Originally published in The Weekly Knob
Fires are cathartic to watch. Tell me you’ve sat around a campfire and didn’t get lost staring at the flames, I dare you. In the moment, fire is infinite; it transcends time, in a way. It’s essential for life, but it’s overlooked these days because the modern man no longer considers it an option, opting instead for the electric flow. But you can’t electrocute history. You can’t shock a memory. They’re called torch songs for a reason: fire can do it. It’s a beautiful parasite, eating its host until the host dies but not before it clings to another host. I am forever lost staring at fire.
Before I spontaneously transform into a poet, it helped me get through a hard time in my life; fire, that is. When Victoria broke up with me, I was torn. I was an unending knot of misery bound by the chains of memory to her. It hurt. I cried. I’m not afraid to admit it, I cried hard. I cried a lot. But like a phoenix, I rose from the ashes of that period in my life. It was a stupid summer romance; we were sixteen but at the time it was the hardest thing I’d ever faced at that point in my young life. We met at this community cookout in May. All the families in the neighbourhood get their barbecues together and the dads drink light beer and yell about sports, and the moms drink wine and talk about how much they hate Karen in number nine or something, and the kids, we just hang out, play catch in the park, play tag, hide and seek, and all that. At night, there’s fireworks and then we go home.
That’s where I met Victoria. She moved into the neighbourhood in May from across town. She would be going to my school in September. So we met at the cookout about two weeks after she moved in and it was very clear that we had chemistry. I was sitting on one of the picnic benches watching my dad and the other dads talk about baseball (“No way the Rays are gonna go anywhere this year, Paul, I tell ya they got that new DH in there that swings like a broken barn door”) — I had also managed to sneak a beer away from them. She came over to me and sat down. I hadn’t had much experience with girls but I’d had half a Miller Lite and thought I was the king of the world, so I struck up a conversation. She wanted a beer so I went up to the coolers by the dads and just grabbed one for her. They didn’t even notice! We talked all night about our lives and what we wanted. We even missed the fireworks because we totally were making out under this big tree in the park.
She kind of became my girlfriend after that. She was gorgeous. She had dark brown hair and blue eyes, this beautiful smile that could light the whole room up and her laugh! She loved to laugh, and I loved hearing it so I would try to make her laugh all the time. I felt great around her. It didn’t even bother me when she hung around the older guys in the neighbourhood. I mean, she was really pretty and I didn’t want to hog her to myself all the time, except when she was with me. I gave her my full attention always and, y’know, I kind of wanted the same from her. I don’t think she minded when I got her to turn her phone to silent whenever I was around. Plus, she introduced me to the other older guys she knew. They were so cool, they had this “I’m so cool, I can’t even hear you” attitude. I hope I’ll be that cool when I’m older.
We did all sorts of things together. On the first day of summer, we carved our names into the tree that we made out under the day we met. When the carnival came to town, I won her a teddy bear that I named Fuzz, and she won me one that I named Fluff. We went to the photo booth in the mall and got ourselves some pictures, we made each other mix CDs (somehow hers were always better than mine). And she always wrote me letters. Real letters. Who in the digital age does that? I don’t know much about love but I could’ve sworn I was in it.
At least, I was until the end of summer. It was a week before we went back to school, and she was going to be going to my school this year. She started acting distant around the middle of the month. She wouldn’t answer her texts for hours and then always reply with a “Sorry for the late reply” type of response. I didn’t know what she was up to, because whenever I’d ride my bike by her house to see if she was there, I’d always see her moving around in her room. I even asked her parents if she could come out one time and they said she wasn’t there, even after I saw her in her room! I don’t know what she was up to but she wasn’t acting the way I’d wanted, or expected. After a while, I just gave up. She wouldn’t answer her phone, or her emails and the IM would always say she saw the messages but she never replied. I don’t know what I could have done wrong. All I wanted was to be happy with her and she ruined that for me. She was all I thought about and that used to be a blessing but it became a curse.
On the last day of summer, after trying to ask her what was wrong, after trying to make her stop avoiding me (I even waited outside her house one day, like in the movies) I decided it was over. I sent her one last message, and then I went out to the park where we met with a box of all our memories: the CDs, the teddy bear, the pictures, the letters, and set it on fire. It was hard at first, to let it go, but I had to move on from what she had done to me. I read somewhere that burning your ex’s memories helps with the pain, so I brought along a book of matches from a motel I stayed at in Maine, and dropped them in. One after another, until that whole box was on fire. I almost had second thoughts, but the heat of the flame melted my frozen, broken heart and made it better.