Wish Balloons


On November 11, 2011, I resurrected the wish balloons. Wish balloons were a tradition among my high school friends, trotted out every time there was a birthday, a going away party, or some other special occasion. I think my friend Amanda started it, but I can’t really remember. The balloons were just always there when they needed to be. The premise is simple: you write your wishes on a balloon, and then you let them go, watching them float up into the sky until they’re out of sight. Part of me is tempted to self-effacingly snark at our suburban high-school earnestness, but you know what? I’m not going to. It was poignant. It was nice.

Needless to say, when we graduated and dispersed, that tradition died. The last set of wish balloons was held at my house. We let them go in my backyard, said our official goodbyes, just in case, and I hadn’t done one since. I don’t remember what I wished for. I found a picture on my hard drive of our final balloons as they floated away, but they’re too far off to read.

So when my friend Doug announced he was having a party for 11/11/11, this seemed like the perfect time to bring back the wish balloons. I walked over a mile to get them, still in my work heels, with the balloons boinging off my head, strings tangling as the wind whipped them around. Kids bundled in parkas pointed at me and asked their parents for balloons as they waddled down the street.

When we left for the party later, my friend carried the balloons in the hood of his sweatshirt, so they bobbed along above his head as we walked down Western. We giggled as he ducked down occasionally to avoid snagging them on awnings or low-hanging tree branches. There wasn’t a lot of time to spare when we arrived, if we were going to release the balloons at 11:11 on the dot, for maximum wish potency. A swarm formed as people passed the markers like batons, rushing to add their wishes before the deadline. Doug policed the endeavor. “Four minutes!” he called out. “Two minutes!”

We thundered down the stairs and into the courtyard with less than a minute to spare and cut the cords with more boozy jubilation than reverence, watching and shouting as the tangle of our once-in-a-lifetime wishes hastily scrawled on Kmart balloons got stuck on the house next door before floating out of sight. Then everyone cheered, danced and spontaneously broke into a song whose words were pretty much just the number 11. Amid all the whoops, I stood grinning in the cold almost-winter air and reveling in the moment proclaimed by one eloquent, bearded stranger to be “the most epic thing ever.”

This was the biggest, loudest and drunkest incarnation of wish balloons I have ever witnessed. And it may have been the best. Even if I don’t get what I wished for, having those few minutes where friends, strangers and acquaintances gathered and unquestioningly sent their wishes into the sky, earnestly and without irony, makes for a pretty good consolation prize.

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image – ewan traveler