You learned, early in life, how to become a doll. You learned to show emotion in carefully measured doses, each tear equal to one pull of the string along your spine. Just enough to make your owner hold you closer, stroke your silky hair, pat that one tear dry.
You learned to be careful. Too much emotion, and your owner would wail that you were malfunctioning, that your glass eyes might burst. Your owner would peer at every inch of your porcelain limbs, searching for cracks they might need to patch up. They would squeeze your rigid wrists, clutching you tight, till their worry hurt more than any fear or loneliness of your own.
You learned that porcelain is beautiful for its fragility, for that moment it seems about to shatter, but somehow survives.
You learned how to sit on a shelf and wait and watch.
You learned to yearn for arms around you.
You learned that the wrong arms burned.
You learned that if you held all your thoughts and desires inside you, away from your owner’s prying eyes, your wishes would make their own kind of heat. Demanding and furious, just like a heart.
You learned to break yourself, to crack one porcelain finger, then two.
You learned that destruction is the closest thing to love.
You learned about masking tape, duct tape, Super Glue. You learned that people see what they want to see. They see what will keep them from breaking.
You learned that life as a doll is no life at all.
You learned that there is so little we choose. You learned that sometimes, we can’t get up and walk. Sometimes, there’s only one way off the shelf.
You learned there’s not so much difference between a fall and a jump.
Stephanie Parent is a graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC. Her poetry has been nominated for a Rhysling Award and Best of the Net.