It’s the Fourth of July here on the porch, where I’ve spent much of this holiday weekend. And when I’m on the porch, chances are I’m in a thoughtful, reflective, reminiscent mood. I’ve had some great Independence Days — Peachtree Road Races and fireworks, barbecues and patio cocktails, friends and family being the standard celebration (and there was the Nasty Clam Incident of 2004). But four were different.
Twenty Years Ago
Love of My Life: The 1980s Edition and I were driving to Vermont, where we would camp for several days on his family’s property. We stopped in Maryland to pick up his older brother, staying there for the July 4th weekend. His brother had three beautiful blonde girls — the oldest six, the youngest a toddler. I immediately bonded with the oldest, Emily. LoML was Emily’s godfather, but he shied away from her and instead played with the two younger ones. Why? Because Emily had cerebral palsy. And, as he said, she freaked him out. This beautiful, twisted child could barely talk, but communicated in so many ways. She was full of life and happiness and love and hilarity; you couldn’t help but be bouncy and bubbly when you were with Emily. And he couldn’t even look at her.
We watched fireworks on an island that July 4th. Emily sat in my lap, so LoML wouldn’t sit next to us. The bang of the fireworks at first scared the bejesus out of Emily, but I held her tight and talked to her and showed her how beautiful the sky was right after the bang. She soon relaxed against my chest and cooed “Pretty!” at each burst. Damn, I loved that little girl.
When we returned home, I saw him in a different, uncomfortable, shallow light, knowing that he couldn’t see beyond surface flaws. We broke up six weeks later, over something stupid and trivial I pulled. It was the most devastating breakup of my life. But in my heart I knew he was no man. Today, in my personal photo album, the one I keep on my bedside table, the one with the special photos, I have a shot of me on the beach with those little girls. No photos of him.
Eleven Years Ago
As the low man on the management totem pole, I was scheduled to work the bookstore during its abbreviated holiday hours. I brought in beer for the booksellers, those equally unlucky in shifts. The store was quiet, so we enjoyed our beer and our overly educated, book-snob selves.
The store closed early, around 7 p.m. There was talk about going on to Churchill’s, but instead I went to my parents’ house. I was depressed, and lonely, and alone, and lost, afraid that my life had stalled and wouldn’t restart, and I wanted the comfort of my parents. My dad loved watching the Boston Pops’ Fourth of July concert on PBS, and so I watched it with him instead of partying with friends.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the last day of My Lonely Year. The next night, at a party, things changed … and Love of My Life #3 and I began our interesting eight years of adventure.
One Year Ago
OM began losing the cancer battle about this time last year. There were July 4th parties to liven, races to watch, fireworks to ooooh … but instead I shut down and locked the door. I was consumed with sadness and fear and anger, and couldn’t bear to look at another soul, to celebrate something as trivial as a national holiday (it was the mood, kids). Such loneliness in realizing you’re about to lose your dad, this great strength you’d always leaned on, that this unconditional love that would soon be gone from your life. I stayed in all day, mindlessly watching mindless movies. I went to the barbecue drive-through down the street to grab lunch, and was so embarrassed about being by myself, I ordered two platters so that the drive-througher wouldn’t know I was alone.
We’re having an indoor picnic (which I think is actually called “lunch”) this afternoon at Mama’s. Fried chicken and cole slaw, sandwiches and chips, lemonade and watermelon. There are too few of us now for Mama’s banana pudding, but there is watermelon, by God. Holidays are strange these days as we create new traditions. And if my g*ddamn cable was working, I’d watch the Boston Pops tonight and hope he was watching with me.
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