This is what happens: somebody–girls usually– got a free spirit, doesn’t get on too good with her parents. These kids, they’re like tied-down helium balloons. They strain against the string and then something something happens, and that string gets cut, and they just float away. And maybe you’ll never see the balloon again. It lands in Canada or somethin’, gets work at a restaurant…..or maybe three or four years from now, or three or four days from now, the prevailing winds take the balloon back home, because it needs money, or it sobered up, or it misses its kid brother. But….that string gets cut all the time. – excerpt from Paper Towns
I grew up in isolation. I don’t mean in the “my parents locked me in the basement with a tiny window overlooking a sidewalk” way, but in a “I don’t understand why she’s always talking to and playing with her dolls so much…but she’s not bothering me so I’ll just leave her alone” type of way. It was fine for me because of my over-active imagination and knack for being a daydreamer. When I did decide to interact with people my own age, I was either received well, or bullied tremendously. I may have focused more on the love that I was shown, but like most girls, I wanted the approval of my mother, who sounded a lot like my bullies. When teachers didn’t know how to deal with my constant curiosity, my mother would beat it out of me. At 10, I was tied down just like a helium-balloon. I wanted to be a “good girl” and stay out of trouble, but I always found myself in more trouble. I didn’t have a safe space to explore who I really was. I wasn’t supported in expressing myself. Instead, I was guided to keep my head down, get an education, get a well-paying job in “computers” and settle into a quiet life. Any form of creative expression was seen as a “hobby” and something “that doesn’t pay the bills”. I rebelled. Sometimes it worked. Other times it backfired on me. I threatened to run away several times. My parents yelled and screamed at me. But one day, the string broke. That day was the day I went to college.
The thing about these balloons is that there are so many of them. The sky is chocked full of them, rubbing up against one another….and after a while, you can’t even see them individually You look up at the balloons in the sky and you can see all of the balloons, but you cannot see any one balloon. - excerpt from Paper Towns
Even though three states separated me from my parents, I felt a whole lightyear away from them. I felt free. I was (semi) living on my own and felt grown enough that I could make my own decisions. What was even better was that I met people–girls and guys alike– that were just like me. We were all here in this new world trying to figure out what it means to us. For some, we were just carrying on our parents’ wishes to get a higher education. For me, I just wanted to expand and try any and everything I could. I would stay out late. I would go to any party I was invited to. I stayed out of my dorm room a lot (it helped that me and my roommate didn’t get along well at all) and found a community of balloons that didn’t feel like they fit in, either. They became my family and I really appreciated that. They’re what I needed; but even then, my newfound family was looking for security. At the end of this magical journey was suppose to be love and marriage and job security. I didn’t want to worry about any of that; I had my whole life to figure that out. But my friends and my relationship didn’t see it quite like I did. So the strings came back onto my balloon. I felt a need to rebel again, but my fight wasn’t there. I just didn’t feel like fighting, especially in my relationship. I just wanted to float. Others saw that as irresponsible and unwilling to commit. Because of it, I was let go by my “family” and it hurt.
The only thing worse than the skyful of balloons you see is what he sees: a clear blue day interrupted by just the one balloon. But once that string gets cut, kid, you can’t uncut it. Do you get what I’m saying? - excerpt from Paper Towns
So yeah, life got hard and I came back home and for a while, that was fine. I had to piece myself back together and become whole again. You know how hard it is to admit to yourself that you were broken? Well, I was and as I began rebuilding, I saw my friends going on with business as usual: falling in love, getting married, finding job security…all with smiles on their faces. I started to feel like the weird one again. That maybe I had everything wrong and that they figured out something I haven’t. But that’s not the case. I’ve learned that they have to live their life, and I have to live mines. It may not look like everyone else’s, but it’s good. It’s coming along. And I can’t be mad at that.