Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Own Little Boom Boom Pow

Last night I almost died.

At 10:05 PM I was sitting on the shore of one of Maine's many charming ponds--The Lady-Killer and I were spending time with his cousins at his family's camp--and the boys (TLK, two cousins, and his younger brother, who, for the majority of the day, spoke in the Old Gregg voice) were setting up fireworks the cousins had smuggled in from Massachusetts.

It had been a long day. I'd ridden on top of TLK's lap in a kayak made for one. I'd been chucked off a water trampoline with such vigor that my bathing suit readjusted itself inappropriately. I'd spent the rest of the time watching the water trampoline action from the safety of two noodles I propped under my head and feet so I could float in the 80 degree water without fear of exposing myself to wholesome New England boys. I'd played a rousing game of Uno that went on for over an hour, in which the boys shouted, "I fucking hate you, you motherfucker!" whenever someone used a draw four card or skip card on them. I'd been serenaded by these same boys as they, during quiet Uno moments, rapped, in unison and a capella, songs that talked about living large, spending money, loving pretty but sexually promiscuous women, and driving fast cars. I'd giggled and giggled and giggled when the four of them chanted, "I like it when you call me Big Poppa! Throw your hands in the air if you's a true player!"

But by 10:05 PM, I was ready to go home. I was feeling a little punchy, and--I won't lie--fireworks make me nervous. Once, when I was young, my father and uncle set off fireworks behind my uncle's house on the Fourth of July, and one of the fireworks had gone off wonky, had shot off into the woods, and my father and uncle took off sprinting and the women and children stood on the porch wondering if this was it, if the boys were going to burn the whole woods down with this stunt. And if there's anything I'm a pro at, it's worrying--and I had that skill down even as a child. I went to bed that night thinking there was a possibility that the firework was still sizzling underneath a pile of dry leaves, sparking and spitting and waiting to take the woods out with one hot breath.

This old fear was not helped last night by the fact that the boys handling the fireworks are not old enough to rent a car. It was not helped by the fact that boys took any chance they could find to toss firecrackers or spinning sunflowers at each other so that they exploded at their feet--or, in one case, on someone's back. It was not helped by the fact that when this happened, the boys would scream, "OUCH, YOU FUCKING MOTHERFUCKER!" and then they would laugh and say, "THAT WAS EPIC! THAT WAS AWESOME!"

From 9:00 to 10:30, I was ten seconds away from standing up, putting on Teacher Voice, and telling those boys to PUT THOSE FIREWORKS AWAY AND SIT DOWN AND BE STILL BEFORE SOMEONE LOSES A FINGER, FOR GOD'S SWEET SAKE.

I relaxed a little bit after the first few rounds of bigger fireworks, because those couldn't be thrown at people and because the boys had towed in a small barge that floated just off shore, and that's where they shot the impressive fireworks off from. After a few fountains, I realized the boys at least knew which way the fireworks needed to be pointed and that no one had burned an appendage off yet, so I took a few pictures. I ooohed and ahhhed.

But then one of TLK's cousins picked up a spent firework and placed it in the bonfire that was built mere feet from the bench where I was sitting. My whole body froze. I looked at the boy, looked at the other boys. I waited for someone to shout at the cousin, to tell him to stop being a fucking motherfucker, that you shouldn't put fireworks--spent or not--in a fire.

In that moment, I felt a transcendentally-projected version of my father sitting next to me on the bench. He put his arm around me, sighed, shook his head. "That," he said, "is not a smart idea."

"Oh Jesus," I murmured.

"That might not be a good idea," one of the boys finally said.

"Oh, it's FINE," another said.

And then I watched the fire get loaded with the carcasses of Roman candles and cherry bombs and cakes. At first the boys were careful about at least settling the fireworks face-down in the fire, but after a while they got a little caught up in their excitement about the next one about to go off, and they'd just toss the cases and let them fall whatever way they pleased.

Which means, of course, that it was inevitable. Of course it was.

And at 10:05 PM, just as TLK's thirteen year-old cousin settled next to me on the bench, one of the bigger fireworks erupted, and a lick of fire exploded out from the middle, headed right for the bench. All I saw was green flame, and I took off. I don't think I've ever moved so fast in my life. I had no control over my body; it simply went. I could hear the explosions crackling behind me, and then, after I turned when I thought I was a safe distance away, more came belching out from the fire, so I launched behind a beached kayak.

When TLK found me, after he and his cousins put out the towel and chair that had caught fire--"DUDE!" the thirteen year-old yelled. "THAT WAS MY FUCKING TOWEL, ASSHOLES!"--I was quivering and sitting on top of the kayak. I was holding everything I'd come with.

"You okay?" TLK asked. He petted the top of my head.

I was in the throes of a nervous breakdown because those boys were laughing and starting to set up the next round of fireworks.

"No," I said.

"Are you having an anxiety attack?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"I almost threw myself on you to save you," he said.


"Well, you were out of there so fast I wouldn't have caught you," he said. He poked the bag I was cradling in my arms, the towel I had wrapped around my shoulders. "And look," he said. "You grabbed all your stuff when you ran."

I frowned.

"Want to go home?" he asked.

I didn't say anything. I just stared at him.

And that's when his cousin threw a firecracker at his feet, and it exploded inches from me.

Needless to say, we were hiking our way back to my car real quick after that. And later, while we were standing in the middle of a gas station mini-mart and trying to decide what to get to eat and drink, I felt very lucky, very grateful for the Mountain Dew, the Mike and Ikes, the Junior Mints we would buy and eat, and how much better they tasted than whatever they would've served up in the hospital, had I been transported there to recover from third degree burns. Right then and there, the melty taste of mint on my tongue was heaven.

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