It’s summer, and I’m twelve years old. That puts us at 2002. Mom and Dad are telling me to get in the car, that we’re going to the Fourth of July parade. I want to shoot off bottle rockets and firecrackers with Rodhi, but they’re making me go stand in the heat with little kids as we all wave to the floats as they pass us by. Mom can tell I’m mad; she preemptively tells me not to slam the car door. I do anyway, and little flakes of rust fall off the car. The hole at the bottom of my door is getting bigger with each car trip it seems, and no amount of screaming from Mom has gotten me to stop yet. Drew isn’t coming with. He said he was going to the parade in Chicago instead of our dinky little one in Des Plaines, and he was probably telling the truth. He left out the part where he’d be getting absolutely plastered with his friends, though.
The parade goes as expected, for the most part. Local politicians waving from convertibles, fire trucks blasting their horns, the Jesse White Tumblers doing a high-flying routine, little kids handing out candy to other little kids. Considering the temperature is in the 90s, the best part about it is when one of the floats comes by and blasts the onlookers with super soakers. I actually run into the line of fire to cool down.
The crowd is engaged despite the heat, clapping and cheering as expected. But then they go quiet.
I turn to my left, squint to make out the float that’s getting the silent treatment. More and more people turn and wait to see. Eventually, the float is right in front of us. It’s for a group called the Muslim Interfaith Alliance. The adults on the float keep up their smiling and waving despite the reception, but you can see the hurt on the kids’ faces. Worse than the hurt is the confusion. They have absolutely no idea why they’re being treated this way.
I look around, thinking that at least one person will wave at them, but no one does. No one says a word. I turn to my parents. My mom looks like she’s waiting for the light to change. My dad has his arms crossed. I turn back to the float. When I do, a kid on the float about my age locks eyes with me. I want to smile, to wave, but I don’t. I stand there and watch the float go by.
When we get home, I immediately go outside and take my illicit fireworks with me. I walk far away from my complex, closer to Meadow Lane, and pull out the lighter I stole from Drew.
I think of calling Rodhi outside, but I don’t. Think of launching bottle rockets into the air, whipping firecrackers at stop signs, but I don’t do that either. What I do is take out one of the firecrackers and hold it in my hand. What I do is study its every detail, the red and white stripes that lead to a stark black fuse at the end. I’ve blown up so many taped-on action figures to bits with these things, sent up ripples in Good Lake, and the creek next to Meadow, and the pond over in the abandoned fisherman’s lagoon where Drew and other teenagers get covertly high.
I bring lighter to fuse and ignite it. Watch as the fuse burns away, faster and faster. I think of throwing it, but I don’t. Instead, I close my hand around the firecracker and watch as the last of the fuse disappears into my closed hand. And then it goes off. There is the bang, close, like a gunshot. There is the sudden pain, replaced at once by numbness in my hand, the hand blown reflexively open by the blast and stained with the black of the powder, the red of my blood. I don’t make a sound as I watch the blood flow and then stop.
I turn toward my complex and walk, holding my hand open as I go. I can’t feel it for hours afterward.