The first firecrackers have gone off near the lake, and hordes of us people who go here once a year just to see the pyrotechnic display have crammed the parking lots to the point of overflow. Kids are screaming, saying either that they want to go home right this minute or else that they wish their parents would get a move-on to the lakeside. I’m glad Ava is too young to say anything, and the pacifier planted in her mouth ensures she’ll stay silent.
My wife is going through the backseat cleaning up a little “accident” Ava had earlier on the road when her pacifier fell out and she ended up throwing up. I offered to help, but my wife didn’t take it too seriously. She’s still antsy over the upcoming session with the LPC that’ll wipe out a thousand dollars from our bank account, just for both of us to whine and complain about one another for fifty-odd minutes.
“You can go on,” my wife says from the car. “This is going to take a while. You don’t want to miss the fireworks.”
I nod–even though my wife can’t see this–and push the stroller with Ava in it down the parking lot’s gentle asphalt slope. A stream of big, loud pickups is headed toward one of the entrances. The air heavy with exhaust fumes, I cough a little and hope Ava’s not getting too much of the grime into her lungs.
The other men walking to the lake, they’re bound to think of me as a sissy. A grown man pushing a stroller being the butt-end of a couple hundred jokes. Some of the moms, too, seem to be sneering at me. Thinking I’m deluded for trying to act like I really care for my daughter, going against what they consider the masculine instinct towards independence.
It could all be me overthinking and having too much time to worry about what’s going through other’s minds. But I hate them all anyway for it.
Now the heavier-duty fireworks are rocketing through the sky. Some splutter, a few explode before they’re supposed to, but most end up the way everyone wants: a cascade of brilliant light that falls like glittering rain through the sky. I’ve heard that the city spent close to fifty grand on pyrotechnics this year, twice the budget of last year’s spectacle. It should be worthwhile.
To get to the lake, I’ll have to go through a wooden–or maybe it’s faux wooden–bridge that runs over an artificial stream created when they renovated the lake area a couple decades ago.
At the bridge is a bottleneck of people, all headed the same direction as me and Ava are trying to go. The bridge probably wasn’t built to handle so much sheer human weight, but no one cares. They have to get to the lake at any cost, or else their Independence Day will be ruined, since they won’t be right there, beside the water, with their family surrounding them. Just like earlier today they’re day was almost ruined the moment the mustard refused to come out of the bottle, the grill for a few panicked seconds couldn’t start itself, and a handful of teary raindrops fell from the sky to strike fear that the entire day would go to waste.
None of these people want to wait, but I can, and so will Ava, seeing as how she has no choice. After all, her mom still isn’t with us, all that vomit slowing her down. Of course, Ava’s going to refer to this moment to the LPC, and there won’t be anything for me to do but nod along and promise to do more in the future. It’s not like I want to be pushing this stroller with this infant inside of it who will grow up wondering, the way things are going between me and my wife, if she’ll be seeing me the next weekend.
I don’t mean to get angry, but sometimes it seeps out, and there’s nothing I can do but admire how beautiful it can be to see myself getting so worked up about something I have no idea will happen.
Ava’s pacifier falls out again. It makes a clunk as it hits the boards forming the base of the bridge. I should pick it up, clean it off, and place it back in Ava’s gaping mouth. But I don’t. My wife will get after me for it, her voice bordering on irate. As it should be. It’s almost as if by perversity I refuse to retrieve the pacifier. Almost.
The pacifier is teetering on the edge of the bridge. I can see it wobbling. I put my leg out and give the ring of hard plastic a little nudge.
A little crime. No one sees it. They’re all too caught up with the joys of standing in line for minutes, maybe hours, on end. Content to look on at the back of the person in front of them. The water splintered by the shimmering firework colors is the only witness, and it can’t talk. I’m starting to wonder how far I could take this, how much I would have to act out, before anyone would notice. Like taking myself down into to the water just to see if anyone would notice our own little independence. Someone might say, Look at the crazy man stepping out of line, see the latest spectacle to add to the entertainment, a grown man losing his mind!