Every summer, Vancouver hosts “The Celebration of Light.”
Which is a fancy way of saying “we’re going to blow up a fuck-tonne of fireworks and you’re going to enjoy it because do you even KNOW how expensive fireworks are these days?”
When I was a kid, we lived close enough to the beach that we could run down the street five minutes before the show began. We’d duck around grandparents tuning handheld radios in striped lawn chairs. Static, a string of piano notes spilled across the sand, and then static again.
We’d squeeze between legs attached to torsos attached to crossed arms and frowning faces. “Why hasn’t it started yet.” Eyes flicking to watches, then up to the sky, then back again.
We’d find an empty space. A miracle. Blowing mosquitos away from each other’s faces, we’d slide our hands over our arms, too stubborn to wear jackets in the summer.
The city would hum. A pause. All of us on our toes. Our heads tilted to the stars. Shadows crowded onto balconies above, leaning over rails, laughing.
And then the glow, the sparks, the vibration as the city swallowed the explosions. Purple and red and green bloomed in the sky. Glass windows rattled in their frames. Tinny violins and pianos soared out of the old handheld radios two seconds after the boom.
I’d wait for the gold ones, grinning when they’d come. Ghosts, I thought. Soaring and sinking and soaring again. Dancing ghosts.
They never finished with those, though. They were too delicate for an ending.
No, the ending needed to be felt. In your feet, in your teeth.
There was always a pause after it was done. When there was only smoke and the light of the boats in the harbour and the smell of gunpowder on the air. And then, a cheer would rise up. No one quite knowing where it began, just that they wanted to be a part of it. Crossed arms would uncross. Nods, grins, clapping hands. Grandparents would bang the armrests of their lawn chairs.
But, it wasn’t over. Not for us. We’d run back home as fast as we’d come. Racing up to the window and pressing our faces to the glass. Waiting for the trickle, the stream, the flood. Hundreds of thousands of people. Colour and sound. Another show.
The fireworks aren’t like that for me, anymore. I avoid. Shutting my windows and waiting for the glass to stop rattling. I glare at the crowds as they pass beneath my window.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I have become a curmudgeon.
And I thought that I was satisfied with that transformation.
The other night, my avoiding-the-fireworks plans ended early, and, to get home, I was forced to walk with the crowd heading toward the beach.
I walked slowly, casually, determined to let everyone know that I wasn’t one of them.
A group of girls sprinted past me, their sandals slapping against the pavement.
“We’re going to miss it!” One shrieked over her shoulder. Her friends panted behind her, their heads nodding ferociously. This could not be missed.
They sped away. I rolled my eyes.
A few minutes later, the explosions began. In the cracks between the buildings, I could see the sparks.
I stopped at an intersection, waiting, spinning my hat in my hands and thinking about what I would do when I got home. Windows rattled above me, around me. Colours jumped off the glass.
Then, “Wow!” A man clapped his hands together beside me. “Would you look at that! BOOM!” He threw his arms wide, looking at the lights between the towers and laughing. A loud bouncing laugh.
I smiled at him. A small smile. “Mhmm.”
He had a round face. Scruff on his cheeks. He smelled like beer.
“I’m Teddy*. Where are you from?”
Now, this is normally the part of the story where my Stranger Danger would activate, and I would barrel-roll away from the overly-excited fireworks lover.
But, he had an English accent. So, obviously, that changed everything.
“Cornwall–WOW!” He bellowed. Another burst of light between the buildings.
The light at the intersection changed, and somehow we were walking together. Him, shouting “BOOM” and laughing whenever he could see the lights. Me, nodding and smiling.
And somehow we were past my turnoff, my street. And somehow we were in the crowd. And somehow we were watching the fireworks.
“BOOM!” He threw his arms up again. “Wow, just WOW!”
I leaned away to avoid his arms, laughing.
“Sorry,” He blushed, turning his eyes to the ground. “It’s just…I’ve never seen fireworks like THIS!”
“It’s okay. You know, I’m so used to them. It’s good to be with someone who’s so excited.”
We smiled, quiet for a moment.
And I watched — really watched — for the first time in a long time. The lights and the stars and the smoke and the laughter and the hand-held radios. And it wasn’t the same as when I was a kid. It was different. A little bit like going to church when you don’t believe in god anymore. You still know the prayers and the hymns and the motions. And the memory of what it was to believe makes you feel warm and still.
So, when the end came and the cheer rose up, I uncrossed my arms, clapping and cheering and grinning.
Teddy turned to me, lurching forward with his hand outstretched. “Thank you, Georgina.” (My name is not even remotely close to ‘Georgina,’ but I let him have it). “It was absolutely lovely to meet you.”
“You, too, Teddy.”
I walked home. I didn’t run. But, when I went upstairs, I looked out the window and watched the crowd below. The trickle, the stream, and the flood.
* Name changed for the purpose of anonymity.