On the fourth of July, circa 2010, I found myself in NYC with two enviable commodities: my best friend from childhood, also one of Manhattan’s most sought-after bachelors, and dinner reservations at Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village. On the opposite end of cool, there I was, in last season’s wardrobe, and buried under a four year relationship which had soured years earlier; but I played victim to the force of routine – the crippling effect of obligation. I hadn’t eaten a burger in those four years since my boyfriend was highly health-conscious, and eating one felt like a version of cheating. Needless to say, I was rail thin; even my doctor advised, “Send yourself to bed with a bowl of ice cream, Ms. Shinn.”
As we were sitting down to dinner, my phone rang. It was the obligation, and I slipped outside to take the phone call. It was that hour when the sky clicks from a deep navy to a velvet midnight. I was numbly listening to the other end of the line, when suddenly the entirety of Manhattan’s skyline ignited in a magnificent array of emerald and amber fireworks. Ah, July 4th! I had forgotten. And I threw my head back, marveling at the sprawling chandeliers. In that moment I was struck with the meaning behind “Independence Day.” Imagine that, I thought. Men died fighting for liberty. Why couldn’t I too fight for mine? I didn’t even need a bayonet, or strategy, or an army. I only needed a bit of courage.
I don’t remember ending the phone call, but I do remember watching the rest of the firework show, agape at the universe and all of its possibilities. Then I walked back into Minetta Tavern and ordered the black label burger. My start to Paul Revere’s journey. It tasted like freedom.
The very next day I departed NYC, flew back to L.A., and walked out of my boyfriend’s life.
I moved into my own apartment, and as months passed every act became a tiny fete of my independence. Learning how to find a stud in the wall. The first dinner party I hosted solo. The first time I poured myself a finger of single malt scotch. Building my own headboard. The first time I had a man sleep in my bed. And, of course, every burger I ate.
I’ve come to take independence day as a holiday that honors the self. I celebrate it because I don’t have a baby. Or a boyfriend. Or anyone else I have to notify should I decided to skip town for the day. I celebrate because I return to a home where every fork, book, and chair belongs entirely to me. I celebrate because I pay my own rent, and wash my own clothes. Because I’ve built a life where I can grill my own dry rub ribs, and eat it too.
So figure out how you define your independence, my friends. And celebrate that you’re enough, as is. Eat a burger if you want to. Kiss your neighbor if you want to. Leave the city, or stay. Get toasted. Sleep all day. Do whatever you want, because a long time ago many men lost their lives so you could have this freedom. It’s your right, after all, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.