I'm not ashamed to admit that I loved playing with Barbie dolls. I never noticed the fact that Barbie and her friends were demeaning to women of all ages based solely on their unrealistic shapeliness and their flawless faces. It wasn't about Barbie's appearance. I didn't care if her hair got stiff and snarly or if she lost one of those teensy pink heels that were impossible to keep on her permanently tippy-toed feet. It was all about the stories. I had millions of stories sprouting and blooming in my head, and I was desperate to pluck them out...to give the characters a voice.
Barbie, Ken, Skipper, Midge, PJ (an updated version of Midge), and Scott (Skipper's friend) suited my purposes to a tee. I played with them every day...always immersing them in one drama or another. My parents and grandparents fed my addiction, branching out from Barbie and friends to buy other Barbie-sized dolls for me...Dolly Parton, The Captain and Tenille, Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie Osmond. My characters had grown into an ensemble cast.
I could entertain myself for hours.
My sister, who was four years younger, was not aware of the intricate plot twists I had prepared for each Barbie session. She was more interested in dressing the dolls up and "coming to visit." While my Barbies were embroiled in the heat of an argument or the throes of despair, my sister would walk her doll over to my area of the playroom and make her give an awkward stiff-armed knock on the invisible door that separated my area from hers.
Irritated by this interruption, my Barbie whipped the invisible door open and stood there expectantly.
"Yes?!?" I made my doll say.
"Can I borrow some bread?" my sister's doll asked. Seriously. That was her only line.
While I am not ashamed of playing with Barbies, I am ashamed to say that my doll usually shouted, "I'm out of bread!" or "Buy your own bread!" or something equally harsh, turned on her little plastic heels, and slammed the invisible door on my sister's doll, barely missing her tiny chewed-up plastic fingers.
My sister would retreat to the other side of the playroom and watch as I acted out the scene where my one-armed Skipper brought everyone to tears with her brave gymnastics routine.
Then, one day, tragedy struck. I was playing outside in the fenced-in front yard. It was a sunny day, and my Barbies were spread out on the lawn, the front porch stoop, and the concrete walkway. I had multiple story lines playing out in my head, maneuvering from one scene to the next when I realized I needed to take a quick break to go inside and use the bathroom. I was only gone for a few minutes, thinking the whole time about the next chapter in one of the many ongoing sagas my dolls were acting out for me. I hurried back out to play some more only to find that my favorite doll, Dorothy, was missing. I knew exactly where I'd left her, and she wasn't there. I was stumped. I walked, then crawled, from one pile of dolls to the next, raking my hands through the short grass. Where was she? I found her tiny yellow woven basket with the little gray Toto still inside; but Dorothy was gone. I retraced my steps, looking carefully in the bathroom just in case I had carried her in with me...no sign of her. She was missing. No one in my family seemed to know anything about her disappearance. I gathered up my other dolls and put them away for the day. Dorothy was gone. The next few afternoons, my Barbie stories were devoted to mourning her loss. Barbie and friends moved on; but I always wondered what in the world had happened to Dorothy.
A few years ago, my sister and I were talking about toys we'd had as kids and how we wished we'd kept them in mint condition and wouldn't we make a fortune on eBay, and then I wistfully mentioned the day that Dorothy went missing. My sister was uncharacteristically quiet.
I stared at her.
"Do you know what happened to Dorothy?" I asked.
She looked a little sheepish.
"I thought you knew," she said.
"Knew what?" I asked.
"I thought you knew that I took Dorothy that day and hid her in the basement in a hole in that cinderblock wall."
I couldn't believe it. After all those years, I had discovered Dorothy's fate; and it was just as horrific as I'd imagined.
"Well you should go right back there and get her...at least see if she's still there!" I said.
"We haven't lived in that house in 29 years!" my sister exclaimed. "Those people will think I'm crazy if I ask to go into their basement and look for a doll I hid there three decades ago."
"I can't believe you did that," I said, my voice brimming with indignation. Then I remembered all the times I'd ignored her while my Barbies and I acted out one adventure after another. I knew, in my heart, that Dorothy's abduction had been partly my fault. My little sister had just wanted to play. I should have given her all that imaginary bread she'd asked to borrow and maybe Dorothy would have been spared. At least I finally knew what had happened to my favorite doll.
That Christmas, following my sister's confession, she seemed especially excited for me to open my gift from her. I unwrapped the box to find Dorothy, circa 1974, mint condition, the little woven basket with Toto included. Granted, it wasn't my Dorothy; but it was the thought that counted. Come to think of it, I should have given my sister a loaf of bread.