The Truth Board

A Blog by the Editors of
The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

My Photo
Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happiness is a Red Balloon

“The pleasantest things in the world are pleasant thoughts: and the great art of life is to have as many of them as possible.” – Montaigne

For most people, a balloon is synonymous with joy and happiness, with simplicity and levity. For me, it is a profound symbol of my relationship with loss. One of the most distinct memories from my childhood was of a specific experience with a balloon, and it still lives vividly in my mind to this day. I remember all the colors, the textures, even the weather and the time. Mostly, though, I remember experiencing something that I couldn’t put a name to then, but which today I would try to summarize as the temporal intemperateness of life.

Try to imagine, if you will, a small blonde boy in an Aladdin t-shirt, standing on the grass in front of the apartment complex he lives in, beneath the pleasantly temperate Southern California sun. On his face is a placid smile that seems content with being left alone to its own devices. In his hand is a balloon, a bright red balloon, with a string improvised from a length of cheap lavender ribbon. All around him, the buildings and trees tower upward, and the bright clear sky seems so far away. But the lengthening shadows of the afternoon mean nothing to him. Even the little pug, barking at him from the neighbor’s window, is easily ignored. His gaze is fixated upon the bouncing red globule of gas-filled latex, which provides a bounty of entertainment from the simple act of jerking the ribbon up and down.

Unexpectedly, the creative instinct strikes him. Where exactly it comes from is about as clear to me now as it was to me then, but suddenly the boy starts playing a new game. He lets go of the balloon, letting it slide upward through the space between his fingers and thumb. At the last second he grabs it again, pulling it back down to eye level. Very entertained, he does it again. Then again. And again. Somehow it never gets old. The fun is in waiting until the very last second, when the ribbon is almost completely past his hand, then grabbing it again at the final possible instant.

But suddenly, he waits too long and grabs at air. He jumps, trying to reach it again, but the momentum of the fight against gravity built up faster than he had realized, and now it is most definitely gone.


For a brief instant he thinks that her tall height, and the simple fact that she is a mom, will allow her to rush out the front door and grab it for him, but this lighting flash of a mental model is quickly dispelled. He just stands there, looking upwards, which is in itself a very surreal perspective to the human mind. He watches as the small red gem becomes ever smaller against the vast blue oblivion, and time itself seems to stretch and warp and lose all meaning. Smaller and smaller it shrinks, and the tears were already pouring down his cheeks when the tiny speck finally disappeared completely. Oh sure, there would be other balloons in the future. But there would never again be that balloon, never again that euphoria. There would never again be this exact heartache. The first tiny scar etched upon my being, out of the many more yet to come.

Of course, wonderful woman that she is, my mother came rushing out as fast as humanly possible, wrapping her arms around me and pulling me into her warm embrace. She took me inside, and right away procured exactly what the doctor would have ordered for this situation: a nice tall glass of ice cold chocolate milk. My sobs eventually subsided, the cartoons were turned on, and soon only the drying streaks on my face were the only reminders that anything had been wrong.

Still, there can be no doubt of it. That fateful day, the world became just a little bit smaller, just a little bit colder. And I can’t help but wonder: has everything I’ve done since then, all of my intellectual, athletic, and social endeavors, have they all been an attempt to get back to that one moment, that final second just before the happiness slipped through my fingers, and this time not let go?

-Paul Beckwith


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home