Before midnight this New Year’s Eve, 2013, I posted a Tweet on my @AccessibleJoe account: “Want me to tell a sad and spooky New Year’s Eve story?” The writing is disjointed because I’m copying Tweets. This is the story I told:
In 2006 there was a tragic shooting at the park a half a block from our house. One young man, Miguel Martin, was killed. As so often happens, a shrine was built on the spot with candles and balloons. The memorial persisted. People came to stand in small groups and light more candles. That New Year’s Eve there was a light fog. The air was heavy. Fog horns were blowing on the pier. Tonight we rang in the New Year by banging pots and lids on the front porch. Others were also making noise, setting off fireworks. The New Year’s Eve of 2006 our street was silent when we opened the door just before midnight.
Remember, there was a light fog. Just before midnight New Year’s Eve 2006, light fog, heavy air, silent street, we were ready to bang our pots and pans when we saw it. Coming down the street, indistinct in the fog, in the dead center of the street, the first thing I noticed was a floating ribbon. Looking up I saw a Mylar balloon with a long bit of ribbon tied to it. The ribbon end was just off the ground. That night there was no traffic. No cars were moving. Now, even at 1 am, there are two or three cars a minute. The balloon tied to the ribbon was floating our way very slowly in the dead center of the street.
We were astonished.
The first thing I thought of was psychopomp: Greek mythology, a guide of souls to the place of the dead. We just stood there, rooted to the spot, in the silent street, watching the balloon make it’s way toward us very slowly, in perfect balance. I began to talk to the balloon. Go back, I said. For we had made the connection between the memorial for the young man and this balloon with a black ribbon. It seemed to hesitate, then it was apparent that it was still moving very slowly ahead.
We watched the balloon for a while, discussing what we should do. It was a symbol of disconnection, of searching. As a symbol of the spirit of the young man who was killed it was haunting to see this. I did not want to stop it. We watched until the balloon was past our house. We didn’t interfere. A symbol like that does not appear every day. Why stop it? The next morning I went out to find the balloon moored to our next door neighbor’s hedge.
Life Is Uncertain
I freed it and took it in hand. I said: you have to go back. Then I walked it up to the park, to the memorial, and anchored it well. I stood there for a while, looking at the unlit candles and the sagging balloons and the ragged stuffed animals. We sometimes talk about the floating balloon appearing like an apparition out of the fog. I think of it from time to time.
I think of the young man who was gunned down by gangsters at a park where Siobhan goes all the time and realize I can’t save her. I won’t always be here for her, but while I am I’ll do my best to shelter her, to protect her. That’s all a dad can do.