In hindsight, all the warning signs were there…the fear of commitment, the short-lived relationships, the frosted hair, the flashy clothes. Although it was the 1980s, which were a pretty flamboyant decade in the fashion annals, they were pioneers of the metrosexual movement, except that the term wouldn’t even develop for more than a decade. But still…only in hindsight is the view so clear. So imagine my surprise, 20-plus years after the fact, to discover my great childhood friends, Ken and Derek, are lovers. Perhaps you knew them, too? Ken was an ex of Barbie’s and Derek was the sole male member of Barbie’s girl band, The Rockers (as if this wasn’t clue numero uno). Barbie always swore she and Derek were just friends, but I never believed it. I always thought Derek was the reason behind her break-up with Ken, and I still think I was right, but for the wrong reasons. All the epiphanies, at such a late date.
I hadn’t seen all my old friends – Barbie, Ken, Derek, Skipper, and Miko, just to name a few – in a million years. You know how it is – friends grow up, grow apart, go their own ways. A few months ago, they all resurfaced to meet my then-four-year-old daughter, Grace. They were as fashionable as I remember them…decked out in classic, vintage styling. They must’ve come straight from that boutique we used to run together on Rodeo Drive. We all got reacquainted and Skipper was as cute and ebullient as ever, beautifully tanned and ageless after so many years. The same was true of Barbie and Tracey and Miko, though the astronaut (the most accomplished of all of us, it was all she ever dreamed of becoming) had lost a foot some years back in a space misadventure. Otherwise, they were all just as I’d remembered them – beautiful flowing hair, flawless skin, remarkably taut and in shape (likely because none of them had ever had kids themselves). How kind the years had been to them. I secretly wondered how different I looked to them, and if they were snarkily passing judgment after our reunion. Beautiful girls are united by one commonality – they are a catty brood.
I digress. Then, straggling at the back of the pack, came Derek and Ken. Derek’s dark hair was still frosted caramel (I thought that fad passed with the 1980s) and his eyes were rimmed with a hint of eyeliner, even though he hadn’t been in a band for two decades. He was sporting black leather capris, a sleeveless tuxedo shirt, white tennis shoes and a three-quarter sleeve, multi-colored, satin jacket. Oh…did I mention the snake tie? And then came Ken…Ken, Ken, Ken. How did I not know? His affiliation with USA Roller Sports (circa 1980) should have tipped me off, but I always thought he did that for Barb. That he tried out for various artistic and dance skate competitions nationwide (and Barbie didn’t) should’ve revealed it was his passion, not hers. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. But there Ken was, as muscled and toned as ever, wearing black shiny hot pants, a fitted red T, a sparkly purple jacket that matched the purple stripes on his shorts, a cowboy hat and skates. Had Ken always looked so much like a young Robert Redford?
Apparently, Ken and Derek have been together almost 20 years now and are well and happy, which is all anyone can really wish for their old friends. They survived some rough times in SanFran in the late ‘80s but they weathered the storm(s) together and are a stronger couple. The scuttlebutt is that Barbie is pretty well over it now, though she spent a lot of years in counseling following the discovery and developed yet another eating disorder. She always had a posse of friends to pull her through the dark times and she has had some relationships, though none has ever turned into the fairy tale she thought she’d achieve with Ken. She blamed herself for a lot of years, thinking she’d “turned” Ken gay and wondering if she’d somehow influenced Derek, too. But a bossy girlfriend (and band mate) does not a gay man make, so said her shrink, and she eventually found solace in yoga and feng shui and vegetarianism. It must be working for her because, as I said, she looks fabulous.
So, after catching up with my old friends, it was more obvious than ever that we – no matter who “we” are - are all the same. Everyone faces trials and tribulations, life is never what we expect it to be, and we, hopefully, emerge at the end of the sagas stronger and wiser, with good friends to help us along the way. No one has a perfect life, and “perfect” should never be the strived-for goal. Even the fairy tales are marred with misfortune; even the Barbies of the world get screwed over, and occasionally do the screwing over.
It was great to see them all after so many years, and so fun to remember all the good and funny times we shared. I wished my old friends well and they assured me they’d be around in the future to be friends to my daughters. I look forward to the adventures, and the occasional sagas, Grace and Nadia tell me about their new (my old) friends.