To most people, Independence Day is probably just your average, apocalyptic popcorn-movie. But I like to joke that this movie has had a big effect on my life — and in a way, it has. I hope you enjoy this story!
The victory celebration lasted all day and into the night. There were speeches, cheers, toasts, even dancing — after all, would there ever be a bigger reason to party than saving the entire planet from destruction? After the alcoholic drinks came out, the festivities became a bit blurred to Steve. He was aware, at one point, of some woman shaking his hand and asking him if he'd begun looking for an agent yet.
"An agent?" asked Jasmine, who was holding his arm.
"Well, after all, you'll be famous now!" the woman said cheerfully. Steve wasn't even sure who she was — one of the president's aides? After his third beer, the smiling faces had all started running together. "This will get you a book deal, and then you can do the talk-show circuit..." Already, Steve was tired of getting so much attention for taking down the mothership. He thought of Jimmy, of Russell Casse, and the idea of getting rich and famous from this made him sick.
His next moment of clarity came much later; it must've been that evening, late, because Dylan was getting tired and cranky. Jasmine left his side for the first time since he and David had returned to the base to put him to bed. President Whitmore led her down a hallway, saying, "I just put my daughter to bed in a quiet bunkroom this way. You can put him in with her. Could you... tell me more about... my wife..." And then his voice faded away.
Steve was sitting at a table with a bottle of beer, briefly alone for the first time all day, when he heard footsteps approaching – the slow, heavy tred of an old man.
"Steve!" came Julius's booming voice. He pulled out a chair and sat down beside him. "You're just the man I was looking for. I never did get a chance to congratulate you."
Steve tried not to look annoyed, but he was tired of congratulations. More people had congratulated him tonight than he could count. It seemed like everyone in the world wanted to shake his hand or make a toast to him, and he'd been thumped on the back so many times that his shoulders were practically numb.
"Yeah, you d—" he started to say, but Julius interrupted.
"No, no, I don't mean about the aliens," he said, waving his hand. "I wanted to congratulate you on going into space with David and not murdering him. Now, don't get me wrong, I love my boy, but that drive from New York to DC with him? Nearly drove me mad. But you went into space with him and stayed sane." He held his own beer bottle out to Steve. "I'll drink to you, if you'll open this for me. I've got this bad wrist..."
"Sure thing," Steve answered. He took the beer bottle from him and snapped the cap off easily. "Arthritis, right?"
But Julius frowned and shook his head. "No, actually. Broke my wrist a few years ago, in a fight with a street gang." Steve grinned, certain that Julius was joking, but the old man nodded earnestly.
"You? In a gang fight?" Steve laughed. "Man, you sure do play around, considering how serious your son is. No offence," he added quickly.
Julius shrugged. "None taken," he said casually. "You just remember none of us would be here if it weren't for my David." Steve had a feeling that Julius would be saying those words for the rest of his life, proclaiming to strangers on the street and everyone he knew, Did you know we'd all be dead now, if it weren't for my David? Soon enough, David would probably get so tired of his father talking about how he'd helped save the world that he would be sorry he'd done it at all.
"But really," Julius added, "I was in a gang fight."
Steve laughed again and shook his head. Did Julius really expect him to fall for this? "Come on, Julius," he said, "you think I was born yesterday? How would an old dude like you end up in a gang fight?"
Julius always had something to say, but now he paused and hesitated before explaining, "Well... it during the Crown Heights riots."
Steve's smile slid right off his face. The Crown Heights riots – he remembered hearing about those on the news a few years ago. They had happened during the summer, of course. Growing up in Los Angeles, Steve had learned the hard way that people were always more aggressive when it was hot outside. He couldn't remember exactly how the riots had started, but he knew that they had ended with violent mobs of black men attacking Jews in Brooklyn. He'd seen photos in the paper of overturned cars, smashed windows, men with dark beards and bruised, bleeding faces. Hadn't one Jewish man even been killed by a black mob?
Steve almost never felt guilty for being black, but he did now. "Damn," he said softly. "You were... in that?"
Julius gave a strange, dry laugh. "Well, I wasn't trying to be. I was just trying to get home from... where had I gone? Ah, I don't remember, but I was walking home, and these boys approached me – just boys, couldn't even have been out of high school... but they had such anger in their eyes. I tried to say, 'Hey, listen, we're both minorities here, right?' But they didn't want to listen. They called me a diamond dealer and... some things I won't repeat. I was lucky to get away from them with just a broken wrist."
Steve wanted to ask how the boys had known that Julius was Jewish, but he didn't. It seemed like a naive question. But still, it wasn't like being black, was it? There was no way that somebody could look at you and just know.
Julius went on, "Those were bad days. Some friends of mine had bricks thrown through their windows. They looked for mezuzahs on the doors." He fell silent, remembering. He'd managed to get away from the gang, shaken and cradling his broken wrist, and into a taxi. For some reason, he couldn't bring himself to go to Interfaith Medical, even though it was closer. Instead, he'd asked the cabbie to take him to Kingsbrook, the Jewish hospital. He'd wanted – needed – to be there, amongst other Jews. They had treated his wrist and wished him refuah shlemah.
"Man," Steve said softly, interrupting his thoughts, "seems so stupid, now, doesn't it? Like we all gotta look for reasons to hate each other." He thinks back to the president's speech, about humanity putting aside their petty differences and working together against a common enemy.
"Well, maybe now, people won't look for reasons anymore," Julius said. "You know, after the riots, David tried to convince me to move out of Brooklyn, but I just couldn't leave it. It was where I lived with my wife."
Neither of them had noticed President Whitmore walking towards their table, but he was close enough to overhear their conversation, and at Julius's words – "It was where I lived with my wife" – he suddenly burst into tears. It was strange to see the president, who always looked so calm and composed in the broadcast TV speeches, crying openly. It was too strange for Steve, who sat there awkwardly as the president buried his face in his hands and wept in full for the first time since his wife died. Julius, though, seemed to know exactly what do. He seemed to understand that now that the battle was over, the time for mourning and healing had begun. He pulled the president down into the empty chair beside him and just let him cry.
"I know," he said softly, rubbing his back, as if he were a little boy and not the leader of the free world. "I know."