Compliments are Helium

One day a man tied a balloon to my ankle
As I floated away and into the sky
He told me that I should be thankful
that he took the time to stop me
so that he could lift me up

The balloon is red and shiny
It reflects
the sun
my fear
my upturned skirt

the man says from the ground
You’re so high above me!
You’re so lucky you were born to fly!

Other men gather
The women hurry past

The men ooo and ahhh at my swift rise
Covetousness in their eyes
I’m almost out of earshot
when they start to jeer
Hey! Hey you! Hey, girl!
Aren’t you going to thank him?
He helped you fly!
He gave you a balloon!
He deserves a thank you!
I can barely hear their irritation turn to anger
She didn’t deserve a balloon.
Hardly any girls do.
I bet she gets balloons all the time
and now she’s never grateful.
I ache to explain
I’m late and now I’ll be later
(But they’d just say I should have left sooner)

With a pop
I fall
and fall
and fall
Bumps and bruises
rise as I land
(But you got to fly! Don’t complain!)
don’t you see
I’m afraid of heights
(Then you shouldn’t accept balloons.)
I didn’t want to

No use
I know their rules
I went to their schools

Will the bump blue
Will the bruise black
I hope as I cut back
Be visible
Be ugly
Maybe that will keep their bloody helium away
they’ll come again
they always do
balloon in hand
acting like the gesture’s grand

30 thoughts on “Compliments are Helium

  1. I hope it is alright to ask, but are these insights specifically a pubescent perspective of yours Madalyn, or ones originating then, and if so, do they persist still?

    1. It’s totally okay. I actually wrote this a while ago so I don’t remember exactly what was on my mind that day. It does have origins in when I was going through puberty, but there is more recent feelings there too.

      When I go out these days, I usually have my family/kids with me or my group of friends. On the rare occasions when I am alone, there is a shocking difference in how I am treated by men. I’m having to get used to it all over again now that I spend more time solo. I just got a pair of shorts for the first time in probably a decade. It got to 110 the other day. Wearing shorts makes the weather so much more bearable, but it comes with yet another level of attention from men.

      I’m not puritanical. I know it is human nature to look at strangers sexually, but the constrast in reaction of looking like a single woman versus a mother and/or wife is disconcerting to say the least.

      I keep thinking of that Jon Stewart quote about how we tell women not to drink to avoid getting assaulted or raped, but we never tell men not to drink. The sexism of expecting dehumanizing behavior from men and expecting women to deal with it or even be grateful for it is tiring and I’m sick of it, sometimes more than others.

      1. I just watched it again before I posted it here for your blog. It actually is not quite as ‘depressing’ as it was when I was just an impressionable child, but still…

  2. This is something men just don’t understand. They think we should be grateful they paused to look at us – like their jeering is what we seek. There is nothing wrong with attention, but they need to be more aware of how they “bestow” it. I despise when I go anywhere and catch men openly staring at me. If you acknowledge the action, it only makes it worse.

    This is not to say all men do it, but to say that I am a person, not an object. And I want to be treated as such. I don’t want demeaned by being seen as no more than the sum of my physical parts.

    Poignant poem – made me get out my soap box this morning! Thank you!

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