My earliest memory of fireworks is from a friend’s house in Brentwood, Long Island. More like family, I stayed with a friend that I saw as a brother. I saw his sisters like my own, and I saw their mother and father as I would an aunt and uncle.
It rained in the morning but the afternoon cleared, and by nightfall, the sky was lit with colorful sparks and trails of screaming rockets.
Families stood outside of their homes and looked up at the celebration. It was Fourth of July and the American Flag waved at the doorstep of different houses. The radio played songs such as our National Anthem and America the Beautiful.
Life was good
I suppose the world was different then. Our country was different too. However, some suggest we have not changed at all; we are just more aware.
Some say we were less educated then, or perhaps we had less access to information, and we believed what we were told. We believed the news and we believed the speeches of our government’s leaders.
I grew up in a time before the internet. I grew up before the video game madness and the flood of technology. I grew up in a time when social media was a telephone. There was no such thing as text messages or emails. Instead, we wrote letters or we passed notes in the classroom. We interacted; we had real conversations and we expressed ourselves instead of typing in chat rooms or hiding behind computer screens..
In the dawn of my youth, I saw this country as I was taught. I learned to stand still with hand over heart while the National Anthem played.
I learned to speak proudly when saying The Pledge of Allegiance, and I had no problem saying the words, “One nation, under God.”
I do, however, see changes between my time then and this time now. I see a difference in loyalty to civic responsibility. I see a difference in our community, and worse, I notice the playgrounds are empty.
I am one of your grown children. And should you feel neglected, I ask that you notice the tear in my eye when I hear your Anthem. I ask that you notice my straightened back when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
I have not forgotten you.
I went to sleep away camp when I was a young boy. We slept in bunk beds and played in the fields. We swam in the lake. We fished there too and we paddled around in rowboats and canoes. We had social events and we danced with the girls from the other side of the compound.
My first kiss happened that summer. It happened beneath one of the girl’s bunks. We were able to look out at the lake. The sky was moments before sunset and the last minutes of sunlight reflected across the rippling water.
We kissed on dare, but I was nervous. I was scared because I never really kissed anyone before.
I worried, “What if I did it wrong?”
“What if I didn’t know what to do with my tongue or where to put my hands so she wouldn’t stop me?”
Or, “What if I was bad at it and she told her friends and they laughed?”
Though I was nervous, there was something natural about the kiss. Perhaps by instinct, I knew to be gentle; I knew to move slow and take my time.
Afterwards, I felt like I was a part of something. I felt like I was a part of something more than just the human race. I felt as if I reached a different level of awareness and I understood why men fought for the attention of a girl.
I occasionally dream about this lake. I dream about the way it looked during the morning; the water was dark and almost still, the empty docks were painted yellow, and the rising smoke lifted from the water into the mountain air.
I was a pre-teen boy at the birth of my sexual experience.
I was a kid….
I was alive in a country my father was willing to fight for
I view my experience as a apart of your blood line. I see myself as a piece of your pulse. But I am only a small piece.
There are millions just like me with their own memories and their own stories.
I am only a fragment of your freedom and an example of your population….
I used to work as an engineer’s helper on East 54th Street. I loved the views from the roof and I often snuck away from my responsibilities and climbed the stairs to the highest part of the building.
I have always been a fan of the New York skyline. I love watching the red lights flash on top of the skyscrapers at night; I like watching the sunset and noticing the boats move down the East river.
At the time, I worked an early morning shift. I was usually in by 6:00 and out by 2:00, but I always worked overtime, and the hours flipped from day into night. The summer had just passed and I was on the verge of a new job site with a promotion in pay. It was Tuesday morning and the Chief Engineer came in to start his day, which began at 8:00 AM
He and I sat down with cups of coffee, talking about the lottery, and what we would do if we won. Then his phone rang. He was smiling when he answered, but his smile quickly vanished when he heard the news.
“We have to go up to the roof,” he said.
“An airplane just flew into The World Trade Center.”
Not long after, a second plane hit the second tower.
I lost friends on that Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001. And like the buildings that fell, my foundation was shook. But like the buildings that fell, we have rebuilt, and I see this above all as an example of perseverance.
I will always remember and I will never surrender.
Today is July 4, 2014
As I began this note to you, the rain chattered against the side of my house. The leaves in the trees are shaking from the wind, but I can hear the birds chirping, so maybe the rain will stop.
Maybe the afternoon will clear, and by nightfall, the sky will lite with colorful sparks and rockets that burst in the air.
But don’t worry America…
No rain could ever wash away the love and pride I have for you.
Enjoy your birthday.