Jenny lived across the street and down three houses. Precocious, with white blonde hair in a bowl cut and a tendency to run around the neighborhood in her swimsuit, she was the first friend I had when we moved in.
My father was a fundamentalist evangelist and along with my mother, we had been traveling around the country in our big 1983 burgundy Buick, state to state, church to church, revivals, tent meetings and summer camps for the last seven and a half years. After years of pleading from my mother for a home of our own and empty promises from my father, he had finally found a church to pastor and we were going to “settle down.” The church was in a Phoenix suburb and had a small, struggling congregation that needed Jesus as much as they needed jobs and money to pay bills that were due last month. With little more than a pittance, a rental house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, a front and backyard, as well as the long promised formal dining room, was found for us fifteen miles away in a largely Mormon part of town. As a homeschooled, only child whose friendships came on visiting preacher’s kid status and the backseat of the Buick that was the most permanent personal space I had, the move to a house in a neighborhood with an elementary school around the corner was new, exciting and often a culture shock.
Jenny’s family was what my mother called “rough around the edges”, but Jenny was friendly and curious and no cold shoulder from my mother seemed to discourage her interest in me. We walked the two blocks to school together in the mornings and rode our banana seat bikes around the neighborhood in the afternoons. Roughly the same age and in the same class at school, the thing that really cemented our friendship was a love of Barbie dolls. Barbie, Ken and her friends were my favorite, though they were generally given different monikers and often after various pastor’s wives or children I had liked best; small and compact, they were easy to pack up and play with in the backseat of the car. Barbie’s long hair, big breasts, tiny waist, plenty of dresses made out of my father’s old ties and tiny plastic high heels made her the perfect wife, mother and lover of Jesus in all the scenarios that I placed her. I was never aware that Barbie had a dream house or career aspirations. My Barbie had been baptized in the bathroom sink in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of her sins and cooked dinner for her family before going to church three times a week. Jenny’s Barbie dolls moved in different circles; they wore mini skirts, some cut their hair off and drove Corvettes. Regardless of our respective Barbie’s differences, Jenny and I loved to bring our haul together and spent countless hours in our imaginary worlds with them.
One Christmas, or actually the day after, Jenny was at the front door eager to show off her newest additions to her collection. Not only did she have a new Barbie doll with shocking pink highlighted hair, but a cassette tape soundtrack for her with a small pink boom box to play it on. “Barbie and the Rockers” it said on the sticker affixed to the pick tape. I didn’t know what Rockers were, but I was pretty sure they weren’t Christians and didn’t love Jesus and to therefore enjoy Barbie and her music choices, we must find someplace out of sight and hearing of my mother.
That day she was involved in her monthly removal and thorough dusting of “just for show” dishes and music boxes that played tinny sounding hymns from the glass dining hutch, making the hall bathroom with the door closed and the lights off seem like the best location. With a sliver of light from under the door and that of the muted, dim, white plastic nightlight, Jenny and I sat on the almond colored linoleum floor; the fiberglass tub served as a stage for Barbie to put on her show while the music played softly from the boom box we had placed behind the toilet. Holding our dolls by their impossibly small waists and bouncing their overly arched feet to the beat of the music we were blinded when the light of the hall shocked our dilated pupils. My mother stood towering over us with her hands on her hips and with gritted teeth but an even voice told Jenny to gather her things and go home. I stood up silently as I watched her leave, accompanied by my mother. Standing there gripping my Barbie, with her unbending poised, splayed fingers digging into my hand; waiting to hear the front door close and the sound of her panty hose covered thighs brushing together, alerting me of her return, my mother came back and stood in the doorway of the bathroom. Her reflection was in the mirror over the sink and from my perspective it looked as though there were two of her, one as proxy for Jesus, both ready to make me atone for my sins. She was kind as she told me Jenny and I could no longer play with our dolls together. I must also repent for listening to music that was not pleasing to God and ask for guidance when the devil tried to lure me with worldly things. Tearfully I offered to get rid of my Barbie’s as some sort of penance. My offer was rejected and my mother assured me, “It’s Jenny’s Barbie that’s going to Hell.”
Bethany Hunter is a recovered fundamentalist who adheres to the old adage that writing is cheaper than therapy. She writes the stories she wishes she had been able to read while she was growing up. Bethany lives with her husband and teenage daughter in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.
Follow her on Twitter: @B_Hunter05