At the end of a recent visit to my parents’ house, my mom and three-year-old son went outside to release two helium-filled balloons that were losing their pep. It was something I’d done myself many times as a child—both on purpose and by accident. That simple gesture of letting go.
As the two balloons rose up, first past the tops of the houses, then the electrical wires, then up to the clouds, getting smaller and smaller, I waited for my son to ask them to come back. I braced myself for him to start crying out of fear or sadness. But that never happened. He just watched them get higher and higher—”lookit, Momma!”—delighted at the way they twirled around each other, dancing, sticking together for quite a while up there in the slate winter sky. And I realized that I was the one who was sad and frightened. I felt like I’d lost something, like I was no longer in control. And more than that, I felt this silly and yet urgent fear for the balloons—what would happen to them? Where would they end up? Would they pop from pressure? Why were they drifting away from each other? Were they sad? Lonely? Scared to be so very high?
It’s a parent thing. I get that. It totally has to be, right?
It’s also the perfect moment of flash—that brief slice of life that makes you realize something about yourself or something greater than yourself. It’s also, unfortunately, one of those moments in fiction that can be painfully clichéd if it’s not done right, because it’s been done a million times. (There’s the writer in me creeping in again.) Maybe I’ll write about it one day. Maybe I won’t. But if nothing else, it gave me brief pause—both about letting things/people/ideas go into the world, and also validating this thing we call flash fiction and the way it works.