Beginnings and ends in July

by Jamie Horan

Aside from the fireworks and beer, I’m not sure how to celebrate Independence Day, or at least how to display a sense of interest when I’m around people that do. This past Fourth of July, I attended a small backyard party interrupted by an hour of good ol’ South Carolina fireworks (beer provided). I crouched about 30 feet away from the ignition site and watched as the more daring men lit fuses. If a South Carolina firework is a dud, it really means that your life expectancy is in the hands of chance. There were a few duds, and it wasn’t until a small one sent a hissing red flare of doom straight for my face that I had a newfound respect for ancient Chinese ingenuity. I ducked, and in the subsequent breeze realized two things – that I was still alive and that the pungent odor emanating from me was the smell of burnt hair. I stepped back another 20 feet and thought about the end and beginning of things. Had circumstances gone differently I might have perished, ending the night’s festivities and initiating a wave of emergency phone calls. It’s not so bad if you think about it. The American Revolution itself was an end and a beginning; and isn’t that exactly what we were celebrating? I find it interesting that two major revolutions had their origins in July. We’ve got the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4 and France has dibs on Bastille Day 10 days later. Both the document and the prison invasion were rallying points and fueled fights for independence. I am reminded of a time three years ago when I impulsively bought a plane ticket to Paris. The excuse was a concert, but the reason I ponied up the dough for a four-day vacation in Europe was because I was fed up, at the end of a certain type of rope and seriously considering the next one. One of my favorite Icelandic bands announced via their website a special event to be held in France in early autumn. Buying a ticket meant that I would be missing school, but there are lots of things you can’t learn in a classroom (like how to survive for half a week in Paris with the foreign language skills of a 2-year old). Challenge gave me a handshake and I shook back. I saved for airfare, walking-around cash and a bed in a hostel not far from the venue. The flights to and from were uneventful and suffice it to say that everything in between was anything but. I found a new rope to dangle from in a French girl named Nathalie, who found me in the Metro. She needed someone with a pass. We went through the turnstile together and three hours later ended up drinking hot chocolate outside one of the coolest libraries I’ve ever seen (complete with armed guards). We met once again before the show, traded information and promised to write. The concert was cool, too. When I got back to the States, I noticed the differences between French and American culture were infiltrating my consciousness daily. The reality of an unrequited relationship set in soon after, and I was right back where I had started, like I dreamed it all. I was still pretty stuck on Nathalie when I met Jane. She had done some traveling herself and was enduring her own culture shock after time in Budapest. We spent a lot of time together, traded foreign mysteries and domestic secrets and fell in love. It took Paris for me to forget about America, but it took an American girl for me to forget about Paris. It was one night at her friends’ house that we sat together on the front porch, waited for the autumn breeze to interrupt our thoughts and watched a light rain splash against the black pavement ahead of us, one of those scenes that makes you feel like the whole land is yours, and the earth soon after. As I said before, summer is the end and beginning of things, and the next July, Jane boarded a plane that would end her time in Greensboro and begin a new life in West Africa as a volunteer for the Peace Corps. My friend Jackie moved to New York today to begin her internship, and I’m thinking about all my friends who leave in July and how maybe it’s not exactly revolutionary, but we celebrate because they’ve sent their personal Declarations of Independence and they’ve stormed their own private Bastilles. And just like the land I live in, these friends become become a part of my history, and in my own mind there are fireworks cascading across the night sky.

Jamie Horan lives in Greensboro.