the pearl


The very first memory Britney has — the first faint image she can remember — was a mylar balloon.

It was a birthday party. She's not certain which party it was — it could have even been her own. There might have been chocolate cake with cream icing, there might have been goodie bags filled with candy necklaces, and there might have been at least one doll unwrapped — she's not sure on any of those details, having been to so many birthday parties in her life that they're all blending together in a blur of candles and streamers and hats.

But she is sure of one thing. She is sure of that balloon.

It was silver, bright and shining and always just out of reach from chubby little hands. She kept trying to grip the thin ribbon, and kept failing, whimpering as she strained in frustration.

One time, her mother told her that, for days afterward, all she talked about was the balloon.


In between the dance classes, the singing classes, and the regular classes, her mother didn't have much time to spoil her as much as her friends were. But she always seemed to scrape together enough cash to buy Britney a balloon every once in awhile.

They would go to the mall together, walking around and looking at all the shops, walking to that one Hallmark's in the corner. Britney would look up at the balloons, her eyes wide as she chose one. She never picked the same one twice, to the point of picking birthday-related ones when it wasn't her birthday. When the cashier would hook it up to the helium tank, Britney's smile would inflate along with it, finally becoming a full-on grin when the cashier handed her the newly-floating balloon, ribbon curling from it.

For a few days, she would happily watch the balloon, laughing as it bounced gently in her bedroom. When it began to droop and slowly make its descent to the floor, she would cry, telling her mother that the balloon had died.

She'd drag the balloon around for days after that, pulling it along the floor, snagging it in doorways, yanking it around the way other girls her age held their dolls. Britney had her balloon, and although it was on the floor and useless, she still carried it around until her mother bought her a new one.

Why always she wanted a balloon, no one knew.


She went to Florida and became a star. Or, at least, enough of a star to merit something resembling a dressing room and something resembling spending money. One time, she talked one of the make-up artists into buying her a bunch of balloons while she was filming, and she returned, happily to find the room filled with the balloons.

She spent as much time as possible in her dressing room from then on, refusing to come out to meet fans or take her classes in a group or anything else. When everyone began to mutter about what a diva she had already become, her mother threatened to take the balloons away, leaving her with nothing.

She slunk out soon after that. But after that, she always made certain there were balloons in her dressing room. And that they never sunk down.


Justin and Britney's first date was a quiet event — they stayed indoors, to stay away from the press. But Justin had managed to go out to buy her flowers and a silver star balloon — because she was such a star, see? — and she had kissed him, tenderly, when he appeared.

Nothing happened after that, of course. Right now, there was just too much at stake for both of their careers. They sat there, watching the obligatory movie and eating the obligatory dinner, making the obligatory small talk while Britney occasionally looked over at the balloon, seeing it dance slowly in the air conditioning breeze.

He kissed her again as he left, and she sighed as she closed the door. She watched the balloon dance close to the ceiling, and quickly tugged it down to her.


The day after she gave the interview when, in an attempt to be witty, she mentioned Justin's size, she received a package from him.

She frowned, slightly, but opened it anyway, thinking that there was very little he could do. Maybe write another song about how she hurt him, or make another video in which he was stalking her. But he was in another country right now, and, besides, McDonald's wouldn't let him.

Inside, there was a balloon. It had been slashed, repeatedly, but the words written on it were still clear.

"FUCK YOU," it said in bright red letters. The cut marks ran through the letters, and the silver glinted underneath.

She looked down at it, her fingers stroking the balloon's marred body, studying it for a full minute. Then she closed the box, and threw the entire thing in the trash.


After she kissed her husband, the minister at the chapel gave her a balloon, silver and white with "Congratulations" written across it.

After the annullment had been signed, it still floated in her hotel room.


She didn't spend much time promoting her fourth album. Or her fifth. Or her sixth. She knew it was useless. Her mother complained, her manager complained, it seemed as though everyone was complaining, but she saw the sale figures, she saw the jokes, and she definitely saw his face everywhere.

She spent more and more time in her bedroom, sitting at her vanity, staring at herself in the mirror. She would trace her hand over her reflection in the mirror, studying her face intently.

Occasionally, her sister would bring her a balloon, in an attempt to cheer her up. Britney would look at the thin piece of mylar, puffed up and floating on nothing and everything, shining and glittering in the spotlight, then slowly sinking down to nothing.

She looked at the balloon, yanked it down, and popped it with her nails.

This Real Person story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at