because you are never out past sunset anymore. Because summer nights are mostly spent on the couch, in the air conditioning, zoned out to the latest Netflix show helping you recover from the day.
You recall how your sister-in-law told you, “Days are long, but the years fly,” and as your son gets older, the days get longer, and the months fly by even faster. And today, on one of the most humid 4th of Julys in your memory, your son refuses to nap again, for hours he fights you and himself until you give in. Until you let him lounge on couch staring blankly into a screen with multicolored dinosaurs moving slow and doing things families do, like hug and kiss and fall asleep together. And he does, fall asleep, in the late afternoon, on his father’s arm. So worn by the heat and himself, he sleeps for three hours, sleeps the evening. You take this as a sign that tonight, he is old enough to stay up for the fireworks. You take this as a reason to go outdoors after the sun has set.
And there, swimming through the air—heavy with sparkler smoke and mosquitos and the smell of gilling meat—are fireflies, svetl’yachki, lightening bugs, glow worms, moon bugs, so many names for the way light floats. Walking through this city, looking for every flying flame, you think of how much you love it. This nighttime outing and the streets you’re walking on. You notice twinkle lights you’d never seen and the colors shutters turn in shadow, because when was the last time you were out this late on foot, at the unheard-of hour of 9PM?
Your son is wide and wild with excitement at the lights. At every bug. At everything that flies. At everything he sees when looking up. He wants to hug and hold the flame. He wants to catch it in his hands. He wants to watch the neon-yellow-green flash against his skin. And he does, gentle, you teach him. Don’t squeeze too hard. And he does this too. How in the darkness, tenderness is somehow easier to teach. How for a moment he is content with only holding.
Then the fireworks, the awe of such display. The magnitude and noise and all the people. At first, he refuses our shoulders, wanting to stand on his own. Choosing to see the sky on fire from where he is. But eventually, he gives in to being held. When you ask about the colors, black he says, seeing the negative space behind red lights. Focusing on what is missing rather than what is there. How innate this is in us, you think, to always see what’s missing. The lack of light instead of how it shines.
He’s stunned at the sight of it, memorized by the grandeur of what is and isn’t, the way he is at the magical dinosaurs moving across the TV screen, the way you are at whatever mindless show you’re watching too. Nothing like that moment—of wonder and touch and disbelief—the moment he held light in his hand and you remembered what it’s like to reach out and hold it too.