I do not consider myself someone who is particularly patriotic. I mean, I stand when they play the Star Spangled Banner at Fenway Park, and I’ll thank those that serve our country in the armed forces. But as a queer woman, one who is of mostly Native and Mexican descent, I find myself uneasy in a great deal of the country itself. My wife and I use the buddy system whenever we drive south. We purposefully moved to a state where laws protect our family, and where the queer community has sowed itself into the very soil, largely free of the threat of violence we face in so many other places. The personal is political, and we show our patriotism mostly by voting, advocating, and fighting for equal rights than with red, white, and blue decor.
However, Independence Day has always been a favorite of mine.
I love a parade, and I think fireworks are one of the greatest inventions of our time. The chemistry of pyrotechnics is fascinating, and the glittery display of gold and rainbow colors exploding against the deepening sky never grows old to me. In our experience, July also means heat and humidity, even in the mountains, only to be assuaged by maple creemees and hours lounging in the stream behind our house. Hawthorne’s birthday is in July, and the 4th has always kicked off her birthday season – long days filled with fishing and ham sandwiches, cold beers and baseball on TV. Now, it also represents the days leading up to Oscar’s birth.
Last year I watched a local parade – representing Vermont in fine fashion with a Cabot cheese truck throwing individual cheddar snacks along with candy, and Bernie Sanders marching in one of his three parades of the day – from a collapsible camping chair on the parade route. It seemed every second person had something to exclaim about the size of my belly, and how they hoped I wouldn’t pop before the parade was over, since all the local first responders were in the parade itself. I cried with an intensity (one that only other pregnant folks can understand) when I had to admit that I was not physically up to the late hour and walking it would take to see the fireworks. Instead, my wife and I talked about how next year would be different. Next year, we’d have our own baby to hold and point at the fire trucks with. Next year, Oscar would be with us, with infant-sized noise cancelling headphones, and we would watch the fireworks together, our little family curled up on a blanket underneath the sparkling showcase.
I had been expecting a lot of the difficult “firsts” this year.
My April birthday was extremely hard; Mother’s and Father’s Day, of course; the birthdays of both of our fathers, who have passed; my wife’s birthday, only 8 days before lost our wild child, and 10 days before his birth. What I wasn’t expecting was for the fourth day of July – the only holiday known equally as well for its date as its honorable name – to be so damn hard.
We did all the things; we had pancakes for breakfast and left early for the parade, excited that my wife wasn’t working this year and we would be early enough for a good spot. I was exactly 17 weeks; this baby’s first parade, first strawberry ice cream, first fireworks show.
My heart sank with each step from the car to the parade route. All the little kids were running around or clinging to parent’s shoulders, tugging away from siblings, and scrambling over the grass on the village green. How had I forgotten? How had I put away all those things we said about “next year?” Next year was here, and Oscar was gone. My son wasn’t bouncing in my lap or his papa’s arms, taste testing the cold, sweet confection that I had savored when I held him inside me. A young girl, probably a summer baby of 2018, intently squatted to pet a wide-eyed, grinning Boston terrier. I couldn’t watch.
I couldn’t believe how loudly those words were ringing in my ears. Next year would be different. Next year.
Like all other days, the time passes. I spent most of it trying to distract myself, repeating the words the midwife had said the day before. All my emotions and physical feelings are normal; my pregnancy is going very well; my fears are valid, but they are here with me too. We swam a little in the creek, had sandwiches and freeze pops before covering ourselves with bug spray for the show.
That night, I lay on a blanket watching the fireworks with my wife and a dear, strong friend. I kept one hand down, connecting with them, and the other on my belly. And now I could think, next year, little one. Next year will be different.