Noisy Water Review

Maniac

Elizabeth Wykes

‘Baldy, baldy, bald eagle!’

I am in my grammar class, and I am thirteen years old. Because of alphabetical seating, I am forced to sit in the front of the class. The kid who sits three seats behind me is bouncing up and down, pointing at my head, and mocking me. I try to block him out, but his voice continues to ring in my ears, quietly ridiculing me for the rest of the day. I can't help it, I want to tell him. Most of the time, I ask to go to the bathroom and instead go hide by the playground so they don't see me cry.

Baldy, baldy…

Once, I tried to keep my hood up in class so he would not be able to see my head. The teacher roughly yanked the hood down and berated me in front of the class. I said I was cold, but she wouldn't listen. My eyes filled with tears and I felt that familiar burning sensation in my throat. Please, just let me keep my hood on. I sunk lower in my seat while I tried to arrange my hair so the two bald spots won't show.

I find the name for pulling in a book I am reading. 'Hair pulling is also known as trichotillomania.' There's a name for this? I ask myself. But how do I tell my mom?

A friend from church noticed first, the summer when I started pulling. Listen, she says to my mother. Elizabeth's pulling out her hair and hiding it, you've got to do something. That same month, my mother buys me a magnifying mirror, and I sit in my room for four hours a night picking at my skin. I am ugly, I tell myself. And then I think - sometimes, I don't even want to be around anymore.

The psychiatrist they take me to at the Children's Hospital reminds me of a duck. It took four months in order to get an appointment. She talks a lot, and once my parents leave, she asks me a bunch of questions. ‘What do you do with your hair once you pull it out? Can I see your spots? Do you chew on it? Do you pull from any other places? Do you pick at your face? Have you ever though about ending your life? Is there anything else I should know?’ I throw it out, sure, no, no, no, no, no. Every no is a lie. I know not to trust her, and I know how I should answer so I don't get in trouble with my mother. If I answer wrong, I will get grounded. At the end of the appointment, she tells my parents that my pulling is not bad enough for medication, or to qualify me for a clinical trial.

In the spring, I tell my three friends. My best friend says simply, ‘If you need help, let me know.’ One tells me that she doesn't think it is a real condition, but offers support. The other just hugs me. 

In my sophomore year, somehow my pulling comes up in conversation. I haven't pulled in a few years, but my skin picking is back. Within a week, I come to find out that five of my friends pull, along with my maternal grandmother. They didn't know the name of the condition; they just knew the symptoms - pulling out their eyelashes, eyebrows, beards, pubic hair, whatever.

It’s been years since I have pulled, and I don’t believe that I will ever start again. Moreover, I don’t know how or why I could have grown out of it, but I have. I hate having to admit that other conditions have replaced it. I wonder if things will always work like this - still trying to get at the root of something.

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