She was taller than most of the girls her age. She stood, looking much like an elongated version of Cupid, dressed in a short-sleeved shirt of soft crimson paired with pale, pink shorts. She had rifled through the laundry basket earlier that morning in search of clean clothes and had emerged with these items–the only two clean articles of clothing her size in the house. (Though her germaphobe mother wouldn’t let her wear clothing more than once without washing, the mother did not have an affinity for household tasks such as laundry.)

The girl walked into her sixth grade open-concept classroom, where her eyes met with a fellow student and neighbor, *Kara. Kara was dressed in Guess jean shorts, with the trademark inverted triangle on the back pocket and a matching logo shirt in teal. Her eyes scanned the girl’s outfit and whispered something to their mutual friend, Sophia, who was the most popular person in sixth grade.

The girl didn’t know what to think, but she preceded to pull her social studies homework from her yellow Esprit bag and place it in the box on Mrs. Grammer’s desk.

The girl passed through her morning math (they were studying exponents) and language arts (where they were reading a short story by some old French author whose name she couldn’t pronounce). She even made her usual way through lunch, trading a Swiss Cake Roll for a Nutter Bar with her friend Melanie.

On the way back from lunch, the students had a few minutes before settling into their afternoon studies. The girl prepared her mind for work after the sleepiness that was beginning to take hold from digesting carbs and simple sugars, when Kara approached.


The girl turned around, and her eyes met with Kara again.

“Don’t you know your clothes don’t match?”

The girl just shook her head slowly but moved her gaze over the crimson shirt and pale pink shorts. She shrugged. “I thought it looked okay.”

“Well, everyone knows that red and pink don’t match,” Kara responded, her voice filled with contempt at such a fashion faux pas.

The other students who surrounded them followed Kara into social studies, leaving the girl alone in the center of the four open-concept classrooms. She wished she could hide under a table, or better yet go home and change her clothing. She worked each day to find articles that could mix and match in an attempt to fit in with her other “cool” friends.

That day, she had failed.

Fear from that moment still covers her from time to time, like this morning when her nine-year-old descended the stairs pairing a yellow-and-green-striped sock with an orange zebra one. She feels it when her older daughter, an echo of herself (though with much more wisdom and much less boy-craziness) stands with the trendy half-tuck in a monochrome blue ensemble. She wishes she did not carry the weight of that burden, one she has yet to share with the world.

Maybe one day she will learn.

*Names have been changed.


My father asked me a peculiar question when I was seven years old. He said, “Would you like to release your ballon into the air?”

My expression gave him an open invitation to analyze my thoughts. I can still, decades later, feel the contortions of unbelief pulling at my facial muscles as my grip invariably tightened around the piece of string which tied my new treasure to me for what I wished would be forever.

Still, my father, ever open to scientific experiments and opportunities, continued. “We could put a card on the ballon for whomever finds it. They could contact us, and we could see how far the helium travels….”

His invitation brought me no desire to comply.

This balloon was mine, and I wasn’t about to give it away, or let it fly away, off to some distant land containing some floating message in a (latex) bottle.

Within days (or possibly even hours), what was once so importantly elevated above my head was reduced to barely floating along the baseboard line of my childhood home.

During some moments now, I regret the emotions of that experience: the want to cling to everything I felt was mine, the power I afforded this small object (allowing it to rule my selfish nature), the temporary lift of helium.

If I could repeat that moment, I would write the message. I would attach my words to the balloon, and I would let go.

I would watch it rise toward clouds, a spot of brilliance among tufts of cotton and sheets of azure.

And I would wait to see what would happen.

photo credit