“Yes, you’re going to die one of these days.”
Libby stood on the porch to my best friend, Mikey’s, house. “You’re going to be a grown up, just like…”
“No, I’m not!” In my three-year-old mind, the concept was silly. You people are old, I thought. Grown-ups. I didn’t trust a damn one of them, and this idea was absurd. Everything was ageless, we all just came into the world that way, and everyone knew that. I was being lied to.
“Yeah…” Mikey said, as he was “fixing” his bike, and trailed off (“fixing” is what we’d do when we’d sit our bicycles upside down, and spin the tires. Mikey’s dad was a mechanic). He was exactly my age, minus one month. Maybe, I thought, he’s just too young to understand, and he’s falling for this typical grown-up chicanery.
I thought about the grown-ups, and their boring, hum-drum lives. There was me, my mom, my grandmother, my great grandmother—all living in the same house. Then, the bus driver, the clerks, the police, the firemen, and the government—all in exactly that order (before the school teachers came—which Mom had warned me about, saying “I can’t wait until you have to go to school!” But I never paid any mind to her). And we were all gonna stay that way, too. My life was fun. All the while, those poor people had to go to work.
I wondered what the government had to say about Libby’s assertion, as I began to break down. She was just being mean, I thought. For no good reason.
“I’m not being mean, I’m just trying to tell you something. Don’t cry.” Libby tried to console me.
“I’m not crying!” I lied.
Later, I asked Mom about it, and she nonchalantly confirmed: I was going to be a grown-up one day. But I wasn’t buying any of her business, either. So, I asked my grandmother, Faye—who knew everything.
She laughed, “Of course you are, sweetie. Don’t worry about it!” And for some odd reason—if only for her demeanor—I just…kind of thought it odd to concern myself with aging and death? Like, if she’s not concerned enough to think of this as some big, foreboding thing, why should I be?
Still, I spent the next few days milling it over. My fourth birthday came, and Mom got me a balloon.
“Keep a hold of it. If you let it go, you don’t get another one,” she warned.
I found myself in Mikey’s front yard again that day. I remember playing this weird game, where I’d let go of the balloon’s string to see how far up it would go, and then jump to grab it. I don’t know why I found this game of petty risk so enticing, and the balloon seemed to be keeping my mind both on and off of…something…as I kept pushing the envelope, letting it go further and further, grabbing it at just the last second.
Finally, I let go one last time, missed, and my jaw kind of dropped.
“Why’d you let go of it for?” Mikey asked.
“I don’t know. I just want to see where it goes.”
Mikey watched with me for a few seconds, but got bored and wondered off. I stood there with a sort of unfamiliar amazement, and watched the red orb float, getting bounced around by the March wind. It got smaller and smaller; the sun burned into my retinas; clouds came and went, giving my vision some relief in between.
Finally, after several minutes, my neck began to cramp. I looked away.
“You wanna fix your bike?” Mikey asked. I looked back up. The balloon was gone. I had it, I played with it, and I let go. That was the end of such things—fading away into the deep, cloudy blue.
“Yeah,” I said.
And I never worried about it again.