Frayed, Fireworks, and the 4th of July

I don’t understand the Fourth of July.

In its purest form, it is a day to celebrate our independence from colonial rule and the birth of our nation while remembering everything we have sacrificed to ensure that we remain free of monarchs and dictators. Yet somehow it seems to have morphed into an over-the-top nation-wide chug-fest while completely ignoring the humility that such a holiday deserves—demands, even. Too often I hear toasts “to the greatest nation ever, fuck yeah!” without the follow-up of “we’ve lost so many already, how do we ensure that we stay great without sacrificing our young men and women?”

Alas, we only seem to care about people who stand up for this country when we can turn it into a meme to share or when we can use such sacrifice in an attempt to shut down (and sometimes start) an argument.

Every year, when the Fourth of July rolls around, we celebrate our freedoms by doing something that harms many of these defenders and protectors: We light mini bombs and toss them into the air so everyone within a few miles of our party is forced to celebrate with us. We intentionally create sharp, loud, booming noises and sparks of fire and heat that emulate explosions, reminding the very people we are holding up as heroes of the trauma, destruction, and death that they have spent months and years coming to terms with.

Hey, you wonderful heroes, we love you so much, we are going to intentionally and willfully retraumatize you for days on end to prove to you how great you are.

What the fuck, America?

And to add insult to injury (because this is America and we really do have to be the best at everything), we are retraumatizing a population that has historically avoided seeking any kind of help for those internal battle scars. Many of our heroes still see mental health-related issues as a weakness instead of a strength—an idea compounded by the fact that our healthcare system often sweeps mental health issues to the back burner until it is too late and someone “snaps” (assuming we can even get in to see a mental health specialist!). I am heartened to see more and more people talking about the stress and traumatization fireworks caused their loved ones, but again, it is the loved ones, not those affected, spreading the word. In other words, never assume that silence is tacit acceptance (much less approval) of your actions.

Take a few minutes and put someone else’s needs above your own wants this year. After all, that is what we ask our heroes to do every day.

Let me take a moment here to say that I am grateful to anyone who stands up for the ideals behind this country so that others do not have to worry about their freedoms. In this group, I include veterans, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, Peace Corps volunteers, legal aid volunteers/public defenders, public healthcare workers, and so many more. Some use guns, others use words, and still others use their expertise, but they all put their lives on the line in some way to ensure that the rest of us can live our lives as we choose. They may not agree with our beliefs or choices, but they fight to ensure our right to have those beliefs and make those choices on a daily basis.

These are the thoughts that have been floating in my head, so when Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch posted this week’s prompt, I knew I had to contribute: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something frayed.


His first year back, it was burgers and beer, with a side of Black Cats. In the glow of the rockets’ red glare, his belligerence burned white hot, landing a bluish bruise across his wife’s cheek.

How could you, they said.

His second year back, he eschewed the fermentation of the fruited plains. The aerial repeaters spewed bombs burning in the air. He squeezed his eyes shut against the crushing memories.

Man up, they said.

His third year back, he hid in a dark room, his scars shrouded in the battle-worn flag from his barracks.

How unAmerican, they said.


  • Hear, hear! I can handle it for one day, but everyone starts a week before the 4th and drags it out for weeks more, to where I want to strangle them. My poor dog has to be drugged. By the end of July I’m a frayed mess from no sleep.

    Great piece of writing, this. So evocative, and sadly true.

    Deborah LeeJuly 4, 2017
  • Ugh – SO true this story.

    MardraJuly 4, 2017
  • It’s the craziness of cognitive dissonance which seems to have hijacked our nation. While we honor one ideal, we tear down those we claim to uphold. What’s interesting is that Todd can tolerate fireworks if he knows they are city/township fireworks and has confidence in the program. What sends him running, are the unexpected ones. To him, city fireworks are cool — he can compartmentalize. But out in the forest, like last 4th, he’s suddenly hearing M80s and rifle fire. He’s in fight mode, not flight so to the surprise of those “firing” shots, he ran to their camp and scared the shit out of them. Once he secured they were indeed fireworks (it was the 4th), he proceeded to converse with them. Those suffering flight, feel more cornered. Either way, why do we call our service men and women to arms and expect them not to remain hyper-vigilant for the country they protect(ed)? I’m all for fireworks-free zones. Go to the town or city place to shoot-off and leave the neighbors, soldiers and dogs to have secure places of peace. That’s more American!

    Charli MillsJuly 5, 2017
  • A really excellent post and an excellent response to the prompt. Well done.

    Robbie CheadleJuly 5, 2017

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