Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Flight of the Fireflies, Part Three

There seemed to be one missing puzzle piece in the great circle of life, in the cycle I had been so looking forward to seeing completed by the vanquishing of winter and the return of spring. I had remarked earlier on the resilience of nature and on my need to see it restored following the long winter. It had. Mostly. There was still one player missing. One scene of the play missing its actor.

There were no fireflies.

April ended. May opened, came, and went, but still no fireflies. I had many theories. It was perhaps a colder than normal May, I told myself. Maybe they would appear when it got a little warmer. It rained a lot, but it had rained a lot last spring, too. The cicadas emerged four years early, exhuming themselves from their subterranean slumber. Their empty golden carapaces littered the sidewalks. You couldn't pass without stepping on them, crackling like dry leaves underfoot, though you didn't want to. You couldn't avoid them. Maybe their early emergence had something to do with the fireflies absence. Maybe they had somehow chased them off or ate them. I'm not much of an entomologist.

Our Memorial day weekend was pretty low-key. We did little, really, to trumpet in summer. It didn't really feel like summer yet. The kids are still in school until the end of June and the weather is cool and rainy. I took the boys rock-climbing on Sunday, and as Elise was zipping out the door for her Monday morning Zengo class, I was fiddling with an allen wrench and the rear brakes on Sam's bike.

I had never lived in a small town before, the kind with a town square, a local high school with a local football team, a real sense of community, its own fireworks show on the 4th of July, a farmers' market. Falls Church is kind of like that, and though we missed the morning fun run, we rode our bike's down to Cherry Hill park, next to town hall and the library to take in some of the Memorial Day festivities.

The real draw were the bounce houses (and not the deep-friend Oreos as you may have suspected). After riding our bikes a mile (Clementine on training wheels), we parked our bikes and scooters under the shade of a tree and made our way toward the distinctive squealing of small children in the distance. We first came upon a wooden barn. Inside, they were grinding corn cobs. A little further on, were the bounce houses and pony rides, but much to our disappointment you needed to buy tickets to bounce and the pony rides. The ticket booth didn't take a credit card, and I didn't have any cash. We tried the ATM machine inside the community center, but that didn't work either. The kids weathered the disappointment fairly well, though they wanted me to text their mother and ask her to meet us at the fair and bring money.

We watched our neighbor, nicknamed by the kids John-Focus-One (you'll have to ask them), play "Taps" as they raised the flag. We weaved our way through some of the display booths before deciding to head home for lunch. The parade would be starting soon, and we didn't want to get caught on the wrong side of the parade route.

After lunch, we ventured back out to see the parade, only to learn we had just missed it. So, we got Slurpees at 7-11 and went to the park instead. After the park, Clementine and I went to the store to pick up a few staples to start our week, items we'd be behind the eight ball without: apple sauce, peanut butter, beer.

As we made our way through the frozen section in search of rocky road ice cream for mom, a man in a one of the store's motorized wheelchairs caught my eye. He had stopped in front of one of the freezers with a confused look on his face. Clementine was in the cart. I told her I would be right back and approached the man, "Need any help?" I offered.

I perhaps regretted asking when he replied, because I couldn't understand what he said. His speech was slurred and he only spoke out of one side of his mouth, as though he had a stroke. He smelled strongly of urine. But helping someone is rarely easy. Ignoring them is. I asked him again what he needed, but still didn't understand. Then, asked a third time.

"Without sugar," he finally managed.

I didn't know there was such a thing as ice cream without sugar or why he wanted sugar-free ice cream when he had a giant slice of supermarket bakery birthday cake already in his cart which was most assuredly not sugar-free. But I looked anyway, and sure enough found the sugar-free ice cream.

"They have vanilla, butter pecan, and one with chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry," I told him.

He looked back at me perplexedly.

"Vanilla?" I prompted and went to put it in his cart.

"I wish they had strawberry," he said.

"They have this one," I made to reach for the Neapolitan, "With vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry."

"No!" he barked at me as I started to pull the vanilla out of his cart, "I want this one."

I put it back and started back to Lulu. "Thank you!" he called after me.

After Giant, Clementine and I ran to Moby Dick for take-out kabobs.

Many families have set routines, traditions, they adhere to on holidays. Rituals that are followed year after year. For example, every Christmas we pick names out of a hat and bake a ham or every Earth Day we line up under the Earth Day tree and sing Earth Day carols, but the only constant we have in the Hanna household is no two holidays will ever be the same. How can they be? When we don't know where we will be celebrating them or with whom. So, we didn't grill out or have a big Memorial Day barbecue with all the cousins dripping watermelon juice from their mouths, but we did have shish-kabob. We'd never done that on Memorial Day before.

After dinner, I put the kids to bed, and stood at the window in the kitchen that looks out over our backyard in the dark, drinking a beer. The kids had fallen right asleep after what has become a disturbing custom of them yelling at each other for ten to fifteen minute to stop talking . This, too, shall pass, we tell ourselves, our penance for squeezing three kids into a bedroom the size of a cell at San Quentin. No one can accuse them of not growing up close.

The sun sets late this time of year in Northern Virginia, but it was getting late now, and darker, too. Distant thunder rumbled from afar. The window in the kitchen was open; it still wasn't hot enough to run the air conditioner.

And I thought to myself, May was almost over. It was almost June, and spring would be gone, and still no fireflies.

It made me sad to think. People stay in one place for a reason. They move, too, for different reasons, to see and experience new things. But people stay in one place, because it is home, and it is home because it offers a sense of constancy, of comfort in knowing things will stay the same, that every spring the leaves will come back to the trees and the flowers will bloom, and the fireflies will fly again.

But this spring they didn't. So what was the point of staying? What good would it do to put roots down anywhere if these constants in life disappeared?

I looked out into the dark.

The yard and the trees were now a deep, deep indigo in the very last of the days' rays. The inside of the shed in the backyard was a gaping maw of darkness, a black hole swallowing up any light remaining.

And it was so, so dark.

Then, I saw it.

The flicker of a firefly. 

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