Where He Belongs

Independence Day

I've never quite known what to make of this day, this celebration of the nation's independence. On the one hand, there's a party, time off for most of us, and a magnificent fireworks display we get to watch from the roof of our West Side dormitory. It's one of the few nights a year the InfoGlobe slaves can drink—can get drunk, even, but don't expect an ounce of sympathy for hangovers in the morning—can dance and sing and gorge ourselves on barbecue and just... relax. On the other hand, we're slaves, and 'independence' is just another empty word. It doesn't really apply to us.

I think too much, I know. Nobody else looks sad tonight. Nobody else looks introspective. Yet, as I stare out over the sparkling lights of Midtown, I can't help but wonder how different my life would really be if the British still ruled the colonies. The beer in my hand would be warm, perhaps, but I'd still be a slave, still be doing someone else's work and calling someone else master. All our vaunted democracy, our taxation with representation, means nothing to me. Nothing at all. I can't vote. I can't even testify in court without a judiciary waiver. After all, I don't pay taxes. I'm nothing to the IRS but a corporate write-off, a dependant.

I wonder if the slaves in England are tax deductible, too.

I take a swig of my beer and lean out over the lip of the roof. It's a long, long way down to the pavement. If I had my way, I'd be watching the fireworks from the South Street Seaport tonight, one tiny speck among the noise and the heat and the crowd, elbowing for a spot with a view on the overpass while I drank my beer.

No... if I really had my way, I'd be watching the fireworks with Victor, curled up somewhere quiet and alone, not worried about how late we stay out or how drunk we get or where we have to be tomorrow or who catches us making love. But Victor is gone, taken I-don't-know-where, and I need to find a way to let go of him because he's never coming back, and wishing after what you can't have will only get you beaten.

Fifteen floors below, couples walk by hand in hand, laughing and kissing and pointing up at the shows in the sky. There are no bracelets around their wrists. Celebration comes easy to them.

I dangle my half-empty beer bottle over the edge and wonder what would happen if I dropped it on their heads. But I'm not a cruel person, and I know, deep down, that I could never do such a thing. I couldn't even go to jail for it; slaves aren't independent enough to serve time for their crimes. No, InfoGlobe would be fined, almost certainly sued. And me? Beaten to within an inch of my life, I bet. Maybe even put down, if I hurt them badly enough. And if it were me instead of some bottle going splat on the pavement? Would anyone miss me? Or would I just be some negative number on a balance sheet somewhere, one less disposable reporter to send into danger zones for a story? I turn away from the edge with a disgusted grunt, finish my beer in one long gulp, and toss the bottle in the recycling before I get any more ideas.

Behind me, the fireworks grow more intense. Last year, I watched them with Victor. We snuck off into some dark corner and necked for an hour before the show began while everyone else was busy getting trashed and stuffing themselves full of hotdogs. Fuck, I miss him. I hope he's all right. Why won't they tell me where they sent him? It's not like I could go after him, like any of us could go anywhere they didn't want us to. I just want to know. Don't I have that right, at least?

But no, no, of course I don't. And I never will. And I'd best get used to that sooner rather than later, because wishing for things you can't have... But it's more complicated than that, isn't it? It's not just about them. No, it's about me. It's about finding my own small measure of independence. Independence from want, independence from fear, independence from unhappiness. It might start out a lie at first, but eventually it wouldn't be. Eventually, I'd fool even myself.

The finale has begun, and I turn back to the fireworks, grab another beer off the table, and smile at a supervisor who eyes me like the expensive piece of property I am. My grin feels fake, but it won't always be, not if I keep doing it long enough. I turn my eyes skyward and chase the image of Victor from my head with another long swig of beer. Happy fucking Fourth of July, I think, toasting the city with my bitter drink. Happy Independence Day.