Birth by Fire

Alex sent it by text. Who does that? Who breaks up with his girlfriend by text message? He sent it at 4:03 AM when I was sound asleep dreaming of graduating school and moving in with him to an apartment downtown. We planned to work while going to college together. Goddammit, fuck shit! He used to lay in bed with me while I talked about having his children one day. I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror so often, naked, hand to my belly, picturing it grow. Why would he have let me say those words and tell me how amazing it sounded? I just don’t get it. Why would he lie to me? And now, I am lying in bed sobbing into a pillow, hoping no one hears. Wait, who am I kidding? No one’s listening.

My mom is on the phone, chain smoking, already on her second drink, desperately trying to get her friends to invest in some fucking stupid beauty product business opportunity. All fucking day she talks about how when she gets her business up and running she’s going to buy a new house and leave her husband, my worthless stepfather. She’s been talking about this for eight fucking months and so far not one other sucker has bought in. And if by some miracle she hears me crying I highly doubt she’ll come in and put her hand on my back and say, “Shhhh, baby. I know it hurts. It’s OK. Let it out.” If anything she’d probably tell me I fucked up. Tell me that I need to find a way to get him back. She was always talking about how good looking Alex is. I wouldn’t be surprised if she tries to fuck him.

I used to have a sister. Where the fuck is she? I love that girl but how could she leave me, too. I mean, she left this hell-hold at sixteen for some asshole with the word “love” tattooed on one hand across his knuckles and the word “peace” on the other, except he spelled it “peec,” for Christ’s sake. She left me for him to go sell coke in some shithole bar? So she can strip in some stupid town outside Kansas City, where truckers go when they need a shower and a blow job. She left me for that life? Fuck her. And my dad… Well, my dad… fuck him, too. I hope that fucking pedophile rots in prison.

I can’t do this anymore. I have called him over 50 times today and my cellphone battery’s about to die. I keep checking to see if there is an “…” and then I find myself just sitting there staring at it, hoping for the ellipsis to appear. When it doesn’t I burry my face back into the pillow sobbing again. I’m not some stupid child who doesn’t know every girl has a heartbreak story. Alex and I were different. Everyone always noticed how mature I am. Everyone always talked about how we were the perfect couple, and he is so fucking good looking. I know that isn’t important but he could have been on the cover of people one day. We talked about moving to a bigger city so he could try to work as a model. And not like, LA or New York because we’re both small town kids at heart. We wanted to move to Seattle or Austin, smoke weed, have fun, and just love one another. Can you fucking hear me! I said LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Who breaks up with someone over text? Why can’t he just say it to my face? If he had ever loved me he would have been a man about it. Maybe, he never loved me?

 

Not enough left in my body to cry another tear, I sit on the floor of my bedroom with everything that reminds me of Alex spread out around me. Spotify is blasting from my laptop, listening to “Mad World,” by Gary Jules. I saved receipts from every time we went out to eat, even McDonalds and Taco Bell. That’s why I always insisted on paying. Those are off to my right, in neat little piles by date, one for each month we were together. There are nineteen stacks. The shortest one’s from February because it’s only February 6th. Next to the receipts are all the notes and letters we’d written one another. Originally, I sat down to go through them but I don’t see the point. They’re all lies. Not one fucking word of truth in them. Thousands of words on over a hundred pieces of paper and not one word of them is true. Well, maybe the words where he talked about how he wanted me to suck his dick, or he wanted to try anal, or he was hungry and wanted to get food after school. And I am really fucking sure the one where he suggested a threesome with Ally was absolute truth. I can’t believe I did that for him. Just thinking about it now, his hands on her breasts as they kissed. I mean, I put on a strong face and told him it didn’t hurt. I told him it was fun and I was glad it happened. It started out so perfect. The three of us kissing together. Our hands all over one another. And then slowly, and noticeably, his hands were off my body and on hers.

Next to the notes were a stack of photos. I could’ve kept them all on my phone but having them printed out made them like all the old family photos I have. The ones of my sister and I growing up, playing as I chased her around the yard. I can almost hear my little girl voice pleading, “Play with me, Brit! Play with me!” She was so tough and smart. Nothing ever seemed to get to her. Our parents would scream at one another and she sat there with her headphones on drawing in her sketch book. This was before the pedophile was out of our lives. There are no more pictures in this house of him.

Then there is the credit card key for a hotel room we stayed in prom night. Some of his hair I found on my clothes including a hair from my shirt after the first night we kissed. All of them secured in a little plastic bag. Dried rose petals I laid out on my bed for him on Valentine’s Day. Movie tickets, a shirt I stole from his hamper, and then there is probably the oddest thing of all. I’m not crazy. I just don’t think people would get it. I don’t think it’s weird or anything. People don’t know how much Alex means to me. All I’m saying is, it may seem strange but it isn’t. It’s really kind of normal.

It started after the first time we had sex. He sneaked over here and we made love. Like, real intimate and passionate love where he kissed me and was so tender. He wasn’t my first. There had been others, welcomed and unwelcomed. And maybe I loved them. It felt like it at the time. But with Alex I knew it was different. I cried when I came. We were doing it doggy so he didn’t see. I never told him because I didn’t want to freak him out, but I was actually feeling tears stream down my face as he moved in and out of me. So, when I watched him throw away the condom, knowing that a part of him was in it, I couldn’t just let it go. Don’t you understand? How could I let it end up in landfill? It was him in that condom, in the trash. While getting dressed he even told me to keep it. He wanted me to save it because he said, “Make sure no one finds that, babe.” Why would he have said that if he didn’t want me to save it and hide it away? It wasn’t easy for me. Once I had to walk four miles round trip in the middle of the night to get the condom he dropped out the window behind a grocery store. Or the time I went through his trash at 3 AM to get one from his house. The only time I didn’t save that part of him was the time he came inside a condom inside Ally. That condom I flushed down the toilet.

 

It’s 1 AM, and after smoking a few bowl hits I lay in a bath. My keepsakes are in a large box on the floor next to the tub. Alex is probably off drinking with his friends and making out with some stupid slut. I can hear him saying “I totally played her,” and everyone chuckles as he crushes a beer can against his truck. He probably hasn’t thought about me all day. Once word spreads every girl in the county will be texting him and messaging him on Facebook. I wouldn’t be surprised if I lost half my friends. How can I go to school tomorrow? I already feel everyone’s eyes on me, whispering, “Look, there’s the pathetic loser, now.”

Two razor blades and a X-Acto knife rest on the eggshell colored porcelain edge of the tub. Spotify blasts Jeff Buckley’s, “Hallelujah,” and fuck me, his words… I was wrong about being out of tears. I could probably turn them off if I turn the music off, but deep down I’ve always known this would happen. When we went too long without speaking I called him crying, asking what I did wrong. When I saw him talking to other girls I crossed my arms and tried to ignore him. I never won that game. “I’m not beautiful, but I’m not hideous,” I say, looking down at my body, turning red from the scalding hot water. I mean, I’m not a fatty. What did I do wrong? Maybe I need to be skinnier. If I lost five pounds maybe Alex would want me back. Maybe he and Ally were fucking behind my back. Ally has a better body than me. I think our tits are the same but she kind of has an overbite. I wish I had Ally’s body.

I dunk under the water and let my hair fall back behind my head and for a moment I feel reborn, my cheeks, nose, chin, eyelids and forehead all sting from the droplets rolling down my face. It was as if I had walked through a wall of fire, and though it was fleeting, my chemistry reacted: metal rusting; food metabolizing; wood combusting to ashes.

The battery on my phone has long since died and I don’t even care to plug it in. He isn’t going to message me. He isn’t crawling back. I have to accept he never loved me. He tricked me, used me, and left me. It was all a huge game. How could he have touched me the way he did? He was so gentle with his hand on the back of my head when I went down on him. Others forced me and made me gag. Not Alex. He guided me. Sometimes he laid in bed after we made love, on his phone checking status updates. Unable to stop looking at him, it got too intense sometimes, which is OK. He’s a boy and boys don’t know their emotions like a girl does. So when he asked, “What are you looking at?” And I responded, “You, silly. I can’t get enough of looking at you.” It made me smile when he groaned and rolled his eyes. Fuck me, how could I have been so dumb?

Too much tension makes me feel like an old woman with a walker, so I slip my hand between my legs, moving my fingers to my clit. Alex and I are kissing on the beach and then flash to us having a quickie in his car. And his eyes; every time I picture them I want to feel his lips on my lips. The problem is I can’t keep those thoughts for long. Flashes to ripping the flesh off his stupid lying face and pushing his eyes in with my fingers. I still love him, but my rage lies about me like scrapes of newspaper next to old paint thinner. All I need is one spark. Even if I convince my brain to lose the rage I feel my empty churning stomach is ready to erupt. Halfheartedly, I try going back to the time in the hotel room when he helped me remove my prom dress, thinking how it felt when he touched me. I hear the words, “I’ll only ever want you. I promise.” Then, I imagine his car going off a ledge into an ocean, beating on a window as he sinks, water rushing in, his lungs fill with water and finally drowning.

 

Getting out of the tub I look at my naked self in the mirror, blood trickling down my legs from a fresh batch of cuts on top of old scars. I reach for my bowl and put it to my lips, taking a deep lung-expanding inhale. The flame singes the light green bud as it glows orange. Holding my thumb down on the lighter, staring at the fire, I exhale a plume of smoke that fills the bathroom. It’s really kind of pretty when you think about it. How orange and red it is. How powerful it is. I mean, fire burns down forests in days, has destroyed cities, can give life and nourishment and warmth. My thumb goes numb from a lack of blood, the heat blistering my skin. I keep gazing into the flame much the same way I used to gaze at Alex in bed.

I also used to watch the pedophile make fires in the fireplace. We listened to the wood crackle while the flame crept along the dry bark. He held my hand and as it grew squeezed tighter. “It’s beautiful, daddy.”

“So are you, sweetie. Can you feel the wind coming from the flame? The energy being released?” Though I didn’t answer him, I could.

Reaching into my box of Alex, I pull out one of our old notes. Holding the lighter an inch away from the bottom corner the flame flickers, and then leans towards the paper. Without making contact smoke appears, followed by an orange glow around the edges before the flame materializes. Losing interest in the lighter, I remove my thumb from it and focus on the flame creeping up the note. It’s as if I hear it thanking me. I don’t hear words; I’m not crazy or anything. It’s a feeling I have. Like the fire is alive and I’m the one who brought it into existence. It just wants to thank me by dancing, putting on a show.  In seconds it has consumed half the note so I drop it in the sink. The flame shrinks, and I cry out, “Don’t worry. I have more for you.” I grab another note and set it on top of the dwindling blaze, bringing it back to life. “Your welcome. Thank you for keeping me company.”

By now the sink is filled with ash and the flame is turning the faucet black. Since I first noticed the fire when taking a hit from my bowl, I had stopped thinking about Alex, my sister, my mother and her fucking lame ass husband. I even stopped thinking of every reason I hated my dad. “Please don’t leave me. Here’s more food for you,” I say, dropping photos into the sink one at a time, watching them melt and create shades of blue in the flame.

Watching everything that had been Alex burn, I realized my hand had been on my clit the whole time. The fire is begging to dwindle again but I want and need more. So I close my eyes and imagine the flame being too hot and the wall of the bathroom igniting. I imagine the whole room engulfed in flame, my bedroom with all the posters and magazine cut-outs I have on the wall, the kitchen, the dining room, my mother’s fat ass on the couch, my sister’s old room where my step dad stores his beer can collection. I see it all melting away and even though the fire is all around me I am untouched, I am uninjured and I am unburned.

 

It is 3 AM now and I am walking down a dark street, alone with no one insight. “Don’t worry. We will be reunited soon. I won’t abandon you. I promise. I’ll never leave you,” I say to the invisible fire all around me. “I know you need to breathe. You need to live. I promise to give you life again, soon.”

I am just a shadow on an empty street, completely obscured from view, with no light to reveal me. One foot in front of another, cool air coming out of my mouth in the form of mist, I imagine I am a dragon. I am a dragon, hugging a large box filled with memories and the ashes of memories. Oh, I also have three gallons of gasoline I took from the garage.

“I can’t wait to introduce you to Alex. I hope you love him as much as you love me.” I know now what I’ve always known. Fire is the only living thing I can trust. It will always be there for me guiding my path, showing me the way. All I have to do is listen and accept its warmth and I will never be alone again. “Yes, I know. It is a very good night to watch the world burn.”