“There is a name for that,” she said, and I must have given her a funny look because she got all defensive.
“I swear. There is. I’ve read about it before. The fear of puppets is called pupaphobia.”
I was impressed, I must admit. Never had I heard that there was an official name for someone who couldn’t stand those unnerving little things with frozen faces and beady eyes that don’t blink and that move around all creepy-like in their fake fur or little fake clothes, pretending to talk when it’s really not them talking at all. Pupaphobic. That’s what someone is called who is afraid of puppets.
And that would be me.
I never really considered myself frightened of puppets — just one of those people who chose not to associate with them. I wouldn’t bother them or get all up in their puppet business, and they would leave me alone. Puppet, keep your distance. You are not welcome here. I never really thought of myself as scared.
Until one Christmas many moons ago when Santa brought me a Howdy Doody puppet. And I’m not talking about a Howdy Doody puppet cut out of felt that you stick on your hand. It was the real deal — a ventriloquist dummy with a hard plastic head with molded red hair, big ears, blue eyes, and freckles. He was decked out in a bright blue neckerchief and plaid shirt, blue pants and hard plastic shoes. It was Howdy Doody, all right. All two and a half feet of him. And he scared the bejeezus out of me.
To be fair, Santa wasn’t playing a cruel joke on me. I had managed to keep my puppet aversion a secret for several years, knowing full well even at a young age that letting older brother and sisters know that I was afraid of the darn things would only result in terrorism by puppets with me as the victim.
I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.
To look at my new Howdy Doody, he was perfectly innocent. I could even deal with sitting him on my lap. But the first time I realized I could pull a little string and make his mouth open and close, I was totally freaked out. And when I saw that his head could turn all the way around on his neck, all I wanted was for Santa to come right back and take this Satan dummy back to the North Pole.
I tried to love Howdy, I really did, and with time it did get easier to live with him. I would go about the house living life as always … playing, doing homework, watching television and fussing with my brothers and sisters. Meanwhile, he would lay lifeless in the back of my closet forming what I can only imagine was a meaningful relationship with my Crissy doll, also banished because a doll whose hair grows when you twist a plastic knob on her back was just too freaky for me. Click … click … click went the knob. I get chills just thinking about it now.
I don’t recall what happened to Howdy. Or Crissy, for that matter. Maybe they formed an escape plan and ran off together. Maybe they got donated to Goodwill. Or maybe they got put into a Piggly Wiggly grocery bag and hidden at the bottom of the big trash can by the house that got taken to the dump outside of town every week. But now I wouldn’t know anything about that …
I’m sure there is a name for that, too. Like puppet homicide …
Sounds perfectly substantiated to me.
Email Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.