When I was a little girl, I remember getting a great big blue balloon from some church activity. I loved that balloon! It was so beautiful and vivid and obediently following me on its leash of bright red curling ribbon. It was almost like a magical thing; a magical creature that gently bobbed up at the end of the ribbon’s length, tugging slightly as if to say “look up look up!” My mother tied it securely around my wrist, “so it won’t float away,” she said.
I remember the balloon in the car on the way home just grazing the ceiling. I’d pull down on the red curling ribbon till the balloon itself was in my hands, put my ear to it and listen to the ticklish vibration of my parents’ voices inside it. I wondered if that was what blue sounded like. Then I would let it go and watch it go back up to the car ceiling again.
For some reason, the red curling ribbon seemed to be cutting into my skin. I’d twisted and turned my wrist in the loop and stretched it out just enough to get my hand through. I wrapped three fingers inside the loop and held my hand down at my side so my mother wouldn’t see I’d wrested it free from the secure place she’d tied it.
Hold on tight. Hold on tight! Don’t want it to float away!
Hold on tight. We arrived home and…hold on tight…getting out of the car…don’t let go…I stumbled just a bit and my hand came open to catch myself and I forgot to hold on tight. I felt it slip away from my fingers and thought…no! Hold on tight! But it was too late.
The space between my fingers and the bright red curling ribbon began to expand as the beautiful blue balloon soared up into the sky. Free at last free at last! It danced upward, upward, upward on the breeze. It was the first time I had the very real feeling of wanting to turn back time just a moment. It almost seems like you could. Just back up the least little bit. If you could will it hard enough, time could just back up a brief few seconds. Then I could hold on tight and then my balloon would not be floating away leaving me alone, magicless and powerless, standing in the driveway.
But no matter how hard I willed it, I could not back up time. I could not undo my not holding on tight. I could only watch as the balloon grew smaller and smaller and the sky between me and it grew greater and greater.
And then it was gone.
That’s the first loss I remember. There is a touch of that feeling of loss every time a cherished thing or person, memory or hoped for future is lost. Sometimes, I am the blue balloon drifting away, untethered and feeling abandoned. Sometimes, I am the red curling ribbon, wanting so badly to fulfill my purpose but powerlessly twisting in the current of time. Sometimes, I am the little girl who tried so hard to hold on tight, who didn’t tell her mother that she’d taken the balloon off her wrist, who listened to the well intended words of the grownup who said, ‘just imagine where that balloon is going now!’
The truth is it doesn’t really matter where it is going because it is going without me and my heart is broken as it leaves me standing here on the ground, hand out, willing time to roll backward with all my might and wishing so badly that I had remembered to hold on tight.