Ah, the delicious statutory holiday. In my lifetime, those days have often eluded me. I’ve been the one in some unbreathable polyester uniform, sweltering in the heat, dying of humiliation in some sweat-stained visor. Or slinging breakfasts, brunches, burgers and beers to holidaymakers, who are beyond bliss from hours spent in the sun…on a yacht…after making love all afternoon. It’s like trying to take an order from a pool of water, or melted pudding. And you’re hot and hungry and tired, and occasionally fantasize about that chilled beverage you bear on your tray, dripping with condensation, titillating with that ice-cube rattle. Instead of placing it on their coaster, you want to lift it to your parched lips and chug like it’s a frat party, and you’re refusing to lose a double dog dare.
But not yesterday, I spent Canada Day at the park, and then we went to the beach. I basked in the sun, swam in the lake, and I felt like a knot inside of me was being unraveled.
I smiled goofily as I dipped my fingers in the water, watching all the people around me. The much older man talking politely with his young Asian wife, as she nods politely and holds their baby. The rock-n-roll mother in the bikini, fedora, covered in tattoos and wearing huge rings, smoking in an inflatable dingy next to her daughter. The teenaged couple on the grass, making out like he was about to go off to war. An older couple standing waist deep in the lake, their serious expressions and tense hand gestures leading me to believe they were having some kind of aqua quarrel. And there’s me, snooping at snapshots in the lives of others. After the swim and the sun, Ben and I drove home. We napped, we ate more, we walked through our neighborhood for potential firework viewing spots.
Something you should know about me…I hate missing fireworks. And as a result, I like to get to the viewing spot early. And it’s always way too early, as the city’s website will say 10:00pm, when what they really mean is “when it’s dark enough, and whenever we feel like it”. We venture down to the lookout spot, a crushingly popular one at that. We got there at 9:20, and it was packed with folks sitting on top of their trucks, families set up with lawn chairs, and us, with a shitty blanket and nowhere to sit. Which brings up the issue. Should we go somewhere else? Of course, the minute you climb into the car, the explosions would start. You’d try to drive closer (or should we go further away to see it better?), and ultimately, you’d be speeding along the highway like a storm chaser, trying to get inside the eye of the explosion.
But who wants to work that hard? It’s only fireworks. This is what I’m thinking to myself, as the population of people builds at the city look-out. On one side of me, some jerky kid has just evicted his tired-looking mother from the lawn chair by barking “It’s my seat, it’s my seat, give me back my seat!”. (And I had seen enough mothers all day to know that even though they are in bathing suits and sundresses, it’s not exactly their day off, diapers must be changed and sandwiches must be made, and I felt like smacking that kid upside the head for talking to his mom like that). But don’t worry, on the other side, there was an elderly grandmother whose patience had run thin, hollering at her granddaughter to ‘sit down’, ‘calm down’, ‘behave yourself’, ‘shut up’. As the time passed, the children were growing restless. While one gave up her seat to soothe her child, the other was smacking fingers and threatening toys to be tossed into a ravine. I’d like to think that when I’m a parent, I’m going to be somewhere in the middle. But I can appreciate the eternity one must wait for these fireworks to start. I’m 31, and I was losing my grip on my patience. The cement beneath my feet. The collective smell of bodies. The children…just being sticky and whiny.
The time creeps toward 10:00. Any minute now. They will begin and then we can go home. A fleet of people in electronic wheelchairs and scooters arrives. One was clearly the leader, and proved this by bossing strangers and forcibly guiding his chair into cramped spaces. I hear him demand the time of said fireworks and I pipe in “It starts at 10:00”. “NO- it starts at 10:30”. This is a dangerous situation to be in, because even though you are tired and annoyed, you never want to be the person arguing with the kid in the wheelchair just because he dares to disagree with you and the city’s Canada Day schedule. But it was like he knew the answer was 10:30, and asked just to prove you wrong. I dropped my blanket, and plunked down on the concrete. Ben crouched down next to me. We were talking quietly, recalling firework displays from the past. We were remembering the Australia Day spent in Perth, when it was so hot, and then began to storm in the middle of the light show. We were discussing how we ran home in the rain when the little girl shoved her hand right below Ben’s nose. Ben smiles grudgingly before standing up.
I continued to sit. Really taking the time to consider just how important this fireworks display. It was 10:20, and life was starting to feel as though it was being passed in dog years. Suddenly, there’s one magnificent burst of light. I leap up, and then…nothing. More waiting. Shortly after 10:30, the fireworks begin, and it’s over within ten to fifteen minutes. When they finish, giving the same notice they did when they began, people give a brief pause, as if another round is possible. And then, everyone abandons their long held post. On the way home, I can’t help but think about how this ritual is like so many others. Exciting and disappointing all at the same time. That it’s like life itself. Sometimes there is so much waiting, waiting for something magnificent to happen. And then it happens, and you don’t want to blink because it’ll be gone before you know it.