Once upon a time, there was a girl named Jane. She had lots of little brothers and sisters. Jane and her family lived in a big house in the country.They had lots of land and lots of room to play. They rode horses and built forts and tree houses.
Jane loved her family and worked very hard to help her parents on the farm. One day, when Jane was older, she moved to the big city.
She loved the city and her new friends, but she missed her family. It was very hard for Jane to see and talk to her family because she was so far away.
Her family was sad that she moved away and was not with them. They didn’t understand why she would want to leave them and live in the Big City.
They thought that Jane didn’t love them anymore and were very hurt, so they decided not to talk to her until she came back.
Jane didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t call them, and couldn’t visit them without starting a fight.
This made her sad, and everyday she hoped she’d find a way to tell her family she loved them.
Then one day, outside her door, she found pieces of a popped balloon. In the middle of the mess was a small card with a smiley face on it. “Oh my! Someone must have lost their balloon!” she thought as she picked up the smiley face card.
Jane began to wonder if it really was an accident at all.
She brought the card and balloon pieces inside and started thinking. “Maybe this is the idea I’ve been waiting for! Maybe I can send love through balloons!”
Jane knew, of course, that balloons can’t actually tell where they are flying, but the idea gave her hope, hope of being able to tell her family she loved them. The idea made her happy.
She ran to grab her coat and left her house.
She searched all over town to find a helium tank. She tried the Zoo, the Mega- Everything-Store, and the Party Palace with no luck. Finally, she remembered a little store called Clown Town. It was almost closing time when she ran inside.
“Please, do you have any helium tanks? I need to blow up lots of balloons!” she exclaimed, panting.
“Well, actually, I think we do have one,” the manager said. He went back to check, and returned pushing a box. “This is the last one before the new shipment,” he said. “What’s your hurry?”
Jane thought for a moment and answered, “I’m doing an experiment tonight and needed some equipment. I want to launch balloons and see where they land!”
“Well, tonight is definitely the night to do it – we’re supposed to get a storm tomorrow that would send the balloons every which way,” said the manager as he checked her out and sent her on her way.
When Jane got home, she pulled out some paper and began making notes.
She made twenty note-filled balloons and after everyone had gone to bed, she snuck outside.
It was a beautiful night. Quiet and calm, the city slept as the stars sparkled in the sky.
The next night she did the same thing (even in the storm), and the next, and the next, every night for a month she would hope as she released the balloons that one would find her family.
It wasn’t long before people started to notice the balloons floating in the sky or started finding pieces in their yards.
Everyone wondered where they were coming from. One day, as the balloons continued to fly, a news reporter found one. He opened the card. All that it said was “You are loved.”
The reporter heard that one of his friends on the outskirts of town had found some balloons in their tree. Soon the reporter was getting emails from people all over the city asking if he knew anything about the mysterious messages.
He talked to some of his colleagues from other cities; they had also noticed the balloon letters and were getting asked about them. But no one had any leads.
So the reporter, James, decided to call all the places that sold helium tanks and see if they knew anything.
He called and called and called all the places in the phonebook, with no results. He was almost ready to give up…and then he found Clown Town.
The manager told him that a girl came in looking for a helium tank about a month ago and had come in for a refill a few weeks later. He said she told him about an experiment.
When the reporter got off the phone, he was thrilled. Finally, they knew something. tHe looked online to see if he could find out anything about the experiment but there was nothing.
He called the manager of Clown Town back and asked if he would give the girl a message the next time he saw her. The manager agreed. A few weeks passed. People further away were receiving balloons.
Jane would drive to open spaces and parks on windy days with her balloons, and let them go. For a moment she’d stay, watching the balloons fly, and she was filled with hope – if only for a moment – that things would get better.
On one such day, on her way back home, she stopped by Clown Town. The manager had her order ready and greeted her with a smile.
“How’s that experiment coming along?” he asked.
“It’s too early to tell, but I think it’s coming along well,” answered Jane as she paid for her refill.
“Before I forget,” the manager said, “a reporter called and left a message for you a few weeks ago. He said to give you his contact information and for you to call him – here you go.” He said as he handed her the information. “I guess it’s really taking off!” he noted, chuckling.
Jane thanked him and went on her way, wondering what the reported wanted, and if she should talk to him.
When she got home, she put the helium tank away and started working on her next batch of cards. She completely forgot about the reporter’s note as she became absorbed in her project.
Months passed. Jane kept sending balloons. She paid attention to weather patterns and wind direction. Every night she’d let some go. If it was a windy day, she’d drive out after work. Sometimes she’d have friends over on the weekends and they’d have balloon send-off parties at night.
“The mysterious balloons” had become a top story of sorts.
Everyone seemed to agree that the unknown sender was trying to pass on goodwill. Still, some others were upset because the balloons left trash lying around. One of these stories happened to be on the news while she was at the party.
“I use bio-degradable balloons…I did think about that,” Jane said to her friend. “You know, several months ago a reporter left some information with me and I forgot about it…now I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just call and say ‘I use safe balloons!’ Do you think that would be weird?” Jane asked.
“Jane, you should definitely call; it could be really good! They just ran a story, remember? It’s not too late,” her friend encouraged.
The reporter was sitting at his desk with a mound of paperwork in front of him when his phone rang.
“This is James Doe, Channel 7. Can I help you?” he answered.
Jane spoke nervously on the other end. “Um, yeah, you know the balloons? Well, I just wanted to say that I use the safe kind, so no one needs to worry about anything…yeah.”
James scrambled for a pen and grabbed some paper.
“Did you say what your name was?” he asked, taking notes.
“Jane, but I’d really rather leave my name out of it,” she answered hesitantly.
“Jane, I’ll leave you anonymous. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”
An hour later, the interview ended. James was intrigued by Jane’s so-called “experiment” and moved by her passion.
That night, when the 6 o’clock news aired, he ran the story of “The Balloon Lady,” as she was now known.
He mentioned the green balloons and that it was an experiment in goodwill.
Jane spent the evening at home with the lights off, nervously wondering what would happen from here on out. No phones rang. The reporter was true to his word and her identity was kept secret.
Reporters from all over started a balloon watch to help track her experiment. They said she single-handedly made the world a better, brighter place to live.
But Jane just wanted to reach her family in the far country. She ignored what everyone said about “The Balloon Lady.” She felt selfish.
All she wanted to do was send a message. Her intent wasn’t worldwide cheer or making bright spots – although she was happy for that.
When the news stations started getting mail for “The Balloon Lady,” she’d pick it up and throw it away. Jane didn’t want thanks or fan mail.
Every night she’d anxiously watch the news for a report that the balloons had reached the far country. She started driving longer distances to release the balloons in the night. It seemed like her family was just too far away to reach.
It had been almost a year, and still no sign of her balloons in the far country. Jane was sad. It seemed she had made everyone in the world happy and hopeful – everyone but her.
Jane’s friends knew she was sad, so they came over to try to cheer her up. They made their last set of balloons and drove an hour before releasing them.
She had tried so hard, and while more good came out of her project than she anticipated, the thing that mattered and kept her motivated didn’t happen.
Jane felt like a failure. “This is the end,” she thought as they piled back into the car and drove home in silence. In a way, they were all saying goodbye.
Goodbye to the thing that brought them that much closer, goodbye to a year together.
Jane spent most of that week alone with her tears. Her friends called, but she ignored them. One day the reporter, James, called, and, for some reason, she answered.
James had been very helpful since they first talked on the phone – he knew she’d launched her last balloon the other night and wanted to see if she was okay, off the record, of course.
“Hey, Jane, it’s James. I was just calling to see how you were doing.”
Jane sighed. “Is this going to be used for anything?” she asked.
“No, not at all, this is just a friendly call,” James assured her.
“Honestly, James, I’m not doing well, but I don’t want to talk on the phone about it,” she confessed.
“Sure, I understand. I was thinking maybe over coffee? Maybe I can help?” he offered.
James was sitting at the table with two cups of coffee when Jane walked in.
“I got you some coffee, but I don’t know how you like it,” he said. He handed her a cup of black coffee and some cream and sugar. “Oh, you didn’t have to do that,” Jane said, “but thank you.”
“My pleasure,” James said, smiling. “Now, is there anything I can do to help you? Can you tell me what you’re thinking? Just between you and I, as friends, I promise.”
Jane stared intently into her coffee cup. “Do you really want to know?” she asked, looking back up at James. He nodded. So she told him about how much she missed her family, how she wanted to reach them but couldn’t, how she felt like a failure and explained that was why she was shutting everyone out.
James listened, captivated. “You’re not a failure,” he told her gently. “I have an idea,” he said as he passed Jane a tissue for her tears.
“Oh?” she asked, sniffling.
“Have you thought about going back home and planting a balloon without anyone knowing?” he asked.
“Well no, I mean, I don’t want to go alone, and everyone is so busy,” Jane murmured.
“Tell you what,” James said, “I have family and friends there too. Pick a day, week, or whatever, and we’ll go together. We’ll plant a balloon and finish your project.”
Jane was too overwhelmed to say much of anything. “You would do that?” she managed to ask. James nodded.
“You’ve done so much good just trying to tell your family you love them; it would be a crime not to help you, and I would be honored,” he answered softly.They set a date for a weekend in December, and drove to the far country, launching balloons as they went.
It was sunset when they finally arrived. They drove down the road Jane’s family lived on.
She showed him their farm from afar and tried not to cry. James parked the car a good distance away from the house and they decided to walk the rest. Jane decided to blow up this last balloon herself, without helium, and wrote a note that said simply, “I love you and always will.” Then she made a special mark.
They walked quietly down the dirt driveway and popped the balloon. The family van was gone, so only the kids were home. Jane and James hid in the bushes and watched and waited as the mailman came and left. Finally one of her sisters came out with tearstained cheeks to check the mail…and found the balloon.
Her sister picked up the letter and held it close as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
From the bushes, Jane held her breath, watching and fighting back tears.
She wanted to run and put her arms around her siblings and make their troubles vanish. But she couldn’t; that would only cause more problems. She could only love, and watch, and wait.
Her sister ran inside and brought the others out. She showed them the letter and they all agreed not to tell anyone. They treasured that letter – they knew it was from Jane by the special mark at the end.
As they all went inside, Jane stayed, watching. Her sister came out again with a paper airplane that said “I love you too” all over it, and signed by all Jane’s siblings. Jane’s eyes filled with tears as she and James watched her sister send the plane into the sky and whisper a prayer – “Find Jane.”
She went back inside, and Jane and James watched through teary eyes as the plane flew and landed above them.
Jane cherished that note. The clumsily written “I love you‘s” gave her hope. “A bond between siblings is almost impossible to break.” Jane thought.
She etched a heart into a tree and patiently awaited the day they could be together again. “I love you,” she whispered, and left.