Were you ever lost as a child and the experience shook you so much that the experience sticks with you today? When I was young, my cousin and I were playing together at a park — a proving grounds — during a Fourth of July city celebration and it was a night I will never forget.
I remember twirling in circle. My cousin was a year older and much more worldly. She had already lived in several countries and my entire life was my backyard. We were playing tag in the midst of thousands of people and the game took us farther and farther away from our family picnic. The sky was darkening. We were circling in and around trees and bushes. Rocks. The sky thundered with exploding fireworks and was lighted in circular flashes of burning black powder.
The ashy smell of sulfur fell smothering from the sky like a curtain. And then she was gone. I could hear her laughter somewhere over there. But I couldn’t see her. Her laughter faded this way and then the other way. I was alone in the woods.
I wanted to cry but since there was no one to hear my wailing, I held it in and tried to listen for, and sense, a clue what to do next. For the second time in my life, I felt betrayed and I began to recognize its bitter sting. I had no idea where I was or what direction I should go to find help. It was cold. I knew I had to keep moving. Sitting down alone in the dark was not an option. Then the sky flickered with recognition as fireworks tossed their heads and cackled across the horizon. I sifted my body through the brush and over a farm of rocks and granite boulders — all the while keeping my eye on the erupting, and then fading, temporary North Stars in my self-navigated midnight sky.
I followed the vibrations from the heavens and its sulfur curtain drew me in the direction of home. I withdrew from the brush and appeared on the crest of a small hill looking down at the Fourth of July party circling 100 yards below me. I was overwhelmed with the sprawl of bodies spread out on their backs on blankets staring at the heavens — gazing up at me — but offering no safe direction down. The night was moonless. I picked my way down the hill in the brief, shuddering, moments of the hazy red and yellow circus of lights peppering the sky. It began to rain as I rejoined the crawling celebration in the park.
I pecked my way through the rising wave of people scrambling to seek cover from the wet. Godly thunder rained down on us. I went one way then another. I was turning in circles. I began to cry. Someone picked me up in their arms and I collapsed in dizzy sobs. I heard my mother’s name over a loudspeaker. Rocking. Swaying. Patting. I blinked through the tears. I was in a shack. A shed. A control booth with a view of the proving grounds. We spun around. I was in the air — cast from a hard shoulder — into a soft bosom. I was in the familiar clutch of my mother’s arms.
And there — looking down from over my mother’s shoulder — I saw my cousin pointing up at me and mocking me with laughter. She was sublime, unapologetic and victorious in my humiliation. I felt the familiar bite of betrayal again with the clarity of a canon of color falling like fodder from the smothering sky.