He almost had them one night.
“I was two houses away in either direction, and then they stopped. It’s like they knew I was coming.”
This is his first summer without his wife. She passed away last year right around Labor Day, and the two of them always enjoyed summers together. They’d be at the beach almost every day — her with a paperback and him lying on his back, refusing to put on sunscreen.
“You can’t get a good night’s sleep.”
He hasn’t been to the beach this summer. He hasn’t done a lot of things he used to do with his wife since she’s been gone. Instead, he’s been chasing fireworks.
“It started before Memorial Day. I live around all these other houses. Where are they setting them off? Nowhere safe. You can’t be doing it anywhere safe, and these are big fireworks. These are the kind they have the professionals set off, and they’re going off in neighborhoods all night long and it’s been going on for months.”
He can’t sleep. He’s never been a heavy sleeper, but without his wife next to him, he finds that the littlest thing can wake him up. Hours of fireworks every night meant that he wasn’t getting to sleep until nearly dawn, and he found his patterns changing. Suddenly he was nocturnal, and since he was up, he decided to do some detective work.
“The police are useless, but you already know that. I told them what was going on and they told me they couldn’t find the source of where the fireworks were coming from. I told them they should drive around and do some police work, and they didn’t like hearing that. I got in my car and I did their job for them, but some nights there were fireworks coming in all these different directions and it got to be too much.”
His wife used to tease him for being nosey. He was always the one looking out the windows at the neighbors and speculating on why somebody’s blinds were closed in the middle of the day or why the guy next door was digging a hole in his yard early in the morning. (It turned out they were living near a night shift nurse and the man digging the hole was doing some kind of check on the water level.) It didn’t satisfy his curiosity when it came to odd behavior, and nothing seems odder than setting off colorful bombs in the middle of Providence on a non-holiday weeknight.
“I wasn’t planning on being out every night, but it makes you so mad listening to people who have no respect for those of us who want peace and quiet. What about veterans? My brother’s a veteran and he’s sleeping in his basement now, because he can’t hear them so much down there.”
His wife left behind their two kids and a dog. A small dog. Part terrier, part mutt. It goes wild whenever the sparklers light the sky.
“Her name’s Josie. Josie used to go out of her mind every July 4th and my wife would hold her and calm her down. Now I have to do it. I’m a 73-year-old man cradling this little dog like it’s a baby and she’s whimpering the whole time. Now I put her in the downstairs closet in my office where she wasn’t allowed to go before, but I put her dog bed in there, and if I close the door — I make it nice and comfortable, she loves it in there, it’s a big closet — and you can’t hear anything in there. She likes it, and I take her out when they stop, and then she comes upstairs and sleeps at the foot of the bed. I didn’t let her do that before either, but she misses my wife, so I let her do what she wants.”
When asked whether he thinks the fireworks are a government plot to wear down protestors or just the result of suppliers pawning off their wares to the general population now that there aren’t any official fireworks displays in most parts of the country, he shrugs it all off with a–
“I don’t give a flying f____ what it is. I just want it to stop.”
Now, it’s the day after the 4th, and I call him to ask if it’s been any better tonight. He tells me he only heard one small bang, and after that nothing. He didn’t bother getting in his car and doing his rounds. Tonight, he stayed at home, watched a movie, and made himself dinner. Meanwhile, outside, it’s quiet.
“I’m not sure what to do now. Can’t go to the beach. Can’t go anywhere. I might go out driving after I get off the phone with you. I don’t know where I’ll go, but I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve been driving all around, and you get in the habit of going down the same streets and driving by the same houses. You feel like you’re keeping an eye on things.”
I asked him if he ever saw the fireworks while he was driving around.
“Oh yeah, I saw a lot. They’re nice to look at. They make too much noise, but they’re nice to look at it. One night there were so many going off, I stopped the car and I just watched. I was pissed off at how loud it was, but I liked looking up at it. To think of all those people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing setting off all of that, all by themselves. I must have sat there and watched for 20 minutes and then I went home. You could hear it even after you couldn’t see it anymore. That was the thing. Some nights it was all over the sky, and some nights you couldn’t see a damn thing. But you could always hear it.”
Over the phone, Josie the dog starts barking, and he tells me he better get her some dinner or she’ll wake the neighbors.
Something tells me that, lately, it would take a lot more than that.