A few days after that, it was the Fourth of July. Fourth of July is a HUGE deal in my town. People come from all over and there’s a parade and a ton of booths with art and wine and beer and every type of food you could possibly ever imagine. If you go downtown that day, you can pretty much guarantee you’ll see everyone you’ve ever known.
So as a result, I didn’t want to go.
My hometown friends had reached out a number of times, inviting me to join them at their pools or for lunch or for drinks or local hikes. But I still was feeling I wasn’t ready yet to handle real life and real conversations. I was most comfortable at home with My Boyfriend and The Cat, not having to figure out how to not be socially awkward.
And on this day especially. The minute My Boyfriend and I had decided to move home, I’d pictured how this Fourth of July would be. The two of us going downtown with my Mom, seeing our friends, getting corn-dogs together. Sitting on the grass in the park on a blanket we’d brought, drinking wine out of plastic cups. Later we’d go back to her house, which is near town, and set up chairs and watch the fireworks together.
I did not think I’d be able to bear any other scenario.
But since I’d basically been holding My Boyfriend hostage since we arrived, I agreed to go.
A group of our friends had gotten there at 5:30am and snagged a prime spot right on the parade route. They had a canopy that offered necessary shade, fold out chairs and loungers, a full bar and a wide array of snacks and lunch food.
Other groups we knew stopped by and soon it felt like we’d seen half the people we’d grown up with.
And it wasn’t awkward. It was awesome.
They all seemed so genuinely happy to see us. They would throw their arms around us and say, “Welcome home you two! We’ll have to have you over for dinner!”
Many people came up to me and took me in their arms, whispering in sincerity, “I’m so sorry about your Mom.” Even if I didn’t know them that well. But that’s just how our town is. Some of them would take my hands and tell me of their own losses and I would nod and my heart would break for them. Because I now understood what they had gone through, just as they understood what I was going through.
It was like I’d become a member of a club I’d never wanted to join, but the members sure were kind.
I’d sheepishly whispered to my friends when I’d seen them, “I’m sorry I haven’t responded to your asking me to get together. I just haven’t been ready yet.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” they’d say and wave me off. “We’ll still be here when you are.”
Later that evening we went to a couples’ home, whom My Boyfriend is friends with, who have a huge expanse of property near town. We ate some more and drank some more with the large group that had assembled there. Kids of various ages tore around with everyone’s dogs in tow. Everyone kept an eye on each other’s lot and it was like a huge, amazing, beautiful family.
And when the light faded, the group moved to the field on the outskirts of their property to watch the fireworks.
I stood holding My Boyfriend’s hand as our hostess, who was from our high school but I’d always been too intimidated to approach because she was so cute and cool, came up behind us and placed a blanket around our shoulders to keep out the early evening chill. This simple gesture made me feel so included and so welcome and it brought tears to my eyes.
We turned to the skies and watched as the fireworks exploded into the night. It was a spectacular sight and the kids waved their flags and glow sticks and shouted, “Fi! Re! Works!Fi! Re! Works!” while they stomped around in time with their chant.
As I watched the show, I found myself becoming emotional. “Oh,” I said to My Boyfriend as I turned to look up at him. “This is so wonderful…it’s not what I had expected…or…” I took a deep, shuddering breath. “Or what I wanted but…it’s really wonderful…it’s just…it’s…it’s…”
“It’s…almost perfect,” he said.
“Yes. That’s exactly it.” And with that, with the wild, colorful sky above us, I put my head on his shoulder and wept.
Because although he couldn’t completely understand what I was going through, in that moment he had absolutely articulated what I was feeling.
It was almost perfect.
After the show, we walked hand and hand back towards the main house, with the tall grass scratching our ankles.
I thought to myself:
Are we out of the woods yet?
And I smiled to myself because I knew the answer was: