Ronald the Balloon Guy

I. COURT-ORDERED THERAPY

Ronald lied down on the couch and took a deep breath.

“So, do I just start whenever?” he said, checking the bottom of his t-shirt to make sure his happy trail wasn’t showing.

Dr. White, seated in a leather armchair, readied his notepad and nodded, “Tell me about yourself.”

Ronald took another deep breath and put his phone on vibrate from the outside of his pocket.

“Well, my name’s Ronald — you can call me Ron. I’m a 22-year old security guard at Rockefeller Center. I make balloon animals on the side, and, let me tell you — I’m one of the best damn balloon artists in New York City. My former buddy Dan said I could be the best in the nation. I don’t really give that much of a fuck about it, but when I direct tourists where to go at the Rock, I think to myself: ‘I could make you the best damn balloon you’ve ever seen.’ I’m kind of a big deal in the balloon world.”

Ronald propped himself up on his elbows.

“Stay lying down.” Dr. White said.

“What why? I wanna see you when I talk.”

“Standard procedure. Just lie down. Trust me.”

Ronald lowered his head and looked for something to stare at on the ceiling. Nothing but cheap Christmas ribbons.

Dr. White leaned forward in his chair, “Please continue. I’m listening.”

“I had a girlfriend, Stacy. She was alright. Like, I saw her every now and then — we were casual — an open relationship. We were pretty progressive and I liked that about us. She fucked around with guys every weekend, I fucked around with chicks — we had needs, you know? We always ended up together though. People underestimate how healthy this kind of relationship can be. I mean, we never fought, except when we broke up, we had the best sex, and we talked about our feelings and stuff.”

Dr. White put down his notepad, “Ron, why don’t you tell me about the assault?”

“I’m getting there, just — please. Be cool, alright?” Ron shifted around and discretely fixed his wedgie. “On the day of the assault,” Ron arched his neck and gave Dr. White an annoyed look, “I was at Union Square Park twisting up some sick balloon dogs and giraffes for my bros. I always carry a balloon or two with me. Industry standard, you know? Anyways, they’re the realest guys I knew. Always there for me when I needed them. I mean, they live there so it was pretty chill having them around all the time. I helped em’ out and gave em’ dough and some of my pot every now and then. But yeah, my buddy Dan, the one I told you about earlier, starts talking about my girl Stacy before I can even start making his balloon dog. He and the boys were snickering like a bunch of schoolboys so I stop making my masterpiece and ask what the fuck’s going on.”

“Your friend, Dan. Are you guys still close?” Dr. White asked.

“Fuck no. It’s a shame really. I met him during a shift at the Rock. Caught him smoking a joint on private property, so I escorted him out and told him to give me a joint or I would call the cops on him. We found an alleyway a few blocks away and got high as fuck. I almost got fired when I came back a few hours later. But yeah, Dan’s a total dick. After I ask him what the hell’s going on they all glare at me. He goes up to my face and says ‘I slurped up your girl last night right over there,’ and he pointed at a bunch of bushes. He showed me her—”

Ronald’s lips quivered. A fat lump crept its way up his throat. He almost gagged and got teary-eyed.

“He showed me her fucking wallet. Then all the guys stood up and pointed their pocketknives at me. I was like, ‘Whoa whoa whoa what the fuck man I thought we were bros. Why the fuck do you have Stacy’s wallet?’ But they got closer with their knives. I was scared as fuck, Doc. Really I was, and I don’t get scared often. Then Dan tells me that they felt her up and cut her after taking her purse. They took my wallet and told me to leave. I left without any cuts thank God, but I’m wondering where Stacy is. I go to like three different hospitals in the area and find her. She starts yelling at me the moment I step into her room, talking about how I wasn’t there for her, blah-blah-blah. I turned the fuck around and went to work. I was already late to my shift and you know how crazy it gets around this time of year.”

Dr. White put down his notepad and removed his glasses. “Ron, just tell me about the assault. You’re here on court order. I can’t help you with anything else. Our session’s ending soon, so please — talk about the assault.”

Ronald sat up quickly and started towards the door.

“I can’t let you leave just yet.”

“Okay what the fuck a guy socked me in the face and I punched him back. Self-defense. What’s the big deal?” Ronald paced around and looked deep into the ground.

“You did more than just ‘punch’ him, Ron. That man’s hospitalized.”

Ronald sniffed loudly and tapped his foot on the ground. He reached into his pocket and played with one of his deflated balloons.

Dr. White sat down and waved his hand towards the couch. “We’re almost done.”

Ronald lied back down and closed his eyes. His balloons were sticky with sweat from his hand.

“Look, I know it seems bad — me fucking that guy up so bad. I don’t know what got into me. But it wasn’t me. It was one of the worst days I’ve had in a while. I know I need to change, and I don’t plan on staying here. I mean, I’m looking into getting promoted to director of security at NBC and I wanna go back to school. I’m off the drugs and latin healthier. I’m getting new friends and,”

Dr. White put his hand up, “Ron, listen, to be honest, you seem fine to me. It’s great that you’re making these changes in your life. I just need you to tell me about the incident. It’s standard procedure and I can’t sign you off until you tell me about it.”

Ronald took a deep breath and smiled as he steadily exhaled. He pulled out a balloon and started making a balloon dog.

“Alright, doc. So this guy packed a hell of a punch.”

II. THE ASSAULT

Ronald stood at the top of a few steps across the ice in front of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza. The walkways were overflowing with tourists. Just a few blocks away there was a protest making its way towards the plaza. A crew of workers were rushing to set up barricades on the perimeter, weaving their way through the swarm of tourists.

  It was the longest shift in all of Ronald’s career. He was more scared than he wanted to be. The image of Dan’s crooked eyes glaring into his wouldn’t leave his thoughts, and Stacy’s outburst has had him thinking about whether or not he wants to stay with her. Nothing in his life was secure anymore. Except his balloons and this job. He stared blankly into the faceless flood of tourists and felt a knot form in his stomach. Tears welled up in his eyes and he sobbed, unmoving from his position, his gaze fixed on the Christmas tree. He gripped the balloon in his pocket.

He hears a co-worker’s voice in his earpiece, “All personnel, the protest is making its way on the south side of the plaza. They hopped over the barricades. Authorities are on their way.” A terrifying escalation of angry screams, cracking windows, and stomping feet resounded through the plaza. Ronald was frozen. All the tourists scrammed and trampled one another like animals. Ronald stared at the Christmas tree and thought about Stacy and Dan and the knives pointed at him and how he’s short on rent for this month and the last time he was actually happy. His vision was a watery blur. A tourist stomped on his foot, taking his eyes off the Christmas tree. The protesters were well into the plaza and a giant fight broke out between protesters, tourists, and police officers who were just arriving. Nightsticks bashed into heads, fists flailed in stomachs and faces, feet stabbed ribcages, and a few knives flew into hearts and kidneys. The sound of the fights were horrifyingly violent and echoed throughout the plaza. Police sirens blared. Children screamed.

Ronald stood still and remained quiet. He was genuinely terrified and hated himself for it. There was nothing he saw that was redeeming about him. He may as well have been part of the chaos and resigned to its blind anger. A bat was on the ground a few feet away. He walked over and snatched it up and made his way towards the crowd, until he nearly ran over a little girl as tall as his knees.

“Mommy! I want my Mommy!” she cried, holding herself and grimacing in horror of the crowd just a few feet away. Ronald threw the bat down and kneeled down to her.

“Um, are you lost sweetie?” Ronald barely recognized himself when he said that. But he went with it anyways.

“I lost my mommy. She’s pretty and has long hair like mine.”

As absurd as it was, Ronald chuckled. This little girl managed to be adorable in light of the chaos that was going on. He gently picked her up and propped her on his shoulders and took her to the other end of the plaza, where people watched the chaos from afar. He put her down very carefully, afraid of breaking one of her tiny bones.

“Did you find my mommy? Is she here?” the little girl craned her neck. When she couldn’t see her mother anywhere, she hugged Ronald’s leg. “Don’t leave until mommy comes back, okay?”

Ronald stood rock solid and didn’t have the slightest clue on how to react. He awkwardly placed his hand on her head and patted it. It was nice after a few seconds of it. He put his other hand in his pocket and felt the balloon he was going to use to make Dan’s dog earlier that day.

“Hey, do you like balloons?”

The little girl’s eyes lit up and she bounced up and down. “Can you make me a puppy!” Her voice drowned out the noise of the protest just a few yards away. Ronald felt something he hadn’t felt in years. This felt enough, for once.

“I’m gonna make you the best damn puppy you’ve ever seen,” Ronald said, just before blowing into his balloon. Within just a few minutes, after having messed up a two or three times, Ronald completed his work and gave the little girl her new balloon puppy. She bounced up and down again as she hugged it. Ronald laughed a little. It felt really good.

“It kind of looks like a bunny,” the little girl said, after inspecting it. “But I love it. It can be a puppy-bunny!”

Ronald laughed more than he probably should have. It wasn’t that funny to him. He started to kneel down when a man tackled him to the ground, slamming his head into the pavement, and straddled him. Ronald saw nothing but stars and white flashes then a numbing hot pressure on his face. The man savagely beat Ronald, bashing in his face, blackening both his eyes and grating his lips. The man’s broken knuckles were strewn with blood. Ronald barely registered what was happening and put his arms up in defense. The little girl screamed and cried, begging the man to stop beating Ronald.

Someone yanked the man off of him, and Ronald stood to his feet and immediately charged the man, sending both of them down a short flight of concrete steps and slamming into the ground. Ronald wrestled with the man, pulling his ear, biting his hand, punching him in the gut, until he was on top. He saw the man’s red eyes, filled with anger and confusion, and Ronald felt an overwhelming hatred for what was within that man. He punched the man’s face until it was covered in blood. With every hit, Ronald felt everything in his life boil into his fists and release themselves on this man’s face. He began to sob and scream like an animal. Even after both of his knuckles were shattered, he kept punching. He heard nothing saw nothing but a blackening tunnel. No feeling in his fists. Nothing. It was gone. Everything was out.

Ronald woke up in the back of a parked police car outside the plaza several minutes later. An unbearable pain shot through his arms and he saw that all of his fingers were crooked and bloody. The little girl stood outside with his balloon puppy-bunny in her hand, with her mother behind her. She waved at him. Ronald smiled and noticed that he was missing a few teeth.

He leaned back in his seat and took a deep breath, smiling as he exhaled. It wasn’t much of a beginning, at least not the one he had imagined, but it was a start.

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