Ironically, July 4 used to feel like the least independent day of all.
There became a tradition, towards the end of my marriage, where Independence Day would be spent leaving town and going to the coast; this wasn’t the summer break trip that it sounds like, and was instead born of necessity, thanks to a very nervous dog who hated fireworks and a spouse with little patience for a nervous dog freaking out. It was decided, therefore, to head to the coast for the day with the intent always to be that we’d be on the road when the fireworks were happening, so he’d miss them — or, perhaps, have other reasons to be nervous at the time, depending how heavy the traffic was.
The trips were almost always stressful, tense things. We would leave later than intended, or traffic would be bad, or some small, insignificant thing that would set the emotional tone for the day ahead; something that, in the grand scheme of things, was less than important would create a framework to explain away that day’s misanthropic attitude on her part towards the rest of the world. We’d drive for hours, barely talking but listening to her podcasts — anything that I wanted to hear would be under suspicion and have to pass muster, of course — and eventually arrive, allowing travel-sick dogs to escape the confines of the car and anxiously, gratefully feel the ground beneath their paws.
Thinking about this now, I’m surprised by the realization of how silent these trips were — or, really, how little conversation there would be, I mean. I knew at the time that this was bad, but I didn’t really realize how bad, I don’t think; just the amount of awkward silence there would be, between two married people on a trip together. We’d eat meals quietly, often because things were so tense, or else we’d simply run out of things to say after an afternoon of small talk. The signs that things weren’t in a good place all around, waiting for me to notice.
And then, there’d be the hours driving home, after the sun had set, with the dogs panting and gasping through nerves and me saying nothing as she got more and more frustrated because of the traffic, the late hour, the whatever of it all. I can remember how bad it all felt, how inescapable, a desire filling me each and every year for the day to just be over. The dull awareness of irony that what was meant to be a celebration of independence felt, every year, like just the opposite in every respect.