“Melissa, where’s your scrunchie?” Mom looked in both pockets of my jacket and on the floor under my booster seat. “I forgot it,” I whispered with a worried ruffle of my forehead. “Oh, that’s okay. We’ll see if your teacher has an extra one.” As I climbed out of the car, my mom scooped me up on her hip. “I can walk, Mom. I’m three and three-quarters.”
“I know, Sweetie, but you already have your ballet slippers on. We don’t want to ruin them by walking on the asphalt.”
After we went in the side door of the pebble-covered office building, Mom set me down on the tile and I ran up the stairs with her following along behind me. I turned left at the top of the stairs and skipped to the door at the end of the hall. I almost had it pulled open enough to fit through when Mom grabbed the edge of the door and helped me pull it the rest of the way. “I almost had it!” I scrunched my nose and pouted for a half a second before darting inside.
Ballet was my whole world. And art, and reading, but ballet made me feel so pretty, even though the other girls had purple leotards and sparkly tutus and I had just a pink leotard and plain white tights. Even though some girls were older and better at it than I was. But I had prettier hair than anybody. Long blond hair, almost white and down to my waist. I didn’t know if my teacher would let me do ballet without a hair tie.
I stood a little bit away from the other girls in class and waited for my mom. They’d never talked to me, so I knew they didn’t like me. She came back with a rubber band, the kind you use to hold pencils together. “See? Nothing to worry about!” she said with a smile as she put my hair in a ponytail.
But I was worried. I wasn’t supposed to use that kind of rubber band in my hair because Mom said that it would pull my hair out when I tried to take it out. I didn’t want to lose the only thing that made me pretty, so I squeezed my eyes shut to hold back my tears. My hair would have to stay in a ponytail forever.
That night, I had a bad dream.
On our way to my ballet class, my parents realized I had forgotten my hair tie so they made a detour. We drove up a spiraling road around a mountain that looked like it belonged in a Dr. Seuss book, a steep cone with jagged cliffs, to a hospital at the tip of the peak. When we arrived at the hospital, my extended family was already there, waiting in the lobby with worried looks on their faces.
My parents walked me to the elevator, up to the fourth floor, and in to a hospital room where a handsome doctor in blue-green scrubs and a surgeon cap was waiting. “Hello, Melissa. I’m going to give you a ponytail so you can go to ballet.” My parents left, closing the door behind them, as the doctor lifted me up onto an exam table to look at my hair. “Yep, much too long to do ballet without a ponytail. Hop down.” I scooted off the table obediently and he walked me across the bigger-than-necessary room. On the opposite side near a large window was a bed. But it wasn’t a hospital bed, it was a metal-frame twin bed with a spring mattress support, and it was tipped on end with the mattress side toward the wall.
The doctor zip-tied my wrists to the springs and turned my head to one side. He then proceeded to sew my hair into a high ponytail with what seemed like a million stitches.
When he was done, he put away the needle, thread, and scissors and came back over to me. “Now, Melissa, I did something nice for you, so you have to do something nice for me,” he said, as he untied the drawstring to his scrub pants.
A nurse walked me silently back to the lobby where my family was waiting. When they saw me, relieved looks passed over their faces. My dad took my hand, “Let’s go to ballet! Okay, Sweetie?”
I’m never gonna get my hair out of this goddamn ponytail.
I awoke to the comforting voice of Peter Cetera on my mom’s radio alarm clock:
“I am a man who would fight for your honor
I’ll be the hero you’re dreaming of…”
Peter Cetera’s song “The Glory of Love” topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in August of 1986, remaining there for two weeks. It was one of the most popular singles of the year. <http://www.billboard.com/archive/charts/1986/hot-100> Retrieved June 5, 2017.
Melissa (Milly) Thiringer has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and PTSD, and navigates her mental illness with as much honesty as she knows how. She writes to find out who she is because she’s sure she’s been told wrong. She lives with and loves her family on a rural prairie in North Idaho. Milly is an editor for Filles Vertes Publishing, and you can find more of her writing and art at www.millythiringer.com.