The most memorable Fourth of July I've ever had was also the last one I celebrated. About fifteen years ago I met a young Afghani woman, named Ariyana who was visiting a friend (who happened to be my next door neighbor) from Germany. She barely spoke English, but we quickly became attached and for the next several months I taught her more English and showed her the cooler, non-touristy parts of Los Angeles. She came to my graduation from Pierce College and my dad formed a heavy crush on her. How could he not with her big brown eyes, dark curly mane and super sweet personality?
Since we were spending so much time together it seemed natural to invite her to the Fourth of July block party my boyfriend and I were throwing in his parents' neighborhood. We had a nice afternoon of drinking and eating and just generally having a splendid time. Everyone loved Ariyana - all the guys fell in love.
We started the fireworks that we bought in Fillmore and responded to the ooohs and aaahs with pride. I looked around to see how Ariyana was reacting, but didn't see her anywhere. I set out to find her even though all my friends insisted I stay to enjoy the show. I couldn't - Ariyana was a foreigner who didn't know that much English and I refused to leave her alone.
After about ten minutes I found her hiding under the bed in the kids' room of a neighbors house. She was terrified. I asked her why she wasn't out enjoying the show and she replied meekly with, "I can't." So I crawled under the bed with her and asked her to tell me about it.
You see, in the late 80s during civil war Ariyana and her family escaped from Afghanistan to Germany. When they were fleeing Afghanistan they literally had to run through the middle of battle with bombs falling around them, dodging gunfire. They didn't know if they were going to die right there or make it to safety. Luckily they all made it, but not with out PTSD. Ariyana had no idea what she was getting into when she agreed to come to our little celebration and had I known I would have protected her from what ended up being a mildly traumatic experience for her. I stayed under that bed with her, holding her hand until my friends had exhausted all of our fireworks.
Ariyana went back to Germany shortly after (apparently she was a semi-popular singer there and was about to record an album). The day she left she kissed me square on the lips and said, "you are the first woman I have ever kissed," and as she walked out of my life the last words I heard from her were, "I hope to meet you again."
She called me at about 4am a few months later to inform me that her father had passed away and being half asleep I failed to inform her that I would be moving - my boyfriend and I had broken up and I was going to be living out of my car for a bit until I could find a place. She had also moved and failed to give me her new number. Because I have horrible short term memory I can't recall her last name. I have spent years trying to find her, but I've had no luck.
The night of July 4, 1998 was forever burned in my mind. You know those moments when you have a moment of clarity, an epiphany that changes your life forever? Well it was one of those. I realized how bizarre it is that we celebrate our "independence" by simulating war. Instead of celebrating life, peace and freedom, we glorify war. Our fireworks are in effect, "bombs bursting in air," and for Ariyana who has actually had to live through real war, it was too much to handle.
We live fat and lazy with our first world problems promoting violence and we justify it because we feel entitled. Like jocks rioting for their winning team after a football game, we get wasted and blow shit up (sometimes shooting guns off in the air which have killed several people over the years) and look cockeyed at those who don't consider themselves to be nationalists.
But we forget. We forget that thousands of people died in order for us to call this land our own. To be "free" and "independent" we butchered countless innocent men, women and children. Today should not be a day of explosive excitement. Today we should hold each other tight, be grateful that we're alive; that we're all together, and that we don't have to live through what Ariyana and her family did.