God’s Balloons


“It had been double-knotted, but my planet of a balloon, terrified by this endless ocean of alien people, slipped from my wrist and floated up and up and up… And then it was gone. Just like that.” (Art by Hannah Manikowski)

I sit on the swings, kick off my dirtied sneakers, admire my Pepto-Bismol-pink socks, look to the sky, and theorize thus-
God owns a startling number of balloons.
I remember things. I close my eyes, I block out the sky, and I remember things that, logically, I should not be able to remember. I remember being young. Very young. So young that, if most people were to see a picture of themselves at this age, the disconnect would be so great, they wouldn’t even recognize this tiny alien as themselves. I remember the sea of people at the fair. I remember me- tiny, alien me- holding my mother’s hand and tottering along, bobbing through the tide of humans who seemed even more alien than I did. There was a balloon- a giant, planet-like, metallic red balloon. This balloon was attached to a string, and this string was attached to my wrist.
Until it wasn’t.

It had been double-knotted, but my planet of a balloon, terrified by this endless ocean of alien people, slipped from my wrist and floated up

and up
and up.
I watched it drift away until it stopped drifting and started shrinking. My balloon, once gloriously round and gloriously plump, shrank to an imperceptibly small speck in the sky. And then it was gone. Just like that.

I cried. We had to go home. I didn’t even have a chance to win a goldfish.

I open my eyes again, locking my gaze on the object that had sparked the initial thought- a purple orb, swimming through the sky like a jellyfish with a single tendril. I wonder if there’s a child standing on the ground beneath that very spot, crying. I hope not, but balloons rarely end up in the sky of their own accord, and children rarely facilitate the release of said balloons in a willful manner.

I like to think God will catch it and hold it for a while. I like to think he’s holding my balloon for me right now. That’s what I would do. If I were God, I’d catch the balloons that drifted my way, and I’d keep them all in a grand balloon-room until their children came to reclaim them. That’s what I’d do.

I don’t even believe in God, but it’s thoughts like these that make me wish I did.
I haven’t believed in God since I met her – she and her artistic, free-thinking friends who attended poetry readings and danced in the rain and then smoked cigarettes in their still-sopping clothes. She wasn’t one of those kids who studied Eastern philosophy and lived in coffeehouses just to appear deep and untouchable. It was just who she was. She believed in it. And she believed in me. Having someone believe in me- I mean really, really believe in me- was something to which I was not accustomed. The idea still makes me uncomfortable, sometimes.

I shift my position on the swing.

I met her three years ago. I was fourteen, and she was seventeen. I was a freshman, and she was a sophomore (She had been held back, she said, after writing “History is a glorified fairytale ” in scrawling print across the page of every social studies test the second semester of the last school year.). I was quiet and lost and scared of my shadow, and she was strong and confident and a swan among geese. I was the weird kid, and she was too cool to be reduced to another pawn in the social hierarchy of the school.

But I was the weird kid.

And she liked the weird kids.

The first time we talked was on the monkey bars. She met up with me there, and we talked. We just… talked. We talked the way I had never talked to anyone before. It was as if me – alien me – had finally found someone who spoke my language. I told her things about myself I had never told another person. There were no inhibitions. We just talked.
And the next day, we talked.

And the day after, we talked.

And from that day forward, we talked.

She introduced me to her friends. Most of them were much older than either of us; usually, they were college kids. I always wondered how she managed to meet them. Eventually, her friends became my friends, and eventually, she became my best friend. Maybe she was from the start. Maybe I was destined to find her at some point and then, in turn, find myself. I never used to think those things happened, but after meeting her, it seemed the only explanation of our friendship.

Like any reasonable middle class, suburban parents, hers had wanted her to go to college. This was a notion to which she was fundamentally opposed.

“I’m going to run away,” she said, a thin trail of smoke escaping from the corner of her mouth, evidence of her cigarette.

I didn’t know if I could take her seriously or not. I didn’t know if she wanted me to take her seriously or not.


“I don’t know.”

“Will I be able to call you? Or write? Will I see you again?”

“I don’t know,” she said, just as casually as she would have said she was going on vacation.

“You don’t know?”

“I don’t know.”

I examined her face for a moment. She didn’t even look at me. Her eyes were hard, her lips pursed. She curled her fingers around the monkey bars in an act of pure elegance. Her hair was draped like fine silk over her left eye, and it tumbled down past her shoulders before hanging, suspended in the air.

There were a million things I wanted to say. I wanted to beg her to stay – to yell at her for threatening to leave me here on Earth, all alone again. Most of all, I wanted to tell her I was going with her. But I didn’t. I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak. I just sat there, dry-mouthed. And I watched her, taking her in like I never had before, afraid this might be my last chance to do so.

She looked up and flashed me a smile. A single, brilliant, earth-shattering type of smile that contained in its many layers all of the hurt and love and fear that neither of us would voice.

Then, wordlessly, she swung down from the monkey bars, landed on the woodchip-laden ground with a quiet “thump”, buried her hands in her pockets, and walked away.

That was the last time I saw her. It was like losing my balloon. Suddenly, no one was there to hold my hand. No one was there to float through the sea of humans with me. She left me- crying, tiny, and alone at the fair.

Please, God. Please, hold her for me.