By Emily Erickson
I ran my fingers through her bubblegum hair and across her cold, tan skin, thumbing the jewel that rested where her belly button should be. She had round, bright eyes, a smile that stretched across the entirety of her face, and she wore green swim trunks that fell just above her ankles. Her name was Ellie, and she was my perfect, prized troll doll.
Trolls, like Ellie, have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, with each of their iterations having particular significance in the various stages of my growing up.
Ellie was around for my imaginative play years, when games didn’t have pre-planned scripts or need to be downloaded. We’d visit the worlds that existed between the peeling yellow wallpaper and the fluffy shag carpet of my bedroom, using the Tonka truck we’d borrowed from my brother to collect the hair clips we’d steal from my sister.
But more than any other game Ellie and I would play, we loved to invent stories; ones that oozed with unexpected twists and turns, and numerous characters containing all of the depth a 5-year-old mind could muster. She was my confidant and my partner in crime, and helped me learn the joy of living with imagination.
The next troll to enter my life was one from a storybook, and was critical in my “becoming” years.
I found the book when I was helping my grandpa clean out the drawers in his living room cabinet below a sign that read, “I’m not stubborn, I’m just Norwegian.” It had fake gold lettering and was bound with ribbon, titled “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” It read, “translated to English” on the cover and went something like this:
This troll was repugnant, living under the bridge that connected two grazing pastures, looming over an expansive and powerful river. On one side of the bridge resided the Gruffs, a family of three goat brothers, who were a few years apart in age.
Much to the Gruffs’ despair, the side of the bridge on which they lived was far from being the grass-filled field it once had been, and they were growing hungrier by the day. They knew they had to cross the bridge to get to the grassy meadow on the other side to survive, but the troll that lived there was notorious for eating anything that tried.
So they fashioned a plan. The youngest brother, who was the smallest goat, went first over the bridge. As he approached, the troll lunged, ready to attack. But before he could, the little goat yelled, “WAIT! I’m the smallest of my brothers, the next goat to pass will be even bigger than me and you must be hungry.” So the troll, in his greed, let the smallest brother pass.
The middle brother crossed next and was confronted by the troll. But before he was eaten, he yelled, “WAIT! I’m just a medium-sized goat, my brother is bigger and will make a far more satisfying meal than me.” So the greedy troll let him pass as well.
Finally, the third and biggest brother entered the bridge, and he too, was confronted by the troll. When the troll exclaimed, “I’ll gobble you up!” the third brother lowered his great horned head and knocked the troll into the river below, watching as the greedy troll bobbed out of view.
The Three Billy Goats Gruff lived happily ever after in their grassy meadow, never to be bothered by the terrible troll again.
I carried this story with me through my formative years, understanding (in addition to the toxicity of greed) that sacrificing present opportunities at the promise of future ones can be slippery, and that nobody, even the biggest, strongest, and most formidable among us are promised tomorrows.
The final troll to enter my life has been a collective one, emerging in the last two years. Since I’ve become a writer, I’ve encountered internet trolls, or people that negatively comment or reply to the things I create without any semblance of constructiveness, but rather, as crafted jabs at my character.
Initially, these trolls loomed as large on my confidence as the troll that lived under the bridge, keeping me from even attempting to reach the meadow on the other side. But, after living with them for a while longer, I’ve realized, like the Gruffs, that these trolls aren’t as impenetrable as they seem. I’ve learned that internet trolls don’t actually care about me at all, but instead seek opportunities to stir emotions in themselves by stirring emotions in others.
And it’s one of my many privileges in having a public voice that I get to be trolled at all. So, if you need me, I’ll just be over the bridge eating my fill of grass.
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