It's the Third of July. That's obviously the time when everyone in this town buys stuff to blow up. I had forgotten how much the booms echo between the bluffs until tonight.
This time of year is filled with mixed memories for me. My former spouse and I nearly broke up at a fireworks display, because of a disagreement about my engagement ring. He wanted it to select it solely on his own, and I wanted to at least offer some preferences about style and so forth. He was absolutely adamant that, as it was a gift, I ought to want to be surprised by it. It was my view that, as the person would would ostensibly wear the thing for the rest of my days, prehaps having some say in it would not be inappropriate. The discussion got pretty heated, and by the end of it we were just yelling for the sake of yelling and not even making any sense. We got back into the car to drive home after the fireworks were over, and he took a wrong turn onto the interstate (meaning he took the eastbound exit rather than the westbound). We had to go about 10 miles in exactly the wrong direction before the next exit, where he turned us around and reversed course. Neither of us said a word in that entire time.
He "won" the argument--by not letting me know that he was buying the ring until he'd already done it.
We sort of made up for all of that a couple of years later. We'd been staying with his parents in southeastern Cheeseland (in the home of Snap-On and Jockey) (and that city is now a part of the "Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area", which makes me laugh a little), and were headed down into one of the Windy suburbs to visit his best friend from boyhood. We left fairly late on the 4th, and discovered as we drove that we'd timed it nearly perfectly: fireworks displays opened before us and spread south along the way, so that we had a light show nearly nonstop. The most spectacular was at the amusement park, which really does it up. Lots of the northern suburbs go all-out, too, providing a lot to see and hear. It was an awesome experience, made even better by how unexpected it was.
After that relationship ended (and after I'd traded in that ring for a pair of earrings that I'm wearing right now), I was involved with a guy named Nick. He had some issues (don't we all?), one of which was a severe reaction to loud, sudden noises. Fireworks are a nightmare for him. He dreaded the later part of June and half of July, and spent every possible moment in the basement.
There's no good way to deal with that--with loving someone who's in their own personal Hell and knowing that one is powerless to help--and I'm sure that I took some missteps along the way. One night, though, it worked out pretty well. We hadn't spent much time together in a while, in part because of his annual avoidance techniques and in part because of our own relationship arrangements. For some reason, he decided that it would be all right if we went out for a while, very late. We drove to the next town over, to a weird sort of diner that sits at the edge of campus. I have no idea what he ordered besides coffee (which he drank very light and sweet), with which he smoked his ubiquitous cigarettes. I had a Coke and a big plate of blueberry pancakes and bacon. I was wearing a black cashmere v-necked sweater and an amber and brown beaded choker. He wore his camel overcoat and a gray suit. (He was prone to that sort of stylish dressing, as a rule.) How do I know all this? Because, for no reason that I can remember, he grabbed my camera when we were leaving my apartment, and we took pictures of each other over the course of the two or three hours that we were there. In those photos, I look tired but exhilarated, a little wired from the sugar, and happy. He looks pensive, exhausted, and utterly gorgeous.
What we had between us was big, odd, sometimes ugly, often quiet and sweet--and dead, long before we let it rest. I think, though, that fireworks will always remind me of being loved, and needed, and feeling strong.
Fireworks. If you see my gaze get a little farther away than usual while we're talking about them, now you'll know why.
[the title quotation is by Charles Bukowski]