The fourth of July was always a big deal among my parents’ rich friends. I can’t remember a single summer of my childhood that didn’t include a huge shindig on the fourth. I always dreaded hosting it at our house, but every five years our turn rolled around. It was the summer before my senior year, I was seventeen years old, and was actually looking forward to the firework display that my father had funded. It was going to be spectacular!
Mama and Maria spent the first three days of July like chickens with their heads cut off. They never sat down, never slowed down, and both carried around a clipboard like fancy party planners. All of the other families throwing parties of this magnitude probably hired party planners to get the job done, but Mama always wanted her hands in any event that we hosted. She said it was her way of making sure that everything was done right.
I was the first one in the entire house that was ready. Mama was in her room getting all dolled up, Father was in the shower, Anna was primping for her fourth straight hour, and even Maria was in the guest bathroom fixing her hair. I wondered if I should take more time on my appearance, but really couldn’t think of anything else to do that would help!
The doorbell rang and Maria hurried out to the greet the first guests and offer them fancy bite sized food that had taken her literally days to perfect. I moseyed into the foyer and gave everyone the once over. Most of the men had on bow ties and sweater vests-- imagine that! It was at least one hundred degrees outside. Normal men would have been wearing shorts and flip flops! The women had on sundresses with steep heels that forced them to take little tiny steps. Their hair was perfect and makeup was flawless, I couldn’t wait to see them sweat themselves into frizzy hair and runny makeup! Or do rich people not sweat?
It was funny how little I could identify with the people around me. I was raised in the exact same manner as the teenagers and children who were attending the party, yet I felt like I was born in an entirely different world. I was just as judgmental as they were, if not more-- that we had in common. But, when I looked at their attitude toward life, we were on completely different planes. They wanted more, strived for more, longed for more, while I spent just as much energy wishing for less. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to be middle-class. I wanted to be simple. I wanted so much less than my parents could offer me and realized that I would never fit in.
“Hello, Addy.” Sam Young smiled at me, his voice was much deeper than I remembered and his face was covered in acne.
“Sam.” I nodded. “New shoes?”
He looked down at his dock siders and nodded back. I could tell by the look on his face that he would rather be wearing tennis shoes, but his mother had without a doubt insisted that he pull out all the stops for the swanky party at the Banks’ house. “Want to dance?”
“There is no music.” I raised my eye brows in confusion, hoping he would feel stupid.
Mama just happened to be making her grand appearance and said, “Oh! The music!”
“I’ll go check, Mama.” I headed off, relieved to have an easy escape from the sights of Sam.
“Thank you, darling.” Mama was the celebrity of the party, all eyes drifted in her direction like she was a magnet. I couldn’t help but smile as I headed off to see if the band was set up on the lawn yet. The porch was already a hub of activity, people laughing, telling stories, and commenting on how beautiful the party was. As much as I longed for the normalcy of a simple independence day cookout, I was proud of the work that had been put into it. Good old fashioned sweat-- which was something that normal people knew a lot about and something I admired.
About halfway through the night, I noticed that Father was a getting a little tipsy. I rolled my eyes, memories of other parties surfaced in my mind. When Father had alcohol in his system, he was like a different man.
“Dance with me!” he was reaching his hands in my direction with a glistening smile. I didn’t have the excuse that I had with Sam because live music was like static in the air between us.
“I’ll dance with you, Robert!” Aunt Elise popped up out of nowhere and saved the day. She handed me her shoes with a smile, she was visibly inebriated, but I was relieved to be spared. I set her red white and blue shoes at the edge of the temporary dance floor where they would be easy to find and headed back toward the house.
“Hi, Addy!” a group of girls were sitting on the porch steps gossiping.
“Hello.” I took the stairs two by two and made my way through the house and up to my bedroom. I needed a breather! Since nearly every room in the house was considered a place to hang out, I knew that I would need to keep the lights off if I wanted to be alone. I sat by the window in the dark and watched the party from afar. Everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time and I knew that Mama would be proud! Her party was a success.
I saw Anna dancing with a tall dark and handsome guy, with a whole line of tall dark and handsome guys waiting nearby for their chance. She smiled, twirled, flirted, and floated along the dance floor in his arms. Her dark hair framed her face creating an air of mystery that lured them in like a siren. Her red sundress tied around the neck and fanned out as she danced. I imagined myself in her shoes, although I wouldn’t be able to walk in them, and wondered how I would handle the attention. As much as I longed to blend in and be normal, I couldn’t help but envy her for standing out and shining like a star.
I heard naughty giggles outside of my door and felt trapped. I didn’t want to leave my room to rejoin the party and interrupt anything, so I sat paralyzed by the heavy breathing and slurping that was turning my stomach. Suddenly my door flew open! I stood and screamed.
“Oh! Sorry!” It was Father and Brenda Watson, a newly widowed thirty something year old. I could tell that Father was embarrassed, but Brenda was obviously too drunk to see straight and smiled and greeted me like we were meeting in the grocery store.
I pushed past them and ran down the hall. Tears were streaming down my face. Had they intended to use my bed? Had they not realized how obvious it would be if they both disappeared and reappeared at the same time? Did he not have any standards? Did she not have any respect for his wife?
I headed outside into the veil of darkness that the night provided and tried to compose myself. Mama was playing hostess and luckily Penny had finally arrived to help her see that the party could practically run itself, and that it was time for her to kick back and enjoy her hard work. Anna was still dancing away, her line was just as long and the fellow from before was now at the end waiting for his next turn. I wondered if she was tired yet.
“Addy!” Mama called from across the lawn. I was thankful that she couldn‘t see my tears from there. “Have you seen your Father? It’s almost time for the fireworks!” Oh boy had I ever seen him. I offered to run inside and find him, protecting her once again from discovering him in the arms of another woman.
I knocked timidly on my bedroom door, but no one answered. “Looking for me?”
I spun around and saw Father. He was sitting on the antique wooden bench in the hall, he looked defeated.
“Yes sir. Mama says it is almost time for the fireworks.” I didn’t need to be mean or to punish him through my hate, it was obvious that he knew the magnitude of what he had almost done. This was a change from the time in the study, that time he had looked me straight in the eye. This time there was a sadness in his demeanor, and I wondered if he felt guilty already.
“Thank you.” he again didn’t acknowledge his infidelity, but he didn’t have to. It was written all over his face. Together Father and I headed downstairs. Father announced that the fireworks would begin in ten minutes for anyone inside the house to hear. A swarm of people followed us outside, and he headed off to tell the pyrotechnicians, who he had dropped a pretty penny to hire, that it was time to dazzle his guests.
I sat on the hood of a car and waited. I wasn’t surprised about Father and Brenda, I was just creeped out a little. I wondered how many times he had used my room without me knowing. I wondered how many notches he had in his belt. I wondered how he could live with himself. I realized that I would never understand him and probably shouldn’t even waste my time trying.
Anna came and sat with me, she was finally alone for the first time all night. She smiled and I smiled back. The fireworks began, explosions of color on the black backdrop of the night sky. We both looked up, amazed at the things that money could buy. The crowd ooooed and ahhhed at the spectacular display while my sister and I sat in silence. Mama climbed onto the car between and put her arms around us, kicking her shoes off and looking upward like the rest of us. “He really did it this time!” she observed with the wonder of a child. Anna agreed and I nodded, little did she know.
"Happy fourth of July, Mama!" I whispered.
"Happy fourth of July, girls!" Mama grinned, the fireworks crackled above us and painted her face with green light. She was undeniably happy and I was again reminded why I was willing to carry the burden of Father's secrets alone.