The Domiciles Project



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The heat was stifling outside. The kind of humidity that makes me want to vomit, with air so warm it’s hard to breathe. I kept telling myself that was why I was in here. It was too hot. It couldn't have had anything to do with how much I’d had to drink, or the party in the living room that had gotten out of hand several hours ago.
Whatever. That didn't matter. The tile felt cool on my legs, and the fan was blowing a comforting breeze in my direction. Right now, the only world I was going to pay any mind to was the world behind the bathroom door. A world of bright pink striped, insincere wallpaper and blue tile. I laid down on my side, resting my head on the shaggy purple carpet that was only considered acceptable to use in bathrooms any more.
The fan blew a steady breeze over my head, throwing a few stray wisps of bleached-blonde hair into my face. My eyes wandered to the dull shine of the pastel pink nail polish on my thumb. It looked so fake and plasticky. Like a Barbie doll. But that was me, wasn't it? Maddie the Barbie doll. Fake blonde hair and perfect, tan legs, complete with outfit.
I remember one time when my sister was playing with some of my old Barbies she said something about them looking exactly like me. “Play with this one, Maddie, she looks just like you!” Something about that seemed wrong at the time, but I brushed it off. I was perfect just the way I was. The way I’d made myself. Fake tan. Fake hair. Fake cheery attitude. Perfect.
Eventually I managed to pick myself up off the floor to stand in front of the mirror. That perfect girl’s makeup was running. Barbie’s paint had gotten scratched. I rinsed as much of it off as I could and didn't bother to put it back on. As far as anyone else was concerned, I had gone to bed.
I opened the door back to my room and padded across the carpet. White, framed by pastel pink walls as it had been since I was four years old. In my rush to get to the bathroom, I had failed to notice the small pile of Barbies which had been left a few feet from the bathroom door. I hadn't played with them in years. My sister must have left them there before she left.
I made a mental note to yell at her about staying out of my room later and sat down on the soft carpet next to the dolls. Looking past the dolls to the bathroom door, I could vaguely remember a time when it was blue. It had been a boy’s room when my family moved here. I remembered playing with the same dolls in this empty room on a stale smelling, aqua-green carpet. I could remember the Barbies’ names too. Ashley was sitting naked in front of Lisa and Alice, Lila was wearing a pale pink gown. Some of them bore the marks of being chewed on by our puppy, “Digger,” at one time. Violet’s head was torn clean off and lying next to Ashley. Something about it was funny to me. These dolls were at least twelve years old now, maybe older. They shouldn't be running around naked. (Something I’d informed Elizabeth about several times in the past week.)
And none of them were perfect. They were old and damaged. They had bite marks all over them, scratched paint, dirty faces, missing shoes. But Elizabeth loved them, and so had I once.
I picked up Lila after a couple of tries and straightened her dress. I noticed her eye was slightly misprinted on her face. It was easy to remember how pretty she had looked when I first got her. How perfect. But now there was a smear on her forehead, and the back of her dress was stained. She smiled and I couldn't help but smile back. She didn't mind, and neither did Liz.
Thinking back on that night I can barely remember the party. I can’t remember what I wore, or how perfect my makeup had or hadn't looked. I do remember the dolls though. I remember how I had thought somewhere in the back of my mind that if I could look like them I would be perfect. Beautiful.
But the dolls had never been perfect, and neither had I. But they had always been beautiful. And so had I.
The next morning when Elizabeth got home from her sleepover, and my parents had returned from their weekend trip to Rochester, breakfast was waiting on the table and the house had been cleaned after the party. Mom and Dad looked suspicious of the lack of clutter and breakfast being on the table, but they were glad nonetheless. I sat down with my sister and asked her if she wanted to play Barbies. She smiled in a way that would lead you to believe it was Christmas morning. I realized we hadn't played together for quite awhile.
It’s been quite a few years since that night, and it took some doing, but I finally figured out how to love myself and others rather than hold myself to some imaginary standard set by my own mind. My hair is long and brown like my mother’s, and drinks are few and far between. I have a daughter who plays with Barbies now, and Elizabeth has a family of her own. Today we’re getting together for Christmas dinner. The plates are set out in careful order just like mom used to do, Ashley is in the kitchen with her father putting the finishing touches on the ham, and I’m just here on the front porch brimming with anticipation. The ice hanging off the roof sparkles in the noon sunlight like it always does. Snow clings to the trees in heavy sheets, and clear across the yard Elizabeth’s car rolls onto the freshly plowed driveway.

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