Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day

I’ve been waxing nostalgic a bit this holiday weekend.  While thumbing through a host of magazines while relaxing in the sun, I’ve seen s’mores and sandcastles and sparklers galore.  Children have been riding their bikes through the neighborhood and just this afternoon, a little one who lives behind my house pitched a tantrum that could rival any I threw as a three year old.  I’ve thought of a boy who lived across the street when I was a kid and how we used to celebrate his July 5th birthday a day early every summer. 
This afternoon while hanging out in my baby pool, Steve squirted me with the hose.  “Too bad, I’m already wet,” I told him.
“I’m thirteen and a half,” he chuckled. 
“No kidding,” I laughed back. 
“The first love of my life was the girl next door,” he told me.  “She was eight years old when she moved in and gave me my first kiss.  At the time I thought girls were icky.  But she ruined me for life because I liked it.”
“My first kiss was from a boy who lived up the street,” I told him, shading my eyes from the sun.  “We were in second grade together and Jimmy walked by my desk.  He said my name, and when I turned to look at him, he planted one right on my lips.   I really liked him because we were such great friends...it was sad when he moved away.”
It’s been years since I’ve thought of Jimmy.  Even longer since I remembered that first kiss.  Still, what an incredibly sweet thing to recall on the one day I have least looked forward to all year long…until now.
While I’m all well and good celebrating Independence Day, I’m not a big fan of fireworks…unless I’m at a professional display and know when the end is near.  Yet beginning in late June, folks in my neighborhood set them off at ever-increasing intervals until the 4th, when it seems as though the loud explosions last all night long.  With every searing bottle rocket and imploding Roman candle, my cats freak out, except for Forest (bless him) who sits in the window sill watching for the sparks of light in the night sky.  The house shakes, the windows rattle, and my ears ring for hours.
Thankfully, this year I’ve spent the past few nights at Steve’s apartment, for I find that when I’m with him, the noise doesn’t rattle me as much.  When I was getting ready to go home on Sunday morning, I sheepishly asked, “Can I stay here tonight and tomorrow?”
“I was going to ask if you wanted to,” he smiled.  “You can stay over whenever you like…I enjoy having you around.”
I let out a sigh of relief.  “Can I sleep over here until the 4th of July?”
He looked down at his dog and smiled gleefully.  “How fortuitous.”
“Good,” I nodded.
Then Steve hugged me, saying, “I’m happy to have you stay ‘cause I know how much those fireworks scare you.”
“They don’t scare me,” I replied defiantly.
“You sound like a little kid,” Steve chuckled.
“Well, they don’t,” I said, hugging him back.  “They hurt my sensitive little ears.”
Then we both laughed out loud…because it’s absolutely true.

I’m sensitive to lots of things:  loud noise, strong emotions, and bright light…just to name a few.  Looking back on my childhood, I spent the lion’s share of my time in the cool, dark basement or the quiet sanctuary of my room in the northwest corner of the house.  Sure, I played outside, but preferred to hang out in the shaded corners of my backyard or the limbs of the tree in our front yard.  And while I sometimes enjoyed playing with the kids in the neighborhood, the memories that stick with me the most are the ones when I was on my own.
I imagine that part of my independent streak was due to my being overly sensitive to a lot of things I couldn’t control.  At the time, I figured that if I removed myself from the situation, I wouldn’t have to deal with it…or at least deal with my feelings about it.  I could hide from the world while riding my bike or enjoying a picnic by myself or a quiet walk in the woods where I talked to imaginary friends who lived in the tree trunks.   The pattern stuck and as an adult, I’ve spent the majority of my time in solitude.
But no longer. 
Steve and I give each other space all the time, although I admit that today I interrupted him more than I should to share a silly squirrel story or a slice of watermelon.  And of course, when his inner-devil wanted to come out and play, he ambushed me with the garden hose.  Still, I find that I have time for everything I used to do before we got together…and hope he feels the same way, too.  Both of us are independent, yet we’ve become more interdependent as the months go by.  I can lean on him when I need to, and he can lean on me, too.  We share moments from our past, stories of the present, and dreams for our future, all the while continuing to be authentically ourselves.  I suppose we’ve learned the beauty in what Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet:  Stand together, yet not too near together, for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

I never thought I’d ever want to be with someone more than I have wanted to be alone, and yet that has been my one sign to know when a relationship is real.  For years I’ve been telling my friends, “I’ll know I’m with the right person when I’d rather be with him than alone in this peaceful life I've created.”
Just last night I sat on the couch, gazing out his living room window, in awe of the fireworks that exploded over the treetops in front of his duplex.  “Oh!  There’s another one!” I chirped.  “And another one!”
The sky darkened while Steve leaned over and looked out the window. 
“When I was kid, I’d sit in my bedroom window and watch the fireworks,” I told him.  “It was great to be safe in my room and watch from a distance.”
As Steve walked away to take care of stuff around the apartment, I marveled at how safe it felt to be with him, no matter how close the fireworks were being shot off, no matter how loud they were, or how I could never know when a loud boom would rattle the windows.  Later that night I went to bed while he watched TV and as I lay there listening to the crash and boom in the distance, surprisingly I didn’t mind at all…and was soon fast asleep. 
Tonight I’ll be writing while Steve goes to a meeting, but later on this evening I’m sure we’ll spend some quality time together.  The night sky will soon be lit up with light and I'll be snuggled in with Steve, quietly celebrating the uncommonly incredible life we're creating together.