The Story Behind “Perfect Child” by Melissa Ballard

Melissa BallardToday’s post is written by Melissa Ballard. Her essay “Perfect Child” appears in our Spring 2016 issue. 

In 2011, I drafted a poem about the “I choose ‘zis” scene in “Perfect Child.” But my poems are prose with random line breaks, so I abandoned that effort.

During the summer of 2012, I took a class with Rebecca McLanahan at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops. For one of the assignments, I wrote about some of the jobs I’ve had. A paragraph in that essay became the basis for “Perfect Child,” which I first drafted, in its current form, for a Creative Nonfiction class with Meghan O’Gieblyn during the winter of 2015.

After that, friends read drafts, gave me feedback, and I revised. When I was sure the essay was perfect, I gave it to my final reader. She said, “I love this, but you need to rewrite that last section.” I was done revising, so this made me grumpy, and I tried to ignore her. Finally, I admitted she was right, and I rewrote the last section.

Thank you, Monique!

Creative nonfiction editor Lisa Romeo had been encouraging about one of my earlier submissions to Compose, and she’d asked to see more of my work. So I submitted this essay and she accepted it.

My professor’s comment about mourning the loss of the “perfect child” was the thread that survived all the drafts of this essay, and eventually became the title. As I wrote about the children I worked with so long ago, yet remembered so vividly, I was awed anew by both their fragility and their resilience. In the end, this essay was about them, and their impact on me, not vice versa. It only took a genre-switch, two classes, a small village of readers, and a thick stack of revisions to figure that out.

About the Author

Melissa Ballard studied fashion merchandising, worked retail and was a bank teller and a public school camp counselor before attending college. She has written essays for Brevity, Gravel, Full Grown People, and other publications. 

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