Burning Up Old Memories

It was later in autumn; the nights that start to really bite and nip at the holes in your clothes, and the coolness that creeps up on you when you think that the day was warm enough to merit wearing that light sweater and capris. I was a junior in college out on Long Island and had been dating my then boyfriend for just about two years. My boyfriend had a group of buddies he had known since they were all practically in diapers and occasionally the gang would get together and over a couple beers laugh and joke about shared memories.

It was also not uncommon for these social gatherings to happen around a fire. A fire pit in a backyard in Long Island is not unusual. There were parties were the hosts would build up a small fire and the group would gather and warm themselves while roasting marshmallows. Autumn fires are the best, in my opinion. Summer fires are fun, but generally the added heat can draw some pleasure from the overall experience.

Therefore, it came as no surprise to me and my boyfriend to be invited to what was dubbed a “Bonfire” by one of these childhood friends.

I don’t clearly remember the How’s and What’s of what eventually got myself huddled up against my boyfriends chest on a deserted back road staring at the flames, but I do clearly remember what I was staring at.

It was a bonfire, alright. Although, one of the old pals decided that he wanted to burn an entire box of memories. Every single scrap of paper, ticket stub, toy, letter, picture and memorabilia from the relationship of 4 years that had just ended was in that box. The Pal came out of his parents’ brightly lit suburban house holding the massive stack of stuff. He set it down on the concrete out back and asked the other three couples who were there to gather around.

In a very emotional speech, he said his girlfriend cheated on him with another girl, then left him, broke his heart forever. He had wanted to propose to this girl, but his dreams were dashed, and therefore: all needed to be burned. We were to be witness to this fire; this purge from this Man’s life. He then doused the box in kerosene, lit a match, and threw the flame onto the memorabilia.

I’ll never forget the smell of that burning plastic, the blue and green flames leaping from the different materials burning, the smoke rising into the air, and the orange light reflecting off of the eyes of the other witnesses as we each watched in silent horror as an entire relationship’s material wealth went up in smoke.

I felt, even despite the heat from the flames, that I was colder than before.

I don’t remember how long we stood out there, but the Pal wouldn’t let us put the flames out nor would he let us back into the house until the fire burned everything to ash and there was no more flame. No one said a word. I clung to my boyfriend like a ragged flag on a school yard flag-pole in a strong wind. There was no traffic, no sounds, no other outside force on that deserted Long Island back-road except the cackle of the flames licking, melting and destroying the evidence.

To this day, I am still shocked at the hurt and anger that can pass through someone to make them do the things they do. I imagined, once, how it would feel to take what little mementos I have left of relationships from my past and burn them, only to shudder at the idea of such a violent act of deletion. I’ll keep those letters and photos and ticket stubs locked away in a shoebox at the back of my closet, and try to remember the wonderful aspects of a relationship gone past its expiration date, rather than burn it all up to ash. I wonder, too: did that Pal feel better? or does he ever miss those pieces of evidence? I never asked.

August 26, 2012 at 6:16 am by Natalie Allen