The Fourth of July has become a weird holiday for me. Last year I was still so numb with grief that the day blipped by in a haze. My friend Stephanye, the first of team LetsMakeSureLaurenDoesn’tKillHerself stayed with me through the long weekend. She was bubbly and happy and everything I needed her to be while we sipped cider and watched the fireworks explode over a lake, but I don’t remember feeling anything. The first month after Tim died was a time where I didn’t feel or think more than I had to. I was like a balloon being led from one thing to the next, bouncing erratically when I hit the end of my string.
A year later the numbness has gone away, and now I’m a hot mess of feelings. I’m like the magic 8 ball of feelings. Shake me up and I’ll show you the answer plain as day. If you don’t like it, just wait a few minutes and try again because I’m quick to change.
For the fourth holiday this year, I was lucky again to have good friends surrounding me. My patriotic outfit was on point and we headed to a celebration where I got to be a kid with my friend’s kid and stroll around in the Texas sun. With pig races to watch, ponies to pet and BBQ to eat there wasn’t time to think about my feelings. Plus anytime we saw a bubble or kite my friend’s kid reminded me how awesome bubbles and kites are.
I brought Tim’s USA koozie with me just like I did last year. My late husband was the least patriotic person I knew, but him and a friend had picked up these over the top American flag koozies at HEB before going tubing years ago. They came home hot, sweaty and still drunk from a day on the river proudly parading the koozies to me. “PRIDE!” Tim would say in a deep, affected southern drawl as he popped the top off another beer and slid it into the blue foam. This year I dropped a diet coke in the “Pride” koozie and toted it with me to Round Rock’s festival, a family-friendly southern crowd of patriotism that he would have hated. I bounced around with my friends and drank sweet tea all day, independent of the darkness that consumed Tim and tries to threaten me.
As the sun set and the crowd strewn out on blankets and lawn chairs got antsy waiting for fireworks, I crunched the ice of my Snowball. I bought the treat because Tim loved them so much, even though the stand was out of his favorite flavor – Tiger’s blood. When the ice and pink syrup had melted into a slush in my cup and the first firework of the night pierced a dark sky, the feelings in me shook up and changed. There’s nothing like sitting in a group of thousands of families and couples cuddled up to make you aware of how alone you are. A symphony played patriotic anthems to soundtrack the fireworks, and I started playing a game with myself – “Normal or Not Normal.”
I’d watch a few blasts and then close my eyes or look away for a second. I wanted something to cut the edge off this – a drink, a cigarette, anything. Normal, I decided.
I heard my friends kissing behind me, a couple generous to invite me into their evening. They have always been exceedingly kind to me, but I wanted a firework to explode over their heads and burn us all. Not Normal. Definitely not normal.
When Tim and I used to watch fireworks together, I would point out my favorite to him every time. It’s the one where large sparks sprout away from each other, reaching as far out as they can before crackling into tiny embers that trickle away like stardust. This year I resist the temptation to say out loud, “That one is my favorite,” to no one in particular. Instead I think it, and decide it is normal. It is normal for me to think things to myself versus say them to him now.
As I drove home from the long day of patriotism, I tried to remember all the July 4th’s Tim and I spent together. Neither one of us cared much for the holiday, so it was a hard list to compile. Surely there were a few summers at the beach with my family, watching my brother shoot illegal fireworks he bought in South Carolina off the dock of my mom’s beach house. We spent one year with Tim’s family in the North Carolina mountains, although the thing I remember most about that trip is his mother walking in on us in bed… fireworks don’t register much after that. There was a Fourth of July in Plymouth, Massachusetts. We walked down to the harbor, and he put his hand on my shoulder while we watched the colorful sparks reflect in the water and white triangles of sailboats. Another time in Austin we walked downtown and stood shoulder to shoulder with masses of people to see them fly up over the skyline and river. There was a party at his co-workers house where we chatted with her while I dangled my feet in the pool, the hem of my bright blue pants rolled up to my knees. That night after the party we drove home in the dark, and I watched small clusters of fireworks shoot up over the trees on either side of the highway.
Then the list ends. I don’t know if the pool party was the last Fourth of July or if the last surrendered to the darkness and had no fireworks at all.
I think a different kind of numbness has settled over me now. It’s not an all encompassing “I have felt so much I can’t feel anymore” fog like last year, but instead a sense of settling into my situation. It doesn’t matter how Tim and I spent our last Fourth of July. We had many great ones, and I’ll have great ones on my own now. It does not matter if I feel lonely during the fireworks or not, because I am alone right now. These are facts. They are what they are. Sometimes I relish in my independence, and others I succumb to it.