by Ankitha Venkataram
She sat there, her eyes vacant, or full of life; it depended on how you perceived her. I hadn’t seen her in years but her confidence and beautiful blonde hair had remained with me long after I’d coldly cut off ties with her in my early teen years.
When I looked at her on the supermarket shelf now, just four days away from my 18th birthday, I felt like a little girl again, wanting to cling to her effortless confidence and take shelter in it. Who even decided 18 was a good number to load a huge deal of crap on someone and strip them of their title of being a child?
The quality had come down. The Barbie with the purple summer dress on the shelf looked pretty enough, but she was still too plain. Her smile was too fake, even for a plastic doll. She would never fit in with my collection. They were all buried in a bag and tucked away safely in some corner of my home. I thought my little cousin could experience the joy when she visited but she never did. She had a pink Nintendo in her hand instead, and lived Barbie through game levels.
I needed to speak to Barbie like I did before. I was at the onset of adulthood. I had four days left. It was a stupid thing to do but this was the only way I could make sense of things. Eighteen is supposed to be the time to be naïve but let’s not kid ourselves, which eighteen year old of this generation is naïve and idealistic? Nowadays, everyone has been taught to live with their feet firmly on the ground. Study hard; get into a good university and make good money. Dreams are for people like Barbie who live in a land where you can do whatever you want, and I wanted to do that for a little while.
I wanted to buy the perfect Barbie, one that outshone the others. I wasn’t 18 yet. On paper, I could still behave as I liked.
I eliminated all the fancy malls from my search, because I knew they would all contain tacky Barbies in purple dresses like the one I’d seen. I decided the best location for me to get my doll would be from the big toy shop coincidentally named “Big Toy Shop” where I’d gotten my last Barbie when I was nine or ten.
Two days before my birthday, I scanned the place to check out which one I wanted, and which one would fit the price I had in mind. Even though it was a birthday present, I didn’t want to binge over a doll. I suppose my parents had succeeded in keeping my feet placed firmly on the ground. I still didn’t see what was good about the ground though; the sky seemed endless, a place only birds and children could inhabit; it was banished for adults.
It was really disappointing to see that all the dolls had been modified. They weren’t soft and feminine anymore. The marketers seemed to be going for an almost blinding brightness. A majority of the ones I found were those Idol Barbies with the tacky microphones and hideous clothes.
As I was sulking over this, I received a call from a friend.
“Hey, where are you? I wanted to ask you if you wanted to hang out tomorrow. You can even sleep over and we can celebrate your 18th getting wasted! What do you say?”
Although I liked alcohol, the last thing I wanted to do now was get drunk on my eighteenth birthday. Alcohol was too grown-up for me at the moment. Why was I even turning 18? I guess I was going through something like a mid-life crisis but instead of evaluating what my life had amounted to so far, I didn’t know how to start anything. Why didn’t anyone talk about things like this?
“No, thanks, I’m not in the mood for getting drunk. Maybe next week? I’m busy tomorrow anyway.”
After receiving groans of disapproval from my friend, I wondered what I was doing.
I was ending my childhood, not entering into a second one. After all, I’d been yearning for so long to turn18 and experience the much-talked about freedom that adulthood supposedly brought. Yet, now that I had the chance, why did I feel so suffocated? As if in answer to my question, a Barbie fell off the top row of the shelf I was standing under. When I picked up the Barbie, I felt like I’d grasped something tangible in a black hole.
She was Barbie: the Explorer. She came with several different outfits and there were cute little photos of her in each place doing lots of adventurous things. I knew I had to have her, and luckily, her price was within my budget.
It was strange. I had no real aspirations to travel but I liked her more than all the other Barbies. I scrutinized others in the hope of finding one that would relate to my life more. I couldn’t find any Barbie that I wanted more.
I bought it immediately. When I went home and removed her from the box, I wondered how exactly I was supposed to play with her now. I wanted to be a child, I’d gotten a piece of my childhood back, and technically, considering my affection for her, my childhood should have come back to me naturally. Why then wasn’t I able to play with her? It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Childhood was easy. Why couldn’t I slip back in?
It was then that the knowledge that had been so hard to come to terms with for the past few weeks, finally saw the light of comprehension. I would never be her. The fact that I didn’t want to be her didn’t matter. It was the same while I was young. My favourite “dreams” were always out of my reach; I was a princess, a movie star, a queen. They weren’t dreams; they were easy delusions of a little girl. From now on, delusions were answerable. It was nice and fun to be Barbie, nice to always be up in the sky, but along the way there are certain things that weigh you down until you reach the ground. No matter how hard it is to admit, delusions must stay delusions. From now on I was legally bound to reality, and reality felt so boring.
It was all so depressing and irritating. I could go out, get drunk and not think about any of this. I could start playing with her, but everything seemed so pointless now. Why was I being philosophical about a Barbie of all things anyway?
It was stupid of me to expect to play with her like I did 10 years ago. The 8-year-old me and the 18-year-old me were different. I wish I could say I didn’t feel stupid at all while I was attempting to talk to her and play with her, but no, I could only take half an hour of it before realizing it was futile. But still, just for having an 18-year-old girl as her owner, this Barbie was special. I would still make mistakes, behave like a child sometimes but I would try not to be so immature about it. It was time to stop thinking so much and finally have some fun. It was time to put a rest to a period of my life that had been awkward and clumsy but happy and fun at the same time.
“Hey, I was wondering if that offer was still open. I’m totally free in the evening and would love to stay over. The business I had in the morning is done. So I want to have a bit of fun tonight. I’m not really in the mood for getting smashed, but I don’t mind a drink or two. Is that cool with you?”
Ankitha is an 18- year-old journalism student who loves writing. She has a penchant for writing poetry and short stories and fancies herself to be a novelist someday. She has many ideas for the novel and wants to start work on it but is constantly distracted by her battle with procrastination. With her head in the clouds most of the time, she adores fantasy novels and thrillers. Only recently has she started submitting her work to magazines, and she remains relatively optimistic about her prospects.