"When you live for someone you're prepared to die"
My Barbie doll didn't wear a dress. She wore a black wetsuit that was so much a part of her identity that it was painted right on to her skin. She had plastic pink flippers and a pink one piece bathing suit that complimented her immaculately applied makeup. (Waterproof mascara, no doubt.)
She was supposed to be a whale trainer at SeaWorld, but I decided that she was a marine biologist named Sandy. This is exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. That is, before finding out that in order to be a marine biologist, I would have to be able to both swim underwater and dissect animals. The horror.
Sandy's hair was a frizzy mess from too many undersea adventures. She bore the scars of deep teeth marks on her thigh from when the dog got hold of her. I later explained her injuries as a shark attack. She was so brave.
The girl across the street – Nicky - had a very different idea of what the perfect life for her doll entailed. Her Barbie (actually named Barbie) was a party animal. Her favourite past times were trying on different outfits and dancing to Ace of Base and Michael Jackson with every handsome Ken doll we could find. There was actually only one of these so he was forced to take on many different identities.
Barbie didn't want to collect data with Sandy on endangered sea urchins, because she didn't want to ruin her hair. Sandy was stuck trying on stupid ballgowns that clashed with her wetsuit. I felt sorry for her.
Eventually, it was decided that both Barbie and Sandy would marry Ken. (As mentioned, we only had one boy doll between the two of us so it couldn't have gone any other way.) The sisterwives both became pregnant.
I declared that their lives were over and everything would now be boring. Nicky tried to convince me otherwise, but having Barbie and Sandy carry around toilet paper bundles (babies) had no appeal for me. Sandy abandoned her nameless bundle to Barbie and took off on an adventure to never be seen again. Perhaps she had postpartum depression.
Twenty years later, I still look back on this and wonder what made me feel so opposed to the idea of motherhood, even then. Women with babies come into the restaurant all the time, eyes full of expectancy. They seem to be waiting for the waitresses to coo and exclaim over their sleeping infants. It seems almost cruel to purposefully deny this and pretend that the car seats they've towed in don't even exist. When forced to acknowledge them, I have to ply my lips into a tight smile that I can only assume makes me look like the Grinch. I should really be kept away with a ten foot pole as to not traumatize entire families.
Two and a half years after Sandy's fatal aquatic downfall, my sister was born. I was twelve. Mum, busy with the dishes tried to hand Sydney's flailing, screaming body to me.
“No,” I shook my head. “I'm busy.”
“Nichole. She's just a baby.” Emphasis on the word 'baby'. “ Why do you hate her?”
I didn't hate her. I was terrified of her.
I held her anyways, her body red and hot from screaming. Her face perpetually tear strained. I was told she had collic, but I didn't know what that meant. Just that no matter what I did, it would never stop her from belting out her misery and disrupting everyone within earshot from whatever they were doing.
My mother quit her job to become a stay at home mom. The neigbourhood that we lived in had deteriorated and was now no place to raise a baby. We moved to Strathmore – otherwise known as The Middle of Nowhere. Our famous house parties stopped. Family friends visited less and less. On the few occassions that they did, they'd wink at me and make comments about how I'd found myself a new job as a built in babysitter. I'd shut myself in my room until well after they'd left.
Sydney, now eighteen years old, delights in these stories. “I was just a baby,” she says. Emphasis on the word 'baby'. “I couldn't help it.”
“I know,” I say. “Neither could I.”
She laughs. My sister laughs as easily today as she cried when she was a newborn. Her eyes are full of mischief and humor. “Tell me again about when you had to tow me to the hospital in the red wagon.”
“When you jumped off the sofa and split your lip?”
“Alright. But you should send off your tuition deposit first.”
She's been accepted by two different universities to study biology.
Sandy would be so proud.