The Lesson of a Lost Balloon

Lost balloon
Photograph by Gianni Ranati, Il Palloncino Rosso, 1957.
As it floated up and away, carried swiftly on the prevailing southwest wind, I saw that it was lost forever.


By Sonny Bohanan

When I was four years old, my mother bought me a helium balloon while she and my grandmother shopped in downtown Pampa, Texas. This was a rare treat. My sisters and I seldom received frivolous gifts of this sort, and I managed to get back to my grandmother’s house, riding in the backseat of her 1960s-model Oldsmobile, without popping the balloon. Moments after I stepped out of the car and ran into the side yard, zig-zagging to avoid the ill-tempered chickens that scratched and pecked at the ground, the string slipped through my fingers. Realizing an instant later what had happened, my mind raced crazily, bargaining for the tiniest fissure, a hair’s-breadth crack in the cosmos that would release a miracle and retrieve those fleeting moments since the balloon’s escape. As it floated up and away, carried swiftly on the prevailing southwest wind, I saw, with my head titled back and tears stinging my eyes and throat, that it was lost forever. I was swamped by a feeling I knew–already!–so well. A helplessness that only the child understands, a first inkling that crystallizes into something bitter, a sickening glimpse of the abyss that sometimes yawns open, revealing a vast, uncaring universe, and with it the knowledge, too monstrous yet for me to fully fathom, that we are, at the end, alone, no one to console or warm us in the chilling void that claims us all.

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