I am not, generally speaking, the type of person who is prone to nostalgia. When you’ve moved four times by the age of fourteen you learn to discard things easily, to adjust to the reality that life is a process of near constant loss. But still and all there are a few things that make even me feel that pang of bittersweet longing for an era the doors have forever closed on, and the Fourth of July happens to be one of them.
For four years I threw an epic Fourth of July party. I was in my early twenties and I lived in the East Village, on Tenth Street between First and A, in a fifth floor walk up with a slanty living room floor with my best friend from college. We’d been in the apartment for three months when we had the first party – which, to give credit where it’s due, was Rob’s idea, as were many of the genius innovations that truly made the party epic – and it became, in many ways, the defining experience of the four years that I lived there.
The core detail of the party, the thing that really allowed it to launch from a mere party to full blown event status, was that we had a pool. One of those inflatable kiddie pools, maybe 6 by 10 feet, but on a rooftop in the East Village you would take what you could get, and it was pool enough to allow you to lounge in a foot or so of cool water while you drank a beer and watched the fireworks, meaning it was pool enough for me.
The first year we hadn’t quite figured things out, and one of my most significant memories is how we hadn’t really thought about the details of filling the pool. We were on the top floor of the building, just one rickety stairway from the roof, so I guess we’d assumed that filling the pool by bucket wouldn’t be that big a deal. What we hadn’t anticipated was exactly how many buckets it would take to fill a pool like this one: I don’t remember the exact length of time it took to finish the task, but I do remember the vast number of people we committed to the task of running up and down the stairs, from the roof to the bathroom, a brigade of bucket wielders dedicated to making our party happen. In subsequent years we figured out that we could hook a hose up to the shower head and run the hose up to the roof, which made the whole process vastly more efficient; but that first year’s striving and scrappy beginnings gave this party the kind of origin story that all true legends deserve.
The pool became the bedrock of the party, and something of an annual tradition: every year we would go to Kmart, or Target, or some other big box store, to secure a new pool*; that cardboard box sitting in the living room, waiting to be unpacked, gave me the kind of thrill that children feel on Christmas Eve as they eye the wrapped presents beneath the tree.
Though the pool was the defining element of the party, it wasn’t the only thing that made it grand: that first year, yes, all we had was a pool and a grill and liquor and a good crowd of people, but every year after we added more and more. There was music, of course, and eventually a karaoke machine; the year that the World Cup coincided with American Independence Day we brought the TV up to the roof so soccer fans could watch the game as they enjoyed the party; by the final year there was a DJ and decorations and a tent to protect us from the rain that eventually came (yet did not manage to disband our party). Every year we got bigger and more elaborate, our shindig the kind that would make the scrappy few on neighboring roofs seethe with jealousy until we eventually invited them over, figuring the more the merrier.
What I loved about the party was that it was mine: my chance to unwind and do jello shots and encourage libertine behavior in my rooftop pool. What I loved about the party was that it became a defining part of my personality those years we lived in that apartment. There were annual rituals associated with it, like the way we all knew that eventually I would sneak down to my bedroom, drunk and soggy from sitting in the pool all day, to make out with whomever had caught my eye that night; like the way we knew that, even though our view of the fireworks was shitty, everyone would still say at the end of the night that it had been a great party, an epic party, the best party. What I loved about the party was the diverse crowd of people who came to it, who celebrated whatever it is you celebrate on the Fourth of July besides the freedom to wasted in a patriotic bikini, a foam Statue of Liberty crown perched upon your head. What I loved about the party was that it seemed infinite, even as I knew, every year, that the fun would eventually come to an end, definitely on that day and eventually forever.
The last year of the party – which was also the most epic year of the party, the one with a DJ and a tent and streamers that lent the whole affair a lush, tropical look – was in some ways the saddest, because at the time I knew it was probably going to be my last. I had become unhappy with my living situation, the college best friendship grown strained and ill fitting with the realities of adult life, and I knew that I wanted to leave at the end of the lease. But there was still the party: my party, our party, the epic party, which that year was attended by the usual crowd plus my new clique of video bloggers, young upstarts that year who would eventually go on to do great things. I partied that year with the intensity of a reveler who knows that dawn is approaching and the club will soon shut down, savoring each moment all the more because I knew in my heart of hearts that it would be my last.
And, of course, it was. In the seven years since I have never had a Fourth of July like those four, never attempted anything approaching the sheer, unbridled insanity of believing that, yes, you can put a kiddie pool on the roof of a rickety former tenement building and turn that into an unforgettable event. And I doubt I ever will. There’s a type of magic that can’t be recreated, and it’s definitely the sort of magic that comes about when you’re twenty-one and full of possibility and jello shots; the kind of magic that’s best left to memory ten years later, when you’re alone in your office on the Fourth of July, unsure where to watch the fireworks on the year that none of your friends seem to be throwing any parties.
* Every year we tried to save the pool, and every year we failed. One year it made it as far as September, when I dug it up and refilled it for my birthday party, but by the following July it had succumbed to the same fate as the rest of its brethren, and had to be replaced.
I came of age on the internet, along with the internet, in the way a certain segment of the population did—the cohort of us who slipped into legal adulthood around the turn of the millennium (the true millennials, I think sometimes, but that’s neither here nor there), who considered our university email address to be the first one that mattered (because before that there was, what, AOL? That Hotmail address no one messaged you at? To be true I had a Buffnet account that my parents disabled when I set off for Columbia—but that was never a really real email address, not in the way my initials and a number and Columbia.edu were), who came into maturity at the same time that the internet was bursting into a full, glorious bloom.
I started a LiveJournal when I was eighteen, because that’s what you did when you were a certain sort of hipster who wanted to stake a claim for yourself in this brave new world. In the beginning there was no one listening, and in the end there were too many people listening, and somewhere in between—somewhere from eighteen through twenty-six I unleashed a flood of thoughts about sex and love and dating and depression and family and medication and everything that was my life, then.
I don’t remember when, exactly, I started to close up: first it was the process of making things private, accessible only to a small number of people; and then, later, maybe when I started dating someone I actually cared about, I found my voice growing quieter and quieter until it eventually faded into silence. Oh, I am still a member of the chattering classes, but these days the torrent that flows from my mouth obscures more than it reveals; these days I am full of secrets, me, the girl who once prided herself on being an open book.
There is an ending here, or a second segment, but I don’t know what it is, or maybe it’s too personal and private to be shared anymore. There are things I wish I could tell you, internet, but I’m no longer the girl with the LiveJournal, I’m no longer able to store my secrets out in the plain sight of the internet. Maybe—definitely—the internet has changed, maybe—definitely—I’ve changed; but whatever we once had, it’s different now.
I fell for you at sixteen.
I had no solid, reasonable reason for falling in love, but at that age you don’t need one. We’d spent some time together during my trips down from Buffalo for JSA events, and the more I saw you, the more I wanted to be with you. That spring, as I waited to hear back from the colleges I’d applied to, I found myself secretly hoping that of the three Ivies I’d applied to, Brown and Harvard would reject me so that I’d have no reason not to go to Columbia — so that I’d be spared any kind of decision making process and be able to gently land in your arms.
Ultimately the decision came down to NYU and Columbia: no matter where I went, I could rest easy knowing I’d be with you.
If I had to give an explanation for why I fell so hard for you, it’d be something along the lines of this: you made me feel normal. I’d spent sixteen years moving from place to place, dragged around by my nomadic parents, and though I sometimes felt comfortable, sometimes felt tolerated, or tacitly accepted, I never felt like I really belonged. With you, though, it was all so effortless. I could just be me — whatever that meant — and it never seemed to complicate our relationship. Whoever I was, whatever iteration I became, you were there for me all the same — and I loved you just as deeply.
We have been together for fourteen years now, making you my longest running non-family relationship. There’ve been times when I’ve considered leaving — when whoever I was dating swore they’d never commit to a life with you in it, when friends and family had fallings out with you — but it’s never really been serious. And even as the protests against you get louder, as friends protest that your tastes have gotten too expensive, that you’ve abandoned your cool friends, that you’ve buddied up with the i bankers at the expense of everyone else — still and all, I feel grounded in my deeply felt loyalty to you.
I never learned to drive because of you.
I developed an appreciation for the beauty of small spaces because of you.
I justified our relationship because you made me a better person — more eco-friendly, more responsible, more aware of others around me.
And I do not know how to quit you, New York. And if I did, I’m not sure that I could.
Birth-1 year: baby
1-3 years: toddler
4-8 years: child
9-12 years: tweenager
20-21: early twenties
22: mid early twenties
23: late early twenties
24: early mid twenties
25: mid twenties
26: late mid twenties
27: early late twenties
28: mid late twenties
29: late twenties
30+: who cares, you’re old now.