Red balloon

By Denebola
Published: November 2008

I wonder what it’s like to be filled up with something so light and powerful that you get carried right up to the edge of the sky, and then stay there. To be perfectly inflated.

Anytime I’ve inhaled helium, I squeak for a minute or so, but I don’t go anywhere, and I certainly don’t soar. But balloons do. You can take a limp little thing, a flimsy piece of rubber and blow it up into its big, proud shape and then tie it off at the end. If you let it go inside, it will float up to the ceiling. You probably won’t be able to pull it down, but somehow it is still within reach.

If you move outside though, with that same balloon, it is those few moments of anticipation that make handling helium-balloon so unique. Because you know that sooner or later, you will let go of the string, or the wind will swing by, or the knots will come loose, and your balloon will pop up and then it will be free.

Early last summer I showed up in Evanston, Illinois, right by Lake Michigan, with 167 other kids my age who also happen to like theatre.

Then one morning, four weeks later, I was blindfolded. After being masked in dark for so long, the light is what hits you first. The sunlight floods your eyes, you soak it in, and only then do you start to see. I took off my blindfold and saw those 167 others around me, across the field. And I was a part of the big circle we formed.

Only then did I see the string.

I held a piece, which fell into the hands of the girl beside me, which stretched across fifty feet and looped back around to my side. It was intertwined with all the other string; all the string pouring out of our hands tangled itself in the hands of others and webbed its way into neat intersections. It was thin, to be sure, but it was strong like rope, and all of the pieces met in the center, gradually inclined.

Where the strings met, they were pulled taut, tied to the end of a giant red balloon.

Primary colors can blow your mind. There’s the red of the balloon right in the middle of it all, swaying and waiting, as round and proud as ever. The field we’re standing in is so bright, and the lake right behind us is truly blue– iridescent and shimmering.

Now I’ve reasoned it out that I can’t soar, at least not yet, or on my own. I doubt the girls and boys beside me could have either, but I’ve never asked. But we all know that there is something in front of us, waiting expectantly, that can. It can soar. And the proud balloon will wait, until we figure out about the strings, and about each other, and about when and how we’re ready to let it all go.

Our teachers wait and watch us, smiling, then run. They just run, and leave us on the field. And we Cherubs, they call us “cherubs, wait.

I can’t take my eyes off the people around me, for how can I when I am tied to them with string? We have stood in many circles before, but the balloon and string throws us off today, and we are wonderfully unresponsive.

We move as a unit, we laugh at the stickers on our hands (“These strings are biodegradable!), we try new positions, we cry, and we shout.

“Have you all learned nothing here? Don’t you realize we’re not supposed to do anything?

And we roar. We move to the water’s edge now, because we won’t mess up if we do. We won’t anyway. We realize we have to let it fall, in order for it to rise.

We let the strings go, and the giant red balloon floats on up over the water and into the indistinguishable sky. It can look that way forever: the circle of red climbing to disappear.

I don’t think a single one of us looked down.

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