From the age of four I was obsessed with cats, and that's why I talked my babysitter into giving me a stuffed animal she had around. It was a stylized front silhouette of a sitting cat, crafted of magenta felt, with glued-on fabric eyes, nose and mouth in flat black. It more closely resembled a quadraplegic feline, armless, legless. I named it Scratcher.
In my mother's room were a couple of teddy bears like horrifically burned pets, nubbly dark brown and featureless but for staring amber eyes. From one of these I took a knitted scarf and gave it to the cat. In his expressionless gaze and flat smile, Scratcher seemed to show more understanding than any of the kids I knew. I slept with the stuffed animal by my side, had pretend adventures with it, until its stuck-on features were cracked and countless refittings of the scarf had constricted the stuffing out of its neck, its head hanging limply. But those times came to an end, for whatever reason that childhood imagination slips away, and after a while Scratcher was just another object, forgotten in the corner of a grown child's room.
I have a weird kind of doll phobia. I'm not afraid of them. Often when I look at a doll I feel a sudden, terrible sadness and pity, as though I feel sorry for them for being trapped in an immobile body, subject to the whim of those around them, human-shaped but unable to direct themselves, unable to leave the care of their keeper and go out and live for themselves, able only to stare ahead and wear the same expression day after day.
Once while going through boxes I found a doll someone had given me as a present. I had no interest in it and was going to throw it out, but I was so overcome with sudden guilt that I couldn't. It was the doll's expression. It's not that it was looking at me or anything so foolish; it was staring ahead, unmoving, oblivious.
I didn't notice these feelings at first. When I did, it wasn't long before I decided that the dolls were me. Or like me. The earliest I remember having such feelings was near the end of college, as realization grew that the news doesn't tell the truth and the police are not here to protect us and we do not really run the country. At home I theoretically had freedom, but my will had been suppressed, my energies directed by my mother, and later directed by others. In their helplessness the dolls were much more like me than any living person I knew. What I was feeling was horror at my own situation.
Why don't I feel this way about humans, about the homeless who I seem so sympathetic towards? I feel pity for the discarded, but I don't hurt with empathy, because I am not human. So much combined effort has been put into pushing me out, making me feel unwanted, isolating me, treating me like a tool, like a commodity, that on a subconscious level I do not consider myself the same species anymore. I have made the dolls into my species.
The dolls never have spoken to me, no matter how much I wished as a little kid that they would come to life. But they sometimes seem to look at me, seem to ask 'What will you do now?' When I was young they gave me comfort; now they seem to look to me for an answer.