Yes—that’s right. I had an incident in the fireplace over the weekend. I’m unharmed, as is my house. However, it was nearly otherwise. And all in the name of symbolism. Here’s why:
You all know of the many notches in the “my-life-is-a-comedy-of-errors-belt” thus far, and there are likely to be a lot more in my future. While most of these events, such as the wine bottle scene and the running into a pole on my bike incident are mostly humorous, this particular event was equal parts comical and terrifying.
In an effort to continue purging my current life of all the things that remind me of my past one, my friend, Jenna, and I decided that it would be symbolic and satisfying to burn the few pictures left of my ex-life. Jenna and I kept forgetting to do this every time she came over and so on Saturday, while getting ready to head down to Olympia, I decided to go ahead and do the burning myself.
Because of all the recent fire bans in Seattle, I usually keep a crowded little bohemian-style bunch of candles in my fireplace, to at least make a gesture towards fire when I can’t have a real one. I set a few of the pictures down in a corner of the fireplace and lit one edge, thinking that the photos would simply burn like paper and I’d be finished in a few minutes. Not so much. The pictures burned more like gasoline, probably due to the chemicals on the photo paper (which might have been useful information to consider before setting fire to the pictures). A few of the candles above the flames began melting away from the intense heat, and in the time that it took for me to grab a pair of tongs from the kitchen with which to save the candles, the wax had mixed with the chemicals, spreading across the floor of the fireplace and now burned as if doused with lighter fluid. I had just enough time to reach up and open the flue before the flames reached too high for me to do so, but not before my living room filled with an opaque curtain of stinky smoke and set of the smoke alarm.
In a panic, I grabbed my nearly-full tea kettle and poured its contents across the flames but this only enraged the fire further, now sizzling, bubbling, and swimming over a sea of chemicals, liquefied wax, and water on the concrete surface of the fireplace floor. I thought about calling my brother. I thought about calling the fire department. But after opening some windows and stripping down to a t shirt and socks I cooled off and realized that, though the flames were still burning with the force of a wildfire through dry pine needles, it was contained and, without any wood to fuel it would die out eventually. I knew that if it grew any further out of control, I could throw some dirt on it and be safe. I was still frightened, but was able to relax knowing that I needn’t call anyone—I could handle this one on my own.
I watched and waited for more than two hours, witnessing the quick death of one after another candle I could not save, including one in a glass jar that melted down to a shiny puddle of lava-like glass and wick. Finally the fire put itself out; I closed the flue once again, and plugged the battery back into the smoke detector. On my way out the door, I threw the rest of the photos in the garbage, finding dramatically symbolic disposal of such items to be no more emotionally satisfying than simply closing the garbage can lid over the remnants of an older and far less happy life.