When I was growing up my favourite, most special toy was a troll doll named Sylvia. She had a soft body clothed in a pink satin ballet costume with a spotty net tutu, and a solid head with plumes of pink hair sprouting from it. I utterly adored Sylvia.
When I was about 8 my mum took myself and our friend Benoit to London for the day on the train. On the way home I forgot Sylvia in a toilet in an underground station, and for some reason didn’t realise until we were on the train home. My mum, because she is that kind of person, got us off the train and back into London to go on the hunt for Sylvia. We found her, and she came home with us. She was there with me everywhere I went, everywhere I lived. My doll.
When I moved in with my ex, Adam, she came with me. Adam was violent. He was abusive. I found myself living in a situation where I wasn’t allowed to leave the house without permission, where I was interrogated about anyone I spoke to, where I wasn’t allowed to choose what I ate, when I had sex, or what I did. Everything was controlled and I was frightened. Every night I held Sylvia close. When I cried it was into her tufty pink hair that I cried. Yes she was just a doll, but she was my doll. She was my doll that represented the innocence of childhood and the safety of my mother.
I got the courage to end it with Adam. It was extremely stressful and extremely hard. I didn’t manage to take much. I left Sylvia.
With the help of Adam’s father we went back to the house, Sylvia was gone. He took her. Adam took my doll. He didn’t take her because he loved her, and he didn’t take her because he loved me. He took her because he knew it would hurt me. Because he knew what she meant to me.
My mum was heartbroken for me and, because she’s that kind of person, took to eBay. She hunted and she fought, and she bid an extremely high amount of money to get a replica. A clean, fresh, brand new, undamaged, unstained pink ballerina troll doll. She presented it to me on my birthday, a month after I escaped my abusive relationship.
I freaked out.
When I unwrapped the parcel I thought it was my Sylvia. For that brief moment I thought she had managed to get my Sylvia back. Then I looked closer. No rips in the tutu. No ink stains on the face. The pink suit was bright and fresh. The hair unmatted and clean.
I panicked. I flung her down. I looked at her in horror. It was like a sudden punch in the gut, reminding me of everything I had just escaped. It was not my Sylvia. It was an imposter. A replacement for the memories and safety that could never be replaced. A reminder of everything I had lost when he took her.
My mum cried. I cried. We hugged. I couldn’t look at Sylvia again for a very long time.
It took time but New Sylvia stopped representing the pain and the loss and the fear, and started to represent the love and kindness of my mother.
Miss Rose now loves Sylvia. She is Rose’s first, and only, Sylvia. Rose cuddles her, kisses her, and spins around in a circle holding her. Sylvia has accompanied us to the gym, to the supermarket, and to the playground.
A fresh start for me, a first start for Miss Rose. A childhood doll that is being filled with new memories. She will get matted hair, a ripped tutu, and pen on her face. She’ll go through the washing machine after being dragged through the mud, and I will hold my breath in terror until she emerges safe and clean. She will be a best friend, both again and for the first time.
A childhood doll. Not my childhood doll, but Miss Rose’s childhood doll.
And for me? A doll that represents everything a mother’s love should be.
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