May 8, 2006

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 aluminum.  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 meant I 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 heart.  

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 falling asleep 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 like a Good 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. I believe 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 keep 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.

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they banned helium balloons from auto row, the year i moved away from gladstone.