i forgot: gina sipin
SPECIAL ISSUE: PINAY
AND HER LOVELY BARBIE
I told my younger sister Perla that she should not love Barbie so much. I never loved Barbie when I was her age. I didn’t even like Barbie. She didn’t look real to me. Her big blue eyes so empty and cold scared me.
I didn’t like Barbie’s skinny legs, too. They reminded me of how short and ugly my brown legs are. In fact, nobody in my family looks like Barbie. None of my cousins, none of my neighbors, nobody in my homeroom class looks like her. Nobody in my whole school—except for Elizabeth Watson—looks full-on haole like Barbie.
Now that Perla is 8 and I’m 12, we were old enough to do special things to Barbie, I told Perla. When she asked what kind of things, I said like giving Barbie a hot bath in very hot water. But Perla wouldn’t do it. Even when I said that I wouldn’t really boil the water, just make it very hot on the gas stove upstairs. I even told Perla I would bring the pot under the house where we played so that nobody would see us. A hot bath wouldn’t hurt Barbie because her skin is very hard, I said. But Perla wouldn’t believe me. She didn’t want to be part of the experiment to see if Barbie’s skin would slowly get soft or if it would melt right away.
The Barbie doll that Perla plays with used to belong to our older sister Marina, who goes to high school now. She’s 16 and doesn’t want anything to do with us anymore. She tries to ignore us, but we like to keep up with whatever is going on in her life. Marina had only one Barbie. Marina passed that Barbie on to me when I was six. I passed her straight on to Perla, who was only two years old at the time. Perla loved that Barbie more and more each year, even though she was given other Barbies by our relatives. This year I noticed that Perla was starting to act more and more like Marina. Like wanting to wear dresses instead of pants and eating less and smiling more. Perla also didn’t want to go outside and play in the sun as much, because she didn’t want to get her skin darker. Just like Marina, who always put on sunscreen and wore a hat even if it wasn’t sunny outside.
I would usually be spending more time with my best friend Joshua, but he is in summer school for the first time. Me and Joshua used to go everywhere after school and during the summer. We played war games under the house, explored the neighborhood streets and drainpipes, caught the Ala Moana bus to the beach by ourselves, and set up camp in his backyard for sleepovers and scared each other by telling spooky stories. But Joshua is taking pre-algebra and band classes this summer. Elizabeth Watson, the only pure haole girl in our school, is in Joshua’s band class. And even though he won’t admit it, I think Joshua is in love with Elizabeth. I told him last week I was tired of hearing about Lizby this and Lizby that and Lizby said this and Lizby did that. I noticed Joshua’s ears turned red when I was saying those things, so that’s when I knew he liked her.
And what kind of name is Lizby, I asked? He didn’t answer. Her name sounds like a type of lizard, I laughed. I made my voice sound like the National Geographic guy on TV and announced, “The Lizby type of gecko lives in Kalihi Valley and plays the flute in the summer.” I was only teasing, but Joshua didn’t laugh. He didn’t say anything to defend her and he didn’t say anything back to me, which made me feel funny. So I told him that Elizabeth Watson looks just like a stiff Barbie doll.
Now, Joshua hardly comes over any more. When he does, he is really polite and doesn’t want to do anything that will get his clothes dirty or make him sweaty. I miss Joshua and the things we used to do. When I’m bored and there’s nothing to do, I hang out with Perla.
One day me and Perla were downstairs under the house, our favorite play spot. Perla was brushing Barbie’s hair. Barbie had her Silken Flame outfit, the 1998 reauthorized edition. That’s what the box it came in said. Her clothes, even if they were almost seven years old now, looked okay except that the white satin skirt was discolored in some places. The red off-the-shoulder silk top fit over Barbie’s big cheechees like a tube top, only it was shaped like McDonald’s arches in front. The gold purse and gold belt had some of the shiny stuff come off in some places, but it still looked nice. The black shoes were still good.
Perla had put Barbie in her make believe bed. When she noticed I was playing with matches, she came over to help me. I had found some pieces of our Lola’s dried tabako leaves that she left on top of her old Singer sewing machine, preparing to roll them into her fat cigars. Perla watched me twist a small piece of tabako, light it, and twirl the leaf to make spiral smoke. We did this for a little while until it got boring. I told Perla we should stop already because Lola would probably smell the tabako pretty soon and come down and scold us. So we looked for some other things to burn.
We dug a small hole in the ground and decided to herd the stinkbugs into it using the lighted end of the matchsticks. But the stinkbugs would only dig deeper in the hole and go under the dirt. This gave me an idea. I convinced Perla that we should pretend we were at a funeral. We made the hole bigger and looked for things to put inside. I told Perla to go look around the yard for any dead animals. I went upstairs to get some chicken bones from the kitchen trash can.
When I came back to the hole, Perla was already there and she told me she didn’t find any dead animals so she got rotten mangoes and white plumerias with brown edges. I told her to go look for some white rocks to line the sides of the hole while I would make a Catholic cross with some Popsicle sticks. We arranged the bones like a whole chicken and buried it. We carefully covered the bones with a thin layer of dirt and put some small gray rocks around the edges because Perla couldn’t find any white ones. We put our palms together, kneeled down on our cardboard mat and said an Our Father.
Perla said we should do a novena even though we didn’t know how to say the Filipino words. I agreed. We pretended we had just finished the ninth night of prayer and was doing the ending part called Santa Maria, Santa Maria, Santa Maria. I told Perla that I would be the priestess leader and she could be the audience and repeat after me. “Santa Maria, napno ka ti gracia ni Apo Dios,” I said very fast and very serious. Perla copied me. Next I said, “Saint Mary, napno ka ti paria and apple juice.” Perla laughed when she realized that the Virgin Mary was full of bitter melon and apple juice. But Perla wouldn’t repeat after me. I said the Filipino version three times, then the mixed English version three times. I ended with, “Mother Mary, you are full of bitter melon” and pushed the cross in at the far end where the chicken’s head was buried. Perla gasped, surprised at the force I had to use because the dirt was hard.
We dug another hole and put in four rotten mangoes and five dead plumerias. We used the leftover dirt we had from digging the chicken’s grave and made a burial mound of dirt like an imu. The dead mangoes and dead plumerias were double dead now. Three big mango leaves straight up in the middle of the mound completed the graveyard scene. I pushed the stems of three fresh plumerias in front of the long green leaves. It looked like a happy mound.
Then I had an idea.
I told Perla wouldn’t it be fun to dress Barbie up in nice clothes and then bury her for a few days? Perla didn’t want to at first. I told her, Perla Conchita Domingo Asuncion, you said so yourself that you do real things to Barbie, like feed her, and sing to her and comb her hair. Well, I explained, another real thing that happens is people go away and people die. We could practice burying Barbie as just another real thing that people do. We could pretend Barbie died, say a Mass for her and then bury her. Perla still looked hesitant.
So I said we could dig Barbie up nine nights later. I could tell Perla was thinking about it. So, I said, as a bonus, on the tenth day we could pretend that one whole year had gone by and we could have a one-year death anniversary party for Barbie. At that, Perla smiled and said okay. But only if we dressed Barbie really nice and gave her all the things that you are supposed to put inside a coffin. To that, I responded, "No prob-lem-ma."
We were going to make sure that Barbie got everything she needed to live in heaven. I made a list of all the necessary stuff that has to go inside a coffin: money, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, shoes, change of clothes, non-gold jewelry, needle and thread, wallet, comb, slippers, socks, sleeping clothes.
I hunted around in our mother's clothes drawers and finally found a small, shiny, black satin handkerchief. It was too small to cover all of Barbie but it would cover her from the waist down. The black would look nice against her red top, I thought. I found a dollar bill in my dad’s ashtray of loose change. I found a new toothbrush in the medicine cabinet. I put a little toothpaste on it so that I wouldn’t have to take the whole tube of toothpaste. Perla brought down Barbie’s pajama set and pink plastic shoes. She also took a pair of shorts and a T-shirt set from her California Girl Suntan Barbie. We borrowed a pair of fake silver and diamond earrings that Marina didn’t use anymore. We knew she wouldn’t miss it because she left it on the crowded bathroom counter. We found a needle and some thread in Lola’s sewing machine drawer. The only thing we needed was socks.
I told Perla that since this was Hawaii, we didn’t need any socks because Barbie was going to Hawaii heaven where it was warm all year. But Perla insisted and would not bury Barbie without sending her off with a pair of socks. I told Perla the container was too full already and if we added one more item then it would look like Barbie was suffocating. Perla wouldn’t budge and said that it was her doll and she could bury her any way she wanted to.
When I returned under the house where Perla was waiting, I brought a larger, round Tupperware container and a pair of tiny booties. It had belonged to our 10-month old brother, Marcelino, who had outgrown them. I had hoped this would satisfy Perla’s need and it did, especially when I said that one bootie would keep both of Barbie’s feet warm at the same time.
While Perla dressed Barbie in her Silken Flame outfit and arranged all the coffin items inside the Tupperware coffin, I dug a round hole with the shovel my grandpa kept in the corner tool shed next to the avocado tree. When it was deep enough, I lined the hole with one of my dad’s old stained T-shirts which I found lying around in the garage. He used it as a rag, so I figured nobody would miss it. I was already calculating how much or how little trouble I would get into for each of the missing items.
We buried Barbie by doing all the serious things we saw adults do at a funeral. I said a few words about how much happiness she brought to Marina, and Perla, and many girls around the world. Perla said how much she loved Barbie and how she wished to be like Barbie when she grew up. Then Perla pretended to cry and chant and howl like the old Filipino women at the funerals. I started laughing but stopped when Perla gave me the stinkiest eye I ever got from any six year old. I joined her in the howling and chanting about Ken, about Barbie’s parents, about the Mattel Company, and how we would all be together soon.
For the next nine days we were supposed to wear black and pray. We decided that as long as we had something black on us, like a piece of black thread hanging over the waistband of our shorts, it was okay. We also decided that it was okay to laugh out loud, to go out to play with our friends, to sweep the floor, and to watch television comedy reruns like Gilligan’s Island. We made our own rules because it was our funeral. And we got to decide how much the relatives of the dead person should be sad or relieved or happy.
On the ninth day, Marina asked us if we had taken her new toothbrush. Our mother had already asked us about her satin handkerchief and I had to pretend I only saw a white scarf in the living room. Our Lola had also asked us about a needle she was sure she left in her sewing machine drawer. We were planning to put everything back on the tenth day after we dug Barbie up and had her one-year death anniversary party.
The next day, exactly 10 days after the burial, Marina asked if we had seen her earrings. It just so happened that me and Perla answered her at the exact same time, using the exact same words, “No, we didn’t see it.” That was probably why Marina didn’t believe us. She threatened to tell our dad something about us digging a big hole under the house, her missing toothbrush and earrings, and a Barbie doll she hadn’t seen Perla play with in over a week.
After we dug up Barbie, we didn’t feel like having a one-year death anniversary party. Perla was disappointed that Barbie did not seem that pretty anymore. And her beautiful clothes were a little dirty. After not playing with Barbie for more than a week, she didn’t seem to miss her as much as she thought she would. Now she mostly puts Barbie up on the shelf by her bed.
Perla takes Barbie down once in a while to let Barbie sit quietly next to her. I knew she would end up not loving Barbie so much.
this piece was originally published in Growing Up Filipino II (Philippine American Literary House).
Amalia B. Bueno was born in Manila, Philippines and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her poems and stories have appeared in various literary journals, anthologies and magazines, including Tinfish, Hawaii Review, and Bamboo Ridge. Her short story, “My Grandmother Was a Witch,” is forthcoming in T’Boli Press’ FILIPINAS! Voices from Descendants of Hawaii’s Plantation-Era Women. Amalia has just completed her first poetry collection, Home Remedies.