When we were kids, my friend Travis Barnell and I used to watch hot air balloons flying and/or floating (I still don’t really know how they work) above the coast near where we lived. They seemed so magical, those airborne rubber orbs (if that’s what they are made of—I never bothered to find out). Travis always used to say, “One day my face will be on a hot air balloon.”
That’s one of the things I liked about Travis—his optimism was anchored in reality. While other kids chased futile aspirations of sporting stardom or Hollywood success, Travis—aware of his athletic incompetence and below-average looks—set his sights on being a local real estate agent and advertising his business on the side of one of those wonder-inspiring aircraft. “You’ll make a great real estate agent,” I used to tell him.
We remained close friends until our early twenties when he married Debbie (you can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes). Debbie thought I was a bad influence.
A few years ago, Travis died.
I attended his funeral. Good grief, you should have seen the stares I got. Well, excuse me for being five minutes late. It was easy for Debbie, she had her late husband’s life insurance payment coming her way, but I still had to work for a living, and had just finished a shift painting children’s faces at a local shopping centre (it was school holidays and very busy—I had to stay late finishing a Rainbow Princess design on a kid with an enormous forehead). Debbie had her mother come over and ask me to leave. We argued in whispers: she said it was disrespectful for me to have my face painted like Spiderman, and I told her it was part of my business (it showcases my talent and makes me more approachable for the clients); she said I should have at least wiped the paint off before walking in, and I explained I only used quality face paint, and wiping it with a tissue would have smeared it into some horror movie villain look. Travis’s brother, Greg, intervened and said some of the older relatives were getting upset, and it would be best if I left. Greg’s a decent guy, and I didn’t want to add to Grandma and Grandpa’s grief, so I walked out, accidentally knocking over a vase of flowers by the door.
My excommunication from the funeral affected me. It was like I missed out on grieving. I had to find a way to process Travis’s death. A few weeks later, I visited Debbie, under pretence of returning Travis’s Point Break DVD, which I had borrowed years prior. When Debbie went to the kitchen to make me an obligatory cup of tea, I opened the urn on the mantlepiece and scooped two tablespoons of Travis’s ashes into a sandwich bag I had brought with me.
Travis became a real estate agent, but he never advertised in the sky. His face was never on a hot air balloon. I righted that wrong. Mixing his ashes with my acrylic paints, I literally put Travis’s face (or whatever part of his body survived cremation) on a hot air balloon, albeit a small, two-dimensional one. Dreams do come true.
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