Friday, July 3, 2015

The First of Fourth of Julys

It's the end of our day, but my grandmother is packing sliced sausage, a metal tin of saltines, and bottles of Hamm's beer into a brown box. My mother calls out to my father to remember the bottle opener. We are, the entire houseful of us, readying to take flight. I look outside the kitchen window and see near darkness. Where can we be going, and packing food for it? I chew on my thumbnail.

We have a blanket and sweaters. We sit, little children on adult laps, seven in a car made for five. Driving out of our neighborhood and turning into the streets we only travel on Sunday afternoons. But it's night.

My fingers are in my mouth again and my Abuela brushes them down with a grazing slap.

I ask my father, “A donde vamos, papa?” I have to know where we are going.
He blows cigarette smoke from the side of his mouth out of the rolled down driver's window. “Al lago,” he says. To the lake.

In the dark? To swim in the night? I pull the collar of the red and white striped T shirts that my mother bought for the four of us into my mouth and start sucking.

“You need to stay near us,” my mother reaches for my father's cigarette and takes a quick puff. I barely ever see this and every time I do, it feels like something too private for me to witness.

“No running,” she orders. “It will be dark.”

She turns to look at me and my brother. We are the youngest ones. “No running.”

“Si, mama.” I answer for my brother.

We arrive at the lake, the one we go to on Sundays. It is a weeknight, but we are here. I hear voices and lean forward to peek out the window. There are so many cars here that it looks like the used car lot we went to for my father's car.

I leap off my Abuela's lap after my sisters leave the car and my mother catches me. “You're running," she warns. My grandmother finds my hand and gives the food to my older sisters to carry. My father and mother walk in front of us, her arm linked into his. He says something too quiet for me to hear and my mother laughs.

Over the voices, I hear the sound of pops. They are close, but muffled. We move with the crowd, and I bite the edge of my bottom lip because it's getting hard to follow my father in front of us. He is turning and dodging but my grandmother is slow and I don't want to lose him because I am little and we are far from home with my Abuela who doesn't speak English.

I start to run again. My mother turns around and I stop.

“Mama!” I call out, wondering if my voice will be as loud in the night as it is in the day. “Mama! Wait for us!”

"Daughter! M'ija!” She calls back to me, but keeps walking. “You worry all the time.”

I do. I am always scared. I don't understand what we do and I never know where we go.

I feel caught. Between the house that feels safe where we all speak the same language, and being here, outside, where our voices are the only ones in Spanish.

I am between worlds again.

“Why worry, daughter?”

I can't explain.

My father claps when we find an open space of grass, and my Abuela spreads our blanket. The seven of us sit, shoulders and knees against backs. All around, there are people next to people and no place to walk in between. The grass is wet and soaks through. I want to stand but don't dare in the darkness. I see no one else standing off of their blankets and I know right away that we did things wrong again.

The blanket we brought is the wrong kind. From the corner of my eye, I see that the family next to us has food that I know is American. Not our sausage, not the bright red salty kind that my father likes. We always bring the wrong things.

We don't know how to live in America. No one in my family ever worries about how we don't do things right, except for me.

We sit, I don't know what we wait for. The crowd is murmuring, and then there is silence. A sound like a whizzing arrow slices through the air and then a crack of thunder. I scream and my Abuela pulls me into her. "Mi chinita, my little girl," her voice is soothing. I push my head inside her thin summer sweater and I rest there.

There is no time to breathe before the next booms start. The pounding of  sound comes one after the other and I tremble with each one.

I have never heard anything like this except in a storm. How long before the rain makes us wet?

My legs feel the ground rumble, and the wild thunder continues. I throw my hands over my eyes and keep them squeezed shut inside my grandmother's sweater. I breathe in and a smell like the wooden matches my Abuela uses in the kitchen fills the air. I want to be home.

There is a round of continuous pops and I think that surely, this time, the thunder will bring rain. I keep my eyes closed and shiver, anticipating how we'll be wet any minute.

I hold the smooth buttons on my Abuela's sweater between my fingers. Twirling each one back and forth, I count to ten. It will make the time waiting for things to end go faster if I count each one. There is a moment of silence that stretches into minutes, and then, the thunder is gone. I open my eyes and look up. I see my father standing. 

“The fireworks were better in Colombia,” he says with his hands on his hips. His voice sounds thin after the booms of the night. "They were more exciting." I wonder how they could have something over there, that is from here.
My father turns and bends down over my mother. She lifts her face up to him and he offers her his two hands. She takes them both. They are happy.
* * *
*My father had only three Fourth of Julys in this country. He died three years after coming to America.

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  1. I feel like I type this too much to you, but I must, again, with it: this is my favorite thing you've written.

    This is tremendous.

    And if you submitted it to Mamalode, I feel pretty certain they'd accept it. Heh-heh.

    1. I love your kind words to me, Jocelyn. Thank you.

  2. Yes ^ and you took us there with you - to your first 4th of July celebration. I can understand how you empathized with Xavier and so didn't expose him to the fear. Kudos to you.



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