The James Webb Space Telescope is big in the news right now but, in a funny coincidence, we had something fall from the sky in our backyard recently. At first I didn’t know what it was and I saw it coming from a long way away, drifting up over the house like a mutant cloud, dark but with hints of light, trailing a narrow black tail.
Then it came down in the driveway and I could see it had once been a balloon–a giant 2, I think, that had popped open somewhere up in the air before it came down to rest, still exhaling some of its precious helium–but not enough for me to suck in and make my voice sound funny. Why a 2? That’s a mystery in itself. A black number birthday would most likely be one that ended with a zero–forty being the big one, but it’s all downhill from there. Maybe it was for a goth kid’s 12th birthday.
Balloon escapes seem to happen all the time. There’s a party supply store I drive by occasionally and I’ve seen people struggling to get clusters of balloons into their cars and I’d like to help but even if it weren’t weird to have a stranger come up and offer to hold your balloons what could I do? There’s no easy way to manage a bundle of plastic or mylar sacks filled with lighter than air gas and, now that I think about it, I guess “balloons” is a better name because it would sound even worse to have a stranger come up and offer to hold your lighter than air sacks, but that’s another story.
I know some kids love to get balloons and then let go of them–go to any theme park on any day and you’re bound to see at least one balloon flying over the crowd–but I was a kid who held onto balloons and would take them home. I loved the film The Red Balloon which teachers at school or adults at church would have us watch on rainy days when we couldn’t go outside. I didn’t care that my balloons didn’t follow me. I was happy to fall asleep watching my balloon bob around on the ceiling, only to wake up to it wrinkled and sad on the floor.
The only time I let a balloon go was when I tied a note to the string with my name and a little bit about me–I don’t remember what, exactly, and my address. “Please write back to me,” I wrote, with the urgency of an eight-year old. Then I let it go and watched it soar up and up and up until I couldn’t see it, and I imagined it sailing across states, maybe across the ocean, landing in the hands of another kid like me but different enough that we could share the strangeness of our lives.
No one ever wrote. But I did have a large black 2 come down in the driveway, and I shared it with a friend who texted back, “Are you wearing Crocs?”
I’ve learned to take the strangeness where I can find it.