The other day I was talking with a friend about holiday plans, and she asked whether we were planning to attend the huge fireworks display downtown. "They're just not worth it to me," I complained. "It's so crowded and uncomfortable waiting, they last twenty minutes, and then when they're over you're stuck in traffic and it takes forever to get home. I don't think I'll ever go out of my way to see fireworks again."
Flash forward a few days. My best friend from high school flew in from Colorado today with her six-year-old daughter to visit her dad who lives here. When we were in boarding school in Switzerland, he was the commander of the US Air Force in Europe. He'd earned his fourth star shortly before I met him. These days he battles Alzheimer's. He looks good, but his short term memory is pretty shot. "I know what we should do," my friend told me on the phone a couple days before she arrived. "Let's take Dad to the fireworks!"
My friend and I are direct opposites in many ways. She is an extreme extrovert and I am... so not. Once when I was living at the beach, she came down to visit me for the weekend. She wanted to go out, but I was waiting tables and didn't get off until midnight. "I'll meet you at the club," I told her. This was way before cell phones, and it occurred to me later that it might not be so easy to find her. I shouldn't have worried. Starting with the bouncer and continuing until I found her, everyone I saw asked me if I were Tracey, because Karen was looking for me.
Tonight I packed a picnic supper, and we drove her dad to the Pentagon. Karen looked around for a police cruiser. She hopped out of the car and explained the situation, showing his ID, pointing out those four stars. It wasn't long before we had a prime parking spot and a space on the lawn right outside the river entrance. There were quite a few people there, but it wasn't crowded, and the light breeze and overcast sky combined to produce an unusually pleasant July evening. The Washington Monument stood tall in the East as children festooned with glow sticks chased each other around and about blankets and lawn chairs pausing only to ask their parents when the fireworks would ever start. We ate our dinner, and the general relaxed in his chair and waited for the show to begin, too.
At the first explosion, swallows darted over our heads, startled by the noise and light, and the concussion from each shell echoed back toward the river, bouncing off the wall of the Pentagon, even as the golden streamers and glittering colors were reflected in the windows there, too. Surrounded by light and dark and wind and roar, I was overcome by how wrong I had been.