A Special Day
It took me a little longer than most boys to realize that not all girls had “cooties.”
But, thanks to a soft summer night, a pair of balloons, a shared sweater, and a gentle touch, I finally learned the truth.
At the end of each school year, students across the state that had managed to carry straight “A”‘s all year were given a prize.
A pair of tickets to a professional baseball game!
Students wouldn’t receive the tickets until the the last day of classes, which only made that magical day even more special.
I had known I was getting the tickets for weeks, and Dad had already agreed to be the one to take me to the game.
With exquisite excitement, I watched the seconds of that last day tick ever so slowly past, as if time itself were a tease.
When the bell finally rang, we all sprang from our desk to line up at the door for our summer farewell gifts.
Miss Berry made a grand presentation of the tickets, then teasingly asked us to spell vocabulary words before letting us leave.
I ran home like a demon, ripping through every shortcut I had managed to discover, bypassing even the candy store.
We only lived about an hour away from the stadium, but I knew Mom would force me to take a shower (gah!) and make us late.
Dad was waiting when I burst through the door, school supplies sloughing off my shoulders as I made a beeline for cleanliness.
I may have cheated a little in washing behind my ears, or, most everywhere, actually. But I was damp and thus successful.
Dad and I were soon piled into the car and snaking our way through thickening traffic to the bright lights of the ballpark.
To an eight year-old, a ballpark is like a little slice of heaven. Hot dogs, popcorn, candy bars, cotton candy, frosty cokes…
…souvenir pennants, baseballs, miniature bats, balloons, and, of course, autographs.
By the time we got our seats I was sugared up and thrilled to the point of vibration.
And then I saw the little girl and her father, sitting in the middle of a near empty row, but right next to our seats.
My excitement fell, and a feeling of what I now know to be “social anxiety” took it’s place.
I have always been painfully shy around strangers, and as Dad exchanged introductions with his counterpart, I clammed up.
Mumbling like an idiot, I gave my name to the little girl and uttered a whispered “How do you do?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” she said, “My name is Susan.”
And with little additional fanfare, we took our seats and waited in silence for the game to start.
On a good day, a baseball game can be a thrilling experience. A battle of wills and strategies rivaling military tactics.
On a bad day… well, let’s be honest. On a bad day, to an eight year-old, baseball can be spectacularly dull.
The innings crawled by, and as the sun set over the right field wall, a chill breeze began to blow through the stands.
Susan, wearing only shorts and a thin tank top, began to shiver and pulled her body into a tight ball on the seat.
My Dad, noticing her goosebumps, asked me to give her my sweater, which I still had tied in a knot around my waist.
He suggested we move down a few rows so that we would be sitting under the lights where, he assured us, it would be warmer.
So we did, packing up our snacks and balloons and taking two seats beside each other in an empty row.
And it was there, alone under the lights, that we noticed a red balloon rising in the night air from the far side of the field.
Susan spotted it first, her arm raising the sleeve of my sweater to point. “It looks so sad,” she said.
“No, it doesn’t,” I said, “It looks like it’s escaping. I wonder how far it will get before popping?”
“Oh, I hope it doesn’t!” she said, “Let’s watch it to make sure.”
And so we did. And as we did, we began to talk.
As the balloon rose ever higher in the night air, we discovered a little bit about each other, and our shyness melted away.
We spoke of school and, giggling at my look of alarm, she told me her favorite subject was math.
She said her friends didn’t like math either, but she loved the way everything seemed to fit together in the formulas.
I told her how much I loved stories, and she turned in her seat to ask me which were my favorites.
She listened so intently as I babbled on about King Arthur and the Fairy Queen that I felt I could talk to her forever.
The balloon was now very high in the sky, so we scrunched down a little lower in our seats to better watch it sail away.
We wondered where it would go on its journey, how far would it travel in the world before slowly falling back to earth.
Susan wondered if a child had maybe released it intentionally, tying a note to its tail to track its progress.
“Maybe we could do that, too!” she suggested, before scrambling backwards over the seats to ask her Dad for pen and paper.
“What should we write?” I asked on her return. “Well, we should put down our names and addresses to start with,” she said.
“And then maybe something about tonight, about being here and what it was like.” She looked up at me then, and smiled.
I felt the heat on my face and knew that I was blushing, so I quickly added, “And ask them to write to us if they find it!”
So we did just that. Tying two balloons together, we attached our note and released it into the sky.
Then we slumped back into our seats, heads craned to the sky, watching it fly slowly away.
The game continued at a glacial pace, but we no longer cared who was winning or losing.
We sat side by side, heads tilted close, sharing pieces of our lives in a newly discovered, yet complete comfort.
By the seventh inning I was growing cold as well, and noticing my goosebumps, Susan moved to drape the sweater across our arms.
We snuggled closer together to make it work, and she tucked her arm under mine to share the armrest.
Our fingertips brushed together and, for a few magical moments, anticipation stopped our breath.
I opened my fingers and she nestled her hand into mine. A new heat warmed the both of us.
We sat there together, holding hands, and watched our balloon sail out of sight, wondering what the future would bring.
Susan, if you’re out there somewhere, somewhere still waiting for a balloon to fall, know that I will always love you.
And know that this little boy will always honour the lessons you bestowed on one special summer day.
~~ THE END