My Complicated Relationship With Fireworks

To many—to most, I suspect—fireworks are a wonder of childhood, an annoyance of pet owners, a fire and injury hazard, or just celebratory and beautiful. They’re all these things to me, plus you can add my appreciation of the more intricate ones as technical achievements. I grew up on Long Island, in NY, where the most intricate fireworks are developed and tested every 4th of July at a public display you could watch from your car in the Jones Beach parking lot, listening to simulcast music that synced with the explosions. We’d see the latest and the greatest effects the year before they’d show up at the big Independence Day fireworks extravaganza in NYC.

But the Grucci fireworks factory on Long Island’s East End was destroyed by an explosion that was investigated by my professional colleagues and friends at the local OSHA office – people I knew from my meetings with the local chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers. A stray spark from someone’s shoes set off an explosion that killed two, and wounded 24.

And then there was the time that fireworks figured into my healing from childhood abuse.

After a particularly bad time when my ex abandoned me and the children, I’d been diagnosed with life-long, chronic depression. The medicines for that, Prozac and eventually Zoloft, gave me a safe platform from which to heal. Once my eighth counselor (eighth!) finally had the brains to see what the other ones missed (that my father drinking a six-pack of beer a night had NOT been normal), I spent several years in Al-Anon’s Adult Child program. I learned what was my fault, what was not my fault, and how to thrive and grow as a person.

What I did not realize, until those fateful fireworks, was that I was rather severely disassociated. I had been watching my life from the outside, not in my own skin and living it. A poem in my chapbook about depression describes that state:


Waiting, breathlessly
Just outside of my life,
I look at the world as I look at my spirit –
From the outside.

I want to be comfortable in relaxing my vigilance
I want to focus on an inner life of serenity

But out of habit, I hover,
Uncertain of the feeling of just living my life
Uncomfortable in this body that was
Never a safe place.

Breath in.
Breathe out.
Calm down.

Get comfortable with living.

So on that fateful night I had taken my grade-school-aged children to a local Town of Islip fireworks display that was being done over Knapp’s Lake. The lake was not large, so the explosions were much closer to the ground than I was used to. Also, we were on foot so it made the displays seem even closer. One went off above us with a triple boom! And… well, then something odd happened to me.

For the first time in my entire life I felt I was experiencing something—body and soul and spirit unified. I was not just watching it as an observer; I was feeling it. I was present in my own body. I was there. Up until that point I had no idea what I had been missing, that I had been so disconnected.

So if a particular firework now and then makes me get a little teary-eyed, forgive me. They were a neon signpost on the road to my healing. It’s just nostalgia. Or maybe it’s just the drifting, rememberance of some gunpowder smoke getting into my eyes.