99 Red Helium Balloons
Yesterday afternoon I was privy to a ceremony that seemed straight out of a made-for-TV movie. My sister and I were told nothing specific of the proceedings- only that our attendance was mandatory and that some sort of dinner-type meal would inextricably follow the event.
Outside, on the balcony of the penthouse condo that my parents are about to move out of, we stood in a cluster, staring at 30 rainbow balloons that my 75 year-old father had grasped in his hands. I wondered for a moment if we were going to recreate the movie UP, but finally, my mother spoke.
She announced that there were some people they wanted to let go of, and as they released each balloon, they would send them off with some sort of goodbye. I’d hasten to say that most people in their golden years have someone they could afford to let go of, so we’ll skip the details of why this ceremony needed to take place.
In spite of the seemingly negative tone of cutting people out of one’s life, it turned out to be a light-hearted enough affair — particularly with my sister, my brother in-law and I chiming in with our witty repartee about each balloon. “So long sucka,” my sister said as a flesh-toned balloon floated into the horizon. “Hope everything turns out peachy for you…”
My mother took a yellow balloon in her hand: “This one is for Mr. X. We’re finished with you. I hope you have a terrible life. I mean…I don’t want you to die….”
“I just want you to suffer,” I finished for her, high-fiving my brother in law, the family member most likely to get my jokes.
It hasn’t been a common occurrence, as of late, for this family to laugh together, but there was something about sending off balloons into the sky and imagining our worst foes being swept away by wind and helium that seemed to take a load off of everyone’s shoulders, if only for a moment.
My sister and her husband let someone go with a bright orange balloon, but I declined the invitation to let my own go. What could I possibly say that is fit for the consumption of this family, I wondered. I didn’t want to send off my balloon with any shred of falsity. And as much as I could throw in a gag about the people who’d caused drama for my parents, I knew that bringing up my own life would reduce me to tears that I wouldn’t be willing or able to explain to my family.
So I suggested that we save the final balloon for anyone who had been forgotten, and as the rest of the family shouted their greetings of good riddance, I watched the over-inflated red balloon waft into the sky, making my own silent declaration of freedom. I kept my eye on the sailing ball of air and latex and swore to myself that this Martha Stewart meets Dr.Phil spectacle would have some sort of lasting effect on my life.
This idea that you can say that you’re free of something or someone and have it be so… Part of me thinks it sounds too easy. But, maybe it’s supposed to be that easy. Besides, though we hate to admit it, it’s usually our own choices that put us in these situations where we feel trapped by difficult things or people. To that effect, shouldn’t we be able to let these things go just as easily as we’ve claimed them? It’s something that’s been weighing heavily on my mind lately, like a balloon filled with gravel instead of air. The ceremony felt so cosmically ordained that it took all of my years of theatrical training to hold myself together and stay detached they way I typically do when my family is around.
So in the wake of the family balloon sacrament, I’m continuing on my own journey with no lofty expectations other than the fragile, but secure knowledge that I am one red balloon lighter than yesterday.