Mental disorders - I performed excellently in school, had relatively close connections with my family and kept a well-mannered group of friends; however, all of my thoughts, actions and emotions could be thrown into disarray with the sight of a single flame. Pyromania, it was called. It was also the reason why I was forced by my mother to come to this stupid group rehab centre. Everywhere I went, there was a thick atmosphere of tension between everyone that seemed impossible to break. Despite this environment, for the past month, I had been able to keep my composure each day with the company of one girl. From the very first day, she was the only person in the room who wore a smile the entire time. With long, brown hair, contrasting her fair skin, and a look of confidence on her face, I thought of no reason why she should be here. Until I saw something which deeply intrigued me: Her emerald green eyes, unlike the rest of her appearance, did not reflect the same warmth and zeal. Rather, they possessed a continuous melancholic gaze that would always give away her true emotions, so I had a tendency to avoid looking her in the eyes whenever I talked to her.
Today, as I sat down along the curb of the sidewalk, from my back pocket, I took out a plastic container and flicked the small wheel, igniting a small, but strongly burning flame.
"You shouldn't be smoking at your age. It will only end with a long and painful death."
"I don't smoke," I said as I turned around to face the voice, "pyromania is different from a nicotine addiction. Casey, I swear I explained this to you the other day."
She sat down beside me, leaning in towards the flame. "Ah, but it's still based on the same principle isn't it? Fire, destruction, and death." She had a slightly pained expression on her face before she added, "How you can find the flames beautiful? They only remind me of pain and misfortune. Don't play with fire, Parker. You're only going to get burned."
"I think about that sometimes as well," I replied. What had caused this unhealthy affinity towards the flames? This powerful reliance towards fire? At first, it was just a fascination as a child, but there was a point in time where it completely took over my actions. The events of that night lingered with me even now. Every detail was inscribed deep into my memories; from the heat of the fire, to the very lighter I used to set the house ablazeâ€¦
"Stand aside kid," came the gruff voice of a police officer. "Go find your parents. It's not safe to be here." I was roughly pushed behind the yellow police tape as the officer hurried back to his car, and the sound of sirens grew louder.
From a safe distance, I stood still, mesmerized by the violent orange blaze that continued to engulf the house in front of me. Beads of sweat began forming above my brow from the searing heat emitted by the burning house. Twenty minutes: that was all it took for the house to be completely devoured by the burning flames, and for the entire structure to begin falling apart. Thick billows of smoke collected, making it more and more difficult to breathe as the fire consumed the oxygen close by. The crackling of the wooden beams grew louder, with the house on the edge of collapse. Without warning, a girl parted from the crowd and ran towards the flames, only to be held back by the same officer as before.
"My parents are still in there! Please! Someone, anyone, help them! I-I don't want them toâ€¦" but her last words were cut off as the last of the supporting beams collapsed. Tears overflowed from her eyes as she fell to the ground, completely helpless and traumatized.
Conversely, from amidst the panic of the crowd of onlookers, I remained completely calm, never breaking eye contact with the blaze for a single second. It was too beautiful a sight to look away from, as the flames continued their dance in the wind. It was like a giant bonfire, sending sparks flying everywhere. The night sky was illuminated with its bright orange glow, making it as bright as day. I reached forward, feeling the heat of the fire grow stronger against my palm, and for just a few moments, time seemed to stopâ€¦
This was more than eight years ago; I was only ten years old. I remember hearing the following morning that the residents of the house did not survive the blaze from that night, but at that age, I couldn't distinguish between life and death, nor did I realize the severity of my actions. To this day, I still cannot recall the exact reason for starting the fire. All I could remember was the sight of the glowing flames in the night, regretting nothing. But for these eight years, I had been harbouring this memory to myself, refusing to tell a soul. Earlier on, I thought about telling Casey, but after seeing her pained expression towards the smallest flicker of a flame, I couldn't bring myself to do so.
"For the month that I've known you, I've noticed that you space out a lot," said Casey, demonstrating her point by waving her hand in front of my face. Smiling, she continued, "the smell of the lighter fluid must be affecting your brain somehow."
I returned to reality. Realizing she was right, I retorted, "I can cure this problem just fine without your input. Anyways, why don't you ever talk about your problems for once? It's been a month, and I still know nothing about you. I don't even know why you checked into rehab in the first place. I mean, as far as I can tell, there's nothing wrong with you."
"It was my decision to make," Casey replied, watching the passing cars on the road.
"Still, why don't you do yourself a favour? Check out of this boring place and spend the remaining days of summer back home with your family."
"What do you know? Have you ever thought to consider that I'm here for a reason? I can't return to my family even if I want to." She stood up abruptly, and started walking back towards the rehab centre. Out of impulse, I stood up as well, making eye contact. For the first time, I saw her grimace, but what was far more intimidating was the hostility in her gaze; even from a fair distance, I could sense it. My comment definitely hit a nerve.
Before reaching the doorway, she looked back one last time and said, "It's going to rain. You should head inside the facility soon," and she slammed the door behind her. Aggravated, I took out my lighter, trying to light a small flame to ease my tension, but it was no use.
"Out of lighter fluid," I sighed, "so in the end, you got what you wanted, somewhat. I'll need to get a new one tomorrow." I sat back down along the curb of the sidewalk, when moments later, I felt a light shower of rain against my skin. What a perceptive person.
For the rest of the week, I avoided Casey, until I saw her knitting something blue in the lobby. I decided not to start a conversation with her. Instead, I sat down in a chair across from her, staring intently at the repetitive motions she made as the fabric grew longer. After a while, she sighed and finally spoke to me.
"I'm knitting a scarf to put on a teddy bear. It's for my baby brother's birthday. I haven't seen him in a while thoughâ€¦" Her voice was depressed, yet she continued, "but I have a permit to go visit him and my family tomorrow. This is an awkward question, but do you mind coming with me? I'll understand if you can't, but you're one of the few people that I trust here." After a while of thinking, I managed to give a nod and everything was planned out for tomorrow. As she left the lobby, her smile had returned. Little did I know that there was so much more that she hid from me behind that smile.
At exactly 10 AM, I returned to the same spot that I sat in yesterday, and I noticed how empty the entire lobby seemed without Casey there. At any rate, I was sure the mood would change when she arrived. Five minutes passed; fifteen minutes passed; forty five minutes passed, and I became unexpectedly worried. I contemplated going outside to light a flame with my lighter, but it would be terrible for her to see me like that. Instead, I decided to go find her. However, this was easier said than done, because the rehab centre had many rooms, and I had no idea where she was staying. Nevertheless, I ran around the building looking for her, searching through every corridor, checking the courtyard, knocking on doors to ask if anyone knew where she was staying, but to no avail. Out of breath, I paused and passed by the girl's washroom, when I heard hushed crying coming from behind the door. Could that possibly be her? Pulling up closer, I called her name, but there was no answer. As awkward as it was to enter, my concern for whoever was in there outweighed my embarrassment.
However, I was horrified at what I found. It was Casey, but not how I expected. She was sitting on the floor, sobbing, her right arm covering her eyes, but not the tears from her face. From a distance, I could see the glint from the scarlet tinted blade on the tiled floor. Her left arm was filled with scars, with three fresh slashes running across them. A steady stream of blood flowed from them, enough to form a small puddle of crimson beside her. Impulsively, I ran towards her, took off my sweater to soak up the blood and I held her in my arms. Her crying just grew louder, but as she laid her head on my shoulder, I felt helpless, knowing this was all I could do for her. For what seemed like eternity, we stayed like that, her sobs eventually dying down to a slight whimper as I whispered "It's okay" over and over.
Her voice shaky and in hushed tones, she said, "My baby brother and my parents aren't actually alive. They passed away eight years ago. There was a horrible fire that burned my house to the ground. I managed to escape safely, but my parents, they thought I was still inside. They went back inside for me, and they never came back out. They sacrificed themselves for nothing, and it was my fault! I wish I had died instead of them. Every day, I wish that Sometimes, I would even try to make that wish come true." Her voice started breaking into sobs again, and I came to a horrifying conclusion. Could it be? Eight years ago, from the fire I started, I killed her family and was the reason why harmed herself like this. The guilt I failed to feel from years ago rushed through me, as if it had been collecting for years. It was horrifying to make this connection, but it felt even worse to realize that I enjoyed every moment of the burning fire. Why did fire have to be so destructive? I wished I would never see another flame. I never wanted to see Casey suffer like this again.
That evening, under an orange painted sky, Casey and I visited the cemetery, where I saw the gravestones of her parents and her little brother. She placed her birthday gift onto her brother's tombstone, and she closed her eyes in a short prayer. The whole time, I remained silent; I didn't feel like I had the right to speak. As we started to leave, I turned around and whispered a pathetic apology, even though it was useless. To this day, I haven't told her that I was the one who started the fire; I'm afraid of what her reaction might be if I do. But the guilt I feel each day is overwhelming, as I recall the image of Casey as a young girl, standing in front of her burning house, knowing her parents were burned alive in that fire and Casey covered in scars, cutting herself. These are the thoughts that come to mind whenever I re-ignite my lighter, and see the flickering flame, hoping that the guilt I feel from the memory of that night will one day miraculously cure this pyromania.