Sidebar: Grief Barbies
Back in the day, in that time between legally becoming an adult and actually becoming one (which, for me, was roughly the span between the ages of 18 and 32), we used to drink a fair amount. And by “we,” I mean “me,” and by “fair,” I mean “a lot.” And because I have always been a multi-tasker, I used to like to combine that drinking with other forms of recreation, like shooting pool, or dancing, or playing “Barbies Nobody Wants.”
I know what you’re thinking, because I used one of my last three magic beans to open a portal into your brain. You’re thinking: This explains so much.
And you’re right: it does, including the 63 percentile drop in my math score from the SATs to the GREs, as well as some inexplicable relationships, that one pair of zebra-striped pants, and a couple of group poems written on cocktail napkins.
What’s that? You’re also thinking, But wait: what is this “Barbies Nobody Wants” thing?
I tell you what, I’m pretty busy packing for our big move right now, but there’s really no point in feeding and clothing an Exposition Fairy and giving her a roof over her tiny head if she isn’t going to help out around the blog now and then. So let’s have her explain, shall we?
Exposition Fairy: No.
Me: I wasn’t asking.
Exposition Fairy: Honestly, do you really think your “readers” are that stupid? They weren’t thinking any of that But wait nonsense. Because what’s not to get about “Barbies Nobody Wants”? They’re Barbies. That nobody wants. The end.
Me: Well, but you still have to explain about–
Exposition Fairy: And what do you mean, “tiny head”? My head is a perfectly normal size for a fairy. In fact, according to Wikipedia–
Me: Okay, so here’s how “Barbies Nobody Wants” works: you sit around brainstorming the worst possible Barbie or Barbie accessory you can think of, like Agoraphobic Barbie, who–
Exposition Fairy: doesn’t come out of her box. They get it.
Me: Or Coroner Barbie. Or the Barbie Weasel.
Exposition Fairy: Are you working your way to a point?
Me: Or Canadian Barbie. Or the Barbie Bag of Day-Old Bread.
Exposition Fairy: How are any of those worse than some of the actual Barbies they’ve come out with, like, I don’t know, the Spanish Teacher Barbie your friend Amy’s brother gave her?
Me: That! That, exactly, is the point toward which I’ve been working!
Exposition Fairy: Pretentious Grammar Bitch Barbie?
Me: Ha ha! What a delightful fairy you’ve been! I, for one, am going to miss you.
Exposition Fairy: What’s that supposed to mean? Was that a threat?
Me: But I’m not going to miss you for two.
Exposition Fairy: Because you’re not pregnant?
Me: See? You get me, after all. So guess what I’m thinking right now. Go ahead.
Exposition Fairy: You’re thinking that this is a really lame way of trying to tell what is ultimately a fairly sad story about how much you miss your mom. And that you should have just tried to tell it in a straight-forward manner, but now you’re stuck with all this silly bantering with me, and I don’t really even exist, but each time you delete this stuff, you find it impossible to do the material in a way that doesn’t just sound like you feel sorry for yourself.
Me: It’s like you have magic beans.
Exposition Fairy: Look, why don’t you go back to boxing up office supplies and I’ll finish up here, okay? I’ve got this.
Me: Are you sure? What about the part about the Francies? What if you tell it wrong?
Exposition Fairy: How’s this? Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there was a little girl whose mother wouldn’t let her have any Barbies.
Me: But not because she was a mean mom—
Exposition Fairy: But the reason the little girl’s mom wouldn’t let her have Barbies wasn’t because she was mean (though technically she was, to some people. Technically and spectacularly, actually. Just hardly ever to the little girl).
Me: Oh my God. Just let me do it.
Exposition Fairy: Please. Her co-workers gave her a “Miss Congeniality” banner at the office Christmas party one year. Because of sarcasm.
Me: You’re ruining the story.
Exposition Fairy: Sorry, sorry. Okay, the reason the little girl’s mother wouldn’t let her have Barbies was because the little girl’s mother was a feminist. Who felt that Barbies, with their unrealistic measurements, were setting a terrible example for little girls, and sowing the seeds of body dysmorphic disorder—
Me: Though she wouldn’t have called it that—
Exposition Fairy: –and which, ironically, she herself already had.
Me: Stop. Let’s just stop.
Exposition Fairy: We’re halfway there already. Long story short: the little girl’s mother did, however, let her daughter have Barbie’s younger and flatter-chested cousin, Francie. Who looked, coincidentally, more than a little bit like the little girl’s mother, herself. Except—
Exposition Fairy: –the little girl’s mother had a way larger chest. Barbie-sized, in fact.
Me: Those were confusing times for the little girl.
Exposition Fairy: But the important part of the story is how, once the little girl’s mother indulged the little girl with the Francie, she put her heart into it, buying the little girl other Francies to keep the doll company, as well as a Ricky or two (a freckled, teen-aged boy doll), and even a handful of Skippers (don’t ask). Best of all, the little girl’s mother even designed and sewed clothing for the little girl’s Francies and Co., including some really cunning and intricate southern belle outfits when the little girl fell into her Gone-With-the-Wind phase. The mother even signed up to be an assistant Brownie Scout Leader for the little girl’s troop, so she could help all the little girl’s friends make southern belle clothes for their dolls–
Me: –which were mostly Barbies–
Exposition Fairy: –too.
Me: They were made out of felt squares, and red velvet, and the hoop skirts had actual wire running through them, to make them stand out.
Exposition Fairy: Seriously, I’ve got this.
Me: I just don’t want you to leave out the part about how magical it all was.
Exposition Fairy: It was very, very magical. Even though the little girl never got to have a real Barbie, what she had, she realized when she grew up, was something so much more special. She would take out the Francies from time to time, smooth out their hoop skirts, and remember her mother at the troop meetings–the only mom with a college degree; the mom who would soon go back to school and get her MBA; the mom who would set fire to her husband’s Playboy magazines the day after she threw him out–bending over another little girl to show her how to sew the hook-and-eye clasp at the hoop-skirt’s waist. She was a little girl who didn’t have a Barbie, but who had the weirdest, most interesting mother of all.
Me: And then, the minute I had a little girl—
Exposition Fairy: And then, the minute the little girl grew up and had a little girl, her mother sent the baby—
Me: –an honest-to-God Barbie. And not just any Barbie, but a Princess Barbie—
Exposition Fairy: Or maybe it was a Wedding Barbie—
Me: Long blonde hair, huge boobs, no waist or hips, and a puffy white dress, and maybe a mirror that made noise when she looked into it to admire herself?
Exposition Fairy: Or wait, is it this one, with the multi-colored ball gown that kind of looks like a flower? Which, by the way, I would totally wear.
Me: You would look adorable in that. That is such an Exposition Fairy dress.
Exposition Fairy: So but, anyway, the mother sent her grandbaby girl, who was all of like two or three days old, a by-God Barbie. And in a couple of weeks, she sent her another.
Me: I think I packed that one in the other box. The one with the string you pull to grow her hair?
Exposition Fairy: And for every special occasion after, a Barbie. And then, for her first birthday, an entire BARBIE HOUSE.
Me: The Barbie Beach House! It was green, and had a swimming pool on the roof. And you could hook up this hose-thingie and make water run in the shower! Look, look, here’s the hose. And part of the white plastic railing that ran around the pool, to keep the Barbies from falling off the house!
Exposition Fairy: And then the grown-up little girl had another little girl, and now the Barbie-gifting doubled. The Barbies acquired possessions along with real estate—a car,
Me: These Barbie Unicorns with light-up feet! Look, this one still lights up!
Exposition Fairy: –and, one amazing Christmas, some baby Barbies and a little roller-coaster theme park for them to play in, complete with go-carts with seatbelts to strap the babies in. When the grown-up little girl’s mother would come to visit, she’d play beauty parlor with her grandbabies, using tens and hundreds of little barrettes and ribbons and pony-ties to style the Barbies’ hair. And then, shockingly, suddenly, when the grandbaby girls were only 4 and 2, when the grown-up little girl was still in her thirties and her mother was only 64, or maybe 65?—
Me: –she died.
Exposition Fairy: Should I stop?
Me: Why stop now? This is the part the whole post’s about, right? About how I lost my mind?
Exposition Fairy: Right. Okay, so the mother died. And then the grown-up little girl came home from her funeral in Iowa, and she sat down to play Barbies with her own little girls. But it was all wrong. There weren’t enough. The girls needed more Barbies. And the Barbies needed more things. The grown up little girl went to Toys backwards-R Us and bought some more Barbies, and then, to give them room to spread out, a Barbie Town House. And a Barbie Mini-Van.
Me: And a Barbie Bus. And an Airplane. Don’t forget the Barbie Airplane.
Exposition Fairy: Week after week, for a year, then two, the grown-up little girl went out to gather up Barbies. There were Barbies of all colors. Asian Barbies. African Barbies. Barbies from Chile. Barbies from Spain. Designer Barbies from tv shows, like That Girl and I Love Lucy. Barbies from the Wizard of Oz. One day, she even brought home a real, commercially made Gone with the Wind Barbie, and a Rhett Butler Ken, each of whom cost nearly a hundred dollars.
Me: But she couldn’t stand to look at them, and so she mailed them to a friend.
Exposition Fairy: Right. Those were the only Barbies the grown-up little girl didn’t want. Eventually, she cleared a room in the basement and gave it entirely over to the Barbies, who needed the space for their seven houses, their stables, their horses, their fairy land, their amusement park, their castles and their camper homes.
Me: The Barbie Room.
Exposition Fairy: It was a great room.But eventually, the grown-up little girl got divorced, and had to sell the house, and the Barbies crowded into a much smaller room in a much smaller home, and maybe the grown-up little girl moved past the grief that had caused her to compulsively buy Barbies, or maybe she just ran out of room to add any more. And then, one day, the grown-up little girl’s girls took the Barbies to their father’s house, where they could spread them out.
Me: Ha! And then he got remarried.
Exposition Fairy: Right. And the Barbies eventually came back, minus a lot of their real estate. Plus, because the grown-up little girl’s girls were growing up, the Barbies came back with tragic haircuts and missing limbs, their clothes sliced up and sewn up into funky and curious styles the girls themselves had made up, without quite actually knowing how to sew.
Me: Because their grandmother didn’t have time to teach them.
Exposition Fairy: Right. And then one day, the grown-up little girl remarried, and then, many months later, she and her new husband put in an offer on a house. Which was accepted. Then, after much craziness, it became clear that the grown-up little girl was actually going to move again. And that she and her kids were going to have to sort through the years of toy accumulation and get rid of the things they no longer wanted, now that the grown-up little girl’s kids were very nearly grown-up.
Me: So the grown-up little girl made her nearly grown-up little girls pull out the Barbies, to figure out which ones they wanted to save to someday show their own little girls, the way the grown-up little girl had saved a couple of Francies, along with a hoop skirt or two.
Exposition Fairy: So they spread out the eight huge boxes of the Barbies that remained from the gifts of the grown-up little girl’s mother, and the years of the grown-up little girl’s grief, and they designated a pile for those they would keep, and those they no longer wanted.
Me: But it was really hard to make the call. The grown-up little girl couldn’t remember which Barbies her mother had given her girls, and which she’d acquired for them, and the girls couldn’t agree on which ones they could easily give up.
Exposition Fairy: Which leaves us with this pile of potential donations, in which, so far, there’s just one headless Ken. And what looks like—what is that? Is it a shark?
Me: It’s a killer whale, from the Barbie Amusement Park. A Barbie Killer Whale.
Exposition Fairy: Okay, that’s worse than the Barbie Weasel. Or the Barbie Bag of Day-Old Bread.
Me: No it isn’t. Never mind, let’s keep that. We need to keep the Barbie Killer Whale.
Exposition Fairy: So the moral of the story, as you can see, is that, eventually, everyone grows up. And when we grow up, we have to leave behind the games of our childhood. Even “Barbies Nobody Wants.”
Me: Okay, I think I’m going to have to ask for my magic beans back.
Exposition Fairy: Actually, I think one of the Unicorns ate them.
Me: Wait, I don’t think we figured out what this has to do with feminism, did we?
Exposition Fairy: No, I don’t think we did. But don’t look at me for answers: I only have a tiny head. And I’m not even real. But I am wearing a really fabulous Flower Fairy dress. And sometimes, that’s meaning enough.
Me: By the way, thanks. For an imaginary creature, you’re kind of all right. I appreciate the help just now.
Exposition Fairy: Nice try, but don’t think you can distract me with flattery. Put the headless Ken back on the pile.