The Fourth of July never feels right without fireworks, for me, but not for patriotic reasons. My father’s birthday is the Fourth of July. When he was small, he says, he thought the fireworks were for him. One of my nephews, born the same day, may now grow up to believe the same thing. Fireworks are for birthdays, for one of the big family get-togethers. To not have a cookout and fireworks with the family feels like missing out.
Which I often do, being the family member who traveled the furthest afield. This year, I am actually at an aunt’s house, but she is away on a trip. I am left to take care of two cats, who are not thrilled with the fireworks resounding around the Oakland hills, and a small elderly poodle with congestive heart failure. Fortunately, the poodle seems to be deaf enough that she’s not noticing any but the loudest booms. I am listening for her telltale cough and any whimpers, to make sure she’s ok. So far, not much worse than an average night, when high-intensity snuggling sessions set her off.
I didn’t make plans to get together with friends and see fireworks. I’ve been traveling enough over the past two years that I have half-given-up on getting together with anyone. I don’t know what city I will be living in next. I don’t know who to invest my care and secrets in. I have gotten used to being alone.
And anyway, I figured I could watch fireworks from the second-story deck of my aunt’s house. Turns out, though, that most of them don’t clear the nearby hill, aside from a few half-arcs of pink stars and a racket of booms. I’ve been sheepishly watching the flashing of the local fog, thickening with smoke, pink and yellow and red; even this feels pleasantly familiar.
The rockets’ red glare. Other people in the US do this for reasons that are not my father’s birthday. To commemorate the Revolutionary War. The battle of us getting free, or really, some other people who lived over two hundred years ago getting some kind of freedom, for some of them. We remember the explosions, relive them over and over. But not in any way that touches us. We’re legislated away from buying or — god forbid — holding the exploding things, they’re cordoned off over a lake or river or a tree-less patch of a park.