I saw a white balloon in the sky yesterday.
It was floating above the hills of Contra Costa County, as David and I
drove to Walnut Creek for dinner with his parents. At first I
thought I was imagining things: it had been so
long since I'd seen any balloon other than red or black or cheap
I rubbed the smudged lenses of
my sunglasses with the hem of my shirt, and that brought it into focus:
a single white balloon, flying low and unfettered above Shell
Ridge, like a lone seed pearl adrift in a churning sea of sky.
White balloons are the very best kind of luck.
I invented the game in Oregon, during those first sad terrible weeks
after I ran away. At the time, I was living four blocks from
Auto Row in Gladstone ... a massive stretch of car
dealerships, running up and down the length of McLoughlin Boulevard,
each individual dealership festooned with
thousands, possibly millions of environmentally-incorrect helium
balloons. The balloons were forever tearing loose from their
moorings and wandering off on their own accord. Most of them
wound up entangled in power lines and trees -- you
could see them dangling overhead in bunches, like dead fruit -- but
once in a
while a lucky balloon would break
free and head for the sun. Every morning during that sad fall and
winter, as I walked to the
bus stop, I searched the sky for errant helium balloons. It
became my private ritual ... my way of feeling
connection to The Tots. If I saw a pink balloon flying above me, it
should stop and make a wish for Jaymi. Yellow was for Kacie; blue was
for Kyle. Eventually, other colors came to signify
other areas of my life. Green balloons meant I would be lucky
financially; red balloons meant I would find the one true love of my
But the single white balloon was the most powerful of
all: it conferred a Spirit Wish ... that thing
which the heart and soul most desired.
Yesterday my wish was simple. Give
me my joy back,
said my heart to the white balloon.
I'm not unhappy these days. My marriage is still a source of
pleasure and strength. The Job is going well. The Tots are old enough
to resolve some of their own
problems. (Not old enough to prevent me from lying awake
nights, worrying about them. But at least I've stopped
clutching the phone
in my hand.) Best of all, I feel as though I have finally
emerged from a two-year war with my own body and hormones.
I'm stronger now. I'm calmer. I'm infinitely
less likely to burst into tears over a Monday morning paper jam.
Even so, the battle has left me depleted internally, in ways
I'm at a loss to describe. Most days I stay busy enough with
work, with friends, with magazines and music and long-distance phone
calls to TicTac ... with a few hours of stoopid
mindless Internet surfing, when all else fails ... to fill up the empty
place. But always these days, running in the background of my heart
Time Oldies radio station, is the feeling that
something is missing in my life right now.
And I'm fairly certain that thing is joy.
I'm equally certain that joy is not something you can consciously seek
out and apply to your life, the way you seek out friends or
jobs or the best price on boneless skinless chicken breasts.
that joy finds you: not the other way around.
I could be wrong -- and it would
certainly make things easier if I am -- but that's
just the way it feels to me right now. So I stay busy, and I
my heart quiet, and I watch for signs of approaching joy ...
like a new favorite song on the radio,
an unexpected e-mail
from an old friend, a sunny day after weeks of rain.
Or like a single white balloon, floating above the hills.
to throw a rock?