Growing up, I spent summers in Alaska with my dad. He was big on illegal fireworks. As such, we’d really blow the crap out of stuff on the Fourth, midnight sun be damned. Even so, I was surprised when, as I was leaving one summer, he handed me a huge sack of Disneyland-grade rockets saying, “Have some fun with these, but be careful.” Little did I know his caveat would soon echo in my mind like some clichéd echo-voiced auditory haunting. I had no trouble transporting the explosive booty in the pre-9-11 days of innocence back to my rural home in Yakima, Washington.
I had gone home early that year, arriving back on the 5th of July, bored and ready to light up my neighborhood with the swift hammer of incendiary star falls and lotus blossoms. I promptly unpacked and set out to show my neighbors just how the tempting of fate was properly executed.
Setting up on an already charred piece of plywood in the front lawn, I breathed life into the celebratory messenger flares, one after another, launching them in all directions with juvenile glee until my seemingly infinite supply dwindled to nothing. Sure, I had the attention of the hung-over-from-the-Fourth squares who lived in the houses around my Mom’s but who cared? I shot my load and I was ready for bed.
It hadn’t been too long when I heard my visiting Aunt’s voice saying “Does the house across the street look like its on fire?” Alarmed, I got up to see if my heart had a legitimate right to pound as it was beginning to do. Indeed the shingled roof across the way was glowing and licking in the style of flame and my heart began its reaction in earnest.
My step-dad immediately dropped what he was doing and headed across the street, still garbed in his Scout Master uniform (I know. But nothing happened with him and I never joined the scouts.) He repeatedly banged on their door saying “Your house is on fire! Get out!” Flustered by the lack of response, he grabbed their garden hosed, climbed on the fence and began spraying the roof with water. I asked if I could help. He just shouted at me to go back to our house. He may have saved my life. Finally with the flames getting taller a man rushed out yelling and armed with a rifle of some kind. We were all scared shitless. He shouted my step dad off the property and got his family out of the house as the fire engines arrived to extinguish the respectable roof fire that had developed. I was beside myself.
The man’s wife just kept screaming “It’s those damned fireworks! That little sonofabitch set our house on fire!” Solemn in my room, I agreed. I imagined a looming schedule of reparation payments and juvie. I would never get laid or drive a car or move to Seattle and start a grunge band. It was over.
I avoided my neighbors for the next few days, waiting for the fire marshal’s investigation to be completed. Torture.
Finally, a few days later the results came in. Electrical fire. What!? Electrical fire. Like a man on death row with a reprieve, I rejoiced. Laid! Car! Grunge! The world was infinite with possibilities. Although I still repeat stupid mistakes, that may have been the day when I truly understood the importance in learning from them, or at least how fucking good it felt to walk away from such a whopper, unscathed.