What is a fire escape? Most basically – it’s an emergency exit to leave a building or shelter when fire or the threat of fire (or other natural or unnatural disaster) looms. Escape – what is escape? We have positive and negative connotations here – it’s running away, it’s getting away from a bad situation, it’s seeking shelter, it’s pursuing relaxation and ease… Fire? You can fire a gun, fire an employee, fire at will – there is the noun fire which can be both comfort (warmth, cooking, light in the darkness) and pain (destruction of home and goods, pyromania, physical burns).
It’s a dichotomy, as one would expect. I’m taking the fire escape after being burned – metaphorically and physically. I’m also escaping and firing the old me that would have stayed – would have accepted that being burned is her due because she is somehow inherently flawed and unlovable. No one deserves to be treated as less and I’m finally getting to a point where I am pretty sure that even I don’t.
There have been signs, of course, that this relationship was not working. First, this guy smokes, and I don’t. When he was with me, he left cigarette butts in his wake. Oh and ask me to buy him cigarettes because he was just short today – just this week – if I neglected to get them, he developed a migraine that nothing would tackle…except for more cigarettes, of course.
Then there was the alcohol. He sometimes drank a Coke, but usually nothing else except for beer or something else of the alcoholic variety. When we returned all of his (and some of my) bottles and cans, he got around $10 back. Yeah – that’s like 200 items. The most I drank in our three weeks of hanging out were maybe 10 bottles of hard cider. He could and did put away a 6 pack or more in an evening – and then would start early the next day. He actually smelled like sour beer almost all of the time. Again – big surprise – I had to get him beer almost daily. “Get whatever is the cheapest. Really.” I didn’t at first – surely, he had to be kidding. Nope, after spending however much I did, I switched to the 12 packs that were around $7.00 (less than the cigarettes, at least).
Then there was the breakdown one night. He started sobbing when listening to some country song (no, I’ve no idea which one). He told me he’d been struggling with guilt and pain because, supposedly, a friend from college with whom he worked after graduation had been killed because he’d gone in my friend’s place. So my friend was responsible. Now, my friend was supposedly working as a military analyst at the time – not sure how that would get him killed, even if out of the country. But now he’s only able to work as a “financial analyst” (his words) at the local Pizza Hut and is self-medicating with alcohol. When I mentioned talking to a therapist he told me that they never understand. Getting a prescription for anxiety or depression or sleeplessness? They would make him an addict. Right – because you can’t be addicted to alcohol and cigarettes. And this is not a stupid person. Might come across that way – but this is actually not a stupid or ill educated person. Well – this is a person who perhaps is stupid in that he thought I’d believe every story he told and also stupid in that he’s lying the very most to himself.
It all came to a head one night – we had to do our beer and cigarette run, of course. I had had a long day at work and he had, once again, stayed at my house not working – “I have a lot of time coming to me.” We were sitting out on the back porch, talking, waiting for dinner to cook. For some reason we were arguing about where Letchworth Park is located . I got aggravated. I am well aware that I don’t know everything, but I am also not an idiot and since I’ve spent some time traveling to Rochester lately, I’ve driven past the turn off for Letchworth a few times. Also, one of my work colleagues often takes people to that park and he brought me some brochures he picked up there, which also list where it’s located. Nonetheless, my friend insisted that I was wrong. I just decided to shut up. I wasn’t going to keep arguing and I wasn’t going to pretend that I didn’t know what I was talking about.
This turned out to be a catalyst to craziness. He was pissed and, since he already had a lighter in hand to fire up yet another cigarette, he put the lighter, with the flame up, to my bare foot. I screamed and yanked my foot back, away from him. He snorted with derision – denying that I was hurt or that he had burned me. But, a moment or two later, as I willed myself not to cry, he was immediately conciliatory. Actually, he went to the front of the house first – as if to walk the five or so miles home in the dark, intoxicated. I felt like I was forced to tell him to come back and sit down. It would be ok – I’d be ok. It was just a mistake – when really, my foot hurt like hell and my soul was shriveling into itself.
I cried that night and he held me – though I kept saying “Why did you do that to me? Why did you hurt me?” he had no reply. I kept seeing how his face had looked when he burned me. I kept reliving the betrayal – and was probably more hurt by the fact that I had, essentially, allowed myself to be burned, figuratively and then literally, by allowing this man to stay in my life past the first time he stole from me, lied to me, treated me like an idiot.
I drove him home in the morning – there was a story about losing his license, though I don’t know the real reason why – could be anything given his lies to himself and others. When I went to grab a coffee after dropping him off, I found that my wallet was empty of cash. Thank god I’d hidden most of my money somewhere else.
That very day, I took the Fire Escape. I told him, and myself, that enough was enough. He had the audacity to say we’d “talk about it” when I got home from vacation. I’ve not spoken to him since – and am still forgiving myself for the mistake.
I will become a phoenix from escaping this and all of my other lived fires.
A girl has to have dreams.