The One on the Fourth of July

Savannah's Quick Sip: Part 4

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Sometimes you have to be brought back to yourself. I don’t think we ever know that we need it, and you can’t go looking for it – it just happens. Some people need to go back home to find themselves again, and then some people need to get away from it. But often times all it takes is something small and unexpected. I know I’m not crazy. I know we’ve all felt it. We’ve all felt something hit a nerve deep in our minds, and it connects us to everything and nothing all at once. You smell the perfume or fabric softener on a stranger passing by and you’re six again in your childhood kitchen, feeling the tile on your little bare feet, hugging your mom and breathing in her same distinct scent. You touch a silk lined wool blanket and you’re 12 in front of a static-y TV under that same blanket with your best friend at a sleepover. Suddenly, you’ve time-traveled to an exact point in time that’s far away but also here, one that’s so different but exactly the same, and all it took was a trivial, random thing to take you there.

 

Those spontaneous, seemingly insignificant moments that bring you back are I think what people mean when they say, "it's the little things." Those are what return you to yourself. Those are what scratch a part of your brain, what instantaneously bring you to tears, what make your heart stop, and–in some cases–what can change your life. Those are what make you remember what you’re made of. And for me, the little thing, the all too familiar thing that brought me back to a part of myself and gave me clarity, was the Fourth of July…

 

The room I’m living in is hot as hell. It’s like all laws of chemistry and physics are defied in these 120 square feet. Oxygen simply doesn’t work in here. So I get out of a cold shower, switch on the shoddy box fan I assembled weeks ago, and crank open my window, sitting in front of it in a towel, feeling the air dry my skin. And for the first time, I feel a tinge of homesickness. Back in Georgia, if you open your windows at night, your room fills with the purr of cicadas and owls, but here in Yountville, it’s pretty silent – just the twitch of sprinklers or, on a really hot night, crickets singing. I’m excited for tomorrow, the 4th of July because that means a day off, and that means I can sleep in. The next morning I roll over to check the time, ready for the satisfaction of seeing a double digit on the clock – and it says 6:18 AM. I’m pissed. And as I’m getting out of bed, joints popping and muscles stretching, I feel even more exhausted than I did last night, so I decide I’ll just join up with everyone tonight in Napa for the big fireworks show.

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I’m never on time because I still haven’t figured out the traffic flow here – it’s kind of infuriating. So I accidentally pull into downtown Napa way too early. There’s a ton of people already here in lawn chairs and on blankets, and I keep noticing everyone staring at me. I don’t know why, but their eyes are following me, specifically locked on my legs… oh. I’m maybe the only one in the entire town wearing a T-shirt and shorts. “Shit,” I say to myself. It’s gonna be cold. I forgot. I’m still not used to the weather here, either. A July night in Napa Valley feels like an October night in Georgia. And sure enough, the temperature starts dropping. I’m getting so cold that I’m shaking. I’m debating racing home to grab a sweatshirt and jeans… but to hell with it. I’ll just stay put.

 

There’s nowhere to sit, so I’m leaning against a wall along the water. The sun is sinking, the sky is turning pastel purple and devilishly blue, and people are filing into the riverfront. A bunch of little kids wrapped in Gap sweatshirts have surrounded me, hovering around my ankles like bees in wild clover, buzzing with tiny Spanglish voices. They’re swinging around glow sticks and funnel cakes and throwing poppers at the ground. Every time the littlest one hears a loud noise he looks up at his sister and says, “are those fireworks?!”

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Behind me is a riverfront restaurant playing some slow, old-school American music. Ray Charles, or maybe Otis Redding – a Georgia boy. Whatever it is is so comforting, and it brings a stifling wave over me. It’s not nostalgia, but it’s not deja vu. I don’t feel sad, just acutely aware of everything that’s going on around me, people and voices rolling like currents. As I come up for air the world turns, and suddenly, I’m in the Sandlot –  the first movie I ever loved. The first one that made me appreciate simplicity. I don’t know what exactly has brought me here, if it’s the song or the smells or the lights, or all of it, but I’m very here, in the scene on the 4th of July.

 

We’re on the diamond under the sky, kicking red dust clouds into the air with old white sneakers. It smells like leather and sugar and hot grills. And there’s that song, Otis Redding, coming from someone’s porch radio. There are sunburnt kids running around the streets, bikes whirring, parents laughing. And I start thinking – in a way, me and Scotty Smalls are alike. It’s summertime in this hot, California valley, and we’re the new kids. I found my sandlot and people to teach me, to be my friends, to make me laugh. But most importantly, to build me up. They make me believe in myself as a writer again. Astra has lead me back to my fire. I’d forgotten that I had it. I’d forgotten what it’s like to write something you adore. I’d forgotten how it feels to be in that rhythm, to carry a notebook everywhere. Because every word matters, every moment leaves a mark, everything is a story to tell, every scribbled margin is time traveling. I’d forgotten it all, until this summer when I found the Sandlot and –

 

The first explosion rips over the Napa River, and everyone becomes still.

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My eyes regain focus and I’m jolted out of 1962. Now the little bumblebees are all over me, still buzzing but quieter and in awe, craning their necks up over the ledge. One of the youngest ones is holding onto the hem of my T-shirt with her little fist – I think for comfort – mouth slightly open, eyes locked on the fire in the sky. I too am entranced by the popping and hissing above us. The colors are beautiful and bright, but it’s the sounds that are so mesmerizing to me. And again that wave comes and I’m transported to a different “here,” but this time it’s a familiar one.

 

I’m little and sitting on the grass with my dad. The sky is in that eerie limbo when it’s not quite night time, but the sun is nowhere to be found. The clouds are heavy, ominous orbs. Rain hasn’t started falling yet, but you can smell it. Now the clouds are flickering light bulbs, and booms of thunder start rattling off, shaking our house’s windows. One of our dogs, Sassy, is pacing in the barn. And my dad is telling me the secret about thunder and lightning – the tale that I now realize made me fall in love with storytelling for the first time… It’s dragons up there in the sky, shrouded by the storm clouds, and they’re at war – their tails whipping, wings beating, armored scales striking against one another in flashes of white and purple heat, lighting up the sky and drilling down into the earth. And then comes the slightly delayed explosion of sound, their battle cries – sometimes a deep, bellowing rumble and others a sharp, piercing crack. “It depends on the kind of dragon,” Daddy says, “Each call is different, just like yours and mine. And if you really pay attention –

 

All of a sudden a man hits my arm trying to fit along the ledge. Daddy evaporates, the lightning returns to fireworks, my eyes focus and clear, and I’m brought back again.

 

The bumblebees at my side are stirring, and I hear the eldest say the finale is about to begin, and it does. Huge blossoming shows of orange, purple, and gold start firing into the air, one after the other. Just when one is unfolding into glitter, the next one hits, and then the next. And once they burn out, they wilt and trickle back down to the ground, just a trail of white diamonds pinned onto the velvet sky. One final eruption of red, white, and blue launches, and then in a moment it’s over, the last sparkle of dynamite is dimming, and the hive of people starts humming. So I quickly grab my keys and look through the swarm, trying to spot the easiest escape route. I start to take a few steps forward, ready to bolt through the crowd, when a little old woman catches me and says, “You should put on a jacket, it’s too cold.”

 

But I’m not cold anymore. My spark is back, and I remember all “the little things” that first inspired me long ago. I’m on fire.

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Savannah-Jane Gilchrist