Fireworks were one of my first introductions to danger. Fireworks are little dangers, neatly packaged and sold for our safe consumption. I grew up very isolated and protected–“sheltered” they call it–but despite all that, the redneck streak in my family is a mile wide, so fireworks were abundant. Every June I’d begin saving up my allowance in order to hoard a tiny, crackling collection of brightly-colored paper and fuses, ready to go up in smoke as soon as the holiday hit. As a homeschooler, it was one of the few times I felt connected to other kids in the neighborhood
Despite my affinity for Piccolo Petes, a lifelong obsession with sparklers, and a reverent awe for the massive fountain fireworks that only my older brother was allowed to light, what I loved most about the 4th of July were Pop Its. Pop Its of all things! The lamest, safest, most self-contained flammable trinket sold at the temporary shacks popping up in Oregon’s supermarket parking lots. They aren’t filled with gunpowder (only a minute amount of an explosive called silver fulminate packed in with plenty of gravel) yet I imagined they were, willing myself into some Revolutionary War patriotic fantasy with every busted tiny whack of another little white pocket of fire hitting the pavement, sometimes browning the ground under it on impact.
Feeling disconnected and isolated as a child meant I found community where I could–often in imaginary forms–and fireworks were a bridge that led me to feel a kinship with my American past. I would buy boxes and boxes of them, gleefully popping them all over our driveway, driving the whole neighborhood crazy. Every time I dropped a Pop It, I felt proud to be an American. Innocent and awkward, amused by a fleeting spark, I had no idea what atrocities were tied up in that same history, the underlying evil that served as the foundation for my country’s perceived integrity. My education since has illuminated the sinister side of the USA, and the events of last week are only a small sampling of the terror and real danger that threatens many American citizens from within. It is hard to feel much pride in our country lately, even so close to the annual celebration of its birthday.
So while one of the pieces in this series does celebrate the history of independence in our country–particularly the rich heritage in Boston–another examines the flawed way our nation coped, or continually fails to cope, with terrorism and internal trauma. The other two swing lighter, one deals with the spark of love as a way to avoid loving yourself, the other, with a tension between cities and suburbs–or more particularly, the tension between loving New York City and actually living here amid its myriad contradictions. They seek to examine what is packaged as danger and sold to us as light, and the ever-evolving intersection between those two poles in our country’s history and our own personal histories. Read excerpts from each piece in the collection below, and follow the link in the title for the entire essay.
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“I felt dumb and sick and nude. This was the first time I was able to identify my Type: anyone who allowed me to focus on them, not me. So much of my romantic efforts had been about distracting other people from the fact that I existed: by showing them how Good I could be, by making myself useful or small or accommodating. So little of it had to do with who I was or what I wanted. Sitting across from the reformed Fixer, I couldn’t imagine a relationship that wasn’t predicated on my need to be needed. A relationship with no Under Construction sign. One in which I’m just a person, not a Fixer. Who the hell was I, if not that?”
“As kids, we learned that the church bells come just before the fireworks do, though that’s since changed with the national broadcast of the concert and the commercial pressure to soundtrack the spectacle with current pop hits. But before Adele’s “Hello” and a slew of singles backed the explosions, my dad’s excitement for that “1812 Overture” crescendo–the build before the first pops in the sky match the brassy blasts of the Pops below–was as inherited a trait as our curly hair or my blue eyes.”
“This is what the United States is really good at: simultaneously telling people attempting to remember something to shut up, and constantly goading us into remembering things we’d rather not. These goals are not necessarily in conflict. They both serve the same purpose. “Never forget” and “too soon” are two ways of saying the same thing, or rather two prongs of one strategy of etching an event in memory in a very specific way, of telling Americans to remember, but never process our tragedies, our traumas, our history. We are only allowed to remember the bang. And so we exist in this traumatized state of limbo.”