A Barbie and Her Doll House
Dad had to move. Again. So, we moved, but to a completely different country, the United States --- a weird part of the “Midwest”, as they call it. I lived in a smaller town smack-dab on the outskirts of Florence. Our house there was small, comfortable though. Dad made a decent amount of money; he was the Italian representative for a huge pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland. I doubted he would ever get a raise or ever be let go. In Italy, life was pretty routine: wake up, go to school, learn a little, come home, appreciate what I had learned and eat dinner extremely late. Therefore, the idea that my life would change so spontaneously hit me like a truck.
If I were to try and describe Italian culture in one word, it would be family. For a long time, Italy was not unified as a country. No central government was established … which meant Italians did not have anyone to protect them or be loyal to. Hence, the development of the importance of the family. Each family was kind of its own unit, a government, a protector. It was a safe house. And when I moved to the United States, I saw how different our culture was from the rest of the world.
We got to South Dakota in August, August 12th to be exact. I had about two weeks to get myself situated before the school year. I read every book that was assigned and even started reading my AP World textbook, which is actually a college course, which, let me tell you, is crazy expensive over here. I’m grateful that Mom always spoke to me in English when I was young (she is from England, and I have a slight English accent), so there is no language barrier between me and the other girls at school.
So, first day of school was awful, but not because of my classes. I particularly loved my AP world class and teacher. He was the first person I said a word to all day:
“Where are you from?” he asked me.
“Florence,” I responded. “well, really, the outskirts of Florence.”
“Ahh okay. How is your first day going?” he inquired.
I did not lie. I could not start off the school year lying to a teacher; “Pretty bad,” I said, “No one has said a word to me and next period is lunch. I have no idea where to sit.”.
I know it was not that big of an issue, but I thought it was the end of the world. Nothing could be worse than sitting alone at a big table while everyone else just watches you. And that is exactly what happened. No one said a word to me, no one. This group of girls was staring at me and I didn’t what to do. So I just sat there, looking down at my sandwich like a moron.
Last period of the day, math, which I love. It is the same in every country so I was not behind in anything. We were learning about logarithmic functions, and how to graph them --- something I had done at my school in Italy last year. But at the end of that first day, I still went home to my parents and when they asked me how my day was, it was the same answer that I gave my AP teacher.
“Awful. Terrible. Horrendous.” I tried to think of every adjective that described the situation and these are the three I came up with.
“Aw honey, I’m so sorry,” My mother said as she embraced me, “Is there anything that your father and I can do to help?”
“Yeah! Anything sweetheart. I know you had no intentions of coming here,” Dad responded.
I reassured them there was nothing else they could do. I knew they would feel guilty for moving us here if I was totally unhappy. So that night at dinner, I told them about how I Iiked some of my classes and how my AP World teacher was kind and almost a friend. But, I went to sleep dreading waking up in the morning. I couldn’t take a whole other nine months being this loser with no friends. Something had to change, fast.
Luckily, something did. The next day at lunch I went to sit at the same table, but this time a group of five girls came up and started to talk to me. Except it was the same girls who were looking at me yesterday from the table across the hall. I wasn’t dumb. I knew they had to be talking about me. I knew how this played out in the movies: the poor new girl gets her heart crushed when her new group of “friends” humiliates her in front of the whole school. I was determined to not let that happen to me.
They came over like baby ducks behind their mother. You could see who the “leader” was.
“Hi! I’m Kyra! What’s your name?” She looked like a Barbie, with blonde straight hair that looked like a silk sheet.
“Vittoria,” I responded, with a slight Italian accent.
“Okay well, can we sit with you?” I hesitated, staring at the swarm of teenage girls. I knew I should say no, but I felt like a lost puppy in a huge dog house that we call high school. I was desperate.
I nodded my head yes.
At once, they all broke the silence and began to have side conversations, I couldn’t keep up.
“Did you hear that MIchael and Laura broke up?!’ One gossiped.
“I’m serious. And Lawrence got suspended for getting in a fist fight with some senior.”
It was like I was surrounded by a dozen birds, each trying to chirp at the same time.
“Kyra, are you still throwing that party on Friday?” one brunette asked.
“Yes! Don’t tell a lot of people though. I don’t want it getting it blown up like last time. The cops can’t find out. Everyone can come to my house at 8:00 and then you all can sleep over.” I had no idea what qualified as a party here, but I knew that I wanted to be invited. Kyra looked over at me, and her face fell, as if she felt that she had to invite me.
“Hey Vi, wait can I call you that?” Kyra said. I nodded yes. “Do you want to come on Friday?”
I felt my face get bright red, but I tried to contain my excitement.
“I would love to! Just tell me your address before then?”
“What’s your number, I’ll text you!”
Kyra and I then exchanged numbers, and she added me to a group chat called “Girls. It seemed like some type of initiation ceremony. Once you were in the group chat, you were a part of the squad, and no one could remove you unless you did something awful, or you pissed off Kyra.
When I got home that day, my mother greeted me. I gave her a bear hug and a kiss.
“Hello darling, how was your day?” She asked, handing me a snack. I thanked her twice for the food.
“Amazing!” I said, wanting to share the details of my plans with her. But I went upstairs and completed my homework. However, the party never completely left my mind. I could not wait for Friday, and the week could not have gone by faster. Everything zipped by, like the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas where everything is pretty much a blur. After I heard that last bell on Friday I could not have been more nervous and exhilarated. I was about to dive right into the deep end of American teenage society: partying.
I was in my room, staring into the mirror.
Things like “I’ve only been at this school for two weeks how I am supposed to go to a party?” and “Everyone will think I’m foreign and speak slowly to me in English like I’m some illiterate freak” were racing through my mind, until my mom knocked on the door, saving me from my own thoughts.
“You all right honey? You look a bit pale.”
“I’m fine,” I mumbled, trying to disguise the fear in my voice. I did not want my mom to feel badly for me.
“All right. I can drive you now if you would like.”
We pulled up to “8 Sheridan Drive” to find a doll house. It was enormous, and lights as well as dance music were coming from the inside. My mother wished me good luck, and I responded with a quick “Thanks, I love you.”. And then, I walked on in.
I walked into a zoo. Teenagers dancing left and right with red solo cups in each hand. Slurred words and laughter filled the mansion, along with the repulsive smell of marijuana. Vomit pooled on the carpet … stepping in it was inevitable. I pushed my way through the crowd of sweaty high-schoolers and was able to find Kyra.
“HEEEYYYYY!” she screamed, “Come over here and grab a drink.”
“I’m okay,” I said. “Are you okay? Watch out!” I warned as she knocked over a picture of a woman that was mounted to the wall.
“Totally! Just having fun.”
“The picture!” I said.
“Ohhh, it’s fine,” she reassured me. “I hate my mother anyways!”
I was stunned. Looking around I saw that the place was trashed. Couches were covered in spilled beer, TV screens were broken and glass had shattered in several rooms. How could Kyra do this to her own house? How could she so blatantly disrespect her mother and the rest of her family in front of everyone? The woman who gave birth to her, and put a roof over her head. Why was Kyra not grateful? But, I stayed quiet. I would never say how I actually felt. I needed friends. Badly.
Then the sirens blared. At once, every fifteen year old froze for two seconds, and then, it was like the Olympics. People were sprinting for their lives, jumping out of first-story windows, breaking down the back door and even attempting to hide in the basement. Following the crowd, I ran too, except towards my home, something I thought I knew Kyra would be mad at me for. I ran for what seemed like a lifetime, fighting the cramp in my stomach while thinking about the possible outcomes of this whole situation. The worst of which was getting arrested, but luckily no police cars had come the way I ran. I decided to just walk all the home, since I’d remembered the way my mom had driven me to Kyra’s house. I arrived at my abode exhausted, frightened, and appalled.
“Vittoria, are you home? How was your night?” my mom asked.
“To be honest Mom, it was terrifying.” I described the party in vivid detail, recounting what I’d seen that night. But the thing I focused the most on was not the vomit, smell, or obnoxiously loud music. It was the way Kyra spoke about her mother, and what she allowed others to do to her home, the place that she had the privilege to live in. I was still absorbing everything Kyra had said, and recognizing how different I was from her, and from the “normal” American teenager.
The following Monday, my eyes opened to a clock reading 6:30 AM. School. It felt like I had weight attached to my chest, making me drag myself around everywhere, which was quite accurate. I had no classes with Kyra or the rest of the girls, so I pretty much sat at the back of the classroom, head down, trying not to be noticed. I realized that lunch was the next period, and I was not ready to face Kyra’s wrath. The bell rung and I headed to the cafeteria.
“Hey Vi,” I heard a voice approaching. “How are you?”
I looked up, surprised to see the blonde Barbie coming towards me.
“I’m all right. Are you okay? What happened to your house? Was your mom angry?” I asked, praying Kyra would not talk about how I’d fled her house and abandoned her.
“Yeah totally! And I could care less about what my mom thinks, to be honest. I am inviting our little group over to my house today. Nothing special. The “rents” will be home though. Wanna come?”
I was at a loss for words. “Yes,” was a bad answer. I did not want to go to that house again. “No,” was a bad answer; basically social suicide. So, a ”yes” it was.
The bell rung at 3:00 and I called my mother, informing her that I wanted to go over to a friend’s house. I went To Kyra’s house, and when I came home that night, I was a braver and stronger individual.
We all sat in the living room, now cleaned up. Kyra had asked her mother to make us some smoothies, but for some reason she made us pizza instead. I didn’t complain, pizza was great, but according to Kyra’s reaction, not giving her exactly what she asked for was the worst mistake her mother could make.
“Mom! I told you you needed to make us smoothies, why don’t you listen? Thanks soooo much. Who said they wanted pizza? You are so annoying!” Kyra screamed.
My face got red, my fists were clenched. I had reached my breaking point.
“Kyra!” I screamed. “How on earth can you treat your mother this way? The woman who gave birth to you, who feeds you every day, who buys you everything you want, who allows you to live the life you live. How can you show her such disrespect after she has devoted her whole life to you? Appreciate her. Appreciate your dad. Appreciate every other member of your family, because there are thousands of other people in this world who would kill to have your life. Don’t take anything for granted.” And I stormed out. Again. I ran out again. But this time, I stood up to the most powerful girl in my grade. I stood up for what I believed in. Something I had never done before, and vowed to always do in the future.
Kyra and the rest of the girls never spoke to me again. But, I realized I didn’t need them. I didn’t need friends at my school who treated others the way Kyra treated her mother. I would rather be lonely than pretend I don’t have any beliefs worth fighting for. That is who I had been --- someone who was so concerned with having friends and how others would see me that I would stay silent. But after that day I didn’t stay silent, because I understood I was never truly alone. My family was my home. My safe place. That would never change.