Tuesday, July 5, 2011

burning fast and bright

This is how we celebrate the Fourth of July at our house: with white noise cranked up to eleven, shhhhhhhing in the dark hallway and in Bean's bedroom. We listen to the too-close pops and claps of fireworks exploding furiously in the backyards of the houses surrounding ours, and hope--- hope and cringe that Alice will sleep, that the cats will eventually settle, and that our house will not burn down from an errant bottle rocket (one, two, or seven). This is what happens when neighbors can get their hands on any and every illegal incendiary device known to man, whatever is made and sold at local Indian reservations. There is barely a second between the pops, some high and whistling, others with a low booming depth that scares me silly.

But in the smallest quiet, I find myself thinking--- not of the excited teenagers surely clutching the lighters and matches fueling the explosions, and not of our country or the freedom so dearly bought with the sacrifice of patriots and rebels so long ago.

Instead, I'm thinking of the lives that remind me so much of the fireworks bursting in colorful blossoms around our dark house. I'm thinking of the people I've known who live lives so fast and so bright, they cannot sustain the burn. I'm thinking of Virginia, who ran up mountain trails and slid down rock falls, her dogs at her heels. She was the bossiest person I've ever known, but she loved her friends with a heart so fierce, her loyalty burned lines in the carpet. That was Virgina-- lover of the outdoors and friend to the canines, so strong in her own opinion, you just wanted to slap her silly. She left a hole in the world when she dropped so quickly out of it: breast cancer that ate her up in a single swallow. I wonder about the son she left behind.

I'm thinking of Carol. A nursing student who smoked a pack each day without irony. She sat in my bedroom and told me I was her favorite roommate, like, ever. And then six months later we argued over something stupid and I never talked to her again. She was gone just a year later, an inoperable brain tumor. She went home to Connecticut and got a dog who stayed by her side as she faded. Her parents dream of the grandchildren they will never meet.

I'm thinking of short lives and the burning trail they leave. Does it come down to fire? To fuel that ignites but cannot sustain a steady flame? I am sure there have always been human fireworks that light the sky, lives that cause us to turn our faces to the heavens and marvel at their astounding beauty.

And here is the noise they make around us: the loudest percussive boom, while the rest of us flicker quietly on the ground.


Alicia said...

As you know, this is something I think about obsessively, for obvious/cliche reasons. I have seen lots of examples, and I hate it.

One of my best friends in elementary school, Kathy, was a great gymnast. She did things I thought only Olympians could do, and she said that's where she was headed. I went to her birthday party in 4th or 5th grade, and her house had been broken into. All the presents under her family's Christmas tree were stolen (her birthday was 12/17). We spent the whole time walking up and down the alley looking for the burglar. I have pictures of her at my birthday parties throwing her head forward, stamping her feet, laughing the loudest.

We drifted apart (not really) and reconnected in high school. When I think of her, I always think about how she wanted to be the first to do everything. She wanted to move to NYC because she thought that's where all the action was. She wanted to be the biggest and the best and the first. And so of course she was the first to die.

The week of spring break my 3rd year of college, I couldn't stop thinking about her. I was home for spring break and kept thinking I needed to get in touch with her (no email in the olden days), and even thought to myself that I was obsessing strangely about this person I hadn't seen since we graduated from high school. I found out a few weeks later that she'd died that week of spring break of lymphoma. She was sick for a short time, lost all her really thick hair, and died at age 21.

She had no children, just parents and two sisters. Because of when she died, she left virtually no electronic mark. I occasionally look her up (her name was really common, so I always search including her Japanese middle name), but I never find anything. It's like she never existed, which makes me really sad. I know she existed to the people that knew and loved her, but she was in this weird age of "adult" but no real LEGACY, you know? I sometimes look her up in SSDI to just affirm that she was a real person who lived and died.

I'm sure that sounds crazy. It probably is.

tearese said...

"and it seems to me that you lived your life like a candle in the wind..."
Awesome post. I know people like that too.

I remember worrying about the kids waking up from all the crazy fireworks, especially in WA where it's going on all night around the fourth. I've stopped worrying now though, because inexplicably, they never seem to wake up.