My Twisted Dreamhouse

Morgan Blaettler

When I was little, I loved Barbies. Buried in the safe nook in the leftmost corner of my room, I played with my Barbies religiously for hours and hours on end. Configuring the imaginary lives of these dolls, giving them a fairytale ending in their Barbie dream house, allowed me to escape my reality. But I wasn't playing God in their stories. I immersed myself into the intricacies of their thoughts and feelings until I nearly became Barbie myself.
Growing up an only child, I received the entirety of my parents' attention, but I was left without a built-in playmate, a scapegoat hate you, but I still love you sibling, a go-to lunch buddy, a side-eye at a family dinner, a build a fort on a Friday night friend. So, Barbies filled this void in my life, and, by default, I became undeniably close with my parents when I was younger.
Being an only child also came with some perks. I was the house to go to when my friends wanted to come over and play. Whether it was Barbies, legos, making slime, or becoming mermaids in the pool, my house was the place that fostered childhood imagination.
One day, a friend in my class came over to hang out, assuming that since we reached the ripe age of twelve, it was no longer accepted as a "play date" anymore. We'd eaten a snack in the kitchen, and the two of us excitedly made our way to my bedroom, where she examined my toy-covered floor. That lively evening, she asked me, "Aren't you too old to still play with Barbies?"  
When did the world decide I was too old to do something that made me so happy? Why was a time limit placed on the most beloved happenings of my youth?
Nevertheless, that night, long after my friend had left and my parents fell into slumber, I gathered every one of my Barbies and embarrassingly piled and pushed them to the corner of my floor. They screamed faint cries as I impassively dragged their lifeless figures, but my ears heard no sound but the repeating pulse of my shamefully attached heart.
So, the next day, when I boxed away my Barbies, sealing them shut for good, I sealed away a piece of my childhood, a piece of me. I boxed away a part of who I once was when the real world seemed feasible, before time came in between my mom and I. I packed away a time before I built up the wall to conceal the emotions of an aging teenage girl. And soon after, I assured my mom I could walk myself into school without her.
Before I could look back, I was walking into my sophomore year of high school, beginning to map out my future and take on the new experiences of a teenager. But, the battle against my one ever-present fatal flaw had finally reached a climax. That November of sophomore year, on a cold, dark winter morning, my parents drove me to Stanford Hospital, where I endured my first of two L5S1 spinal surgeries. Here, I laid in the hospital for five days after rods and screws were embedded into the interior of my back. It was insufferable, something I would never have imagined I would have to take on as a 15-year-old girl.
There have been many definitive moments in my life where I've felt immense bits of my childhood escaping, but this proved to be the most ruthless of them all. That memory, the pain, the scars, and especially, the mental burden, I carried with me from then on. None of my Barbies had depression; they were all blissfully happy in their plastic bodies, each ignorantly sharing the love of my one Ken doll. They didn't have scars on both sides of their frame, which no one noticed underneath my clothes but still prevented me from doing the most mundane activities of a normal teenage girl. Why me? I never wanted more to go back in time. I knew my life from then on would always consist of physical therapy and masking my growing mental illness.
After being discharged from the hospital, my daily routine took a shift. Along with my clothes, my socks, and my shoes, I began to put on a smile to conceal the unexplainable pain I carried with me each day. I wore it around my family and friends, only taking it off in the silence of my room. I held the feeling in a deep spot in the leftmost corner of my heart, where I buried it with my Barbies. And every day, when my mom and dad, who loved me and wanted to help me the most, would ask me how I felt, I would lie and say, “I’m fine” because it was just easier. Not only was it easier, but I refused for them to take on the weight that I carried and know that their daughter wasn’t their happy little girl anymore.
That same inhospitable winter of 2020, my grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. The doctors regretfully informed my family that her memory would continue to become progressively worse within just a few months. It was difficult to accept that there would come a time when my grandma may no longer remember me. My family and I continually began to notice increased forgetfulness, confusion, wandering, and mood swings. My twelve-year-old self would hear these symptoms on a medical commercial and tune it out while I waited for the next show on the Nickelodeon channel. But that was only three years before. How can so much change?
Another three years following, a few months before I left for college, my mom and I went to the movie theater to watch the Barbie movie. Towards the end of the film, a song called "What was I Made for?" played to a flashback of a mother who longed for the time when she and her daughter played with Barbies together. As the daughter grew up, she became more distant from her mom as the glue of the Barbies faded out of their lives. I turned to my mom and saw tears run down her face, and she looked over at me as if I were still that same twelve-year-old girl who would do anything for her Barbies. My throat grew heavy, and tears streamed from my eyes, too.
Driving home from the movies, my mom broke down once again and grieved, "I'm losing my mom, and now I'm losing you too." This was gut-wrenching. I wish the worst of our worries remained the stillness of the house as I sat on my bedroom floor amongst my Barbie dolls. Who will take care of my parents as they grow old? As I see the unbearable burden my mother has to take on in caring for my grandma, I feel the guilt of leaving them alone as pieces of my grandma's memory chip away like sediment scraped from a precious fossil.
Since then, every time “What was I Made for?” plays on my car radio, I drive, and I drive, and I cry from beginning to end. I so heavily grieve my past self. I mourn the innocence of girlhood and my closeness with my mom. I feel my childhood slipping away like sand through my fingertips, like shade overtaking my shadow.
Didn't my mom try to warn me when she made me watch 13 Going on 30? I will never live at home again. I won't play with Barbies or hold my mom's hand walking into school. Wasted birthday wishes, hoping to force the clock into the future, now waking up on Christmas morning without the excitement of Santa coming. I worry how the world I leave behind will change while I'm away at college. We want to move away. We're always searching for something we don't have.
When I was little, all I wanted was to grow up. And now I'd do anything to go back. I never got to say the proper goodbye to my Barbies or just thank you. I never got to say goodbye to my childhood; no one really does. Now, it's just a distant wave, and it will continue to become more distant until someday I reopen the memory, unbox the Barbies, and give the gift to my future child. And they, too, will learn that growing up is an inevitable, beautiful loss of the bliss simplicities of childhood.

Morgan Blaettler is a freshman Creative Writing major at Chapman University in Orange County, California. She loves writing poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Her favorite genres of writing are horror and mystery. She also loves watching and playing basketball, going to the gym, thrift shopping downtown with friends, and swimming at the beach in her free time. 

"Day 15 - Barbie pile" by lorda is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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A magazine for teen writers—by teen writers. Under the Madness brings together student editors from across New Hampshire under the mentorship of the state poet laureate to focus on the experiences of teens from around the world. Whether you live in Berlin, NH, or Berlin, Germany—whether you wake up every day in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North or South America—we’re interested in reading you!