i was, and still am, the girliest of gals. while my brother’s little-boy, grass-stained clothing is solely responsible for my mother’s impressive stain-fighting skills, my younger, dress-clad self despised the mud (my adult self still does), expressed utter distaste with anything resembling physical activity (AHEM), and frequently praised the invention of air conditioning (PRAISE BE), TLC television (yesteryear’s HGTV), and three-minutes-and-done Ramen noodles (still a guilty pleasure).
and while my girly childhood years certainly had their fair share of doll play, it wasn’t until adolescence when my fifth- to seventh grade-self recognized the storytelling goldmine that is the Barbie.
during that time in my life, my closet wasn’t just a place where i stored designer jeans or carefully selected outfits that complemented my features (though i’m sure i did some of that). instead, my bedroom closet held a much greater prize: a long-haired, brunette Barbie doll with smudged lipstick that my drama-obsessed self named Hope, after the famed Hope Brady on my pre-teen-self’s favorite soap opera, Days of Our Lives.
while many of my friends spent their summer days riding on the bike pegs of a cute boy’s bike and giggling and letting their hair down loose to fly in the wind, i would often huddle in my bedroom and invent stories for my Barbies. these stories weren’t unlike those that were chronicled on Days; as the director of my own drama, so to speak, i didn’t hesitate to invent one angst-ridden debacle after another for Hope and her fellow actors, mere pawns at my disposal.
Hope’s stories, her trials and happy endings – she was damn lucky, that Hope; she was never left without a happy ending, at least at the culmination of each day’s storytelling – satisfied any shred of desire that i had to pursue my own happy ending (or even just a happy beginning). while i certainly battled some shame or embarrassment at what i thought was clearly child’s play – who plays with Barbies as a teenager?! – i’d keep my Barbie Dreamhouse within quick reach behind my closet doors. as a young girl and as a middle-schooler, full of angst and permed hair, Hope allowed my mind to invent dreams, lives, desires and losses that i myself was too young, too timid, too fearful to attempt myself.
i still sought the familiarity of Hope’s imagined life even when the knocks at the door for me weren’t just girl friends wanting to gossip about a cute boy, and instead gave way to greetings from a cute boy, the one who would later grind my heart into coarse, painful pebbles with edges that pierced and ached. as this cute boy from across the street knocked on my door (and kept knocking for years to come), i chided myself at the time to relinquish my childish storytelling featuring Hope in favor of giving real life, real love (according to a teenager, that is), a chance.
yet the thought that i could change Hope’s pain to bliss in an instant, if the circumstances warranted it, hadn’t yet failed to halt, or at least stall, any twinkle of desire i might have to seek a life of my own. i knew, especially as i approached the crux of my teenage years, that Hope’s story wasn’t mine, that it couldn’t be mine; i knew that despite my creative mind and my adoration for happy endings, i couldn’t, at the first twinge of my own pain, invent a compelling job opportunity to pursue, a new city to explore, a handsome stranger to discover – to reverse any personal pain i might experience.
i dwelled in Hope’s world for some time, seeking love for Hope instead of for myself, chasing after fulfillment for Hope instead of satisfying my own dreams. but after awhile, the stories I invented for Hope gave way to living out stories of my own. Hope’s trials and happy endings weren’t real, weren’t grounded in reality as much as my own life was.
inventing a life for Hope gave way to living a life for me.
sometimes, a certain smell of cologne or a pop-culture reference or the opening beats of a song on Spotify will remind me of the life i lived and the pain i experienced while Hope laid in wait inside my closet. in some moments, i’ll plead with that girl, with my pre-teen self, to just let Hope live for a little while, to seek adventure and love and loss and desire through Hope’s invented life instead of risking my own heart, offering up my own story to life’s own Great Inventor.
and yet, there are more moments that i feel grateful for the life i allow myself to live, despite the pain, despite the fear, for i know that the courage to live a life that i can’t invent or control myself wouldn’t be as bittersweet without the hours i spent in my childhood bedroom, dreaming up sadness and strength for Hope.