For as long as I can remember, Independence Day has always been a day to depend on cookouts, family fun, and most of all fireworks. A person did not completely experience the Fourth of July without them. As I got older (and the Ozone layer continued to diminish) the aforementioned events seemed to lose their luster. I no longer wanted to be outside in the sweltering heat just to see fire work itself into an explosion and trickle away. I was no longer fascinated with gathering with a group of people to eat a meal that flies had already helped themselves to. Independence Day had become just an individual day to me and I didn’t care. That is, I didn’t care until last Friday when I was invited to “grill and chill” with a military buddy of mine and his family. Granted, I was thinking about going to the John Legend concert with a couple friends of mine, but a cookout? That was so… “summery” of them. It’s not often that I get invited out (or maybe I get invited and just “forget” to attend), so when the offer was made, my spirit started to crackle a bit.
I forgot, however, that my military friend’s text invite said that I could bring “one other.” I’ve always been a none-other when I attend events and I was quite sure this would be no different. Wanting to break my traditional loner pattern, I called a couple friends who (of course) didn’t answer their phones or were “away from their desks.” Alone was the option for me. Lonely, however, wouldn’t be. So I jumped out of bed that afternoon and began my “looking good” process. I felt that if I was going to a couples cookout, I would (at least) be an attractive, unashamed, single man. But in making that statement, I realized I was embarrassed about having spent five years in Philadelphia and never having found someone to call my own. And now that I was drowning in “single-shame,” I pondered what kept me so proudly alone up until that point. I was single, dammit! I had God and the love of my friends and family to light my fire. That’s all I needed, right? Still, I was beginning to sound like a cliché and the answers to those “Have you found anyone to make you happy yet?” questions were getting murkier by the minute. I didn’t know why a simple text message had prompted me to question my worth as an individual, but I had to know: Are we convincing ourselves that we are happy being single or have we become too dependent on being independent?
I was trying to answer that question (and manifest clothing that would represent my declaration of independence) when I’d received a phone call from the woman I’d always been dependent upon: my mother. The conversation was brief and sad. My grandmother, whose health has been on a steady downward slope since 2003, was staying with my mother. Her dependency on my mother, however, was becoming more than just a burden. It was becoming a shitty mess on white carpet. My grandmother’s bones and body no longer resemble that of a woman who created a strong family. Her ever present burst of life has trickled away and there is nothing we can do about it. And every chance she has to be alone, the condensation builds in her eyes and she shoots forth tears for everything imaginable. I believe she cries for all the things she never felt, and for her imminent future. But she also cries because she can no longer physically do things on her own. This was something I realized when I was in high school and her sight began to fail her. Instead on being able to hop in her Topaz and ride to the store (as was her normal routine), she had to wait for a family member to come pick her up. In her mind, she must feel like an infant again.
Though my heart went out to my mother for being so courageous and responsible (and so damn strong), I couldn’t help but think of my sister and brother who, for the first time in their young lives, would not be able to experience the typical American events that made my childhood so memorable: fireworks and fried fish. When I hung up the phone with my mother, I’d selected a Southpole t-shirt whose display delivered glittery pyrotechnics. I was ready for the “grill and chill.”
My walk started normally; just me, some gray skies, and my squeaky imitation Converse shoes walking down the cobble stoned Liacouras Walk. Then the drops began to fall. Once they hit, my umbrella shot up and my plans to see John Legend were soaked. The cookout was still near enough for me to attend, though, so I sloshed ahead while visions of barbequed ribs danced in my head.
After reaching a section of the city that I was quite surprised existed (the block I was on looked like I’d been transported into a suburb), I’d finally made it to my friend’s house. There weren’t many people there at all. Just enough to do as he said: grill and chill. I was introduced to his wife and his beautiful baby girl, and the child’s godparents. As I predicted, the gathering was a healthy helping of couples with a dashing single-guy (me) on the side. But instead of making a mad dash for the door as I wanted to, I stayed to observe.
A lot of my friends, over the past couple of years have been getting married or have been in very long term relationships. I, on the other hand, know how selfish and particular I am. If anyone messes up my space, my aura, my anything, it’s a guaranteed argument and phone number deletion. But I admire those who use the dreaded “we” word in the collective sense. They have resigned themselves to giving up their independence and they’ve learned to depend on each other. And it seems like a blast. The small squabbles about whose turn it is to wash dishes, fold clothes, and pick up more toilet paper is shared. As nice as that mutual destination seems, I’m just not there yet.
For the rest of the evening, in between drinking my first margarita and watching 10,000 B.C., I watched each couple explode with some sort of laughter and then cascade into their lover’s arms. Usually, I’m disgusted by people’s overuse of public displays of affection, especially when people seem like they absolutely-can-not survive without their significant other. But that day, my heart did some applauding for the little loving couples who could. And I wondered “Will that ever be me?” It wasn’t a longing type of thought (as I’m not feeling any pressure to get tied down to anyone), but rather a logical one? Would I ever turn my single life into a double relationship?
At a certain point in the night, I made my way back to my building to read and to call up one of my best friends. But after I flipped open my cell, something in me flopped. Maybe it was the atmospheric pressure weighing down on me, but the rain, coupled with shotgun sounds of mini-explosives going off across the city started to affect me. I realized that somehow, some way, I’d missed my own colorful display. Or maybe it was just taking a rain-check. Was I lying to myself by believing that I could suffice as my own dynamite package? Or was the family package something I really wanted to invest in? I’ve survived many holidays (while single) in Philadelphia, but it would be my first Fourth of July without fireworks.