While she was not a Shakespearean scholar, my grandmother—who was an avid reader and one of the few mortals I’ve known deserving of canonization—was fond of using a title of one of The Bard’s plays for its idiomatic wisdom.
“All’s well that ends well,” my grandmother would say at the resolution of any issue, ranging from a brush fire to an inferno.
Speaking of blazing heat, I’ve documented—in this column—an ordeal where I was struck by a firework while hosting a small Fourth of July gathering in my backyard last summer. A friend was lighting off some fireworks—I’m well aware they’re illegal in the Manchester city limits—while I was sipping a beer, my head turned to watch the baseball game on the porch television.
All of a sudden, the cake of fireworks tipped over, and I caught a whirring, whistling blur in my periphery heading toward me. Instinctively, I lifted my arm and covered my head, and the rocket struck my ribs, igniting my Nirvana T-shirt.
Aflame, I leapt from my patio chair and frantically pulled the burning shirt off my body, in shock and not yet realizing how close the firework came to striking me in the head.
The resulting damage was first- and second-degree burns on my chest and left arm and some bruised ribs. I gritted through three days of agony before finally going to Urgent Care where the doctor examining my burns looked at me, slightly incredulous.
“That firework got you good. You’re lucky you weren’t killed,” he said, then wrote me a script for Codeine.
The next week I spent on the couch, popping the pain pills—which I actually needed, for once—binge-watching “Ozark,” lusting over Laura Linney, and thinking a lot about mortality and its fragility, how life and death are less than a second apart.
The burns eventually healed, leaving minimal scarring on my upper arm, and life proceeded in its inexorable march forward. School started again, and I forgot about the existential stuff for a while.
Then last weekend, I was at a belated Christmas party with family and friends. My wife and her sisters had arranged a Secret Santa exchange, which I would put right up there with having my nipples impaled in terms of its enjoyment value, and—I believe in Murphy’s Law—I was the first person chosen to open their gift. I had my head turned to watch the football game on the living room television.
All of a sudden, a gift box was passed across the room, a whirring, whistling blur in my periphery, heading toward me. Instinctively, I opened the box and inside there was an envelope on top of a folded T-shirt that read, “Read Aloud.”
I tore open the envelope and read the following poem to the room:
I shot you with a firework.
You lit up like a flame.
You didn’t see it coming,
You were focused on the game.
I shot you with a firework.
It burnt your favorite shirt.
This year on Independence Day,
Make sure you don’t get hurt.
Everyone laughed as I finished reading then I dug the shirt out of the box and held it open. It was a replica of the Nirvana T-shirt that was destroyed by the firework last July. Across the room, my friend was grinning. I thanked my Secret Santa and flashed him a quick thumbs up.
“No fireworks this year,” I said.
“Fair enough,” he said and raised his beer.
And from a distant corner of the room, I could hear my grandmother’s ghostly laugh, an infectious wood-cutting cackle. “All’s well that ends well,” she said.