It was a quiet 4th of July in Beach Haven.
Who am I kidding? The hoards of people came in and lined the beaches. The firecrackers popped and zinged. The night before, the air was filled with explosions, and laughter was heard long past 2 am.
The weather was that perfect mix of humid salty air and a cool breeze. Still far too hot for me in the sun, but we took a quick walk to the shore. Cousin Pat likes to say she’s checking that the beach is still there, and after living through Tropical Storm Sandy, she’s only half joking.
The umbrellas were lined up as far as the eye could see, both to the north and to the south.
This island is constantly in a fight with the tides, the sands transform daily. Artificial dunes are maintained to protect the homes on this spit of sand with fines for walking along their edges
Assured that the beach still existed, and not wanting to fight the crowds, we spent a relaxing day at the house, protected by the shade and hearing the crash of the waves in the distance.
As the sun lowered in the sky, we made our way to the west side of the island where the fireworks would reflect over the bay. We found our way early and settled on the wooden benches that overhang the water.
Teens wandered the area in enormous groups, the girls wearing a uniform of cutoff short shorts and midriff mini tops. The boys indulged in their collections of fireworks and groups of people would scream and run as they set them off in the middle of the crowds. Police roam the multitudes, taking alcohol from underage hands and pouring it out, without reprimand or ticket.
We hide somewhere along the edge and secretly I looked for an exit, imagining us leaping into the water should the screams of giddy excitement turn to something more like terror. I hate that that’s where my thoughts live when I am among crowds of people; how to escape with my family if this turns… bad.
Others line wooden benches, eating ice cream and acai bowls. We collectively watch as the sky streaks yellow and then orange and red. We watch the seagulls as they dip and dive over the water, searching for the small fish along the surface.
As the skies darken, we can see along the distant shore, the other side of the bay, the New Jersey mainland. Fireworks begin to shoot up in tiny bursts with every town on the bay’s western side having their own show. At one point, we see six shows happening in the distance.
I imagine our fireworks start much later than theirs because our backdrop is the sunset and theirs is the sunrise. Their view of the east darkens quickly while ours lingers. It is a clear difference of perspectives, one that has continued to linger over me as we sit waiting. I don’t feel particularly like celebrating freedom right now as I see women losing their rights. I don’t feel good about fireworks and pollution when we are facing climate crises around the world. I am aware of my anxiety over who in the crowd might be there to hurt others instead of being there to watch the lights as they explode through the sky.
This is balanced with wanting to experience something new, with spending time with my family. As always, I am a mess of contradictions and my mind fights to overthink everything.
Finally, around 9:40, the first firework is shot from a barge in the bay. The crowds cheer and watch as the colors reflect in the water, creating abstract images in the dark night air.
As the show comes to a close, the teenage boys begin to chant, “USA. USA. USA.” They return to their drinking and their explosions. The crowds begin to clear; families climb on their beach cruisers and gangs of bicyclists find their way home.
It will be another long night as teenagers make their way to the beach to party on the sand, roving around the neighborhoods, avoiding police. The personal fireworks ring through the air.
The cool night air kisses my skin and there are no bugs to speak of. Sitting outside on the porch listening to the waves crash on the sand brings moments of peace amongst the chaos.