The past has an ironic way of showing itself over time.
Time seems to heal old injuries and let go of past problems producing a unique type of freedom that seems to present itself in glimpses of our memories.
We stretch ourselves thin. We are too busy focusing on current dilemmas. These problems push us farther from truth than we can ever imagine.
Focusing on the problems of the past, present, and future, too often, we lose sight of the bigger picture.
Everything seemed easier when we were younger.
We were stupid kids.
Brave children who were wild and adolescent.
We craved liberation.
We were content playing for hours by the fire. The heat from the bonfire was enough to keep us warm during the cold nights. If the flames weren’t enough to warm our blood, the alcohol sure was. The fire flickered enough to see the others across the burning chopped-up logs. I watched the embers bounce across their eyes. They were mainly shadows dancing in the smoke. The dark figures of my friends matched the flames dipping in and dropping out of the cloudy haze of smoke. Both were formless.
They passed around freedom. Even to me. It was more than just wet lips and soft tongues, our hands were careful not to take too much, but we were free to take as much as we liked. There was only one rule between us: we had to share the fire. We pushed and pulled it, back and forth, rotating the fire like an Indonesian fire-spinner. (One of us could actually fire spin. His name was Justin.) Occasionally, someone would pull too much and spin out of control not unlike a fiery haze. We always tested our limits. That’s what kids do.
Even after the bonfire died, the fire was always there. We played with it in the trunk of cars, an Isuzu at that. The heat never worked anyways. Car rides weren’t the safest place for fire. But, this always made it more fun. Danger has a keen way with people who play smart. And even as we froze in the back of the broken-down white Rodeo, the fire kept us more than warm; it captured our full attention. The fire taught us how to live, dangerously and different; the two were connected. The fire was our unique labyrinth. Instead of a maze of subliminal confusion, the fire brought us to awareness. We realized our situation; our place in the world.
Realizing this condition, we listened to particular types of music while driving. The kind of music we could relate to. It is a shame that lead singer died. He never got to see all the lives he changed, especially my friends, or how he set the world on fire. Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh did, but not him. I’ve never felt so uncomfortably free sitting in such a tiny backseat. The subwoofers deafened my ears, the cigarette smoke suffocated my lungs, and my knees pressed against the back of the driver’s seat. My squished body was a second thought to my smiling face. And all my worries went away when the crisp breeze of wind touched my face. It blew through the open window like 40 ounces to Freedom.
We played. We cursed and joked. We laughed. Time disappeared when we were together. After school, the crew was always waiting in the parking lot beside that white Rodeo that my friend Matt drove. We went where we wanted and broke any law stopping us. It’s not that we were criminals or bad kids; we just did as we pleased. It was a natural liberation. We didn’t make rules for ourselves. We enjoyed the moment. Playing with fire was our escape. It was our enlightenment. It was our life.
The only problem with fire is that we came from a beach town and wood was difficult to find. We worked hard for our fuel. We searched everywhere for it: the beach, downtown, the local high school, and deep in the forest, which was best, but sometimes we had to travel to unknown territory to collect it. Caution was non-negotiable in unfriendly environments. We had to be safe during the find; it was the most dangerous part. The colder it was, the harder it was to find. And only after the search, when we had exhausted all other resources did we usually end up finding it. We celebrated for hours afterwards. We were too young to be tired, but the relaxation felt needed after such hard work.
I remember the first time I played with Fire. I was scared and a virgin. I even lied to my friends about not wanting to play with it. They warned me to be careful. I listened to their advice and brought Fire near the water. I didn’t know what to do, but the water made me feel safe. We were slightly elevated above the Inter-coastal waterway on a wooden pier. Besides the Fire, the only other light was the moon. A moment of courage was all that was needed to ignite her. Sparks came from my lips. When the flame really got going, the Fire was incredible. As I held the Fire, it didn’t burn me like I thought it would. It felt really good at first, and I couldn’t put it down. It captivated and entangled me. I became it. But the longer I played with it, the hotter the flame got and it eventually did burn me. Anyone that has gotten burnt knows that the first burn is the worst. You don’t know what to expect until it happens, you overreact, but then realize that you are okay. The wound heals and the skin grows back tougher than before. Overtime, a numbing callus of caution will develop if you continue to make the same mistake. Burns afterward don’t hurt so badly. You know what to expect.
The illusions of our past unveil themselves as we grow older. Fights with friends fade into forever as we grow fast past our memories of misbehavior and mistake. Just as the beautiful sunrise begins the day and transforms the day into a humid and musty afternoon of sauna-filled heatstroke for those caught outside, unfortunately stuck between a multitude of ultraviolet rays they can’t escape causing a sunburn that hurts to the core, nature graces us with the sunset- a counterbalance of beauty, recovery, and bewilderment that ends the day. Much of our lives are spent watching this type of process. We fail to appreciate the mystery. We cannot imagine a sunset until we see it for the first time. Sometimes it feels like we might not make it past the afternoon’s battle of relentless sunburn. If we just continue, our reward is closer than we think.
The fire has faded, for now, but it will return. I am sure. The people will change; they always do. The crew will change; it always does. But, the process is certain. The sun rises and falls. The best sunset is when the sky ignites into a bright orange and burns red across the blue horizon.
It always reminds of the fire in the back of that trunk.
She asked me once, “Why do you play with it?” I replied, “For the smoke.”