Monday, May 31, 2010

31. Blue Balloon

Last day of May today, a wild and rain-drenched day, and we were at the doctor’s again. She said, ‘You’re becoming my most loyal patients,’ and she said, ‘You don’t do rain by halves in this country, do you?’ and she joked, ‘See you again next week!’ She looked in Charlie’s ears and said, ‘Best I’ve ever seen them.’ Charlie and I both smiled.

On the way home, there was a sunbreak in the rain and when we turned a corner, a bright rainbow, and I thought, well, that’s almost too much – maybe I shouldn’t mention that rainbow on my blog - it’s just too much. But there it was. Then we passed a construction site and Charlie said, ‘Look! There’s a digger! Did you see it?’ and I said, ‘Well, no, I missed it, but I’ve seen diggers before.’ Surprisingly, he accepted that, and we drove on.


A few weeks back, we drove home from a party through the rain with a blue balloon.
The balloon pressed its head against the ceiling, then it leaned sideways so all I could see in the rear view mirror was blue.
Outside the car at home, Charlie reached for the balloon.
‘I’ll bring it inside,’ I said.
‘Give me the balloon,’ he said.
‘No, no.’ I was holding it tight. ‘I’ll carry it inside for you – or tie it to your wrist’, and he breathed in, calmly, ‘Just give it to me.’
We were standing on the footpath in the rain beside the open car door. I started talking. I said, ‘If you let go, this balloon will fly away,’ and he said, ‘Give it to me.’
I said: ‘Do you want—are you sure— ? If it slips out of your fingers, even for a second, it will go into the sky, and it will keep on going up, and you will never ever ever get it back. Do you understand?’

He reached out his hand. Bright blue balloon between us like a maypole, waiting to see what we would do.

I was thinking: he will lose it and he’ll cry, and he won’t understand that I can’t get it back for him. Like those sticks he used to collect in parks and when one snapped in half he would hand it to me and say, ‘Fix it.’

I was thinking: he might be able to hold onto it - he's three, his grip is getting stronger.

I was thinking: you have to let them make their own mistakes. It’s not a terrible loss, a balloon – maybe this is the best way to lose, feel loss, learn to move on—

Charlie reached his hand out, I gave him the balloon.

He lifted it up, opened out his fingers, and let it go.

Then, while my face gasped, his lit up, and he went wild with excitement. The balloon was skidding up into the sky, and Charlie was jumping up and down on the spot, laughing, watching it, chattering madly – ‘it’s going on a holiday!’ I heard him say. I looked up too. I started to see what he meant.


Afterwards, I wondered what happens to helium balloons when you let them go – whether they end up in orbit, millions of lost balloons in outerspace, or curve their way back to the ocean and get eaten by the whales. I did find some sites that said balloons may be choking the creatures of the sea. But then there was a study claiming most balloons will keep on rising until they reach a height at which they shatter. Then they’ll break into hundreds of tiny pieces, fall back to earth, and decay at the same rate as an oak leaf.

I suppose that when you let go of something, you have to try to do it the right way, the way that makes it shatter like glass then fall to the forest floor and disappear.


At the time, though, I was caught up in Charlie’s excitement — the balloon was going up but it was still itself, still blue — and I started to think about my Cello books, how I want there to be a girl, and she's sitting on a sloping roof in Cambridge, England, reading a book about Isaac Newton. Isaac and his falling apple, his glass prisms, his rainbows, and his fascination with things impossibly small, or impossibly large, or impossibly far away - while, at the same time, in the Kingdom of Cello, a boy in a dark grey woollen hat is walking across the white, white, snowy fields –

The balloon was going up, up, up, getting smaller, smaller, smaller, and we were laughing in amazement at the distance of it – that it could go so far, so fast, and get so small!

'Look, Charlie,' I said, 'you can still see it, it’s just a tiny speck but you can see it!' But then I turned and realised he'd stopped watching, he was heading for our front door to get in out of the rain.