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To Be Like Fire
Sitting in my bedroom, I lit a match and watched it burn. I felt the heat of the flame as it approached my fingers, the match disintegrating in its fiery grip. As it drew nearer, it caressed my fingers like a twisted sort of kiss. I was immune to the pain. Fire did not hurt me anymore. I held the match to a piece of paper and watched the flame climb upward, reaching toward the sky.
Oh, how I desired to be like fire, reaching out to heaven, filled with passion and purpose. I envied those traits. At the same time, I longed to be unlike fire. I destroyed everything in my path with reckless abandon. I was a flurry of violence resulting in devastation. If I was predestined to destroy, then I might as well destroy with all the intensity I held within my soul. If I could not create, what else could I do but destroy?
I blew out the match and watched as the paper continued to burn. The sight filled me with a newfound sense of purpose. I slid the box of matches into my pocket, unlocked the door, and left my room. I closed the door silently behind me. I walked down the empty hallway, the white walls lined with emotionless photographs.
I continued walking down the stairs and through our coldly decorated living room. The furniture was dark: gray, hard couches and a coffee table made of glass. There were some more unsmiling photographs on the walls. The decorations in my house could easily be described in one word. Cold.
I went directly to the garage where I found a bottle of gasoline that I had bought for this particular circumstance. It sat on the concrete floor, hidden behind boxes. I knew my parents would never look there. I quickly opened the trunk of my car and put it in. I did not want to be seen if my parents chose that moment to enter the garage. After closing the trunk of my car, I returned inside.
“Mom, I’m going out,” I yelled up the stairs, a ready-made excuse on my lips in case my mom decided to ask where I was going. She did not. She never did, but I never failed to have a plan just in case. In this particular scenario, my excuse was that I was meeting some friends for dinner and then maybe to go see a movie. Since she did not ask, however, my excuse was rather unnecessary.
“Okay, Katie,” my mom replied somewhat distractedly. I had no idea what she was doing. Possibly she was doing some work for her job or possibly she was just talking to her friends. Either way, she was focused on something else.
I took her answer as my opportunity to leave. I left the house quickly, grabbing my keys without slowing my steps. I opened the garage door, got in my car, and turned the keys in the ignition.
I slowly pulled out of the garage, down the driveway, and onto the road. I hit the gas to race down the street, away from my home. I always liked to leave. There was no air in my house. It was much too cold, so empty and yet so full. Being marginally alone is so much harder than being completely alone. Driving down the road, I could finally breathe again. There was something to be said for being alone in a place that was entirely my own. I tended to go on drives alone a lot for just that reason.
It was only seven o’clock, so it was too early to put my plan into action. I drove for a while, contemplating what I should do. I didn’t want to do anything, really, but I couldn’t go home. I didn’t feel like being around a large group people either, even if I was just going to blend into the crowd. That marked out restaurants, malls, and anywhere else populated with people.
I considered going to the park to just sit, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I sometimes went there just to think, to breathe, but seven o’clock on a Saturday night was an odd time to do that, and people were bound to notice me. Honestly, I was really not in the mood to be noticed.
It was then that the idea of going to see Allie came to me. She was my best friend, and I hadn’t seen her since summer break began a few weeks before. It would be nice to talk to her. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket as I continued to drive. I hit Allie’s number on speed dial. The phone began to ring, one ring, two, three…
“Hey, Katie,” Allie said as she answered the phone. Caller ID is a wonderful thing.
“Hey,” I said. There was a moment of awkward silence, as if we were both waiting for the other to say something. “Are you doing anything right now?”
“Nope, nothing in particular,” Allie said. “Why, what’s up?”
“I was just wondering if you might want to hang out for a little bit? I could come up over or something. I haven’t seen you in awhile.”
“Sure, that would be cool,” Allie said. “It has been awhile.” She didn’t say anything about how odd it was for me to call her out of the blue when I hadn’t called her since break started. Then again, she hadn’t called me either. Still, I appreciated that she didn’t mention it because I always hated awkward moments.
“Okay great, is it okay if I come over now?” I asked.
“Yeah,” said Allie, “see you in a few.”
“See you,” I hung up.
I took a breath as I continued driving. Even a simple conversation with my best friend could be hard for me. I wasn’t the biggest fan of phones, and I tried to avoid them whenever possible. Since people couldn’t see my face and I couldn’t see theirs, I was always afraid of saying something wrong. Then there was the fear of awkward silences and having nothing to say. I guess it all came back down to my lack of direction. Cell phones are a rather direct form of communication. When you’re floating, it’s scary to have to hide that when you can’t cover up your words with a smile or a distraction.
As I drove, I watched the street lights blur around me, hiding what lay beyond them. Not even the stars were visible beyond their harsh light. I blinked to clear my vision and turned down the slightly narrower side road that eventually led to Allie’s house.
I arrived, parked my car, and walked up to her porch. Although it was hard to tell in the darkness, her house was a light cream color with black shutters. It was so much more welcoming than mine. Before I even had the chance to ring the doorbell, Allie was there to let me in.
“Hey,” Allie said, smiling, “Nice to talk to you again.”
I smiled back, “Yeah, it really is.”
We went inside to her bedroom. Her walls were painted a pale gray, contrasting greatly with the bright décor of the rest of her room. She had a light wood dresser and a bed covered with a bright red comforter. In the corner were two small, brightly colored chairs.
Ironically enough, Allie had always favored the color red in her decorations. One would have thought that that color would be in my room because of my love of fire. Still, the room suited Allie. It was cheerful without being overbearing.
We sat in the chairs in the corner and spent a little time just catching up. We talked a little about our family and about how we had each spent their summer. It was simply small talk, but there is a difference between small talk between strangers and small talk between friends. The difference showed in our conversation. It had the air of familiarity that somehow differentiates the two types of small talk. It is impossible to assign a specific quality to define the difference, however.
As the night grew later, our conversation slowly grew more personal. It was around this time when I felt the need to ask a question that had been on my mind since the beginning of the conversation. In fact, it had been on my mind for weeks, for months even. It was a question that was always on my mind.
“Have you ever felt lost?” I asked.
There was silence. I did not know what response I had been expecting, but that was not it. I was not expecting just plain silence. I wanted words, meaning, something, anything. Anything would be better than the silence that was steadily building up around us. I could feel it in the air, choking me. It wasn’t the silence of someone formulating a thought, trying to decide what to say. It was the silence of someone who did not understand.
“What do you mean?” asked Allie eventually. To her it probably seemed like only a second had passed, maybe not even that. To me, however, it felt like a year, a lifetime.
I paused, not sure what to say. How do you explain what you mean, when it seems like such a simple idea? ‘Do you ever feel lost?’ I did not know how to put that thought into any other words. Like poetry, some words cannot be simplified without losing their meaning.
What did it mean to me, though, the idea of being lost? It was the feeling of being directionless, without purpose. It was like I was wandering on a path through the woods. The path constantly looped back around and brought me back to the same place. I could take a different path that branched off of the main trail, but somehow I always ended up back where I had started.
Or maybe I was like a boat, floating in the middle of a lake without a way to steer. I might move a little in one direction if she tried hard enough, but soon the water would just push me back to where I began. Either way, I had nowhere to go and no way to get there.
I knew I could not explain this to Allie, however. If Allie did not understand the concept of being lost, she would not understand this either. She was a good friend, and I knew she would try to understand if I tried to explain. There are some things, though, that people just cannot comprehend. Some things have to be experienced in order to be fully understood. So I did not try to explain.
“Oh nothing,” I said. “It’s not important.” I resorted to my usual response and avoided the issue entirely.
Allie let the subject go. Possibly she was subconsciously relieved not to have to discuss something she could not grasp. We went back to small talk, only this time I could feel the distance in our words. I wondered if Allie could sense it, too. Probably not, maybe I was just casting my own feelings on the conversation. I looked over at the clock. It was almost midnight.
“Hey, Allie, I have to go,” I said as one of her stories ended.
“Really? You can stay here over night if you want,” Allie said. She sounded genuine. I guess she really hadn’t noticed the distance in our conversation. Maybe it was just me.
“No, I really do have to go,” I say, and the truth was, I did have to go. I was hoping that talking to her might have changed my mind about what I was going to do, but it hadn’t. If anything, I now felt like I had to follow through with my plan more than I did before. I continued, “It was good talking to you, though. We shouldn’t go this long without seeing each other again.”
It was a bit of a lie, or at the very least a stretch of the truth because talking to her had only reinforced my own feelings of isolation and lack of purpose. That was hardly her fault, though. If it was anyone’s fault, it was my own.
Regardless of my negative emotions, it had still been nice talking to her, especially at first, and I did want to see her again. She was my friend after all, even if there was a certain distance between us. Anyway, that distance was of my own creation. It was hardly a result of a mistake on her part.
“Okay, I’ll see you later then,” said Allie. She waved to me from the doorway as I drove away.
As I got behind the wheel of my car, this time I had a destination. I knew exactly where I was going. I had been planning this for a few weeks, although I didn’t know until this evening that today was the day. I drove down her street and returned to the main road before turning back onto a different side road. After driving for a few miles on this road, I turned again onto an even narrower road. There were fewer buildings here and fewer streetlights.
I kept driving, continuing out of town. The buildings continued to grow further apart. I rolled down my window and breathed in the cool night air. As I continued to drive, the streetlights grew dimmer and further apart. The lights that remained had a tendency to flicker against the night sky. As the sky grew darker from the lack of light, I could again see the stars. Being able to see the stars wasn’t enough for me, however. I needed to have a goal.
Looking out my window, I recognized the scenery. I was almost to my destination. Within a few minutes, I saw the building that I was looking for. I pulled in to the parking lot in front of it. It was really more of a dirt patch than an actual parking lot.
The building itself used to be a grocery store, but now it lay empty, abandoned. It was old and deteriorating. The structure was damaged, and the windows were broken in. It was perfect; it would get more oxygen that way.
I got out of the car and looked around to make sure that there was no one there. No one was. I then pulled out a flashlight to peak inside the store. As I shined the light inside a window, I saw that there was nothing inside the building but dust, some shelves, and a few broken jars. Good, it was completely empty. I had to make sure; I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.
My examination of the building was complete, so I returned to my car. I pulled the gasoline out of the trunk. I had to work fast. I quickly poured the gasoline on the building, drenching it. The wooden structure was perfect to absorb the liquid.
The smell of gasoline filled the air, the only visible sign so far of what I was about to do. The signs would become a lot more evident soon enough. I threw the empty container back into the trunk and closed it. Then, I pulled the matches out of my pocket.
I approached the building slightly, although I did not go too close. I really was not in the mood to get burned, in the physically sense anyway. I quickly struck the match on the package and saw it burst into flame. The match was beautiful as it lit up the night. Still, it was nothing compared to the beauty that was to come. As the match burned down toward my fingers, I approached the building and tossed the match toward it.
A burst of fire lit up the night as the flame met the gasoline. For good measure, I lit another match and threw it at the building as well. The flame grew bigger, brighter, as it swallowed the building.
I returned again to my feeling of envy for the fire. It had a purpose. It was filled with passion as it hungrily destroyed the building. It was a passion for destruction, but still, it was passion. What it accomplished, it accomplished fully. It had a goal. It was beautiful. It was free.
My goal at the moment was quite similar to the fire. My goal was to destroy. I wasn’t the one doing the destroying, however, I was just creating the medium for the purpose. The fire was what had the true control in this situation, not me. Was the fire the tool or was I? My goal, after all, wasn’t really to burn. My goal was simply to find a goal, and this was the only goal I could find at the moment.
Maybe I didn’t really want to be like fire, maybe I really didn’t want to be the one to destroy, but this was all that I had. What else was there for me to do? I had tried to be the one to create before, but I had never been successful. Destruction was the only thing I was good for. I needed a path and this was the only one I could find.
As Allie had reminded me, some people don’t understand just what it means to be lost. I did understand, however. In fact, I was the very definition of lost. All I wanted was to find a path that actually led somewhere. The path I was trapped on led nowhere, and I just wanted to break free of it. I had realized, however, that that was impossible. Instead, I just had to keep living and hoping that I would find some form of direction.
I wanted to be like fire, but the truth was, I wasn’t fire. I was human. I was passionless, directionless, wonder-less, useless. I was not beautiful, I did not glow. The only trait we shared was a tendency toward destruction. That was the one trait that I could truthfully say I carried within me. Maybe that explained my love of fire. It had my main negative trait, but it also had all the traits that I wish I had but did not.
As I watched the flames climb the building, I felt guilt twist in my stomach. Unlike fire, I did not have to destroy. I chose to. I forced myself to swallow the feeling of guilt, however. I knew that regardless of how I felt, I would do this again. This was not the first thing I had burned, and it would hardly be the last. At least I always chose abandoned buildings. I did not cause too much harm.
I did not have to destroy, but it still felt like I always would. Everything I touched had a tendency to fall apart. I might as well destroy something that I had control over. I might as well find passion in the one thing I had. Destruction. That was the reason I burned things. Passion, meaning, direction, destruction. I had so many reasons to burn things down and so few reasons not to.
I felt the warmth from the fire as the glow lit up the night like a spotlight. I knew it was time for me to leave. I couldn’t wait for the flame to burn out. The fire department would eventually come, and even if I was not at the fire, it would look suspicious if I was nearby.
I should not be here. These roads were quiet during the day and nearly abandoned at night. If I were seen, I would be immediately connected with the fire. It was enough of risk that I had stayed here this long. I watched the flame swallow the empty building before I turned around. I walked away without a backward glance.
I knew that one day this would all catch up with me. One day, I would be caught, most likely while I held a match in my hand. That day was not today, however. The smell of gasoline and ashes followed me as I walked away. Smoke filled the air, and the building continued to burn.