I lit my first fire today. That may seem like a small thing, but for me, it turned out to be a rather monumental occasion. I’ve never lit a fire before, like ever in my whole life. I’ve been avoiding trying since Travis left, I thought because I was afraid of burning the cabin down. But the temperatures are dropping, and its raining on top of that, and I really hate being wet and cold, so I knelt down in front of the fireplace and got to work. I think I might have avoided it for longer if I knew what was coming.
Travis taught me how to build the little wood teepee, make space for the white accelerant block thingie, open the little drawer underneath for air flow and how to wait until those pieces caught before adding one of the bigger pieces of wood. So I did all those things, crouching there shivering and hoping things would go smoothly. Everything went along fine until I added the big piece that would actually create some heat… then things just sort of died out. So I started the whole process over again, trying to remember if I’d forgotten anything, and wishing fervently that someone was there to help. It was when my consciousness caught up with my wandering mind that things started to go really down hill. Because I realised I wasn’t wishing for an faceless helping hand, or even my cousins familiar face… I was wishing for a man I’ve spent this entire trip trying to forget, and god that was galling.
I froze there, crouched on that hearth and tried to tell myself it made perfect sense I’d be wishing for the firefighter I married while I was trying to light a fire. No big deal. But it was a big deal, a betrayal of myself by myself, and in the moments that followed I stopped shaking from cold and started shaking in anger. I started prodding the fire with a kind of pathetic desperation, as if getting it to stay lit would release me from the heartache that was threatening to overwhelm me, but it was too late, the thought, and the emotions it brought with it, had already taken root.
I’d like to be able to say that I got that fire lit and burned my ex-husband in effigy on my first successful fire. But that’s not what happened. Instead I spent the next thirty minutes lost in a smoky haze of painful memories and seething emotion. I wanted to be angry with him, with the man who had deserted me, a man who cheated on me, stolen my best friend, lied to me, left me homeless and in tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt knowing that I was in no position to find permanent housing or a real job. I wanted to feel hatred towards this man who hadn’t been able to love me, who hadn’t even tried to love me, who had emotionally abandoned me when I came forward about my rape, who had degraded me for having PTSD and never once sought to understand the depression and anxiety that plagued me. Most of all I wanted to stop feeling anything, anything at all, for the coward who broke my heart.
But though I tried to concentrate on all these perfectly valid and anger inducing attributes of this man I’d been married to, it wasn’t anger I felt as I stared in to those sputtering flames, it was grief. Still, after all this time, I was grieving the loss of love. Because still, after all this time and despite all those disappointments and failures and just general shitty husbandness on his part, the emotion that I feel most strongly when I think of him is love. I stopped prodding the wood and sank down fully in front of the fireplace. This is why I had avoided building the fire, why I haven’t wanted to be alone, why despite the wonders of this trip I still find myself on the verge of tears more often then not.
I’m so tired of feeling this way. I wake up every morning with him in my head, and go to sleep every night wondering how he is (even though I know perfectly well how happy he and I imagine soon to be wife number four are). I came on this trip wanting to prove to myself that I wasn’t going to be one of those “empty shell people” they talk about in my favourite movie, Under the Tuscan Sun. I’m no chicken shit after all. I took my homelessness and debt and crappy job prospects and PTSD addled brain and dragged them on the adventure of a lifetime… what more can I do? Right?
So why do I still feel like I’m the one who is a coward? Why is my heart still aching for a man that didn’t love me, and couldn’t wait around long enough to let me heal and start to become the woman I wanted to be again? After everything I’ve done the last four months, why am I still afraid to light the fire? And how much longer will it be until I’m not?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I didn’t find them sitting there staring into the fireplace. Maybe that’s because I’m asking the wrong questions, I don’t know. What I do know is that as I sat there, wishing I could stop wishing for what I know can never be, I realised that I wasn’t staring in to smouldering ashes anymore… there were flames… the fire was burning.
And so, I lit my very first fire today, all by myself. And maybe when I do it tomorrow, I’ll wish for that firefighter a little less, and the day after that, even less, until one day I won’t have to wish for him anymore at all because I’ll know I can light the fire all on my own.