Two decades ago, my sister’s room was filled with a massive collection of Mary-Kate and Ashley dolls, Bratz, and Polly Pockets. Dolls she could place inside of plastic houses. Dolls she could control. Dolls she could hold in her fist.
I preferred dolls I could cradle in my arms, push in a stroller, seat at the dinner table. Dolls that felt like a flesh-and-blood child, that came as close to realism as possible.
So when my best friend in elementary school invited me to her house for the first time and paraded me into a room filled with American Girl Dolls — with names like Felicity and Molly and Kirsten — I decided that I needed to own one.
At the time, I had no idea how expensive they were. I only knew my parents promised me one for the holidays. Only one.
I flipped through the catalog and decided on Kit. She sported a blonde bob with freckles scattered across her cheeks. She came with a purple outfit, my favorite color, and she looked the way I imagined my own child would look after I married Aaron Carter.
After unwrapping her from beneath the tree, I hugged her against my chest for a full hour, refusing to put her down. My parents bought a bunch of accessories to go along with her: extra clothes and a second pair of shoes and reading glasses.
My sister never touched her, never had any interest in playing with her — until one day.
After school, without any rhyme or reason, she walked up to the doll, pressed her head against its lips like she was listening to the whispers, and said, “Kit just told me she is going to kill you.”
Then she left the room.
I stuck my Fun-Dip-blue tongue out at her, even though she had already disappeared. I never took her threat seriously. Even as a kid, I was intelligent enough to realize an inanimate doll could never hurt me.
But the next morning freaked me the fuck out. I woke up with marks on my wrists. Two vertical, red slashes on each side. They were written with sharpie, but meant to look like self-harm scars. (I knew all about cutting, because our older cousin had attempted suicide that way. Our parents had reluctantly told us the story after she went missing from our weekly slumber parties.)
When I rolled out of bed and reached for my doll, she had the same markings. Except instead of sharpie, there were two rows of still-wet blood.
I never screamed. Just stood there, shivering, unmoving. I didn’t want to tell my parents. I thought they would take my doll away — and even if she was somehow bleeding through her plastic layers, I wanted to keep her. I loved her. So I found a wash cloth, wiped her clean, and said nothing.
That was the first time I realized it was possible to fear someone and love someone all at once. To wonder whether the person you lived with would kill you.
At night, I stored Kit inside of the closet. It took me forever to fall asleep, jumping at every sound of the wall creaks and water heater, but I managed to drift off around midnight.
My mouth opened before my eyes. The screams erupted from my lips when I felt a pinch against my chest. The tip of a knife, digging into my flesh.
When my eyelids parted, I saw my doll, my best friend, my baby with a knife duct taped to her hand.
I could feel someone else on the bed with me. Someone my size. My sister, holding onto the doll by the waist, forcing the blade against my skin like it was a game.
My legs thrashed beneath the sheets. I leaned up, knocking Kit out of my sister’s hands. Then I scratched at her, and she scratched back, her long nails carving crescents out of my arms.
The fight ended when I flung her off the bed. She landed the wrong way against the carpet and broke her arm.
After the incident, my parents placed my sister in therapy (four times per week) and convinced me to go once per week for closure. I begged them to kick my sister out of the house, put her up for adoption, ship her away to another family member — but they said the knife was only a butter knife, she was only playing, she wouldn’t really hurt you. They kept repeating those phrases to make me feel safe, but their faces made it obvious they were equally as terrified.
A few years later, after behavioral problems in middle school, my sister was thrown into an institution. When she hit eighteen (by then, she was free and living on her own) she rotated in and out of jail for petty theft and drunk driving.
We haven’t heard from her in a while. She went missing after her most recent boyfriend was found inside of his bathtub with slit wrists. The police ruled it a suicide. They didn’t even suspect her.