Here’s the truth. I’m a mistake. An accident.
A girl like me should not exist. Not because it’s impossible, (although let’s face it, it is) but because I’m just not cut out for the job.
I had a crappy childhood, like most of those nobody girls in fairytales who end up marrying princes. But I didn’t get a prince. I just became a freak. Or more of a freak than I already was.
The therapists called it pyromania. They tried to explain to my father that my setting fire to the mattress was an accident of euphoria and not a suicide attempt. It didn’t quiet his wailing cries, his insistent begging that I snap out of it. That Mom was never coming back. These shenanigans didn’t change anything. She didn’t love us anymore.
“Get a grip, Dad,” I’d say, thumbing the lighter in my pocket, ready to start another flame. “Everyone is over Mom but you.”
And we’d go to bed, like strangers forced to share the same house, without so much as a comforting word good night. Unable to even look at each other because we were just ghosts; memories of a better past that we couldn’t stand to remember.
The fire was my only friend. It didn’t criticize, it didn’t judge. It only hurt me when I wanted it to, and even that pain wasn’t real. It was just a sting to help remind me I was still alive. Somewhere.
I’d lay on my stomach for hours, listen as Dad’s snoring got louder, as the appliances hummed, the furniture creaked. The hours would pass and it’d be just me and the flames, doing that mesmerizing dance as I dragged my fingers across it, side to side, left to right.
That was, until I met Alex.
I’d never been the type to get chummy. I didn’t believe in getting attached. Why bother? People only ever dissapoint you.
But, Alex… there was something about him. Some sort of kindred spirit that we shared. We spoke for hours sometimes, sitting up against the brick outside the school gym, ignoring the bells ringing inside, pretending we didn’t have a Physics class or US History to go to.
I should have known from the beginning that there was something wrong with him. I should have seen the glare of brilliant madness in those bright grey eyes.
But I missed it. I missed it because he sat at my lunch table and tossed me an apple and told me I had to eat, that thin girls weren’t in anymore, it was all about being curvy, or did I not read that issue of Teen Magazine?
He first asked about the fire on a a lazy fall afternoon. A day like any other. I stuffed dry leaves into an empty can I’d stripped and set it aflame until it crumbled and became dust.
“Why do you do that? Didn’t your father ever teach you not to play with fire?”
“It’s relaxing. I mean look at it. Consistent, strong, possibly dangerous but only if you let it get out of control. The perfect man.”
He’d laughed and touched my face. “But it can’t kiss you. It can’t make you burn inside.”
And he’d pressed his lips to mine.
They’d been cold. Too cold, even for the breezy day.
Then the accident happened. The fire that started at the back of the gym and spread through the locker rooms. A flame the likes I’d never seen.
The alarms blared throughout the school. We were already deep into winter at that point. I remember standing outside without a coat because I hadn’t gotten a chance to run to my locker. I remember watching my breath come out in puffs of smoke. And I remember being in awe of the fire as it reached higher and higher, as though it’d touch the sky.
Everything changed that day. I went from being that weird girl in school to being labelled an arsonist. I was arrested. My father confiscated all of my matches, my lighters, he stripped my bed and emptied my drawers and left me bare.
I didn’t set that fire. I swear I didn’t. I’d take credit if I had.
They called me crazy. Desperate. Well, yea, given the circumstances. My anxiety was out of control. I was pulling my hair, rocking back and forth, powerless without the flame that had been my friend since childhood.
“You have to stop this,” Dad would cry when he came to visit me at the institution. Because he gave up. Because he couldn’t deal with losing me too.
And then Alex came to visit and I finally understood.
“I had to help you see who you really were,” he whispered, shaking his head as though he were disappointed in me. “You’ve been dormant for so long. But they can’t hold you. They can’t keep you here. You’re so much stronger than they are.”
I laughed out loud at that. He obviously hadn’t seen the restraints meant to keep me from hurting myself. The glint in my eyes from the medication. I was not strong. I was wrong. Very very wrong.
“Don’t let them take it from you.” He whispered passionately, shaking my shoulders on his third or fourth visit, when his long inspirational speeches failed to make a dent. “The fire is yours. Don’t you get that?”
And then he put his hand on the glass window and frost spread from where his fingertips touched. It crackled and crept, a slow spiderweb growing more intricate, until it covered the entire panel.
“It’s yours.” He said and looked down at my hands.
And maybe it was the medication, or the burning desire to be free, whatever it was – I believed him.
I held out my hands, knotted by plastic ties, and summoned the fire.