Balloon Man

Balloon Man

I push my shopping wagon through the parking lot of the A&P. It’s early, maybe 8 o’clock, and already humid as a motherfucker. The kind of weather that makes you feel like you’ve never showered in your life, and breathing deeply may kill you.

I’ve been awake for awhile. I obsess about how long. I try to add up the time but more time keeps happening, and I have to start over with my counting. Then I can’t remember the amount I figured out, so I just keep doing new math. Small sums are much easier to keep track of.

I slept from 5:15 to 6:40 yesterday morning, which is only eighty five minutes. Eighty five minutes is not enough time for sleep. I try looking at the experience as if I’m part of a science project. It’s fascinating when you consider how much time has passed since I first woke up but that would involve bigger numbers, and I just can’t wrap my head around that kind of effort. All I know is a lot of hours have already occurred, and I’ve been conscious for every single one of them.

My reaction to people who look well-rested waffles between curiosity and resentment. More and more, I feel as though everyone is sleeping at night except me. I wish my husband would get off my back. I decide when it’s time to go to bed. I don’t get what his fucking problem is. Just because I don’t want to sleep when he says so. Really? If you’re tired, go lay the fuck down and leave me alone. It’s not like I’m hurting anybody.

Look around at all this shit I have to do. Half-painted, half assembled projects. Trays of beads and little trinkets. Tupperwares filled with plastic flowers, felt and ribbon. Styrofoam and canvases. I can’t seem to get ahead of any of these brilliant ideas. I’m finding it more and more difficult to finish anything I start. By the time I’m ready to sit down and get to work, I’m too high to sit down. I bang around the house, puttering and organizing. Thinking thoughts and making plans I can’t recall with any clarity the next day.

I break things I can’t fix. I come up with new ways to make simple tasks harder to accomplish. I rearrange all the furniture in the middle of the night, and in the morning, I move everything back to exactly where it was. I have nothing to show for my efforts.

My husband checks on me repeatedly. “I need you to come to bed,” he says.

“I’m almost done,” I tell him. “Ten more minutes.”

“You keep saying that.”

This friction between us continues and escalates every few hours. I try to lie down by the time his alarm clock goes off.

David is not a stupid man, but he doesn’t know the half of what I’m doing. I’m pretty good at hiding. I replace the wine and beer when the bottles and cans get low. I keep my pills and whatever I need on me at all times. I clean up after myself. He can’t ever find out what’s going on. He won’t understand.

“This has to stop,” he says, as he puts on his socks and shoes. Once again, he leaves for work looking sad, with giant bags under his eyes.

“It will, I promise. Please don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad, Mary. I’m exhausted. What you’re doing isn’t fair.”

I know he’s right. I should cut back on some of this shit, but I really don’t think I can, so I don’t even try. I can’t bring myself to make any changes in my behavior. My drinking and drug use has become so enormous, I can’t touch it except to feed and protect the compulsion.

I hate that Dave is pissed again. I bet he won’t call either, and if I call him, I’ll have to apologize. I almost wish he’d fight. That’d take the focus off whatever this is.

I’m only telling you now for the sake of this story. No one else knows how bad it is but me, and I’ll never admit to any of this out loud. I’ll take my last breath denying everything.

I wonder if I could sleep for a little bit when I get home. I’m almost out of pills. I’ve been crushing up what I have left and swallowing small portions wrapped in toilet paper, but it’s not working anymore. I’m in that awful place where there are no more boosts to get me up from where I’m at. My body is done in a way that’s hard to explain. You know the big, blue balloon man that blows around in front of the old Treasure Island on Route 23? Unplug that shit, and you have me.

I can’t buy wine until 9 o’clock. Maybe I could hold off until tomorrow.

I load up all the food and stuff into the back of my truck. I just bought several days’ worth of groceries that I’m in no condition to prepare or enjoy. But I get afraid when we have no food in the house. I’m afraid that David will leave me. I’m scared of most things, almost all the time.

I give the empty metal cart a weak shove. It rattles along and comes to a stop a few feet away. As I open the driver’s side door to get in, I hear a shrill voice and see an older woman heading toward my vehicle, pointing and gesturing wildly. I turn around to look for the person she’s upset with, but I’m the only one there.

“Hey, buddy. Buddy!” she says. “That’s right. I’m talking to you.”

I can’t imagine what I’ve done to make her so angry. I scramble into the Blazer, start the engine and jerk away from my parking space.

“You’d better stop,” she shouts at my window. “Buddy, that’s rude!” I keep going.

I watch her drag my abandoned wagon across the pavement and guide it into the cart corral with the others. Several customers watch her rail on. At the red light, I check my rearview mirror to see if she is chasing me. There is only one car behind mine, jam-packed with young boys. Their music is so loud, my steering wheel vibrates.

I pull into a spot in front of the shops on Wanaque Avenue. I call Dave to say “I’m sorry.” I describe the crazy lady at the A&P. How aggressive she was. How she thought I was a dude. He asks if I’m okay.

“Yeah. I’m just tired.”

“Where are you now?”


“Why don’t you see if you can get some rest?” In his voice, there is nothing but love and unhappiness.

“Okay,” I tell him, and we hang up.

I sit in the car for 35 minutes and wait for the man who owns the liquor store to unlock the door.

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