The Fordham First Person series focuses on sincerity and self-disclosure. Not necessarily newsy, but always relatable, this series presents the stories of our community, recounted in their own words.
I was only seven when I committed my most shameful deed. It started off innocently enough, with me only desiring a new look for my beloved American Girl doll, but ended with me discreetly sending six dolls riding off in the back of a garbage truck to a new home.
I grew up in a family of seven girls, and so we accumulated a serious collection of dolls. Our favorites were the American Girl dolls, the collection of about 7 dolls that came with a set of books, several outfits, and a whole persona from an era in American history. They were marketed as normal young girls, just like us, only dealing with slightly larger issues like escaping from slavery or having a best friend die from cholera. They were very beautiful, with silky hair, glass eyes, and elaborate costumes. These dolls were also ridiculously expensive. All of us would ask for a doll for Christmas as our big present, sometimes settling for some of their accessories, which could range from a pouch with some plastic food for that long trek to the North to an actual mini oak wardrobe complete with a few costume changes. Luckily, my sisters and I were forced to share, meaning I had not one but ten American Girl dolls, with every accessory imaginable. I was the envy of every second grade girl.
So that summer my best friend Vanessa and I had piled the dolls onto the porch along with my extensive collection of Barbies. We were styling all of the dolls’ hair, brushing it, braiding it, twisting it. I have no idea why it was so fun back then to groom the dolls, seeing as the most elaborate hairstyle I’ve mastered on myself is a ponytail. Back then, though, my imagination was unfettered, and there was no greater accomplishment than seeing your doll looking good. My ineptitude with hair was showing though, and Vanessa was giving the dolls the type of hairdos you see at proms and weddings. It was hard to watch her one up me so clearly with my own toys, and I was struck with a strange possessiveness, a desire to do better. “I know!” I said. “Let’s get scissors!” Vanessa squealed gleefully, and I ran off to the garage, coming back wielding a huge pair of scissors, better suited for cutting through bone than hair. Scissors were still a slightly forbidden object at that age, and so of course we were beyond excited to use them. Vanessa and I promptly started destroying the dolls. It was a massacre. We started first off with the Barbies, slicing off the blonde hairs with vigor. No doll was spared. Yet their hair was so short it hardly satisfied our bloodlust, which is when I turned my eye to my Kaya doll.
Kaya looked at me innocently, just your average 10-year-old Indian girl, who rode a horse and lived in a teepee and had just made her first white friend. She was supposedly loyal and brave, but what I liked most about her was her hairstyle. She was my newest doll, and so she still had the long, perfect braid she had been delivered with. It came off with a few satisfying snips. “She has a bob now!” I exclaimed. Actually, it was a shaggy, uneven mess but I refused to let that discourage me. Instead, I would try again! With manic enthusiasm, Vanessa and I butchered 6 of the van Sambeck American Girl dolls. None of them looked very good. Surrounded by clumps of hair and the bodies of our victims, we were forced to admit maybe we hadn’t thought this idea through.
Now that I wasn’t possessed by a manic urge to destroy, I was starting to panic. My mom had drilled in me repeatedly that I had to take care of these dolls. She got mad at me for losing an outfit on the bus a few weeks before, so she couldn’t possibly react well to me scalping not one, but over half of the dolls. I was absolutely terrified to see my mom. I knew then what the only solution was: lie. “Vanessa, you can’t tell anyone! This never happened!” I shrieked. Vanessa was clearly disturbed by my panic, but agreed, slowly backing away to go call her mom to pick her up. Meanwhile, I swept the masses of hair away and threw the dolls into the depths of my closet to give myself time to think.
I spent the next few weeks working myself into a terror, convinced I couldn’t tell my mom, that it was too late. Yet I knew she would find the dolls, and then I would get in trouble for hacking off their hair and for lying. I thought about it everyday. I would come back at night and lie awake, focused on the silent accusations of the dolls that lay a few feet from me. “You will get caught,” they said. Finally, weary from a lack of sleep and determined to prove the dolls wrong, I placed them in a garbage bag and chucked them into our dumpster. Just like that, the evidence of my crime was gone.
There was no real way I would get caught now, and this gave me a profound sense of relief. “Why haven’t you played with your dolls lately?” my mom would eventually ask, and I would simply shrug, ducking my face to hide the guilt. She would go on to rationally assume they were simply misplaced and not at the bottom of a random garbage heap, and I would go on to avoid American Girl dolls for the rest of my childhood.
Vanessa and I never repaired our relationship.
My mom still doesn’t know.