LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Last Friday, my friend Sarah and I stood wrestling a helium tank into the kitchen. We’d squeaked it past the cars in the garage and now there were the six stairs leading to the house to contend with. As I stood looking at Sarah, who is as big as a minute, and the tank, which was as big as a monster, the idea of actually getting it forward, never mind upward, was starting to feel impossible. But Sarah, with her ox-like work ethic, wasn’t about to give up and with superhuman strength hoisted the bottom up.
So we heaved, hoed, heaved, hoed the thing up the steps and finally settled it down on the kitchen floor, Sarah punctuating the victory by tripping and hitting her head on the door. We were both out of breath, a little giddy by what we’d accomplished, a little scared by what other injuries could have been sustained. But the tank, it was inside. And now the party could start.
Because Gabrielle Baker was about to turn 14. And she was going to have her some balloons.
The party planning started back in January when Gabrielle gingerly asked me if she could have a big bash this year. As she asked, I could see excitement zigzagging across her face.
“I’d invite everyone in the eighth grade,” she said. “No one left out.”
“Let’s do it,” I said immediately, memories of my own birthday parties cementing the decision.
My parents were always great about letting me host, with the basement packed with kids in cold weather and spilling through the yard in warm. I remember my 14th birthday in particular, my bangs in full-on growing out phase after a disastrous haircut. At one point, there were about 30 teenagers packed in our hot tub and, later, we played volleyball and sat around the bonfire. My parents just watched us from the porch, laughing with their friends, filling up the bowls of ripple chips and clearing away the cans of Coca Cola. Always, birthdays were a big deal in our house and I have tried to recreate that for Gabrielle.