When Mattel finally came out with a different-looking Barbie (besides Skipper, Midge, and Ken, always minor players), Roni
and I were ecstatic.
Her name was Miko, but we called her Michelle. Her name was Michelle regardless of the setting, storyline, or the day we were playing. The other Barbies were interchangeable, but Michelle was always Michelle.
Her personality was also constant: the calm, big-sister figure to whom all the other Barbies went for advice. I admired Michelle, as much as it is possible to admire an 11 inch piece of plastic upon which you have projected your issues. I wanted to be that girl--the calm one, the one everyone else relied upon.
And I managed to create that for myself, as I became a teenager. I loved giving advice, and revelled in what I perceived to be its measured wisdom. Even though I had never had a boyfriend, I could counsel my friends on love. Having kind parents, I commented on tales of abuse. My seat on the outside afforded me a safety that they did not have. They had the experiences, and I reviewed them.
Over years I felt the weight of this role. Michelle was long discarded at the bottom of a box in the attic, and I existed under a pile of my friends' worries. I internalized them, but being undigestable, they travelled around with me in my belly. Slowly, I crawled out from underneath.
At first it felt like a terrible detachment, and it still does, sometimes. In recent years I've revelled in my self-centeredness in much the same way that I used to love my selflessness. It was a protective measure, but sometimes I wonder whether too much was left behind.