The Cultured Child

I had modeled my Barbie family after my mother's s soap operas, which always included a wealthy family and their less affluent neighbors.

My cousin Megan and I were not ideal playmates. We both loved Barbie dolls but for different reasons. She liked creating the houses. She rearranged furniture for hours, which didn’t hold any appeal to me. I took the time to create names and back stories for my characters.
I had modeled my Barbie family after my mother’s soap operas, which always included a wealthy family and their less affluent neighbors. I called them the Evergreen family. The father was the governor of the town. (Knowledge of the political structure was not my strong point.) His wife, previously known as Dr. Barbie, was a strong supporter. They had two daughters, a wild redhead named Kayla and her dim-witted blonde sister Karen. The rest of the dolls were supporting players, moving in and out of the lives of the Evergreens. They were lucky to be invited to the mansion, as they themselves lived in old shoeboxes. During a sweeps month, I would be inspired to have one of the Kens become possessed, kidnap a Skipper, and inevitably throw himself off of a cliff. He always survived and came back to town with amnesia an hour later. The stories of the soaps, as fantastical and idiotic as they were, fueled my imagination. It drove Megan absolutely crazy.
“Today they are having a party,” she would announce, eager to use the tiny pink dish set and plastic birthday cake.
“Will there be a live burial at the party?” I would ask innocently, actually hoping that there wouldn’t be because it was one of the more horrifying soap scenes I had witnessed.
“No,” Megan would say. “No burials. No murders. No one is going to steal anyone else’s boyfriend. They’re having a nice party.”
“Fine,” I said. “I can do that.”
It was a lie. I was utterly incapable of playing this way.
“Hi Bill,” Megan said in a falsely high voice as she held my Rock Star Barbie.
“Hello Alexa,” I said in the deepest voice my five-year old self could muster. “Your sister is out of town, and I think I’ve just fallen in love with you.”
“Brigid!” Megan screeched. “Stop. Doing. That.” Her face was red with rage, and I knew I had to make a concession to fix the situation.
“Fine,” I said. “Let’s play House.” Megan always preferred House , specifically the power she wielded as Mommy. In a flash she ran to the next room and returned a moment later with her can of names. I never knew for certain, but I believe the can contained one name written on each tiny folded slip of paper. Each time I reached into the can hoping to pull out a suitable name. Something like Desdemona, Anastasia, or She-Ra. Unfortunately my luck was always the same; I was to be called Caitlin. Back in Megan’s good graces for only a moment, I made a misstep by asking if I could play the family dog.
“You’re my daughter Caitlin,” she said in a tone that let me know that insubordination would be dealt with harshly. Inspired by an after school special, I decided that Caitlin would run away from home. As soon as Megan turned her back, I slipped downstairs to hide in the hall closet where I was almost immediately discovered. The door flew open, and despite the fact that my eyes were firmly shut, I was still visible.
“What are you doing?” Megan asked.
“I’m a troubled teen,” I said, carefully annunciating the words the way the school counselor had in the special. Megan looked at me as if I was the craziest person she had ever met. Maybe I was. We hadn’t met many people. Disgusted with me, Megan stomped back upstairs to use her crimping iron on her Barbie’s hair, which left it burned and brittle. Clumps of artificial blonde hair fell to the floor, the perfect doll forever marred. She never forgave me for her lapse in judgment, citing her frustration with me as the cause.
As we got older, Megan and I became increasingly different people. There is still the love of family there, but we can never quite see eye to eye. I shock her with my sarcasm, and she never fails to puzzle me with statements like, “We are the most attractive people in the room!” Last Mother’s Day, sitting down to a family meal, I reminded her of that extraordinarily narcissistic statement, and she claimed not to remember it. In fact, she claimed to have forgotten everything about our childhood years.
“I blocked it all out,” she said simply, as if people did that all the time.
“How far back have you blocked out?” I asked with no small degree of suspicion.
“I don’t remember anything before college,” she said. This left her with approximately five years of memories.
“So you don’t remember tennis camp?” I asked. “Remember how you got us both in trouble for being late because you were curling your hair? Or how you made me change my shoes before we went to the cafeteria because they didn’t go with my outfit? Or how you yelled at me for taking too much time applying sunscreen and I ended up getting sun poisoning on my legs?”
“I don’t remember anything,” she reaffirmed. “I’m sorry for whatever I may have done, but I really don’t remember.”
That was all she had to say on the subject. I felt incredibly cheated. Here was my sometimes friend, sometimes torturer claiming not to share my memories. It was practically unbearable until I realized what she was doing. She was finishing the game I had started all those years ago. She was claiming to have amnesia, the oldest soap opera trick in the book! I smiled to myself, suddenly feeling very much like a soap heroine. Oh, you’re good, I thought. You almost had me. I stopped short of saying the words aloud because in real life, unlike daytime television, people can actually hear me when I speak.


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