Two days before movers showed up to load furniture and boxes, I invited anyone who was in town to come over for a water balloon fight. I have wanted to host such an event for years, in spite of my aversion to being wet and my inability to throw anything and hit a target. I think it was something about the way the yard wrapped around the house with no interfering fences or the woods that stretched up beyond the edge of the yard--it seemed like such fertile ground for strategic maneuvers and (essentially benign) attacks. Invite the whole neighborhood, throw in some popsicles after the final balloon burst, and it seemed like an ideal way to spend a summer afternoon.
But for some reason, I never actually went through with it until two days before we moved. Something or other would always come up around the time I wanted to do it, or I would convince myself everyone would think it was lame and not want to come. And maybe it was and maybe they didn't, but honestly, even if it had just been my three kids and me out there with 100 water balloons a piece, I would have loved it anyway and laughed my head off the entire time.
It turned out to be exactly the kind of chaos one might predict, down to the half inch of water on the basement floor from my son and his best friend from across the street starting the festivities early when they were supposed to be filling up balloons. The actual water balloon fight itself happened quickly and took a bit of an aggressive turn when my teenager and her two friends took issue with the younger kids' lack of respect. I hardly threw a single balloon, and I spent half the time yelling at one child or another to "Knock it off--are you freaking kidding me?!"
It was the right kind of goodbye, though. Simple. Somewhat cathartic. Full of sweet moments with people I have loved knowing were right across the street or up and down the hill. My two older children were able to have one last hurrah with friends who have meant a lot to them over the past few years. At any rate, it was the best I could do given all the realities of our situation.
But near the end, I had to say goodbye to two people who (with a few others who couldn't be there that night) have held me together through all the shit and darkness of the past few years. Friends who somehow made me laugh in the middle of my lowest days, who included my children and me in their family holidays and let me sleep on their couch after too much wine or sometimes just because they understood I needed someone to bring me coffee when I woke up instead of having to make it for myself. Friends who made time for me and made space for me and never once made me feel like anything other than a treasured companion on this crazy road we're all traveling.
In truth, the only reason I was able to sit on the bedroom floor with my son while he cried on the last day of school was because I had people who were willing to sit on a kitchen floor with me a few weeks earlier and let me sob into their laps. People who put my hair in a ponytail and held me while I threw up equal parts sadness and the wine I had tried to drown it with. People who murmured understanding and empathy and grace into my ear while they rubbed my back and my forehead and just let me be as heartbroken as I needed to be. It takes strength and authenticity to walk with a person through that kind of valley, and these friends never flinched or hesitated, not once.
I have said goodbye to friends before. I moved many times as a kid and several times as an adult, so I know what it means to leave the immediate vicinity of someone's daily life. Time and distance erode the shared experiences of the past unless you seize every opportunity for new shared experiences; some relationships survive--thrive even--while others gradually decline. I know this, and it floated in the air on the afternoon of the water balloon fight as I gave the last round of hugs and said the things you say to the people you love when you know that life comes with no guarantees.
I can't remember now if I ducked behind the blinds in the living room or stood out on the front steps as their car turned around in the dead end and then went back past my house on its way down the hill, but I know I watched until they were out of sight after the turn at the end of the street. The moment lingered awhile, almost as if the universe knew I wasn't ready to let them go beyond what I could see. But then I blinked and a neighbor said goodbye as my little girl tugged at my arm to come inside and help her get a bath, and I called to my son to start picking up trash.
I thought about water balloons as I cleaned up and continued packing that night. Water balloons are distinctive--recognizable as something to be wary of in spite of their bright, friendly colors. They are designed to inspire both anticipation and avoidance (sometimes at the exact same time), and anyone who has ever been hit by one instinctively braces for a shock. After the initial impact, things get worse as the cold water seeps into your shirt or shorts or shoes--or all three--and eventually things settle into a low-grade discomfort you just have to live with until you either change your clothes or they dry on their own.
One phenomenon I noticed during the party was that the bigger the balloon and the more the latex had to strain to hold in a massive amount of water, the more fragments it burst into upon impact. The small balloons were still recognizable as balloons in their demise most of the time, but the big ones split into slivers so tiny that you could never in a million years reassemble their original shape.
When I went outside to bring in some chairs and empty the ice chest, I noticed the yard was covered with shredded balloons. Thousands of shards of pink, orange, yellow, blue, and green peeked through the still-damp grass all over the yard and driveway in every direction. I looked around for a few minutes and thought to myself, "I guess that's about right." And there was nothing to do except go back inside.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.