I think it was the first 4th of July after my parents split up. I was seven. My dad showed up at my grandparents' house in the early afternoon. ('Grandma's house' was our temporary home, since my mom - a former housewife of 18 years - was in school to re-earn her teaching credential and we had no income.) The air was hot and sticky - the kind of 'hot and sticky' that seeps into your clothes and binds them to your skin within seconds of initial exposure. As my brothers and I piled into the old, grey Chevy Malibu and the usual musty smell of sawdust from dad's woodworking tools hit our noses, my older brother spoke up with the obvious question: "Where are we going?"
Dad stroked his beard - the Mountain Man beard, as we called it, for it was long and black with a skunk-like shock of silvery grey down the middle. "Kerry's," he replied. "To their party." He put the car into drive.
I slumped back in my seat. My brothers each gave out a little hoot and bounced in their seats. Kerry was my dad's friend from his teaching days. He lived with his family - a family of four BOYS, ranging in age from a year older than one of my brothers to a year younger than the other - on the edge of a pond located off a rocks-and-dirt road in the town where my brothers and I had started our 'growing up' process. To my seven-year old female ears, it was a torture sentence: An afternoon and evening surrounded by nothing but boys. Older boys, younger boys, boys, boys, boys.
I peered out the window as we made the turn onto Kerry's lane. I watched as a cloud of dusty dirt arose from the underbelly of the car; the stones crunched and spat as the tires overran them one patch at a time. The car came to a stop by the old shed near the pond, and I sat for a moment in the silence after dad cut off the engine and before the doors flung open and my brothers sprinted outside to join their enthused compadres. I watched, feeling utterfly forgotten and un-special, as my dad shook Kerry's hand and my brothers joined their friends - including a few MORE boys I didn't recognize - and tore off toward the ruddy waters of the pond, fishing poles and tackle boxes in hand. I looked down at the maroon vinyl seat and fingered a seam as I unclicked my safety belt and finally got out of the car.
Kerry's wife - I can't recall her name now; he divorced her long ago, so there hasn't been cause for mention of it in quite some time - stood at the center of the wide, wraparound front porch of her home. She gave me a small smile and wave, and following my eyes as they watched the boys by the water, the grin faded and she shook her head slowly. "No girls, sorry," I saw her mouth.
I spent much of that afternoon alternately munching on cheese puffs and potato salad and thinking. I thought way too much as a seven-year old; I think a lot of children of divorce think too much.
That evening, Kerry and my dad mounted an illegal fireworks show. They set up the display just far enough from the main road that any passing authorities wouldn't be able to see what was going on. I watched in horror as my brothers attemped to help with sparklers; I remembered every 'fireworks are deadly' ad I'd ever seen on TV and visions of lost limbs and death paraded through my mind's eye. Once I'd assumed a spot a comfortable distance from the show, I watched. Though every crackle, pop and boom caused my heart to jump a little and I was certain that the smoke that spewed from the display was, in some way, harmful, there was something special about seeing the fleeting glow of those lights in the black night sky. The green, the red, the blue, how they all shot into the sky in brilliance; how their still-glowing remnants fell to the earth below and then fizzled out. There was a distinct beauty to it that I still remember today, more than 20 years later.
I've not seen Kerry for nearly 20 years now; after the divorce, his ex-wife became a teacher, and he remarried. He lost one of his sons to a tragic drunk driving accident - his son was the drunk driver. This remains the only time I've ever seen a 'live' fireworks display up and personal; I really have no interest in seeing one ever again, but there was something special about seeing it that one time.
I'm not the same little girl I was back then, but I remember, and I still smile, just a little, when I think back on that day, despite my only-girlness and the fear and the heat.
Happy Independence Day.