We recently published L Mari Harris’s heartbreaking “Girl as Music Box Ballerina.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) The girl, in this story, is so realistic — she clearly is crying out for help, but at the same time she is trying to pretend everything is normal. Do you think she will ever be able to admit, yes, I need help, yes, someone please? 

She will keep trying. This piece stems from my own younger years, when I was seriously depressed for several of those years on and off. I learned a hard truth that many people can’t handle sadness and depression in others, so I was one of those people who learned to smile when eyes were on me. I’d tried to verbalize what I was feeling, why I wanted to be alone all the time. No one knew what to do with me, so everyone tended to avoid the situation of my “moodiness”. We have a lot of work to do to drastically improve how we respond to those we suspect or know are hurting. We tend to pull away, or we get mad—“Get it together”, “It’s not that bad”, “You have everything, so what do you have to be depressed about?”— when we should be wrapping our arms around our hurting brothers and sisters and truly, actively listening without judgment. And I don’t want this to sound like no one cares—so many people do care and can help. Pretending everything’s ok is a heavy burden to carry alone, and that’s what I hope I expressed in this piece. It’s so hard to open up, to keep reaching out, because each time someone doesn’t give you the response you need, it makes it that much harder to try again. But please please please keep reaching out. I found someone who would truly listen after many attempts. It’s ultimately so worth it. 

2) When I think of music box ballerinas, they are always dancing to a song my mother loved — “Love Story.” What song is the girl dancing to in her music box? 

It’s distant, faint, unnamable. I was obsessed with my music box when I was a little girl, but to this day, I cannot tell you what it played—probably something from The Nutcracker or Swan Lake. But what consumed me was how I could make her dance any time I wanted, simply by opening the lid, just as I could let her go back to sleep by closing it. I’d stick my face right up to it and gently lift the lid an inch, because I wanted to peer into that dark space, to see her folded up, and yet I knew by inching that lid up she’d eventually spring up and dance for me. Thinking about it all these years later, what is forefront in my mind is what a strange sense of power I held over that ballerina—I could make her perform at my will. The melody meant nothing to me; it was all about my eyes on her, about making her dance. And that’s so sad for me to think about now, that I only cared about how she performed for me.