The limits of my vocabulary and a really particular flavor of fireworks

There’s a special kind of anxiety laced with wonder and ending in surrender that I associate with both my time here in Cambodia and the DIY fourth of July fireworks in Chicago’s Winnemac Park. It’s pretty cliché to compare any feeling to “fireworks” but I can’t describe it any other way — a really particular flavor of fireworks. You walk through the darkness with rockets popping from all the plates of the baseball diamonds. Homemade. Unpredictable. Light it and run. Spark-flowers bloom and rain down right over your head; bangs and booms; thick smoke tinted pink and green with each new blast; any footstep could send an empty bottle rattling down the path. A breath-long silence feels like a dead hush. You want to run away and never leave all at once, and soon your mind calms, detaches – floating high on that last rocket. Everything looks perfect from far away. Then you slip across the border of the park, and a few blocks later it’s just another night. You’re not sure it really happened though you still hear the blasts.

I don’t know what this hybrid feeling is officially called, but like happiness or anger, it comes in gradations. Small things. The everday. Like one morning I thought I was getting so used to everything until I saw a guy on the back of a motorbike wearing the bottom half of a Mickey Mouse costume holding a Mickey head under one arm and a Minnie head under the other. Or like how I met a monk on a bus and he invited me to the monastery for a tour, but when I got there he took me to his tiny cubicle room decorated with posters like a college dorm and saffron silk robes slung the way I sling my laundry, and he said I was beautiful and he wanted to be the wife of an American. Or like how one otherwise lazy morning with Colin we ran downstairs to chat with a busload of kids wearing things like papier-mâché deer heads, and I befriended a tiny girl wearing long black witch fingernails, just before they performed a beautiful dance in the center of the Vietnamese restaurant; they’d already hit the photocopy shop. Or like the time I woke up on the bare wooden deck of a fishing boat with a shark hook next to my left ankle and (floating high on that last rocket) dropped right back to sleep.

Sometimes every worry, every prediction, leads to the same place — a question mark in the sky, a bang and a dead hush. A few blocks past the border of the park you still smell smoke but sniff the shoulder of your t-shirt and shrug.

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