Fourth of July about fifteen years ago, flying out of LA as the sun went down. I’m at the window seat watching the fireworks displays light up the landscape here and there. Only the prescient few know what’s coming. I’m not one of them.
Nearby they illuminate the cities below: football fields, lakefronts, suburban grids. Farther out on the horizon they’re bursts of neon and sparks sprouting from the forming crust of a new planet. They obey some foreign physics as they blossom and fade, crowding in on each other in striving profusion.
I’m reminded of another flight, out of Okinawa at night. I caught a ride on a medical airplane, a DC-9 with the seats facing the rear–for some reason–where patients were transported, bed and all. The pitch black was randomly interrupted by thick ropes of lightning that lit up the ocean surface, revealing little silver worlds of lonely uninhabited islands. These were the things of a boy’s dreams, mine at least, somewhere along the way I lost them, lost the desire to get lost. I remembered something I’d read, I’m still not sure it’s true, that lightning actually travels up from the ground, to the sky. I’m seized by the image of the mass of dense, churning clouds as a living thing, feeding, drawing the energy out of the earth below, seething, serving some mysterious purpose, indifferent in its greatness.
The road exhausts and disconnects us from the thread of routine. We can’t help but become reflective, and sometimes slip into the maudlin. I’ve had moments–in the hills of northern California, where nothing is so lonely–that I won’t detail, that surely qualify; it’s embarrassing. It’s okay; you get a pass. I’ve made the drive to LA and back, some twenty-plus hours, a handful of times. It’s madness, an absurd thing to do when you can fly. But it does clear the head, somehow.
I was going home alone on that Fourth of July flight, surrounded by a gaggle of teenagers on some group trip. The kid next to me–I’m leaning back in my seat so he can watch the fireworks–is poring over one of those giant CD cases. I have one too. The fireworks are little acidic nightmares springing out of a great, churning consciousness, a giant brain-planet like in the film Solaris, their patterns a language too complex to understand. The land is sick, it calls out. It admonishes. I watch the lights like a fascinated ape. He knows he doesn’t know, at least.
I want my memories to mean something. That is, I want the Fourth of July to be here, forever, if for no other reason than it’s mine. Ours.
Happy Independence Day.