It was the windiest day of the year, the last day of school. My last day of sixth grade. The entire elementary school burst out the doors of the school to the field between the school and the playground. Everyone was excited—so excited that as much as the grown-ups yelled at us kids to walk, not run, we couldn’t help ourselves. We fast-walked into a skip, a run, and back to a fast-walk to form lines behind a handful of helium tanks. Collectively, at $1.00 for each balloon, the school had raised nearly $5000 for our balloon launch for Save the Children.
“What color balloons would you like?” one of the room parents asked me when I got to the front of the line.
“Purple, please,” I said, handing her my ticket with the number 13 written prominently on the back in black sharpie.
“All of them?” she said as she counted out the strings of thirteen purple balloons.
“As you wish,” she said, handing me 13 strings attached to 13 purple balloons.
“You’re so predictable,” Teddy said, winking at me as he asked the room parent to give him 10 blue balloons and one white one.
“I can’t help it. I’m a purple person. People who love purple LOVE purple,” I said while waiting for him. “Besides, purple is the color of magic.”
“Purple is such a girl color.”
“Well then, it’s a good thing that I’m a girl.”
“Make that nine blue, one white, and one purple,” Teddy said, smiling at me with his Teddy twinkle.
“As you wish,” the room mother said again.
Looking up at my 13 balloons as I waited for Teddy to get his stash, I counted in my head 13 wishes. Six wishes of things I wanted to let go of. Six wishes for things I wanted. And then one wish, the most important one. That one, I didn’t really completely understand.
“What did you wish for?” Teddy asked as we walked towards the sixth grade section by the basketball courts.
“Stupid stuff really,” I said.
“C’mon. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” he prodded.
“I wished that junior high turns out to be better than this hellhole,” he laughed.
“This place wasn’t that bad.”
“No, you’re right, it wasn’t. And you’re stalling.”
“Okay, I wished for world peace and an end to all hunger.”
“I’m not lying.”
He rolled his eyes at me.
“I forgot for a second who I was talking to. Of course you did.”
“What else did you wish for?” I asked.
“Honestly,” he said, his tone turning somber, “I wished that Angry Man would stop being so angry.”
“You haven’t talked about Angry Man in a long time.”
“I know. And I’m not talking about him anymore now either. Your turn.”
“Okay, but you have to promise you won’t think it’s stupid.”
“Cross your heart?”
“Hope to die and stick a needle in my eye.”
“Okay.” I took a breath. “I wish for an adventure so big that I get to feel things I’ve never felt before, bigger things, more grown-up things.”
“I don’t think that’s stupid at all,” Teddy said.
“No, it’s deep. And I get it.”
“Can I uncross my heart, hope to live, and take the needle out of my eye now?”
“I suppose so.”
Twenty minutes later, the crowd quieted down as Mr. Burnett, the school principal, stood at the podium holding his hand up on the air, the universal signal for silence. He talked for a little bit about the famine in Ethiopia, and some mumbo jumbo about hope and giving back to those in need.
A gust of wind distracted me when it blew my 13 purple balloons into a sparring match, like a bunch of boxing gloves warming up for a big fight. I almost lost my balance.