Every eye was spilling tears that crisp spring afternoon as we watched seven shiny balloons dance about before taking flight in the March wind. The entire school and most of our small town gathered on the football field to say goodbye to Angel, one last time.
The JROTC had hoisted the flag which snapped in the cool breeze and the marching band did its best to play, I Want to Know What Love Is. That was Angel’s favorite song, the one we all remembered him singing between class changes, and on the long bus rides home when our team lost and everyone was blaming themselves.
Angel had been taken from us two weeks before in an accident no one liked to talk about. It just happened. And in only a few months he would have graduated.
Graduation was going to be another hard day, when we all lined up in caps and gowns waiting to march in and turn our tassels before marching out into life.
“Escape Velocity?” Angel asked out loud and then told Mr. Franklin the physics equation he had written on the board was crazy and worst than that it was all wrong.
Amused, Mr. Franklin smiled and listened. Over the course of the semester while he had been teaching Angel all about inertia and momentum, Angel had been teaching him patience.
Angel smiled back. He knew that Mr. Franklin wanted to hear what he had to say, he always did. Mr. Franklin was a good teacher like that.
I will never forget that day as we all listened to Angel’s definition of escape velocity.
“Escape velocity how fast my heart is beating multiplied by the number of big tackles breathing down my neck as I head for the end zone, divided by distance between me and a touchdown, all raised to the power of the Holy Ghost.”
Angel was big on his Holy stuff and had most the team sitting with him on the front row of church every Sunday even after football season ended.
“And how do you know when you reach this ‘Escape Velocity’?” Mr. Franklin asked winking at the class as we all waited for Angel’s reply.
“I know I have reached it when I just let go and let God use my legs to run as fast as I can, like when I was little and my pops used to chase me to beat me.”
We all knew Angel’s daddy.
“ I just feel the strength of the Lord and I don’t hear the crowd, and I don’t see the scoreboard, all I see is the stadium lights as my eyes start watering up and time slows down. Sometimes I see Heaven in those twinkles and I just run toward it until I run out of field.”
The class was silent wishing there was more of Angel’s equation. None of us were catching on to the one Mr. Franklin was trying to teach us as about gravity and acceleration.
“So what’s with the three times around the goal post and that little dance you do?” Mr. Franklin asked He could see Angel had taken over his lecture. “Is that part of your orbit to bounce your way out of Earth’s gravitation?”
“Aww no,” Angel said not stopping to think and grinning even bigger. “Once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Holy Ghost.”
“And the little dance?” Mr. Franklin insisted.
“Oh the little dance, the little dance is for my moms and pops.”
Angel’s mom and pop and little sister and brother were there that day and it was them that released the seven shiny balloons, which all but one took to the sky and began to climb in the cloudless blue.
The one balloon lingered though, almost touching the ground more than once as it made its way to the center of the field where it paused as if it was looking back to make sure we were watching.
Then ever so slowly it rose just a bit and wiggled its way in the wind past the fifty, then the forty, all of us expecting to watch it rise up any second and chase after the other six which were beginning to disappear.
It didn’t though/ The lone balloon didn’t rise at all as it made for the thirty yard line and then the twenty, which by now had us all cheering like we had in the fall when Angel’s winning touchdown brought home our school’s first ever state championship.
By the time the shiny balloon reached the five yard line, the cheering had stopped and the silence feel hard over the crowd as we held in our breaths and held back our tears. All eyes watched as the balloon pause again before it eased the same touchdown line we had gathered so many Friday nights to watch Angel cross.
We would remember those nights forever, the lights, smell of excitement in the cool fall air and how Angel led his teammates in prayer center field before and after the game and how he stood up against those who tried to stop our prayers.
“If Angel don’t pray, Angel don’t play,” we all remembered Angel telling the man in the fancy suit and the fancy car.
The man in the fancy suit and fancy car left mad. He said he would comeback with his lawyers, but he never did.
Our world would not be the same, and that day as we watched that lonely balloon we realized it even more as deep in our hearts we found that the poem our English teacher made us memorize was true after all.
No man is an island.
With hearts still stopped we all watched the most incredible thing, as the balloon made not one but three trips around the goal post, just like Angel always did when he scored a touchdown.
“Once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Holy Ghost.”
Then just as the afternoon sun seemed grow a little brighter the crowd exploded as the silvery balloon swirled about for just a second, dancing its dance, before taking off into the sky as fast as it could, in a hurry to catch the other balloons which were already halfway to Heaven.
This is a work of fiction dedicated to those who God lets us have for only a little while to remind us of the important things. –Edward Reed 2020