The Fourth of July is an interesting day. All around America, people celebrate the Declaration of Independence by throwing parades and children celebrate by eating candy. July 4, 2017, was the summer that I was 13. I was just getting used to being in the middle of a child and an adult. Our family was on Long Island for the week, so we decided to celebrate as well. In the morning, we went to a giant parade in South Hampton and watched hundreds of people sing, dance, and throw candy to the children, and ride horses. Hundreds of people expressed their love for our nation – by trying to win best float, which is a little un-patriotic. Back in 1776, they were fighting a war! Our family had several bets on how many bagpiping bands, dancers, horses, and fire trucks there would be in the parade. The child inside me was super excited- and couldn’t wait until the parade started. But soon, the parade began and we forgot about our bets and just watched the parade wonderingly. There was a working cannon with people dressed as colonials firing it with confetti! One of the horses we saw deliberately stopped in the middle of the parade and started to dance and show off! In the middle of the parade, I noticed that Dad was missing. I asked Mom, but she said it was a secret surprise. I was suspicious, so I asked my younger siblings if they knew where he went.
“I do!” Was the response from eight year old Isabel. I asked her where he was, and she said, “It has something to do with sugar…”
A couple of minutes later, Dad came back to our beach chairs with swirly Carvel ice-cream with chocolate sprinkles!
“I knew it!” Izzy chirped, and we glared at her.
There is nothing quite as good as Carvel while watching the Fourth of July Parade on Long Island. The ice cream melts in your mouth, and as soon as it is gone, you dig your spoon in for some more, and more, and more, and then it’s gone. But it’s not entirely gone, because then a shivery feeling makes its way up your spine to your head and –
“Brain freeze!” Everyone laughed. Hundreds of people were in the parade – but at the end was something incredible – and dangerous! I gasped. A makeshift wooden house was being pulled by a tractor, and with a closer look, you could see that it was on fire! Hungry yellow and orange flames licked eagerly at the wood, feeding on the former trees. Thick, gray smoke billowed out of the empty windows, rising up into the sky and dissipating into the atmosphere. The white painted house was slowly burning to ashes, and at the back of the house, was a sign that said THE END in blood red letters, and the parade was over.
On the night of July Fourth, 2017, families across America watched the fireworks. Some of them experienced them firsthand and went to watch the fireworks right where they were happening. Some of them cuddled up in front of their televisions and watched the replays of last year’s fireworks.( Some of the children looked outside of the windows in the TV room and realized that it was not as dark outside as it was on the TV, and looked up at their parents with skeptical expressions and raised eyebrows.) That was us several years ago, but tonight our family was at Flying Point Beach on Long Island, a beach where I had spent many days in my childhood.
My siblings were climbing up the lifeguard chair and jumping onto Sand Mountain, which is what we had dubbed the mound of sand underneath the lifeguard chair when we were little. We came to Long Island to visit our grandparents several times a year, even though we lived in DC.
I decided to jump with them, but Isabel pushed me my first time and I did a bellyflop into Sand Mountain. I came up sputtering and spitting sand out of my mouth. My siblings were laughing, and I frowned at them, but once my mouth was free of sand, I laughed along with them, and then I had an idea. I leapt up, rushed off of the giant pile of sand, and started climbing the lifeguard chair as quickly as I could.
“I’m coming to get you!”
After about thirty minutes of pushing and jumping off the lifeguard chair and onto Sand Mountain, I settled down and sat on the chair and admired the sunset over the ocean. The noise the ocean made was rhythmic and calming, the boom, boom, boom, it made every time it hit the beach. It sounded like thunder, every thunderclap another wave, every lightning strike the sunset shimmering over the wave’s surface, before coming down with another boom.
After a couple more jumping sessions, Jack and Isabel were either bored of jumping, or tired, and they went to join our parents on our typical, flower print picnic blanket. The beach was mostly quiet that night, not very many people were there, unlike something you might expect on the Fourth of July. In fact, it was so quiet that we could hear the man many yards away who was loudly screaming profanities at the woman who was sitting next to him. His anger was like a fire that would flare up intensely at any small twig that was added to fuel it.
Other than the angry man, this seemed like the perfect way to spend the Fourth of July, but then, I got a low, dark feeling in my gut that suggested impending doom. The man‘s shouting got louder, more severe, and even more profane. The boom, boom, boom of the ocean became like the feeling you get when you are reading a murder mystery during a thunderstorm, and not the good, thrill of a feeling. The feeling you get afterwards, when you are trying to sleep, but you can’t, you just sit in the dark, waiting for something bad to happen. The sky had gotten inhumanely dark extremely fast and I felt as if it had actually been an hour, but that hour was only a speck – that our entire lives, entire Civilizations, even, were only specks in the whole space-time continuum. I therefore decided to go join my siblings and parents on our picnic blanket, where I would feel safer. They were laying down on the blanket on their backs, facing the sky, unaware of the thin layer of sand coating the blanket. I lay down and looked at the sky with them. It was like a vast, starry blanket, covering millions of tiny universes and preventing them from escaping. It looked like the inside of a giant basketball that someone had sliced in half and slammed one of the halves down over us. It was enormous, gigantic humongous, and huge all at the same time. This did not help. I felt trapped somehow, unable to escape, like a deer trapped in headlights.
Then began the debate about stars.
“Daddy, is that a star?” Isabel asked.
“It’s too big to be a star, Isabel, but it could be a plane.”
“Well, look, it’s not moving, so it’s not a plane.”
“It could be Venus,” I said, somehow remembering from school – who knew Science would come in handy! – that you could sometimes see Venus at night if the sky was bright enough.
“It could be.”
“That’s a star.”
“But it’s moving,” I pointed out, “look. It’s moving really slowly. It must be a satellite.”
“But you can’t see satellites from Earth.” Jack said, and Dad nodded.
“Look, it just changed directions. It’s a satellite.” I was right, it had just rotated 90 degrees and started slowly moving again.
“Look!” Jack exclaimed, “Fireworks!” And the argument ended, and I felt mildly better.
We all turned and stood up on our tiptoes. Indeed, over the sand dunes, several people were putting on their own fireworks display. We all watched this for a couple more minutes before it was over, and then we decided to go home. The sky was even darker now, and it was way past our bedtimes. We walked slowly past Sand Mountain and the lifeguard chair, where I had spent so many days playing and jumping in the sand, past the angry man who was still shouting profanities at the woman (Mom covered Isabel’s ears at this, though we all knew she could still hear him), and finally past the empty parking lot space that the ice cream truck almost always occupied, where so many Italian ices and cookies ‘n cream and Good Humors had been purchasedJust before we got back in the car, I took one last look at the thundering ocean and the giant blanketing sky, at my childhood, and then we got into the car and drove away.