When I was small, my family would gather beach chairs and a lawn blanket from the garage, fill an ice chest with beer, Caprisun, and snacks, and wheel everything in a red wagon to Wheat Field Park. Our neighbors, with whom my sister and I had made elaborate games about ghosts, princesses, and Mario Kart, would walk with us while our parents wheeled their wagons and talked about whatever adults did.
It was always two days before the Fourth and everyone in our community showed up. There were blankets opened wide, hot dogs crackling on portable grills, intense games of pog, and something deeply American taking place.
When it got really dark, children would crawl back to their own family blankets. I would find my way back to my mom’s lap on a beach chair and we would lean our heads back to watch.
First, someone would turn on something patriotic and southern on a loud car speaker and then a pop of red would glow in the sky.
Thus began the most stringent rule of the evening, at alternating pops of color the entire audience would coordinate, ‘oooo,’ and then, ‘awwh,’ in perfect unison.
My mom’s voice would come theatrically over my head, ‘oooo,’ ‘awwh,’ as she’d point to her favorites and pull me closer when they felt too close and too loud.
I waited all night for one type of firework. A wave of white that would pour over into the dark sky like a waterfall. Something akin to fairy godmother power swirling around Cinderella’s dress.
I was transported watching the white drip down through the night and then sizzle out into nothing. Some nights I asked to go with it.
The walk home was a blur. The park trashcans were full of empty dorito bags, beer bottles, ice chest handles that had snapped off. I’d be in and out of sleep on someone’s shoulders.
In bed at night my small body would fight sleep thinking of the the waterfall in the sky. Thinking of its moment of brilliance, how my mom would pull me in because she loved them too, how it was gone.
A dog whines somewhere beyond the window. A beer bottle breaks downstairs. I think about the white lights again as I crawl into bed with my sister. We fall asleep gripping hands.