Playing With Mean Barbie.


I have come to a conclusion. The residents of Dallas are Texas’ version of tin men.

They have no heart.

Oh, they’re perfectly shined and pretty. They smile. They speak with a cute hospitable twang. But when they say y’all, they really mean not you. Unless, of course, you have passed The Test and are one of them. Whatever the hell one of them is. I just know I am not it.

I had thought that I had accepted this. Accepted that Dallas denizens will share an email address at a party then not reply to my follow up. Accepted that Dallas nonprofits will ignore my offer of volunteer help. Accepted that emails detailing my Dear Friend’s cancer treatments to DF’s friends within the Metroplex will languish in cyberspace.

Accepted that the handful of women I had thought I might meet for coffee are actually too busy to give a damn.

I had even considered the possibility that, for all its rotten reputation outside its borders — my experience is, alas, not unique — I might be blaming Dallas unfairly. People are people… and people, at my age, rarely need a new friend. They have amassed a network that works perfectly well for them, thank you very much. Buck up, baby. Be a big girl.

So off I pushed myself to a meeting of a divorce support group at my new church. Perhaps I might meet a kindred spirit there…

That evening, the facilitator urged us to acknowledge our grief and share it with the others. When no one raised a hand, I raised mine. Briefly I recounted how I had cried 24/7 the first three months, broadsided silly by the amount of sorrow I felt. But now I was doing better. It was a hard walk, yet I was learning a lot. End of story. Big smile.

I beamed again as the leader rather anemically thanked me for sharing and some twenty blank stares met my increasingly discomfited gaze.

Often on this adventure in a new land of wonder and bafflement, I have likened myself to Alice. That night I felt like infinitesimal Alice. I wanted only to lodge myself under someone’s shoe and await oblivion.

Once again I had blown it. I wasn’t certain how, but I had.

A second person shared and then a third… and, aha, so this was what the group wanted. Forget being positive. Forget moving on to a chorus of I Will Survive. We were not only embracing grief with bear hugs that would strangle a grizzly, but were recounting with relish and galaxies of tears every last bruising. Which seemed to me not quite fair.

There are always two sides to a story. I have been tarred by far too many in my Eventual Ex’s camp not to embrace this.

But, to my compatriots, an ex-spouse was a bum, is a bum, will forever be a bum. That most bums become bums for a reason and perhaps — perhaps — Mr. or Ms. Woe-Is-Me played a role in this was not a train of thought they had any interest in boarding.

It is a worthwhile exercise, however, making the acquaintance of your inner bum. As Thomas Merton wrote, “Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I truly am and of discovering my true self, my essence or core.”

Scott Peck put it less ethereally: “Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.”

But then, as a 24-year-old single mother began speaking, I chastised myself. I’d had 32 years — more years than this child had lived — of a disintegrating marriage to come to terms with divorce. Also many in the room, regardless of their age, had had their lives turned upside down overnight. They were reeling. They needed to shriek, Why me?

Eventually the woman seated beside me began speaking.

Her story was the stuff of nightmares far worse than any I’d endured, but there were plot points I could certainly relate to: a stay-at-home mom confronted with a trait of her husband’s she neither suspected nor expected; the need to earn a living, except the job market deducts 20 IQ points for every year a mom stays home; the staggering loss of self-confidence on top of spiritual and material security; the sense of unfairness in the face of a legal system’s indifference…

“I understand,” I whispered.

My neighbor looked at me like I had a noxious case of halitosis and turned the other way.

If I hadn’t been kicked in the stomach, I might have laughed. For my neighbor, whom I shall now call Mean Barbie, shares not only my story but my name. If you look up the meaning/derivation of Jenine, you will see her name too.

Thus I mourn for Mean Barbie. I could be her sister in ways her vast network of friends — which she took care to catalog along with her stable of high-end automobiles, homes, and highly achieving children — cannot. As Atticus Finch taught Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, I have climbed into Mean Barbie’s skin and walked around in it.

Also, if Dallas has taught me anything, it is not to play Bad Samaritan and don blinders as I pass someone suffering. I will not do unto others as others here have done unto me. And who knows? Even Mean Barbies may not be so much mean as miserable.

Sister Joan Chittister says it best: “Loneliness is the call to ourselves, now that we have acquired a better understanding of it so well, to do something to alleviate the loneliness and needs of others.”

Of course the instant Mean Barbie shot me That Look, I felt nothing but loathing. For me.

“What is wrong with me? Why don’t people like me here?”

“It’s ‘not’ you!” wrote a friend. “My cousin ‘hated’ every moment in Dallas. She was never ‘accepted’. Dallas women are one mean group. ‘Snobs’ at the highest level.”

Another pal with experience here agreed. “It’s your whole package that doesn’t fit,” she explained. “You will never be that über perky, blond, cheerleader type that is required.”

I suspect my fellow Southern Californians are right.

Nevertheless, a friend living in the Deep South may have handed me the key to unlocking the doors and hearts of Authentic Dallas.

“I had the same issues,” she wrote. “They care more about Botox than character. But in over 35 years, I have learned to navigate the people… Walk through the crowd like you are the most beautiful woman in the room. The crowd will follow. You will find who is real and who isn’t…”

I just may give it a shot. Once I regain the courage.

I must also remember this: no expectations. I expected to make friends easily in Dallas. (Why not? I did everywhere else.) But that’s what got me in trouble. Now, I will limit myself to hope. Not that there is anything limiting about hope. Hope fuels all sorts of miraculous outcomes. But hope is a realist.

Dallas is Dallas.

Last night, I watched the first Hobbit movie. Bilbo, the Hobbit, was on an a self-professed adventure, battling Orcs in dark, awful forests and caves… And I thought, I bet Bilbo detests those places and those Orcs even more than I detest Dallas’ legions of Mean Barbies.

All adventures end. Bilbo’s took three books. Alice’s took two. Dorothy’s went on a bit with fifteen. This wretched phase of my adventure doesn’t have to last forever. I am the author of my own story; I can find ways to cope. For starters, thanks to the offer of a bedroom from a generous pal, I can visit California as my soul requires.

I can also develop patience. “Never cut a tree down in the wintertime,” Robert Schuller advises. “Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.”

Most importantly, as my Southern friend has discovered, it is in facing down the Mean Barbies and their inner orcs — as well as our own — that we grow. That at last we mine the truest buried treasure, fathoming the unfathomable within us, and become who The Great Author birthed us to be.

Such an outcome will serve me well as I venture forth. As Gandalf told Bilbo, Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.

And what did Bilbo reply long after his adventure ended?

Not all those who wander are lost.


Jenine Baines

Jenine Baines

Jenine Baines is a retired publicist who’s replaced press releases with poetry and plants. Eventually, it dawned on her that a book of essays -- An Archaeologist in the Garden: Excavating Lessons on Blooming from the Dirt -- was germinating as she weeded, amended soil, and planted to terraform the blight called a back garden at the funky little rental house in LA she shares with her partner.
Jenine Baines
Jenine Baines