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It was a small, sterile box of a room.
Inside sat a gray polymer desk and two charcoal hued chairs on either side of it. Sitting in the chair farthest from Sarah was Annette. She was the new therapist Sarah’s parents had recently sought out.
Strewn about the desk were some unpackaged Barbie dolls, none wearing clothes. In a few small piles stacked were miniature articles of clothing.
“Sarah!” Annette exclaimed as her pencil drawn eyebrows arched in surprise, “How nice to meet you in person. I’m quite excited for our session. Now tell me, how old are you?’’
“Sixteen,” Sarah replied quietly.
“Now Sarah, we do not typically employ this type of therapy for clients your age.”
Annette continued, “But in your case, it seems this method could be most effective.” And so she instructed Sarah to take any doll upon the desk of her choosing, and dress it as herself. There were three female dolls. One had long, straight blond hair and pasty skin. Another was quite similar aside from its curly locks. The third doll sported brunette strands and an olive complexion.
Sarah hesitated as her gleaming brow furrowed, finding none of the dolls to be satisfactory. The air was heavy, pressing down upon every square inch of her skin.
Muddy eyes cutting through the near-solid space between them, Annette got up swiftly, “I’ll leave the room for a few minutes while you decide.” Sarah reached towards a drawer in Annette’s desk, withdrawing some safety scissors. In her other hand she grasped the doll with straight, sunny hair. She cut the hair short until most of it was left in clean, bottle-blond slivers. Carefully, she placed the shears back onto the desk and examined Barbie’s wardrobe.
Barbie likes dresses, pink ones and red ones with glitter. She likes rhinestone encrusted skirts. She liked silky tank tops, soft on smooth skin. Sarah reached for a mostly plain white t-shirt, clad only in a simple studded neckline. Once again, she took the scissors and trimmed the neckline as to remove the studs. She then removed the cap sleeves, fraying their edges with her nubby fingernails.
As Annette began to re-enter the room, she stopped in the doorway.
Intently Sarah searched for pants. She found some flared jeans to be the only choice, and begrudgingly slid them over Barbie’s decidedly curvaceous hips, much unlike her own. After setting the doll down, Annette’s polished patent heels clicked over to the desk.
As though she were creeping across a bed of fallen leaves, Annette’s sister Katrina crossed the crunchy carpet of her living room to the family bathroom, gleaming fabric shears in her hand. Her oversized cargo pants grazed the floor, making swishy noises as she walked. Annette peeked from behind English homework.
The musty leaves turned to icy tile, cold like Katrina’s clammy face. She peered into the glassy mirror, examining the contours and crags of her face. That barren desert was splattered with freckles, flaking a bit from the dry weather. She didn’t notice when light footsteps crept to the door, half open. Muddy eyes watched silently as smooth, chestnut hair fell to the porcelain tile. And she didn’t notice Annette’s delicate breathing until she’d finished trimming off her hair so that it was short like her father’s.
Sensing another nearby, Katrina glanced over her shoulder, seeing a rosy lip through the crack of the door.
“Annette, “she whispered, voice quivering, “Just give me another minute, I’m almost done.”
“What are you doing?” Annette swung around the door, deciding to confront her sister.
“Oh my god, Katrina!” She exclaimed after finding her sister bent over the floor, cleaning up her hair from the floor.
“I told you, I go by Kat now,” she mumbled at the ground.
Then somehow, Annette began to laugh.
“Katrina, you look a little like that Jeremy kid who works at the Dairy Queen!” She cackled, barely getting out the words. Katrina continued picking up what remained of her hair on the floor, trying desperately to ignore her.
“Hey, hey aren’t you listening to me? Jeremy? At the Dairy Queen? Don’t you remember him? “Laughing like a nervous hyena she grabbed Katrina by the shoulder, “Katrina,” she jeered, “You look like that faggot at the Dairy Queen on Stratford!”
Trying to be assertive, Katrina told Annette to “Get out. Now. You’re not funny, Annette” barely managing eye contact.
She just couldn’t stop laughing, “Boy, you think you’re so tough, oh my god, wait till Mom and Dad see you,” she looked upon Katrina, whose eyes were getting watery, “Katrina what the hell are you trying to do?”
“Sarah, is this the doll you have chosen?”
“Yes, it is,” Sarah stated, as Annette took a seat across from her.
“Alright, would you like to talk about this, your motivations for cutting the doll’s hair? Would you want to cut your own hair?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Most people’s hair isn’t down to their knees regardless, like that doll’s is. Sometimes I think I want to cut my hair shorter and sometimes I like it longer.”
Frustrated, she implored, “And cutting the studs off the top? I see the tank you’re wearing today has got some shimmery thread in it.”
“I don’t like rhinestones. I don’t wear them ever. I don’t like dresses either so that was the only other option.”
“I see. So you feel that with the material provided this doll represent you? That’s all I’m getting at.”
“Yeah I guess so. Mostly.”
It was then the end of that day’s session, and so Sarah left, picking up the clarinet case she’d left on a chair near the door, as she’d have to go to lessons directly from therapy.
It was a particularly hot July and sixteen year old Annette was off to some pool party. She slid into her bedroom to change into a brand new swimsuit, leaving the door carelessly ajar by an inch.
Katrina had only been on her way to take an afternoon nap when she noticed a crack of the door. The house sat silent, with their parents at work. She only heard a delicate ruffle of clothes.
Curiously, she peeked in on her older sister undressing. Sunlight danced along the curves of her body, pouring in from the window.
Annette then turned around to grab her swim bottoms and saw her audience. She quickly pulled on the rest of the suit and stormed over to the open door, Katrina sprinting away in fear.
“Katrina, you pervert! Get back here!”
She caught up with her sister at the end of the hallway.
“I’m sorry Annette, I’m so sorry,” she said sobbing. “I don’t know why I did it, I just couldn’t help it. I’m sorry. Please don’t tell anyone.”
“I swear I’m telling mom this time. Don’t tell me you’re sorry; tell me why you’re looking at me naked! Can you tell me that? Can you tell me why?”
“No, no, I’m just sorry, I won’t do it. I won’t do it anymore, just don’t tell mom. Please don’t tell mom!” She was crying even harder while her sister’s face was red with rage.
“You’re just so…you’re just so pretty and I like looking at you okay? That’s why I do it; I know it’s wrong and really bad. I’m just really sorry.”
“I should have known when you cut your hair. I should have known you were a freak.”
Annette and Katrina both went to their bedrooms. Katrina was still crying, and after shutting her door pulled out an old shoebox from under her bed. It contained photographs of Annette, taken with Katrina’s purple Kodak. Today was a peculiar day, as, as Annette’s audience usually went unnoticed. She liked to flip through the stolen glances and admire them
The pictures were left splayed across her duvet and when she to use the bathroom, since Annette had left for the party.
“Yes, anything that happened at school today. An interaction with a friend, perhaps. Something that made you feel uncomfortable.”
“With the dolls?” Sarah was rather annoyed. She was used to just talking with the other therapists she’d had in the past, but obliged to the odd methods of Annette.
“Yes, Sarah. Please try, I want to help you.”
And so she took the female with short hair, herself, and stood it up.
“Okay this is me, and it’s the first day of school.”
She arranged the other dolls, some male, some female, so that they were sitting in groups.
“I’m in the lunch room, and I don’t know where to sit, so I just choose a table with an empty spot.”
Sarah then walked her doll over to one of the other groups.
“And that’s it? Were the other children friendly?”
“Yes they were nice. I’m friends with two of the girls now. The boy left a month ago because he was only there with Emily, but now they’re broken up”
“How is that an uncomfortable situation?”
“I didn’t know where to sit. I was nervous people wouldn’t like me.”
“Sarah, is there anything else you want to talk about?”
“There is one other thing. It’s not so much as one situation but an overall feeling. I really like Emily but I feel uncomfortable around her. I feel like I need to give her space and not be to friendly so she doesn’t get weirded out. I’d like to be friends with her but it’s difficult because I find her attractive.”
Sarah began to blush, and Annette became excited, giving her best advice on the matter of unrequited teengaged affection. This she had been hoping for, a way in to Sarah’s inner thoughts. This, she could work with.
After the session, Sarah’s parents ordered Sarah to the car and requested a quick chat with her therapist.
“How is our daughter doing?” Inquired the mother.
“She’s doing alright, we talked about ‘crushes’ today,” Annette replied with a giggle.
“ We’re very concerned about her. No one else has been able to help her sort things out. She dresses quite masculine but wears her hair long. She’s always been interested in both traditionally boys’and girls’ activities. We were not terribly alarmed, but when she told us she thought she needed professional help, we obliged. Yesterday I caught her masturbating-”
“I understand that might have made you feel very uneasy but I can assure it’s a very normal part of growing up, even for girls.”
“I’m aware of that, Dr. Reed. But she was looking at pictures of women from some of my health magazines, and I’m afraid she’s having a hard time dealing with these new emotions.”
“I can’t force her into such a discussion, but today she did talk about finding another girl attractive. She is starting to open up more.”