When I was a child, I set my family's house on fire. I was nine years old. My father never forgave me. I lit a candle in the window to see the beautiful flame against the dark sky as I drifted to sleep in my bed. One moment, everything was fine, the flame glowing red against the night. The next moment, the curtain was on fire. I watched it burn. Flames leapt the curtain and began to climb the wall. My bedroom filled with black smoke. Mother was screaming for my father to wake up. Wake up, wake up, wake up! I ran down the stairs to find him sleeping on the couch in front of the television.
Even now when I visit my parents in the other house, my father sometimes looks at me like he's remembering why he can't forgive me. I'm now thirty-nine years old, and I want to tell him the fire moved so fast, so much faster than I ever expected fire to move.
In the interest of repairing our relationship, I want to explain what he'll never understand about that night, but something stops me. Perhaps I'll never understand what it was like for him to work so hard to pay for that house and everything in it, to fall asleep on the couch, watching television after a long day of work, and to wake to screams and the house filling with black smoke. What was it like for him to call the fire department and wait for them to arrive, to get me and my mother safely out of the house, and then to stand outside the house with the neighbors, watching the house burn? He was watching the neighbors watching him watching it burn, and then he was watching my mother's eyes changing when they told her it was too late.
The house was already too far gone by the time he looked at me.