Message in a balloon


Saturday, I was scurrying around, getting ready to have a few people over to celebrate M’s graduation, and I got into that mode, you know how it goes, (or maybe you don’t…) where you start fussing and realize you won’t stop till people arrive? Even though these are friends, people who have been to my house hundreds of times who wouldn’t think twice even if it were completely messy and I served potato chips out of the bag. They’d be gracious and say, “Oh, what a lovely party! That’s clever how you have all the dirty dishes in the sink!”

But I wanted it to be especially nice, because M. has worked so hard to get to where she is, and I wanted to show how much I love her by creating many strings of origami cranes to hang up, and I wanted my friends to know how much I love them by sweeping the cobwebs out of the corners of the ceiling and making yummy food.

I have that thing where I start out fine, but then get a hare-brained last-minute idea and follow it, against my better judgment. As in, “Oh, people won’t be here for an hour. I should totally paint the laundry room!”

It looked like I was heading that way, the way of going back to the store for More of Something or deciding that this was the time to learn how to make a new complicated pastry or serve everything from pottery I’m about to create from scratch.

I thought I should get out of the house, so I saddled up Virtual Partner, and we went off into the woods for our standard little run. About half way, my point being that I’m as far from home as possible, when I’m on this sketchy little trail where I never see anyone, something shiny catches my attention. I go off the trail to see what it is. Okay, actually, I’m already off the trail because I had to pee, but let’s leave that out of the story.

I go further off the trail to see what this shiny thing is, and it turns out to be a small bunch of mylar balloons, balloons that were once filled with helium, but they bob gently on the ground now, being that they’re partially deflated and the substance inside isn’t helium. For a second, I thought about leaving them there, but that seemed wrong in a littering sort of way. And then I thought, hey, I’m having a party, I can use these balloons! So I crashed into the bushes and retrieved them.

I really hate balloons for so many reasons. They’re complete consumer waste, enjoyed briefly before they float off and land in the woods where they will stay forever. Or, best-case scenario, they get thrown into the landfill, where they’ll also stay forever.

I also hate them because they remind me of my friend Deb, who, in a fit of depression that her friends were sadly unaware of, bought herself a final bouquet of helium balloons and used them to end her life, leaving those of us who loved her unbearably sad and shocked. Shocked that one so joyful and creative and vibrant had that particular storyline lurking beneath the surface where her future should have been.

But on the other hand, what’s not to love about a shiny, festive balloon?

When I picked them up, I noticed that there was a note attached at the base saying they were released in Redmond, Washington on June 8, and providing a phone number to call if they were found.  I know! They had traveled approximately 10 miles in a northeasterly direction during a cold rainy spell.  I don't know if that's remarkable or not.

But it seemed like such a lovely fluke that I found them, and especially that I crashed into the bushes for them, given how much I don’t like balloons. But all of my life, and I’m not exaggerating, I’ve been hoping to find a message in a bottle.

I ran home, dragging these cheery balloons behind me like a flag, but more like three loud, swishy flags that made it sound like I was sailing, but not a very good sailor so the sails were just flapping, not quiet the way they should be.

Meanwhile, Virtual Partner kept announcing how far ahead he was. ‘Whatever, VP.  I’ve got balloons, and not only that, but while you were running faster than me, I have basically found a message in a bottle.’  But as usual, he was too far ahead to hear, and isn’t a very good listener anyway. I don’t even know why I bring him, to tell you the truth. Which R. asks me every day. “What is wrong with you that you do that?”

I put the balloons down when I got home, and resumed my fussery, and sort of forgot about them until R. came home.

He laid on the couch for a few minutes like a sloth, and then leaped up --“Mom, let’s go swimming!”
It was cloudy and 62 degrees out, and the lake is only 64 degrees, so I wasn’t exactly eager, but in another 'building bravery' sort of way, it seemed like a good thing to do, so I agreed.

While walking to the beach, we noticed that a huge party was happening a few houses away. Men wearing camo were driving up in big American trucks and Hummers, parking on lawns, and walking down the driveway past a giant inflated plastic turkey balloon. I remembered that there were signs along the roadway for about 5 miles, leading to this party, that said, “WTF”. I know.

But the letters stand for Wild Turkey Federation, which seems like they could have thought that out a little better.

I couldn’t imagine two more diverse parties – the one with tiny candles and origami cranes everywhere, and the other with a giant plastic inflatable turkey and lots of gun racks. I’m not sure why I even bring this up. No, I’m really not sure at all. I think because when I started writing this, I was hoping I’d have time to make it into a powerpoint, because that was fun. And the turkey is perhaps the one thing in the story that maybe I could draw, so I wanted to slip it in there.

But back to the story at hand. I told R. about finding the balloons, and he got super-excited. “Call them!”

“Really? I was going to wait til tomorrow, after the party.”

NO! You have to call now.”

So I did. I dialed the number, and, by the way, I hate the phone. I hate it so much that I hardly ever answer it if I’m not getting paid.  So this is a huge deal.  A man answers.

“Hi. I’m calling because I’ve found your balloons.”

“Oh.”

“Yup, I found them east of Duvall.”

“Oh, that’s great. My son will be excited. He’s 14, and we had a party, and there were a few extras that he decided to release.” [I really wanted to pursue that detail – like, how do you know when a balloon is an “extra? Aren’t they like confetti or candles, kind of a ‘more the merrier’ commodity? But I didn’t ask.]

Well that’s cool. “ I wanted the conversation to last a little bit longer, because this was my only message in a bottle contact, so I explained a little more. “I found them sort of off the trail, pretty far from any roads. It was really surprising that I found the balloons at all.” I left out the part about being off the trail because I had to pee. 

“Oh. Well, that’s good.”

“Yes, and I’m planning to use them at a party tonight.”

At this point, it seemed like he started to think that I was asking him out or something, like I was going to invite him to the party to see his old friends, the balloons.  I’m not exactly sure why I thought that, except for that he started talking a lot about his wife.

“Yes, I’ll tell my wife about that. I’ll tell her you found the balloons, and you’re using them at a party. Are they still in good shape?”

“Um, not really. Kind of deflated. And bits of dirt and stuff on them, but still shiny.  Yes, still very shiny.  But small-ish.”

“Oh," he said, kind of skeptically, like maybe I was up to some scam. "Well, I’ll go tell my wife about that. Yes, my wife will be pleased to know about all of this. I had better go tell my wife right now.”

Anyway, I guess I’ve had my message in a bottle experience. It was okay.

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