”œWow, this is like a real live American cultural experience,” I said to Jack. Trees lined a largish field, surrounded by a red circle. A band played the national anthem in the background. Middle class families, baby strollers and beer coolers in tow milled about, searching for a little shade until the sun set and the fireworks display began.
”œWhat the hell are you talking about?” he replied. Jack’s a simple guy. Works with his hands all day long, loves country music and his daughters too. I’ve known him since I was about 18. His sister and I, Winona have been best friends since high school. There is absolutely no pretense around Jack. All is real, vivid, life bubbles out of the guy’s pores. My love for the Wickham’s is complete. They are my family. Have been since I was about 17, when they adopted the mixed up loner I was back then.
More after the jump.
”œLook at all these people, Jack,” I said. ”œThe place is filled with white people and Mexicans, there’s a few black families here too. It’s the Fourth of July. The fireworks are fixing to go off. I heard Korean and Hindi a while ago too. Some German and lots of Spanish. All these people are celebrating the Fourth of July, man, it’s like live! A bona fide American cultural experience. I didn’t know we even had these!”
”œHindi? What the hell is that,” he said, laughing. ”œPass me another Bud Light,” he said, ”œand stop talking. You’re making my brain hurt with all that analytical shit.”
”œIt’s Austin”“multi-culture cosmopolitan central!” Winona chimed in. ”œFamily Circle said that Cedar Park is the most family friendly town in Texas.”
“Jack, did you hear that? Your sister is quoting Family Circle now. Is Good Housekeeping next?” I shot back at Winona. Her drop-dead gorgeous baby blues drilled a hole right through me. Her husband chuckled, took another sip of the rancid Bud Light, winced and started playing with his Blackberry.
“What’s Hindi, Sean Paul?” asked Bailey, Jack’s youngest daughter.
“It’s one of the main languages they speak in India,” I told her.
“Have you been there,” she asked. Curls falling down her shoulders, light eyes glistening in the early evening sun.
“I sure have,” I told her.
“What’s it like?”
“Dirty,” I said.
“Like my Daddy’s house?”
We all guffawed at Jack’s expense.
“This one is precocious,” I said.
The sky lit up in hundred different colors, booms and blasts echoed out across the park followed by a thousand ”˜ooos and ahhhs.’ It was a spectacle. I fell into thought, thinking about the world I just left and the one I now inhabit.
This moment wasn’t so different from the night that Istanbul celebrated the 556th anniversary of the Conquest. A park filled with families, some drinking, others just socializing, kids everywhere. A community spirit pervaded the night. Sure, it’s in suburbia, but the commonalities were much more pronounced than the differences. This got me to thinking about my friends and family and the irony attendant in leaving and returning. It’s always the case when I leave that the people who I expect will support my choices are inevitably the ones who resist them the most. And those that I think won’t understand are the most supportive.
Actually, it’s more complicated than that. For too much of my life I always felt on the outside, very alienated from friends and family. Much of this was my doing. I never knew this until I finally took the chance I’d always wanted to take and just went out into the world, damn-the-consequences style. I felt alienated because the things I was doing, working as an asset manager, living in miserable San Antonio, a software company, etc. . I did for other people. I was like a spectacle; I needed an audience to approve what I was doing because I was so unhappy doing it. At least if people approved, I understand now, then I would find acceptance and love. But the exact opposite is true.
I had to leave and find my own measure of acceptance, before the feeling of alienation disappeared; until that sense of not belonging evaporated.
Always the loner, was I. And so I went out in the world to be alone only to end up surrounded by those I love.
Of course, they always loved me and most of them accepted me. And you bet they knew how deeply unhappy I was. But it is a strange twist of fate that I feel like I have more friends now than I ever have. In a sense I do”“they are all over the world. But they are also right here. Always were, right under my nose. It’s a rich, creamy irony.
The firework show ended. Winnie and Bailey were throwing glow-bracelets in the dark, playing catch with their father. Everything was so casual, but so imbued with love. They giggled, jumped all over me, asked me to play. Of course I joined in. But in the corner of my eye I caught a little Hindu girl, holding a balloon, watching the games we were all playing with that poignant, child-like jealously. I tried to engage the little girl. But we both hesitated when we should have leapt.
In that moment I saw my life pass before me: never leaping when I should have and jumping from the wrong places at the wrong time.
And it was also a quintessentially modern and American moment. Two outsiders stare at each other after celebrating their supposed inclusiveness.
For too much of my life I was just like that little Hindu girl with her almond brown eyes and gorgeous smile: watching from the outside.
Not anymore. Not ever again.