It Burned

I love the smell of gasoline. Especially after you light it on fire. I mean, I think I would like the smell but I never found out. It all started when I met a boy. It’s always about a boy. Well, not always but mostly. He had piercing blue eyes and a mischievous smile. He was fun. We played Army men. A lot. He loved the tactical maneuvers of war. I loved him so it was okay with me. One day he decided to take it up a notch. I knew it was wrong but he said it would be fun. It was a day filled with adventure. We bought a small shiny gas can. And candy and cokes so no one would be suspicious. We walked to the gas station across the street and filled our shiny new can. Good thing we had made some money raking our neighbors yards, because buying stuff is expensive. As we walked home, he described the war scene in great detail. An enemy bomb, he went on and on but all I could do was stare at his gorgeous blue eyes. And his hands, they were big and clumsy. But strong. He wasn’t drop dead handsome but what some would call cute. I called him perfect. For me anyway. In our neighborhood there were lots of other kids. And they all wanted to be his friend. They were but not like me. For some reason, we clicked. Probably because I was in love with him. And for him, it was probably because I went along with his ideas. Sometimes making them better, bringing them up from slightly crazy to full blown insanity.
When we reached my house, my brother said it was time for dinner. Where had the day gone? We decided it would be best if we waited until tomorrow for “Operation Explosion”. And I did but he didn’t. The deafening blasts of the sirens started just as I was taking a shower. I didn’t think anything of it until I heard the screams. I knew. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. I knew. My heart hurt. I knew. I got out of the shower. I knew. Pulled on my clothes. I knew. Raced down the stairs. I knew. I ran to his house. I knew. I saw his mother. I knew. I wish I didn’t know but I did.
I couldn’t visit him in the hospital. I wanted to more than anything. I wrote him letters and cards, daily. Sometimes twice a day. I had heard in lengthy recounts what had happened. He doused the Army men in gasoline, the same gasoline we put in the shiny new can we bought together. He used all of it and then lit them on fire. I had forgotten about the lighter we bought, too. His face, his arms. his chest. The flames engulfed him. His mother heard the small explosion and ran out to the garage. She won’t talk to me.  Bitch. And I miss him.
August turned into September and school had started. And not a word. His older brother did give me one message from him, “It didn’t go as planned.” Still twisted. At least it was something. I  wrote to him faithfully. I heard from a neighbor that he might be coming home soon. Of course my parents asked me questions. There were questions from everyone. And I had answers. Honest answers. I had my “it could have been me” moments. But it wasn’t. It was him. My love. I mean, as much of a love as a 12 year old boy can be to a 12 year old girl. But love nonetheless.
It was a little crisp for a fall morning in Virginia. I could feel a change in the air. He was coming home. To me. And he did come home. But he wasn’t the same. Not to me or to anyone. He didn’t look the same, he didn’t talk the same and he didn’t like me the same. He still had the same piercing blue eyes but they didn’t sparkle the same. When he would talk to me before, they would almost dance. Now, they were wallflowers. I guess I wasn’t prepared for it all. So many changes, so quickly.
When he finally agreed to see me, I was beyond excited. His mother and father gave me the “it is a shocking change” conversation. I got it, now get outta my way. I climbed the stairs to his room like I had done a thousand times before. But, this time was different. I reached his door, stopped and knocked. I hadn’t even noticed that my heart was racing and my palms were sweaty. Gross. But he wouldn’t care. He mumbled come in and I did. The room was cool and dark. I wanted to run to him. I didn’t. I’m glad I didn’t.
He was a dick. Which normally I would have liked but not today. I guess I couldn’t blame him. It wasn’t at all what I expected. Not really sure what I expected but it wasn’t this. He was mean and abrasive. Who knew a 12 year old could be so cold and distant. Certainly not me. I knew it was over. He made it quite clear. I didn’t want to stop looking into his eyes. Oh, how I missed him. Clearly, he didn’t miss me. I guess the tipping point was when he told me basically to fuck off. His mother came in and asked me to leave. Bitch. I felt so betrayed. Here was this boy who I let touch me in my bathing suit area with my bathing suit on, who was now telling me to forget him. And everything we ever had. It wasn’t my fault. Maybe if he had waited for me, I could have saved him. Maybe I would have talked him out of it. Millions of maybe’s but only one outcome. It was over. I knew it and it burned.
I love the smell of gasoline. Even now, 30 years later, it still makes me think of the boy with the piercing blue eyes and mischievous smile. I wonder if he ever thinks of me. The last time I saw him was when my family and I were moving. He had just started to come outside more. I would watch him from my window. I saw his smile and heard his laugh. It was back. And I was leaving. Most of the neighborhood kids had gathered around to say goodbye. He came over to me and told me he would miss me. He wrapped his arms around me. I looked into his blue eyes one last time. I would not cry. I did not cry. He did not cry. He gave me an envelope and told me to read it when we got to Connecticut. I did. It was a beautifully written letter about love and hope and forgiveness. There was a charred Army man also in the envelope. He was twisted and I loved him. I took the letter and set it on fire. It burned till there was nothing left but ashes. I felt better.
I still have the charred Army man. And sometimes when I close my eyes, I can see his blue eyes. They are burned into my brain. Forever.

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