I keep doing this thing where I light myself on fire. I do it almost every night. And you know, I don’t go outside once I do it. I just sit in my room and watch the walls sweat as I burn. I burn like tissue paper. It all goes out really quick. I don’t really leave behind soot or anything once it’s over--like I’m some miracle. I sweep up whatever is left. I put it in a clear jar. I hide it in the closet. I hold it in my hands. Sometimes I smash the jar on the floor like a kid would do with a piggy bank. But I’m also the mother in the metaphor. I clean it all up. I throw away the glass but not the ashes. I just find a new jar to put them in. The ashes are gray just like everyone else’s. It feels like dirty sand running through my hands.
People can tell someone they’re different but it’s not true. We’re all different so it’s all the same. Does that make sense? You can tell people you’re miserable and they don’t care at all. We all have issues. We all have a map we can’t read. We all have a flat tire somewhere. Some people are just better at compartmentalizing than others.
Sometimes I burn in the street like a bum’s garbage can in January. Except it’s August and my hair will be turning red soon like it does every year. And no one will be there to say, “Your haircolor is different,” because I won’t be listening. I told my guidance counselor in the eleventh grade that everyone’s above water and I’m in it. And everyone is trying to reach out into the sea to get me out. But maybe I’m too far down. Or the salt is too thick. Perhaps, I punctured my own lifevest. That evening she called my mother, she was worried I was going to hurt myself.
It’s hard to be a trope but still live through it so viciously. It’s hard to hear your ex-boyfriend still call you Kitty when he knows your name is Kathleen and nicknames aren’t allowed anymore. It’s hard when your mother has nothing to say to you on the phone. It’s hard when you live in a city and you forgot what the stars looked like back home. It’s especially hard when you hate where you come from and all you smile about is its sky when the place does cross your mind.
I know I’m crazy. Not all the time, but still some of it. It’s the quiet kind. The kind where I get angry for no reason and people say, I don’t want to know you anymore. I kid-proof myself by putting a latch on my mouth. That was one of the last lessons someone I cared for ever taught me. But the burning--it can be so beautiful. You see the sky turn orange and say the word, “Fuck.” It’s so temporary. But everything is. It’s only invented because of death. Nothing good ever lasts for a long time. That’s why I expire so suddenly. And if someone were to place me in a drawer like a keepsake, I would be taken out just a few times and then collect dust until the identity is lost in my face.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick received her MFA from Stony Brook University in the spring of 2018. Her work can be found in Bad Pony Magazine and others. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.