Sunday, July 4, 2010

The 4th

“What it feels like,” said a friend of mine, “is like I’m the last kid on campus after everyone has gone home. That’s the way I feel every 4th…”  A familiar feeling, that.

The 4th of July is a great holiday, quintessential Americana, burgers and beers, sunburn, sweat, sparklers, a measure of good cheer and heat exhaustion.

For years, when I lived in downtown Washington DC, I dutifully trekked to the Mall with friends and picnic baskets full of excellent food and even better wine. We got there early, staked out a spot in the shade and proceeded to drink, slowly at first and with a vengeance as the fireworks hour neared. Joints were passed and I remember one stultifying summer when a motorcycle cop saw us puffing away, rode his Harley up to where we were sitting, and asked for a toke.  By the end of the day, we were very, very drunk, and so was pretty much everyone else. It was fun, in a way. With hordes of others in similar states of intoxication, we staggered back to our cars and hour-long traffic jams, or we walked home and left the cars parked for another day. As Thanksgiving is the day of alimentary excess, so is the 4th devoted to inebriation.

The 4th is the only day of the year when I have a vague desire to drink. No, that’s not right.  I don’t want to drink, but I want to be part of the celebration, and that celebration, for most people, involves drinking. The 4th is a high-relapse day for those in recovery. It’s easy to pop the top of one beer, then three, then what the hell, where’s the Wild Turkey?

Maybe it’s the heat, the fireflies, the marching bands and uniformed vets; maybe it’s the fact that what we’re dealing with is a very strange disease here, an illness that tells you you’re well and able to partake, able to control, able to act and react responsibly when really, you’re none of the above.

Two years ago I was on the top level of a parking lot, watching the shells burst overhead and oohing and aahing with the best of them. Next to me was a blanket full of twenty-somethings and a cooler overflowing with bottles and cans of Jack Daniels Lynchburg Lemonades.

For a minute or so I would have gladly traded most of my earthly goods for that cooler.  Then the moment passed. Thank heavens for that and have a happy 4th!

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