July 4th / by laurel

My Fourth of July was turning into such a downer.

I suppose it serves as dramatic irony that a holiday marked not by screaming eagles of freedom but instead by the compulsion to blow shit up was, in fact, becoming a letdown.

Instead of a glittering ooh-ahh of a holiday, or conversely, a day so terrible it warrants its own chapter in the book of bad breaks, the Fourth of July was currently eddying in the lackluster pool of Days that Time Forgot.

It would be in character of me to begin ruminating on the bland, Braff-ian nature of the days’ events, which were, admittedly, not nearly as dull as they could be—but therein lies my error in judgment. I wanted FIREWORKS! (no, not literally) and instead I was hearing the bitter pop of refried beans left in the microwave for too long. I felt trapped. Time to go for a walk.

By early evening, even the sun had given up on the BBQ’s and Utter Lack Of Excitement. In a depressed hissy fit, it smeared a stain across the horizon and drew sinister shadows from the branches of trees. A few blocks from home, I was standing alone on the sidewalk, looking lost and feeling dazed with the kind of insoluble sadness that plagues everyone in their mid-twenties. Suddenly the city of Long Beach was far too small a place, and where once there was familiarity, now there was claustrophobia.

Houses on all sides of me glowered overhead, stretched tall and bursting at the gills with evidence of picnics, of gatherings, of pasta salad and of lukewarm sangria. The mood was subdued, mostly because the festivities had funneled from blank front yards to more secluded backyards (it’s best not to show any emotion in the front yard, after all--Neighborhood Associations frown upon it with the same disdain felt for brightly painted plaques of girls with their knickers showing), and any trace of holiday cheer flickered in the form of dark shadows behind paned windows.

I shuffled aimlessly down the street, pressing on with a false sense of purpose until I stopped in front of a house whose face was otherwise asleep. But behind heavily lidded windows and steadily breathing front door, the home was awake with the sound of a song being played on the piano. (Now banish every last trace of comparison here to any hills, anywhere being alive with the sound of music).

Unlike Freulein Maria’s bitter pill of curtains and kittens, this piece was a complicated song, the source of which was likely a sneeze of ink on paper. It was already forte and building steadily. Buttressed by a tremendous sadness, the music pulsated against the walls of the house, seeped out from under the door, leaked through the windows. I was transfixed by the aural chaos coming from within, and could feel my breath catch in my throat as the song reached its inexorable climax--a moaning flurry of notes and chords, the final thrust of the crescendo, the dizzying, gasping, breathless throes of treble and half-rests colliding, panting, exhaling, eyes closing, falling back, falling down, falling, falling...

I was crying. I didn't know where it came from, but I was inhaling the notes of music, breathing the tortured ejaculation of someone else's song, raking my fingers through the tangled lines of music--transcribed lust, or love, or at least abject sorrow. The tears just kept coming even as the notes subsided, the bass clef’s vibrating frenzy resolved to but a murmur, the calm of the empty street returned, and the rest of the world rolled over and had a smoke.

It was the 4th of July. Pasta salad in every back yard was souring in the late afternoon sun and invisible fireworks exploded savagely overhead, a glittering paroxysm of the kind of insoluble sadness that plagues everyone in their mid-twenties.

I shuffled onward, out of breath though hardly moving, out of tears but not out of sadness.