SIX PINK BALLOONS

“What can I bring?” I imagined ordering a cake or purchasing flowers.

The host of the party made a simple request. “Six pink helium balloons.”

To me, helium balloons represent latex spheres that threaten to explode at any moment with frightening force, accompanied by ear-piercing blasts. And I never understood inhaling the gas to sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Through the years, I had blown up hundreds of balloons but my family never understood the sacrifice. With every puff of air my heart raced. As the balloon grew from the size of a prune, to a lemon, to a peach—I closed my eyes, praying it wouldn’t pop. When it was the size of a grapefruit, I quickly tied the rubber neck. My partially inflated balloon bouquets always looked five days old.

At every childhood birthday party, parents made us play, ‘Pop the Balloon’. We’d sit on them, stomp on them, and throw darts at them. During those frightening games I hung out in bathrooms or snooped through my friend’s houses.

It’s not just balloons. I’m also afraid of unpredictable Jack-in-the-Boxes. I break into a sweat just sitting on an exercise ball. Bottles of sparkling wine sit unopened until I find a volunteer who will uncork them in the next room. Don’t get me started on biscuits-in-a-can. I found a Facebook page dedicated to the fear they call ligyrophobia. In my case, therapy is unnecessary because I absolutely love loud rock concerts, surprise parties, and fireworks.

For my dear friend, I would face my fear. I marched into Publix. “Six pink balloons, please.”

The girl said, “I’ll get help.”

She’s afraid of balloons too! A kindred spirit.

No such luck. She just needed a quick refresher course working the helium tank.

While the floor manager taught Helium 101, I shopped for peanut butter and ear plugs. I flung a cold Dr. Pepper into my basket to calm my nerves.

I returned to the sinister helium tank, hidden slyly amongst floral displays. The bubbly girl handed me six cheerful pink balloons that bumped wildly against each other. Stop playing so rough! If I were prone to anxiety attacks …

The checkout line seemed endless. Suddenly, everyone was smiling; the clerk, the bag boy, and the man standing next to me in line. I didn’t know if it was the color pink or the fact that they were balloons. A couple in the parking lot shouted, “Enjoy the party! Have a good one!” Smiles all around.

Unfortunately, I still had an hour drive with those potential poppers in the backseat of my car. I turned up the air conditioning and directed the fans away from the balloons. One sneaky gal climbed into the passenger seat, her pink ribbon still tethered to her friends in the back. I held my breath and gripped the steering wheel.

My fingers were cramped by the time I pulled into my friend’s driveway. I wriggled the balloons over headrests, around gift bags, and out the front door of my car.

“Why didn’t you put them in the trunk?” asked the host.

“I’m new at this. Next time.” Who was I kidding? There would not be a next time!

After the party, I confessed my fear to my friends who were mildly amused.

Several days later, the birthday girl sent me a thank you note. “The balloons are still going. My granddaughter has drawn faces on them, played ball with them, shot us with them, and slept with them. They are now the size of small oranges, but not one popped.”

Not one?

Still, for the next party I’ll gladly provide a homemade six-layer cake or pick up the clown and his singing monkey. But please do not ask me to bring the balloons.

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