I’m 18 and 2,000 feet in the air. The wind gusts have me clinging to the canvas hand-holds like grab bars on the subway, the consequences of letting go much worse than a collision with a sweaty neighbor. Heat waves from each fiery blast into the 55,000 cubic feet of balloon above me force me to turn my face outward.
And outward is everything. Rolling hills unfold like cirrocumulus clouds with ripples in the green surface below and white surface above. It is breath-taking in an I-really-can’t-breathe kind of way, equal parts glorious and terrifying. I turn to catch sight of my friend, my best friend for all our formative years, whose birthday this is honoring. Her face matches my own. Epic. Cue the guitar solo from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” A hot air balloon ride seemed fitting, literally sending us off into the sunset before we graduated, parted ways, parted lives (temporarily, or so we thought).
We had masterminded the perfect plan to be neighbors, our husbands would be grill buddies, and our households would spill kids onto a communal lawn (which would eventually lead to arranged marriages and sew our connection firmly in place). We wanted mafia-style connectedness with the purity of the Cleavers. Almost two decades later however, we live worlds apart with 3000 miles of communal lawn to cross to get to one another. We settle for talks far beyond acceptable data limits. But we’ll always have that ride in the sky to fall back on, a snug pocket of good memories waiting to be tapped.
I’ve always been a fan of grand gestures and big hurrahs. If we’re going to a baseball game, pinstripes will be worn, foam fingers purchased, cracker jacks eaten, and “A League of Their Own” watched as a pre-game warm-up. I like the whole shebang, the experience of it all. If excitement and anticipation are on the buffet, I’m loading my plate. By the end of the ride, the game, the holiday, you can just roll me away from the table, sated with stimulus. My penchant for plethora makes me a gift-giving pro. It’s also what makes me hell to live with if things go awry.
When you get married and have kids, things will go awry. In the golden years of dating, each time I’d have my pre-husband over for dinner, he knew to expect no less than three courses. It was fun to pretend to be Julia Child, destroy the kitchen, and come out with something photo-worthy and succulent. But it didn’t always pan out that way. Sauces congealed, mousses didn’t. Steaks burned and fish stayed raw unwilling sushi. And then, to my delicate sensitivities, the night was ruined. It’s amazing he married my neurotic self.
Having kids threw big gestures out the window and then ran them over with strollers. There’s no impetus to cook a meal that involves continuously stirring or more than five ingredients. No time. No hands. No heart for it. Balloons, cheesecakes, strawberries dipped in chocolate, and weekend-long concerts give way to birthday cards that sing and anything that can be ordered on Amazon.
It’s better, in a weird this-is-your-life reality-show way. Big extravagancies have given way to little ones. We don’t need fancy dinners. It might be Little Caesar’s hot ‘n ready, but I’m just grateful we eat together on the regular. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that looking my husband in the eyes sends me soaring to new heights, but sometimes a few moments of eye contact is all I need to remind myself why I signed up for this gig. Oh yeah, you. Hi there.
And you know what? That hot air balloon almost 20 years ago “soared” about five miles before landing in an empty lot next to the grocery store. My money’s on a longer term investment.