My First Flame
It started out small. That’s how these things begin. No addiction starts out full-blown. It’s a ladder. Soon you need to climb higher to feel the same rush you felt initially.
I remember the first time I held it in my hands. It was as if I was possessed. Just the smell of it aroused me. I held it up and gazed at its beauty, admiring its shape, and color, before sliding the head of the match along the side of the strike anywhere box. There was a poof then a hiss. A plume of smoke wafted up into my nasal cavity, bringing a slight sting to my sinuses and a watering of my eyes. I beheld what was before me, bewitched.
It was intoxicating. It was hypnotizing. It was fire. It was my first love.
At first I was content with lighting matches. I would gleefully watch the flame do the mambo on the tip of the toothpick thin stick, and the white gold colored teardrop inchworm down to my fingertips before blowing it out.
Next I’d plug up the sink and pour rubbing alcohol in the sink and set fire to it, and watch the mini lake of sulfur burn. Soon the thrill was gone, and I went in search of a bigger rush. I didn’t have to look for long. In fact I hardly had to look at all because It found me when one day a friend told me that if you combine fire with an aerosol can you can make a flame thrower…or a bomb if the flame happens to get sucked into the can, but the chances of that happening were minuscule.
There was a moment of hesitation as my forefinger hovered over the trigger of the can of my mother’s hairspray she used to tease her hair. In my other hand I held a lit match with a pair of tweezers. Even though my frontal lobes had not yet fully developed I wasn’t a Neanderthal. Some precautions had been taken. I was in the bathroom. At least if it became bomb it would be contained, although I would have to explain to my family why the bathroom had been converted into an outhouse if things went south.
A foot long flame erupted from the nozzle head.
“Whoa!” I paused and perked up my ears to see if my mother had heard me. I opened the bathroom door and heard only the distant chatter of her keyboard in her upstairs office.
From the corner of my eye I spied a spider. My eyes narrowed to slits. Spiders and I have history. Dark history. I loathe the furry little molesters. Ceiling corner creepers.
Growing up we’d often find spiders in our house. It’s what happens when you live in the woods. One time I was lying in my bed late at night listening to Lights Out with Delilah on 92.5 FM, dreaming of the day when I would fall in love when a spider fell from the ceiling onto my face. I shot out of bed, flipped on the light, and pancaked that sucker with a sneaker within five seconds flat.
As I was saying, from the corner of my eye I spied a spider. I turned to the spider. I could see the flame reflecting in its beady black eyes. I stifled a sinister snicker. The spider shifted uncomfortably, unaware of what was about to happen. I pulled the trigger. A foot long flame shot forth from the nozzle head. “You fiend!” I yelled as the spider burst into flames, and squealed before dropping like a meteorite into the bathtub. From then on this became my preferred method of killing spiders.
One day my friend, Carl from Captain Wilkes Elementary School, came over to play. I suggested we go play in the woods, and beat bushes with sticks. I decided to bring all the makings for a bonfire, minus the wood. I figured that would be easy enough to find since it was everywhere. Carl didn’t have much to say as I wrapped rocks in paper, lit them on fire and threw them randomly into the woods while I saying, “I’m Mario!”
We stumbled upon the remains of what was once a towering cedar tree. The stump was approximately ten feet high by four feet wide. It had huckleberry hair, crooked eyes, and a gaping mouth which may have been a wild animal’s home at one time. It looked like some ancient pagan god, begging to be fed.
Together Carl and I stuffed its mouth with the funny pages, and lit them on fire. We watched it burn. It slowly started to catch fire. I fed it some more, and the fire grew in girth. I looked at Carl who had this look on his face I’ve seen on an animal’s face right before they’re about to be brained by a car bumper or roller pinned by a tire.
“I think I hear my mom calling,” Carl said.
“Dude, your house is like a mile away,” I said as Carl tripped on vines, brambles, and fern’s in his haste.
I shrugged and returned to feeding the pagan god, Humpty Stumpy. I sat on my haunches in reverence, watching the flames rise higher, until Humpty Stumpy had become a pillar of fire. That’s when it hit. The Fear. I looked above me and saw that the fire was spreading to the surrounding branches. I didn’t know what to do so I hurried back to the house, figuring if I couldn’t see the problem it didn’t exist. My father was in the process of dividing a felled tree in preparation for the coming winter.
“What’s up buddy?” He asked. He smelled of woodchips, sweat, and chainsaw fuel.
“Nothing.” I could hear a crackle and pop in the yonder. We stared at each other for a moment. It’s funny how when you’ve done something terrible you feel like the whole world knows what you just did. The weight of guilt can be smothering. “What’s that sound?” I asked nervously, secretly wishing to be found out so I could be saved.
“Probably pine cones.”
“Pine cones?” This bewildered me.
“The summer heat can sometimes cause their nuts pop.” For most of my childhood I had been playing under pine trees that were busting their nuts in summer heat. Horrible.
In the distance came the howling of a siren. Each second it was getting louder until it was practically in our backyard. These are the final moments of my life, I thought as I stood there overcome with dread, watching the fire truck roll down the next-door neighbor’s gravel road. A neighbor had seen the woods were on fire, and called the fire department in a panic. I ran to my room to find my fig leaf, you know because avoidance solves everything.
When the firemen came to our door I caved. I tearfully confessed to my mother I was the one responsible for setting our woods on fire.
“They’re going to take you to jail,” my sister told me with much regret.
“Mother, don’t let them take me,” I pleaded. “I’m too young to go to jail,” I bawled.
I was informed that the fire chief wanted to have a word with me. I expected to see him standing there, waiting for me, brandished fire ax, ready to split my head like a log.
I went to face my fate. I walked outside and approached the fire chief. I squinted as I looked up at him with my tear stained eyes. I cringed when he opened his mouth, but instead of barking at me he let me off with a warning, told me not to do it again, and if I did then there would be consequences.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
He gave me a lighthearted smile and turned to walk back to the fire truck. Maybe he had a son about my age back home. Or maybe he was a reformed pyromaniac. Or maybe he understood that we all make mistakes and need a little grace from time to time.