It was her 13th birthday party, and my best friend was getting her ears pierced at the mall.
She sat there like a total trooper, all of her friends from school standing around with nervous excitement, watching her barely cringe as the needles when through her little earlobes.
Afterwards, the woman piercing her ears rewarded us all with large, very large, silver balloons. Then, with our balloons and my friend’s mother in tow, we marched our way up to the candy store on the second floor of the mall, and began our quest for sugar, the perfect addition to our party.
I was always kind of like this…outsider though. I tried to get caught up in the excitement of being with the girls from school beyond the walls of our classrooms, but I never really knew what to say or do around them since I didn’t really know them all that well.
I’d always been best with one-on-one friendships. From kindergarten through the time I changed schools in Junior High, I’d had a single best friend. We had sleepovers, called each other every night, put on puppet shows for our parents, stringing her Beanie Babies from fishing line on the second story balcony inside of her home. Besides her, I had one other girl who was my reading buddy at recess while the other kids played. We’d walk laps with our books and occasionally have a sleepover where we played Mad Libs and blew up marshmallows in the microwaves to stuff in between Oreo Cookies.
The moment I got placed in a context with either a lot of people in close proximity, or people I didn’t know, I’d do one of two things to compensate (sometimes both in the context of a single evening): become outrageously goofy, or retreat and watch the social interactions from the sidelines. There seemed to be no middle ground with me.
At this particular party, I was in retreat mode at that time for whatever reason, and I watched the girls in the candy shop running about, giggling and pointing to different sweet treats. I left, and went to wait at the balcony of the second story of the mall beside my friend’s mom. Once in a while, a girl would exit the shop, hand me her balloon so she wouldn’t have to hold it, only to run back inside and join the others. After a bit of time, one of the other girls joined me, standing next to my best friend’s mom (who now held all of the balloons the girls brought out except for mine, which I clutched tightly in my hand).
I’m not even sure how it happened.
I was just shifting my position a little bit, and suddenly, BANG!
My heart stopped, I jumped away from the noise which had been dangerously close to my head, and I felt the white ribbon of my balloon fall limp in my hand. The entire mall grew as silent as a cemetery. You could have heard a pin drop. I looked down at my feet, and there lay the gray latex remains of what was, just moments before, my over-inflated silver balloon from the earring shop.
As if the start from that wasn’t enough, my best friend’s poor mom jumping beside me in surprise and alarm, seconds later, coming from all directions, were mall cops on Segways, pointing non-lethal weapons at us (I assume they were Tasers). My friend’s mom grabbed my wrist, which, with me frozen from the surprise of it all, was connected to my tight-fisted hand, still clutching the ribbon and tattered remains of my balloon. With my arm raised high in the air, she shook it, her eyes wide like a cartoon’s and shouted, “It’s a balloon! It was just a balloon!”
Realizing it was not a gunshot, the Segways departed, leaving my friend’s mom and me a little shaken, the girl beside us cracking up, and the rest of the girls in the party standing in the doorway of the candy shop staring in surprise, amusement, and confusion.
“What did you do to the balloon???” They asked. “What just happened???”
All three of us who had been there broke up in laughter. I almost got tasered from four directions because my balloon popped. I couldn’t believe it. I’m lucky to have lived to adulthood to write this blog.