(Horror stories about dolls.)
I just want to take a moment and give special thanks to my daughter’s “friend,” Laurie.
Hi Laurie. Thanks. Seriously. Because of you, Jenny refused to sleep with her dolls. That includes the stuffed animals she loved intensely until you had to make up all those stories. That’s right, Laurie. You made a fellow six-year-old too afraid to sleep with any of them.
You’re a terrible little girl.
Not long ago, Jenny told me that Laurie had been making up horror stories about dolls. I didn’t think much of it. There’s a lot of creepy dolls out there, and even at the kids’ age, they’re more than likely going to encounter some of them in the TV shows they watch. It was fine. Whatever.
What pissed me off was when I found out Laurie was making things up about the American Girl ones that Jenny has. She’d tell her stuff like, “Samantha is going to eat your cat” and “Addy wants to kill your dad” and, the one that really got me angry, “Kirsten made your little brother sick and that’s why he died.”
First of all, I don’t know why Laurie’s mother would’ve told her about Michael’s death. That happened four years ago. I was hoping Jenny had been too young to remember the worst of it.
Well, she did. And does. Thanks to Laurie.
After that, Jenny came to me and said she didn’t want any of the dolls in her room.
“They’re too scary,” she pleaded. “I don’t want them to hurt us.”
My outward reaction was one of understanding. I comforted my daughter and took the American Girl dolls out and put them in the spare bedroom. I’m still getting used to calling Michael’s room that.
Internally, I seethed. Who the hell was this kid to say these things to my little girl? She wouldn’t be visiting us anymore, I decided. It was bad enough they had to see each other at school.
Things went okay for a week or so after that. I was hoping I could move the dolls back into Jenny’s room soon.
That hope was dashed the day Jenny came home sobbing.
“Dad, my stuffed animals are going to crawl down my throat while I sleep. They’re gonna choke me and then bite my belly from the inside.”
I did a very poor job hiding my anger, and I regret how that frightened Jenny. From her point of view, it must’ve looked like I was interrogating her.
“Who told you that?” I demanded. “Is that Laurie kid telling you more of those horror stories about dolls?”
Through her tears, Jenny nodded.
“I’m calling her mom,” I announced. “This is bullsh*t.”
I dialed Laurie’s house and waited for her mother to answer. After ten rings, she did. I explained what had been going on. She was silent while I talked. After I finished, she hiccuped and began ranting. She sounded drunk.
“This is none of your f*ckin’ business,” Laurie’s mother slurred. “I can’t help it if your kid is a fraidy cat. Maybe if her mom was still in the picture, she wouldn’t be so fragile. Now f*ck off.”
She hung up.
I was stunned. My view of the kitchen reddened and tilted as a shroud of rage enveloped me.
Patricia, Jenny’s mom and my wife, took her own life after Michael’s passing. It was on what would’ve been his tenth birthday. Her loss had devastated me. If it weren’t for Jenny, I have no doubt I would’ve followed her off that bridge.
I couldn’t get Laurie’s mother’s words out of my head. I tossed and turned all night, dreaming of ways I could hurt her. I thought about setting her car on fire. I thought about making an anonymous complaint about her to her job. I thought about breaking the windows of her house.
But I knew those wouldn’t solve anything. The thoughts were cathartic fantasies – nothing more. I hoped this would be the end of all the unpleasantness.
It wasn’t. It never is.
The very next day, Jenny arrived home with a cut on her forehead. I was aghast.
“Oh my goodness, honey, what happened?”
“Nothing,” she answered, staring at the floor.
“Jenny, please. Who did this?”
“I fell on the playground.”
It was obviously BS. I called the school and demanded to talk to Jenny’s teacher. She got on the phone and tried to explain.
“I’m sorry nobody called you, Mr. Benson. The nurse’s aide was supposed to. But the injury didn’t seem major. Kids get scratches all the time.”
I did my best to remain calm. “What happened?”
“Like I said, she fell on the playground. I asked if anyone pushed her and she said no, she just slipped.”
“Who was she playing with?”
“Her friend, Laurie.”
“Did Laurie do this to her?”
The teacher paused. “Look, Mr. Benson, Jenny would only say that she slipped. A little boy who was on the other side of the playground did say that Laurie tripped her on purpose, but he’s been known to make up stories. I promise I’ll keep an eye on their interactions, but I really think your daughter just fell. But I am sorry the aide didn’t call you. I’ll be sure I tell the nurse.”
I hung up without saying anything else. That little boy hadn’t been making it up. I knew Laurie had hurt my daughter. She’d gotten bored telling horror stories about dolls and had moved on to hurting Jenny directly.
No f*cking kid was going to hurt the one person I had in my life.
Jenny was crying on the couch when I finished the phone call. I tried to comfort her. I wrapped my arms around her, which seemed to help for a little while, but she began sobbing anew when I started talking about school. She was afraid to go back.
Six-years old and afraid to go to school. I was getting close to losing it.
“Jenny, can I do anything that would help?” I grasped blindly for a solution and made a terrible mistake. “Here, honey, try this. One minute.”
I rushed upstairs and returned with one of her American Girls. I was praying she’d fall back on the positive memories she had of the doll and be able to take some comfort in it.
“Here you go, Jenny. It’s Addy. Your favorite.”
The words were barely out of my mouth before Jenny started screaming.
“Daddy get her away! Get her away! She’ll hurt you! Laurie said Addy will kill you!”
I couldn’t help myself. Tears welled up in my eyes and I bawled, cradling Jenny in my arms. We held one another for a while. Eventually, she fell asleep. I carried her to bed. By the time I’d tucked her in, I knew what I had to do. I made sure to lock the front door before I left.
Laurie’s mom was easy. She was p*ss drunk and anyone would assume she fell down the stairs and broke her neck.
But the mom wasn’t who I cared about. It was Laurie. And she wasn’t easy.
She was effortless.
Back home, I had one of the busiest nights of my life. In the end, though, it was worth it.
I greeted Jenny in the morning with a bleary-eyed smile across the breakfast table.
“You look sleepy, Daddy,” she remarked.
“I am, hon. I was up all night.”
“Up all night!” Jenny exclaimed. “What were you doing?”
“Well, something for you.” I grinned. “Want to take the day off school today?”
Jenny beamed. “Yes please!”
“Good. I want to talk to you.”
“Okay!” she said. She sounded happier than she had in a while.
“I know Laurie told you all those horror stories about dolls. And I know how much they scared you. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be scared. But the best part about being scared is getting to be brave again. And I know you’re a brave girl, right?”
Jenny nodded. She looked curious.
“I just need you to tell me one thing, sweetheart. Did Laurie hurt your lip? I promise I won’t tell your teacher or anyone in your class. It can be our little secret.”
Jenny gazed at the tablecloth.
She raised her head and looked me in the eye. Then she nodded. “She tripped me and pushed me while I was falling down. She said if I told anyone, she’d tell her mom that you did something bad to her when she was here last month. I’m sorry I lied.”
Tears ran down her cheeks. My heart was breaking.
“It’s okay, my love. I swear, it’s okay. I’ve got something very special for you, but I’m going to need you to be brave, okay? Can you do that for me?”
Jenny wiped her eyes and nodded. “Yeah.”
“Good. Just close your eyes and I’ll be right back.”
She did. I scurried down to the basement and returned with what I’d been working on all night.
“Keep your eyes closed, my love. I’m going to put something on your lap and I don’t want you to be scared.”
Jenny tensed. “Is it Addy?” she asked. “I’m scared of Addy.”
“No, Jen, it’s not Addy.” I placed it on her lap. “It’s someone who’ll never hurt anyone. Never again.”
I paused, and studied my sweet daughter’s angelic, innocent face. She looked so much like Patricia.
“Open your eyes, beautiful.”
The hollowed-out carcass of Laurie sat where I’d perched her. Jenny’s eyes widened. I was terrified she was about to yell, but in the following seconds, a wave of serenity washed over her.
“Laurie?” Jenny asked. The dead little girl didn’t reply. Of course.
“Laurie?” Jenny repeated, this time in the tiny left ear of her former schoolmate.
“She’s like Laurie, but she’ll never hurt a fly. She’ll never tell you horror stories about dolls. She’ll never trip you on the playground. She’s just like Addy and Samantha and Kirsten and all your stuffed animals. She’s there to make you feel good. Comforted. No matter what.”
Jenny touched Laurie’s eyes. “They’re soft!” she remarked.
I nodded. “She’s so much more realistic than your other dolls. And I’m gonna keep working on her so she stays fresh for you, okay?”
Jenny played with Laurie’s hair and put her hand in her mouth and felt her throat from the inside. A small dribble of clear, reddish fluid oozed from the slit I’d tried to close.
“Whoops!” I announced with an over-dramatic flair. “Cleanup in aisle Laurie!”
We both giggled.
“So do you feel better about your doll friends, honey?”
“Yes Daddy,” Jenny said. She was pushing her finger into Laurie’s ear. It went all the way to the last knuckle.
“Good girl,” I told her. “You know all horror stories about dolls are fake, right?”
“Do you want to move your American Girls and stuffed animals back into your room after breakfast?”
I grinned. “Okay, then that’s what we’ll do.”
“But Daddy, can I sleep with Laurie in my bed?”
“For as long as you want, beautiful. For as long as you want.”