Occasionally, we hung out with a kid from another frat. I'll call him 'Dean' (to protect myself)...I think he was older age-wise, but was an academic year behind me (at some point this is debatable since I spent five years - including summer sessions - working on my BA). I couldn't quite figure him out...he was clean cut, martial artsy, but had dark eyes that told a different story. It was strange for a freshman to be an RA, but he didn't let that get in the way of a good time. He looked the other way when necessary. I met up with Dean after a less-than-thrilling July 4th BBQ meal in the campus dining hall. We, along with one other friend, smoked cigarettes in Trautmann Square (affectionately called Tiananmen Square) for what seemed like hours. Before I could light another, I cracked open the foil on a box of wine (classy) and followed Dean to the freshman dorm. He possessed keys to all the 'no' areas in the fourteen story building, including the roof access. We climbed the access stairs to a locked door labeled 'ROOF ACCESS'. I intently watched Dean unhook a mess of keys from his belt loop and flip through a number of multi-colored keys until he found the correct one. As he pushed the door open the setting sun blinded us momentarily. Our eyes adjusted to the light. I continued to follow Dean around a concrete wall until we arrived at the base of rusted metal stairs - he, leading the way; I, carrying the wine. I gripped the flimsy banister as if it was the last thing I would do in life. The flight opened up to an edgeless concrete platform. We found homes for our rears and planted ourselves. I lit another cigarette and took a long drag. As I slowly exhaled, I focused on the horizon's landscape slowly appearing as the smoke dissipated. We could see for miles. Then, dusk fell. We sat in silence - smoking cigarettes, drinking wine. Without warning, the sky illuminated in the distant left, then the right, then straight ahead. Fireworks from all corners of NYC sprayed colored brilliance across the night. We didn't speak.
Every 4th I recall the story. This time around, fifteen years later, we vacationed in OBX for the holiday. I knew there would be firework displays. Our house, situated in a small cul-de-sac off a private beach access, offered multiple decks to view the ocean and inland sides. Three sliding doors on the third level opened to two decks and a screened in porch, respectively. The middle deck was split by a flight of stairs to the ship watch. With nervous legs I wobbled up, gripping the banister with sweaty hands. Making sure to stay away from the side rails, I walked across the platform taking in the panoramic view. I could see for miles. When dusk fell, the housemates situated themselves in preparation for the show. Fireworks launched as close as the next house and both far away north and south. As the distant colors moved in what seemed like slow motion, a smile fell over my lips. I never thought that I'd be able to experience a moment like this again. The difference here is that I shared it with friends and family...better than Dean (who the hell knows what happened to him), a faceless friend and a box of crappy wine. Made for a great story though.
*my girls never fail to let me down. The foreign students were called ELS, English Language Students.
Photo: Brad Kayal