It’s been ten years since Dad died. Ten years to the day. Ten years of figurative burying. A decade of struggling to move forward, to move on. I mean, when all is said and done, when you suffer an unprecedented loss, what can you do but keep on running? Away from reality. Away from those places in your mind where the screaming and sobbing are unbearable. You don’t shrivel up and die, and you try not to notice the empty seat on Parents’ Day at school. Or of the eventless Father’s Day. It is a shame, really. Those memories you have stored in a rosewood box inside your head, the ones where he cooks the chocolate pancakes on rainy Sundays after church. Or that time he took you to a Dodger’s game on your fifth birthday. Those memories, all so precious, and now all so tainted.
At school, all I could do was sit and suffer silently. While the teacher explained the lesson, the scratching of people jotting notes was amplified into a screech in my irritable mood. While I ran the mile, my legs felt like lead and the sky seemed shallow. I felt like a bottle filled with bubbles that wouldn’t pop, concealing all these emotions that I couldn’t tell anyone. Who would want to hear them? They’re morbid. Who wants to think about death? Who wants to think about a force that no one can control, that is stronger than love and conquers prosperity? It got to the point where I would sit alone at lunch and look down at my feet through the mesh of the tables.
Then one day I was across the street from the park, on my way home from grocery shopping. My ears caught the sound of children laughing, and I hesitantly looked. A birthday party was taking place; it was impossible to tell whose considering the mass of five or six-year-olds with identical party hats huddling around a clown handing out balloons. The clown in all its fluorescent glory stumbled, though, and let go of the balloons, much to the dismay of the kids. Those multicolored orbs flew and separated and faded into the distance until they looked like rainbow-colored stars in a blue sky.
My mind flew back to a long-forgotten memory of when I was six. It was a rainy Sunday, about a month after the viewing. I had gone to Sunday School. I guess Mom wanted to keep my mind off everything. I learned about heaven and who goes there and why. I was enthralled by this and wondered. When I got home, I asked my mom if Dad had gone to heaven, and she blinked, then sighed. I remember her unusual lack of makeup. She finally said, “Yes, honey. Of course.”
“Can we talk to him?”
“No. Not for a very long time.”
I felt dejected and quickly searched my thoughts for alternatives.
“Can we write him a letter?”
She paused, the longest pause of my short life, and answered, “Yes.”
My heart jumped. “How? Does the mailman go there?” I asked.
Mom let out a guffaw and looked at me. She said, “No, but I have an idea.” She drove to a party store, dashed through the rain and returned with a red balloon. I asked her what it was for.
“Just wait, honey. You’ll see.” It was still raining when we got home. Mom told me to write my letter. Eagerly, I ran to my bedroom, got my favorite crayon, and poured out my six-year-old heart in the form of blue wax. I wrote about my day, what I learned at Sunday School, how Mom was doing, and even about an episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” I had seen. For a few minutes it was as if Dad were still alive. I gave the letter to Mom, she read it over, and a smirk crossed her face.
“How is it?” I asked.
“Perfect,” she replied, bluntly. She punched a hole in the corner where she looped the balloon string. We went outside and she gave me the balloon, the rain pattering on the inflated latex. I understood what we were doing.
“Okay, on the count of three, let go. One. Two. Three.”
I let go on two. The balloon, carrying my letter, darted upward against the rain. Even with the needles of water, it seemed, for the most part, unaffected. We watched until it was swallowed by the mass of cumulonimbus.
My thoughts returned to the present, and I decided what I would do. When the next rainy day came, I bought a red balloon. I took out my favorite pen and poured out my heart in the form of blue ink. I wrote about my day, the last 10 years, about how Mom was doing, and an episode of “Family Guy” I’d seen. I looped the balloon string through a hole, went outside in the pouring rain, and on the count of two I let go. I let go of everything. The rain was harder than it was when I was six, but the balloon darted up, regardless.
And I realized, like the balloon, that Dad had never let his sickness get him down. He was strong until the day he passed. No matter what the doctors said or how many relapses he suffered, he’d persevered, darted up, and finally transcended this cold world and his sick body. He rose into the sky and became something magnificent. Something beautiful. I watched until the balloon vanished into the gray and white and I prayed that his strength was hereditary. I prayed to be a balloon.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.