10/30/02

Ponytails

5:45 A.M.

The girl in the mirror stares at me

With bleary, droopy eyes

Focused on the tiny bump in my ponytail.

Disgusted, she shakes her head

Pulls out the tightly-wrapped hair tie

And begins combing furiously.

6:30 A.M. finds her still staring at me

Glowering at the stubborn bump.

Comb passes through greasy hair

Again and again

Hand smoothes it out mechanically;

Bump refuses to yield.

The girl sighs and undoes the ponytail again,

Knowingly forfeiting her breakfast

To continue to try and tame this unruly hair.

The next day, I get up fifteen minutes earlier.

Later, I sit in the itchy pink chair

Watching my nail-bitten fingers

As the social worker asks me a series of meaningless questions.

Excessive hand washing?

            -No.

Fear of bugs or germs?

            -No.

Elaborate, time-consuming rituals?

I hesitate, watching my sore fingers tap the pink material.

My other hand automatically reaches for my hair

And smoothes, ineffectively, the stubborn bump

I know is there.

Unhelpfully, my mother blurts out

The story of my early-morning struggles against my hair

Against bumps she claims not to see.

She ignores my evil eye.

This was my secret,

My method of calming those tormented hours

Half-dreaming

At dawn.

Despite my body's protests

Against such early rising

There was always some comfort

In seeing the girl in the mirror

Struggle with a comb.

Nodding, the social worker gives the diagnosis.

My fingers tapping on the itchy pink chair

The baggy-eyed girl in the mirror

Don't understand

Why a diagnosis is so special.

It won't change us, they cry.

It won't change me.

They can trap me with an O

Secure me with a C-shaped lock

And twist it tightly closed with a D

But still the alarm clock will ring at 5:30

So I can greet my tired companion in the mirror . . .