Burn

Updated: Mar 20, 2021

There is a chill that runs through my bones today.

But all I can think about is the fever.

The heat. The suffocating, sticky, thick heat. The way it swarmed and moved, caught rides on the tails of the wind. It’d seal my eyes lids shut in the morning light and slide me out of bed, my hair sticking to my forehead.

My hands are numb on this winter morning but my ears burn with the memory of the hot, red sun.

The heat and its dance, when I first saw him, skinny and shaved and light brown, the color of hot chocolate before it’s stirred. Me, a marshmallow, beginning to melt the moment I entered the cup.

Salsa in the living room, the smell of burning trash and bug spray mixed with roasting coffee and spicy peanut butter. Hips left, hips right, two steps forward, two step back. His fingertips on the small of my back and sweat in the creases of my arms, behind my knees. Dizzy and faint, no air circulation in the small tiled rooms, the windows open, no breeze coming through.

The moment I had stepped off the plane in Haiti there was only the devouring heat. I began to wake in the middle of the night, tiptoe barefoot across the room, up the stairs, onto the roof beneath the stars. Lie flat on my back and not move a muscle. Breathe slow, in and out. The stars would do their nightly dance, brilliant and humble. Shining just to shine, not a care for who lay beneath them.

I became thirsty for anything cool. My cheek against a glass table. A coke bottle against my temples. Generator switched on, quickly dipping my head into the freezer, drawing long, deep breaths. The ocean, always calling. A motorcycle ride in the rain, to end up at the edge of the world, the turquoise water pulling in, sweeping out, and me, underwater, submerged, my eyes open.

I let him love me this way. In crooked lines and crescent moons. Never fully, never totally. Always with his head above water, his eyes on the mountains that spread out before him. I tossed and turned and tried to drown him with me, let him feel the fire of his own country, pull him into the insanity. But I was a volcano and he was a tornado, and he spun right by me, only sizzling, never burned. I had turned to ashes and he still had the wind.

The heat had infiltrated my head. The chickens that crowed in the middle of the night, the donkey hooves that walked past my window. The cows, all skin and bones, trotted by, their heads bowed, tired and useless, looked at me and nodded, mocking me. I was a fool and hadn’t known. I hadn’t known what was coming for me. I jumped head first into a tiny country off the coast of Florida, never thinking, not once, about the heat. The way it trapped you, held you hostage, dangled cold water above your throat only to laugh at your need, your desperation.

I tried to cling to what was Good, and instead I fell in love. A love mixed with loaded guns under our pillows, masks to protect us from the dust in the dry season, straw huts at night where we’d dance in the dark, only feeling, never seeing. I had traded my strong beating heart for his scar above his lip, his freckle beside his mocha eye. On a silver platter I handed it over, with my rosary beads and communion at mass, I slid it into his hands, just for him to look at the same stars I saw and understand the things I understood.

But there was no balance. I had caught fire in a land he had known would bring rain. He has been burning since birth, I was a new flame. I was consumed, and couldn’t be trusted. My heart was floppy and weak now, a blue yellow that pumped gray through my veins. When you catch on fire, are you not ruined when it’s put out? A map of black and confusion and usually, unrecognizable.

I remember the heat now and I step outside, barefoot, into the snow. I crunch my toes and feel its chill calm me. I am here now. Not in the sweltering heat. Not beneath the blood orange tree. Not rolling in the waves. Not in the rocking chair on the front porch. Not in love. Not lost. Not hopeless. Not burning.

Just me.

Free.



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