monica to resume playing with the doll. Collin rushes out of her room but can’t resist seeing his daughter interact with it. He peeps in the doorway and watches her truculently hug, kiss and poke the toy. Collin feels trapped inside thick walls and too confined to even let a small breath escape from his mouth. He cannot avoid his daughter. He doesn’t want to take it away from her. He refuses to admit that he is afraid of dolls.
“Honey, will you take Monica to school today? I need a rest,” Donna requests.
“ Uh… sure,” he responds, knowing that by taking her to school, he is also taking the doll along with her. On the way, he cautiously watches the doll dangle from his daughter’s clenched fist. When Monica isn’t paying attention, he grabs the thing from her and tosses it aside. He then looks down at his hands and wipes them vigorously, ridding them of the doll’s scent. Monica notices. She screams at the top of her lungs. At that moment Collin courageously picks up the doll and hands it back to her. The screaming stops.
After Monica is dropped off at school, Collin lies on his bed and his ashen cheeks inflate and deflate within seconds, His skin shrivels as tears gush into the hollowed out bags beneath his eyes. He is angry with himself that he has begun to see his own daughter as a doll, silent and motionless, despite the random acts of arm flapping and twitching. The murmurs and noises Monica creates remind him of a battery charged doll that says “goo” and giggles robotically. Collin’s vision, now clouded by his successive tears, perceives the tall thin figure of his wife standing at the entrance of his room.
Collin hears the fear and confusion in her voice and sits up.
“I know, Collin. It is hard being with Monica, isn’t it?
Collin desperately wants to tell his wife. He wants her to understand, but she is not his mother or sister, or the teachers from his youth that were informed from the beginning of his fear. She is his wife, who is struggling on an equally deep level. Collin does not want her to worry about his petty fear. He knows she is consumed with fears of her own about Monica.
“Collin, talk! What’s wrong?”
“You wouldn’t understand, even if you wanted to.”
“How do you know? Honey, you can tell me anything.”
Collin wipes his moist face with his sleeve and separates his lips as if to start speaking, but nothing comes through. He is like a doll, suffocating inside of a plastic box and waiting to be opened.