Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Military Pilot Trained for War is Afraid of....Baby Dolls?

by Sarah Smiley

In honor of Halloween: a tale of fear, dolls with missing hair, and a lesson in what's (not) normal.

Some people are afraid of clowns. I get that. These people don't go to the circus and they don't hire clowns for their child's birthday party. Other people are afraid of birds, thanks to the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock movie. They avoid aviaries and don't buy pets with feathers. My husband, Dustin, the highly educated military pilot trained for combat, is afraid of something else. Dustin is afraid of baby dolls.

"I don't like the way they stare at me," Dustin says, adding that he thinks dolls switch places and run around the place, possibly with knives, each time he leaves a room, only to get back into their original position when he returns. Dustin is especially afraid of antique dolls, the kind that have blinking eyes and are losing some of their wiry hair. Unfortunately for him, my grandmother in Missouri has truckloads of these dolls. We stayed at Grandma's house last week while she was in the hospital recovering from a heart attack, which was not doll-related.

Grandma has two new life-size dolls, held up with metal braces that my son Ford (6) observed were "going up the doll's bottom," standing in her living room. This is how Dustin was greeted upon entering the house. I saw him shudder. But we were with my dad, a retired admiral and once my husband's active-duty superior, so Dustin had to pretend the dolls didn't bother him. He bravely walked past one that came up to his knees.

My mom, an antique collector, also has an impressive (or, "gruesome" if you are like Dustin) array of old, plastic dolls scattered around her house in Virginia. Some of the doll's heads are loose and wobble on their necks. A few of the blinking eyes are stuck closed; the others just look cross-eyed. Most of my mom's collection is so old, the plastic is sticky and there are exposed "pores" on the scalp where clumps of hair have fallen out. There was a least one occasion when my mom traded dolls with another collector on eBay and a set was shipped with the heads in one box and the headless bodies in another. Luckily, Dustin wasn't there to see that.

But my mom is sensitive to Dustin's fear, and she hides the dolls whenever we are visiting. Then, Dustin opens the closet to put away his clothes and finds a pile of naked dolls, with their heads twisted sideways, or worse, backwards, staring at him from the top shelf. He doesn't find this nearly as funny as my mom and I do. In any case, given the fact that most people shield Dustin from baby dolls, he was taken back by all the "staring dolls" in my grandmother's house.

"Your room will be the first one on the right," my mom said as Dustin came through the living room with another load of suitcases. Dustin turned to enter the room and said, "Oh God!" There was a pile of baby dolls on the bed, each of them staring up at him even though their bodies were facing a different direction. But Dustin was going to be brave, and perhaps employ things he'd learn at SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) school. He would not mention the pile to anyone else.

About an hour later, I went with my mom, dad and the kids to the grocery store. Dustin stayed behind to do work. As we were pulling out of the driveway, I had a vision of Dustin bound and gagged in my grandmother's basement. The dolls, of course, would be back in their original places.

When we got back from the store, Dustin was tired (presumably from fighting off dolls), so he headed off to bed. While he was brushing his teeth, my mom took pity on him and moved the dolls. Only she forgot one waist-high girl standing in the corner, next to the bed.

Dustin finished in the bathroom, said goodnight to everyone, and went into the room Mom had said was "his." He closed the bedroom door. A few minutes later, Dustin ran back into the living room and practically jumped onto the couch like a kid running away from an imaginary monster in the middle of the night. By this point he didn't care that my dad was there or that he himself is a grown man. He huddled his knees up to his chest and said, "The doll says that room is hers."


Sarah Smiley is the author of SHORE DUTY, a syndicated newspaper column, and of the memoir Going Overboard: The Misadventures of a Military Wife (Penguin/NAL, 2005). Read more about Sarah at www.SarahSmiley.com


Anonymous said...

Lord, that's funny. As a military wife myself, I can definitely testify that as courageous as these boys are, they aren't brave ALL the time, that's for sure!

Mine is scared of mice. You should have heard the squeals and seen him jump on the chair a few years back, when we lived in our Decatur Dump (as I so fondly called it). Thank heavens for the dog, who nailed the mouse in one feel swoop.


River Jordan said...

No, no. I BELIEVE him. My Aunt Kate had a walking Suzie doll, too. (okay, it was cousin Beverly's but when she grew up and moved out of the house the doll stayed with Aunt Kate)and let me tell you if that doll said the room was hers she meant it. Family members one and all not just doll scairdy's knew the doll did indeed walk around and she didn't even CARE if she made it back to the same place. I woke up one morning with her leaning in and breathing over me, her glassy eyes full of murder (thanks to a little help from my son)and I knocked her head off which was no easy feat. People who had to sleep in the room with Suzy would finally sneak out of bed at night grab the doll the best they could without touching her and RUN her to another room and try to shove her behind a door. You just knew if she were chopped up, burned, and run over by a semi, she'd still be staring at you the next morning. I think all the Suzy walkers were possessed! Can I get a witness?