My brother wanted to set his science project on fire.
“In five minutes,” he said, going to grab the matches from the cabinet.
Seven minutes later, he was walking across the grass in our backyard, barefoot and carrying a blue board. He had been measuring the weight-bearing capabilities of suspension and strut structures, and had wrapped the project up last night with a five-minute presentation and a popsicle stick title: Bridges.
Now, Bridges was standing up in one of the garden boxes, on top of charred sticks and white ash from previous burnings. “Here we go,” he said, tossing a match at the “Journal” heading on the board. Fire tore through the paper like a snake shooting through the grass around our ditch. It devoured the project, page by page—reducing words to black char that floated over our neighbor’s fence.
“You’re gonna set the fence on fire!” I said as the board toppled over, a victim of the red and yellow monster eating its paper core.
“Nah, it’s been through worse,” my other brother, also a spectator, said as our favorite pyro patted his burning project with a stick.
Afterward, the scent of smoke hung in the air as I checked my phone for updates. Sister, can you help for a second? my mom had texted me ten minutes earlier.
She was sitting on her bed, a swaddle of blankets and scattered papers around her computer. “Sorry to bother you. So look, when I submitted it, it looks like this…” She showed me her annotated bibliography in the submission folder. The text was scattered across the page like a free verse poem. “It doesn’t look like that here.” She dropped the printed version in front of my face.
“That’s weird.” I clicked Enable Editing and the text straightened out. “Email your teacher, I guess.”
She smiled and squeezed my hand. “Thanks.”
Walking back, I looked toward the garden box where my brother had burned his project. There was no smoke now, not even in the air. Just char and ashes around the burnt paper, just as there had been before.
I thought about those ashes surrounding the project, and my thoughts wandered from the back porch to past memories. People had promised me so much heartache, so much regret for the choices I had made.
“You’re gonna regret leaving me. You will,” my ex-boyfriend had said when I chose my family over our secrets.
“You’re going to regret this…staying at home, not having the full college experience,” one of my friends had said after I chose to live at home while attending the university.
Family. Home. Regret. I sat on the couch and listened to the wind, the bugs humming in the ditch, my mother talking to my brother in the kitchen—possibly a chiding over the burning of his science project. I hummed. The air was in its pure form, skirting through the trees, happy to be near my house. Happy to be alive.
I wrote this thumbnail for my creative nonfiction class this fall. It is a small, but important snapshot of my more recent life. Thanks for reading 🙂
(The featured image comes from http://wimrampen.com/2013/03/17/burning-bridges-to-foster-innovation/ )