Why I have never liked the Fourth of July

The fourth of July always falls exactly three weeks before my birthday, and while many assume that would make it a holiday I’d look forward to, I have a rather tumultuous relationship with Independence Day, which I dread every single year. Anytime I eagerly await a fun July trip or my birthday, I usually find myself saying, “Well, I have to get through the 4th first.” So there’s that.

My bad history with July fourth traces back to 1999, the summer after fifth grade. Every year, my neighborhood was responsible for putting on the town fireworks, so I always had easy access to the big show. It was the same drill each time: Crystal and Nikita would come to the house for the fireworks, and we banked on bumping into the boys we liked…and hadn’t seen since the start of summer vacation. Sometimes we saw them, sometimes we didn’t, but either way we lacked the courage to actually march on over and say “hello.” And we hated ourselves for the rest of the summer for that single missed opportunity. We started out the evening optimistic and went to bed feeling like cowards.

Fourth of July 2002. We were too nervous to approach our crushes, and now you know why.

By high school, Crystal and Nikita were in relationships each summer. It wasn’t until the summer after my junior year that I picked up the pace, but even then my boyfriend at the time was on a family trip. Two years later, he invited me to his parents’ summer home and said he hoped he could finally provide me with a happy Fourth of July, his favorite holiday. That unfortunately did not happen, but I had only myself to blame. I wasn’t even a fraction of the person I am today on July 4, 2007. I wasn’t doing what I really wanted and everyone could sense it.

On the jet ski in Shasta

The following July fourth was much better, albeit a tad more stressful. I was a changed young lady by then: I’d gone from hapless, jobless 18-year-old California flower girl (not to mention Stepford wife-in-training, ahh!) to Washington D.C. journalism intern with American University’s Washington Semester Summer Internship Program. Laugh all you want, but I came a very long way in a year’s time. I had finally begun writing professionally and really felt welcome among the other program participants. Sara, Scott, Anna, David, and I cliqued immediately, and there were other people in the mix too. Sara, my closest friend in the AU dorm, liked a guy named Steve. At the time, I was stupidly seeing another Steve in the program — only this guy was nearly four years older than us with the maturity level of a 10-year-old. You think I’m kidding. No, he poured a cup of ice cubes down my back in the cafeteria once because he was a psychotic jackass. That’s something a fifth grade boy does to a girl he likes, not what a 23-year-old does to his 19-year-old fling. Anyway, we differentiated between the Steves by calling my Steve (hate even describing him as that) “Bad Steve” and Sara’s crush “Good Steve.” We got to a point where we both liked Good Steve, and that was on the Fourth of July, which we spent with him and Sara’s parents.

We got rained on all day and spent much of the evening trying to find shelter. By the end of it, we were covered in grime and dying of the heat. It was great to hang with Sara, though. That was when we really decided we liked being friends with each other more than we wanted to get to know Good Steve. Unfortunately, Bad Steve was hassling me again by the end of the night and trying to sabotage my friendships with Good Steve and Sara. Bleh.

For July 4, 2009, I was in France, where they don’t celebrate the U.S.’s independence. They do, however, host a lot of raves, so Ava and I went to an outdoor dance party in Paris and had quite a night.

The next year, I was still living in Tucson and two months out of college. Carolyn and I were roommates and bored out of our minds in the 110 degree  heat, so we spent the holiday at her grandparents’ house in Oro Valley. Her boyfriend tagged along and I laughed hysterically at her goofy uncle, who had a really soft spoken and quiet son that looked at me and said, “That’s my dad. Don’t listen to a word he says.” We all played cards and returned to Tucson to watch “Up.” Carolyn and I fell asleep within moments of the film starting. We didn’t even make it to the opening scene that makes everybody cry. I would later see the scene for myself but not cry, an oddity for a weepy person like me.

Last year, I deferred plans to my buddy Nikki, who invited everyone over to her northern Virginia apartment pool before we all headed to the Capitol. The two of us kind of didn’t want to go into the city, especially since I’d just been mauled by mosquitoes, but the group talked us into it and we of course had fun.

Yes, that’s an umbrella hat. I needed it to combat east coast summer thunderstorms!

Good photo by Josh Peterson

This year, I did my best to tolerate the immense heat. Hillary, Annie, and I started our day in Greenwhich, which apparently has its own McDonald’s:

Next came Chelsea, where we ate Mexican food, which was good but of course incomparable to Californian Mexican cuisine. Then we headed to the Guilty Goose, where I opted for a Coke as opposed to the sangria the other two were having. It made me seem like a party pooper, which would be fairly accurate, but I couldn’t bear to push myself in the sweltering weather:

With my soda
Half dead here

After it cooled down slightly, we migrated to Rare, a chill rooftop bar with air conditioning and, most importantly, cheeseburgers:

Feelin’ groovy

I’d be lying if I told you the last few fourths weren’t fun, but they didn’t come without trouble. I couldn’t sleep last night because I felt something awful lay ahead. The next morning, my mom called to tell me my childhood dog Roxy, about whom I’ve written a many time, had been missing for more than ten hours. She’d apparently gotten so scared by the fireworks (which, if you remember correctly, are put on by my neighborhood) that she burrowed underneath the backyard fence and scrambled away. I need you to know that she has never done that before. We have no clue how she managed to fit in such a tight space, but I’ve heard dogs get insane adrenaline rushes when terrified. Crystal’s dog Honey, who couldn’t walk, did the same exact thing one Fourth of July and darted all the way down the mountain. The holiday is known to freak out animals, as they hear better than humans, so Roxy probably kept running until the noise went away.

I really wish she hadn’t told me at the start of the work day. I was a wreck all afternoon, and believe it or not that’s not the image I want to consistently project. As much as I complain and worry to extremes, I don’t wish to be a drama queen 24/7. Really. Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop thinking about Roxy and whether she was hungry or thirsty. By the way my mom talked about the futile search, she seemed like a goner. I can’t imagine returning to a house without Roxy, who is a direct portal to the past and my favorite part about going back to California. I can see my mom anywhere (we’re meeting up in Boston tomorrow!), but Roxy stays in the bay area. It wouldn’t be home without Roxy. I have no idea what it’d be like to not have to take her for two walks a day or sleep at my feet. More than anything, she’s my mom’s companion now, and neither of us want that to change. If anything were too happen to Roxy, I would never want to return to that house again.

Thankfully, the dog turned up later this evening. My mom had a scare when she saw a severed Jack Russell Terrier in the road, but the dead pup belonged to someone else. I felt for those folks but am glad they had closure. My mom kept bugging the shelter, which had a dog matching Roxy’s description. The only difference was that the canine’s microchip identified her as Page…which was Roxy’s original name! We pulled up her file and confirmed that the Terrier was, in fact, Roxy, so everything is good now, I suppose. It wouldn’t be that way had my mom not been so assertive or full of fight. I was unfortunately too upset to be of much help (not to mention too far away), but my mom has more courage than that, so I owe her my life for getting our dog back, among many other things.

The moral of the story is that the Fourth of July has never particularly brought me much joy — not as other holidays have, and last night’s scare was enough to keep my unsettled for the coming years. It’ll never be like Christmas or Thanksgiving to me, but I guess it’s sort of a “pay your dues” date. Now that it’s out of the way, I can await my 24th. Let’s do this.


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