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A Tale of Two Sisters

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posted by alias A Thousand Splendid Dolls on Friday 7th of October 2022 07:11:43 PM

I took this photo over three years ago as part of a video series I ended up deciding not to do. My sister spent so much time setting this up, it seemed a shame to let the image go to waste. I wasn't sure how or when I'd use it. Then it hit me...there is such a story behind this picture. This setup was based on a dolly game Colleen and I used to play as little girls. Of course in those days, our scenes weren't nearly as elaborate. The shack Colleen recreated here was originally placed in my bookshelf (which now displays some of my Disney dolls). The clever placement of books created levels and wall; we used our imaginations to fill in the rest. Ariel and Kelsey (Bathtime Fun Kelly) were virtually homeless in our doll game and took refuge in an abandoned building. Although I was very young when we acted out those scenarios, about six, I still remember bits of them vividly. Most of all, I think back to that time and appreciate how it was that game, the one we dubbed "Ariel and Kelsey," that brought me and my sister together. Contrary to what a lot of people seem to think when they meet us in person or watch my Youtube videos, Colleen and I were not always close. In fact, I spent the first few years of my life groveling for her friendship. We are four and a half years apart, so when I was born my sister was used to being the only child. She resented me and made it a point to let me know. It probably didn't help my case that I was a suck up to our parents and things came easier to me (like school work). But I was desperate to earn Colleen's friendship. We played with one another when Colleen had no other option. As for dolls, I wasn't allowed to be anywhere near her prized Barbies. That didn't stop me from sneaking into her room when she was at school. I recall slipping into Colleen's closet where her laundry basket of Barbies was stored. Mom was busy doing things around the house and wouldn't know what I was up to. Most of the time I'd just pull out her dolls and admire how pretty they were, wishing we could play together. But there were a few occasions when I stole some things and hoarded them into my Aladdin's lamp or Jasmine's necklace. Colleen was infuriated when she'd come home to find my grotesque Sun Jewel Kira sporting HER Jasmine doll's jewelry. There was also the time I "borrowed" Aladdin and broke his head off by accident. Needless to say, Colleen was livid. Mom and Dad bought her a replacement Aladdin without a broken neck, letting me keep the guy I ruined. She was upset that the only Aladdin in stores was the more basic Water Jewel Magic guy. Funnily enough, both dolls are still part of our collection. Anyways, I can understand her frustration towards my intrusive tendencies. Plus, my earliest ways of playing Barbies were primitive: making my half bald Ice Capades Barbie sing "I'm beautiful, I'm beautiful" to the other dolls. When Mom and Dad weren't home, and Colleen was left in charge, things sometimes would escalate. There are a few physical fights I can recall that broke out (and it wasn't playful rough housing). Words were also a weapon of choice. Colleen loved to tell me how she was better at everything and found other ways to insult me (like calling me fat, for instance). To retaliate, I'd get her in trouble with Mom and Dad, or I'd try to outdo her. It was all petty kid stuff looking back, but at the time there was a massive wedge between us. The wall first started to crumble when I let Colleen play with my Bathtime Fun Kelly, aka Kelsey. I often resorted to giving my toys away to others as a way of bargaining for their friendship. I used this same tactic on Colleen...I'd also give her money sometimes so she could buy a doll she wanted at the store. Anyways, even though Colleen picked out Bedtime Kelly for herself a few years prior, she was more enchanted by my African American Bathtime Fun gal. Who could blame her...Kelsey was such a cutie! It was the first time we really played dolls with one another...Colleen couldn't exactly exile me from playing Barbies with her if she was borrowing my doll. Of course there were rules. We had to play in my room and with only my dolls. Princess Mermaid Ariel was one of my newest plastic friends then. I had gotten her for my sixth birthday at Toys 'R' Us. Somehow she ended up becoming Kelsey's mother. I'd dress her up in various clone garments for rags. Colleen would use the shabbiest Kelly sized ensembles for Kelsey's wardrobe. We spent hours and collective days getting lost in Ariel and Kelsey's world. From then on, we never played by ourselves. Eventually I was invited into Colleen's room and sometimes I even got to use one of her dolls (on the days she was feeling especially kind). As the years wore on, we became the best of friends. By the time I was eight, we were inseparable. We'd wear matching t-shirts and bandanas. Sometimes we'd dress the My Size Barbie I had up as our triplet. We attempted to fabricate our own special language too (not that it was hard for Mom and Dad to figure out what we were saying). Besides dolls, we also had a lineup of various make believe games we were equally invested in. There were occasions when we couldn't bring dolls with us, so that was the best time to play make believe. It didn't matter if we were at a restaurant or hanging out in the woods behind the house...Colleen and I were always submerged in a world of creativity and imagination. Neither of us had much luck in the friend department. Colleen was always an oddball...even her own so called friends would taunt her (like the slumber party they fed her popcorn that had been on the floor; or the time they all gossiped about her in her bedroom on Colleen's own birthday). As a super shy little girl, I was equally as awkward. Whenever I did manage to make friends, I was either quickly replaced by someone more interesting, or I was taken advantage of in some way. By the time I was nine, I decided friends weren't all they were cracked up to be. My dream had come true anyways: my big sister saw me as her best friend! Eventually Ariel and Kelsey both became so shabby that we found other games to play. Over the years various faces entered and exited our doll scenarios. The setups became more elaborate and the ideas more complex. There was a point when we hated playing with any other kids because Colleen and I had found our own rhythm. We might have seemed very different on the surface, what with Colleen being so talkative and energetic, and me a demure, withdrawn kid. But once we really got to know one another, we were way more alike than not. Whatever our differences were, they balanced out in the end. I loved set design and constantly got bored of the dolls I was using. Colleen was great at doing different voices and tended to stick to the same handful of dolls. My tastes meant there was always something new to spice things up, but Colleen's aversion to change meant that we could actually develop our concepts. This same balance worked it's magic in our make believe, non dolly games too. I never met anyone who could pretend to be multiple people at once and carry on a fluid conversation the way she could! I'll never forget the day Mom saw us planning out our newest doll game on my whiteboard and inquiring why we needed a plan. "Why don't you just play dolls," Mom asked in confusion. Silly Mom, she didn't know how to play Barbies in our "sophisticated" way (at least that's how we saw it). We treated doll playtime more like a filming a movie. Looking back, I feel bad for poor Mom and Dad. They must have thought we were exhausting and crazy back then. There was our infamous "Barbie boycott," when we insisted on playing with nothing but clone dolls. Everyone always asks why we boycotted Mattel products, assuming there was some valid reason. I can't deny that it happened purely because Colleen saw the word boycott on a sign and was delighted by what it meant when she asked Mom. Colleen's personality could always be related to Anne of Green Gables...she had a flair for the theatrics. I went along with it because I was always interested in exploring new doll types. But I was also the reason it ended, because I got bored and wanted to play with my Barbies again. We also pestered our parents by constantly toting our dolls around EVERYWHERE. When we went to the beach, out to dinner, on vacation, over a relatives house...our plastic companions were never far away. Even on our weekly outings to the flea market you would find a few of our old dolls hiding in the car waiting to meet our new adoptees. The second turning point in life that bonded us closer than ever was due to the saddest of situations. Mom had been diagnosed with cancer when I was in fourth grade. I admit I can't remember what time of year it was since all those details blurred. I do recall with perfect clarity the day Mom and Dad sat us down at the dining room table to deliver the grim news. Colleen and I had been having another one of our petty arguments over an American Girl catalogue of all things (she can even remember what we were looking at). Dolls were a source of comfort during that season in life. We'd take our clone tent to Mom's many appointments, setting up in different hospital waiting rooms. By that time, the center of the whole basement was dedicated to our dolls. Mom and Dad let us keep things set up, as long as we kept a walkway from the stairs to their room. Colleen and I wasted countless hours downstairs, immersed in our world of make believe, hoping to temporarily forget what was going on in the real world. Another magic duo formed the last summer Mom was alive, in 2002. Sparkling Jasmine and Kid Kore Katie were our favorite dolls those last few months Mom was with us. I had recently gotten Jasmine at the new Target that just opened. Colleen had acquired Kid Kore Katie (the one with a princess themed shirt and a poodle) not long before. Katie and Jasmine were our new traveling buddies. We took them out for Friday pizza nights, smuggled them into the movie theater, and even got to take them in our aunt and uncle's jacuzzi! No matter how lost we got in our doll games, nothing could shield us from the cold hard reality of Mom passing away that August. Life with just a single parent was vastly different. Dad didn't know what to do with himself and hated being at home. He had a short fuse that often erupted over petty things like a dirty dish that accidentally made it's way into the cupboard. Dad always had a temper, but as he got depressed it worsened. His way of assuaging things was to take us out toy shopping on weekends. Friday nights we ate Papa Ginos and stopped at KB Toys. Sundays were dedicated to flea marketing around the area. Sometimes we'd strike gold and come home with the back of Dad's truck filled with treasures for all of us. More than ever, Colleen and I relied on one another for comfort. Our relationship wasn't perfect of course. Colleen didn't like talking about serious subjects, whereas I was always the kind of person who had a million questions and worries. In many ways the three of us were very isolated from one another. But our toy hunts brought us all together. Dad of course wasn't looking for Barbies...rather he had an interest in model trucks. Colleen and I ended up with more dolls than we knew what to do with. But by that point, I'd say we were subconsciously collecting as much as we were buying dolls to play with. American Girls had always been a shared pastime. As very little girls we'd run around the office Mom cleaned on Saturdays, with Addy and Molly in tow. Or we'd have picnics outside the other business Mom cleaned for, with Kirsten, Bitty Baby, and Molly. But in later years, American Girl became an even bigger deal for us. Dad would let us spend nights in the front yard, sleeping in the pop up camper. We'd always bring American Girls with us. My doll of choice rotated depending on my mood; there was never anyone but Molly for Colleen. There was Christmas 2004 when we spent the night by the tree in the living room, snuggled up with Molly, Kit, and Samantha. There were actually two Molly and Samantha dolls...that was the year we upgraded to new versions of our shabby friends. On the occasions we could bring American Girls with us, like when we swam in the pool, we'd pretend to be the characters. The same applied in these scenarios...I could never settle on just one American Girl, but Colleen always insisted on being Molly. As I became an older teen, I drifted away from dolls as an attempt to conform. Colleen and I still remained best friends, despite the fact that we no longer spent hours hunkered in the basement with our dollies. When I got my license as a senior in high school, a whole new realm of possibilities opened up for us. Granted, I was petrified of driving so I was still a homebody. But I'll never forget the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 2008 when I drove us to the plaza with F.Y.E. for the first time. It was awesome getting to hang out in the Jeep, just the two of us, listening to whatever we wanted without Dad. We bonded over music during this time, not that we hadn't in previous years (we literally ruined my Britney Spears Oops I Did It Again album by playing it so much when I was younger). It was around this time though that we hit a bump in the road. I'm not entirely sure what it was--maybe it was that we were both growing up and trying to figure out who we were. My extreme depression was probably a factor too. But after we forced Dad to go the emergency room on Thanksgiving Day 2009, and the doctors found something "suspicious" in his pancreas, we were driven closer than ever. Dad's cancer journey was even more harrowing than Mom's. This time around, there wasn't an adult to shield us from the gritty nature of things. Anytime Dad had an appointment, needed help with day to day stuff, or became very sick, the responsibility fell on us. We spent Christmas 2009 by ourselves, since Dad was in a medically induced coma after the doctors operated on him for 20 something hours. We did visit him that day though, but not for long since he was unconscious. Dolls weren't present to comfort us, but we did keep our spirits up by eating disgusting pizza rolls and playing board games. Once Dad had temporarily stabilized and was back at home, it wasn't all that long before we started collecting dolls again. That's a story I've told a million times, so I'll spare you the details. When Dad passed away in May of 2012, our sisterly relationship was once again tested. Although there were some family members and friends to help us, we knew were truly on our own. I wasn't quite 21, Colleen was 25....neither of us felt prepared at all. Somehow we learned how to make it work, despite how inadequate we both felt. Honestly, it felt like we were playing house for the first few years it was just the two of us. I admit, we could be like a pair of naughty little girls, squandering money on Monster High and Bratz dolls. Since we had the whole house to ourselves, we naturally let our plastic friends take over. We were the best suited roommates. In some ways it was an effortless transition since we'd spent so much of our lives together. Plus, we agreed on most important canceling the cable and getting pet guinea pigs. Dolls have played an important role in our adult lives. I think we'd make our younger selves proud with our current antics. Who else could I film videos at the dining room table with, acting out ridiculous scenes and putting on horrible accents with our dolls? Who else would let Cabbage Patch Kids cover the entire top of one couch in the living room? Who else would build a pitiful looking gingerbread house every Christmas with me, just so we can take a photo of our American Girls with it? I don't think anyone else would feel the same excitement when new Bratz dolls popped up on Amazon, or would get giddy whenever I reorganized doll accessories. Together, we keep some of the same traditions going that began when we were little girls. We still do Friday night pizza...only it's the $3 frozen kind from Walmart. And Sundays are still flea market mornings for us too, even though we only go to one place instead of a bunch. Every once in a while, you might see a new doll of ours dancing in Colleen's hand to a song on the radio as we are heading home. I admit, I spent most of my life being a loner. I had plenty of chances to make friends, but instead retreated into my own cocoon for protection. For the most part, I like my solitude...there's something peaceful about silence. But the one exception to that will always be my sister. No statement could have been truer than when my mom lectured Colleen saying, "You will have a lot of friends in life, but only one sister." I know I'm so lucky to have an unbreakable bond with my sister...most people I know can hardly be in a room for ten minutes with a sibling. Although we got off to a rocky start in life, things worked themselves out. I'm so grateful they did...I don't know where I'd be without Colleen. I also can't help but have a special place in my heart for Ariel and Kelsey, the dolls that started it all. Princess Mermaid Ariel and Bathtime Fun Kelly would be the first chapter in "A Tale of Two Sisters" without a doubt.

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