the fourth fire – San Luis Valley, Colorado

I mark summers in fires. And here’s my last. This is the kind of trip that you thread between the end of Autumn and the first snow. Milking out the last bit of a summer you sipped much too little of because, as brave and as bold as I am, this has been a year of fear and disease and violence, and the throes of fighting it all while falling apart yourself.

This is my fourth fire this summer. Watching the flames consume the wood never grows old — twisting, turning, burning, orange tendrils gasping for oxygen. Sometimes I feel that way. This young body desperately burning through the swathes of antiquated people and culture to breathe.

It’s hard to make yourself in a new world when everyone’s blind to it and living in the old.

Nights like these with a warm fire lighting up the aspens under a star crusted sky, a half-moon that seems to be sinking not rising and a melted chocolate s’more that dissolves in my mouth, being alone seems infinite – seems the only way to breathe.

I’ve learned to swim alone in my thoughts and now it’s often the only place I fit.

I could have fit into you, but you were never there long enough for me to try. And honestly, you’re a metaphor for every dream and life this year has broken in half. It’s forcing me to turn alone at night in my childhood home with those dreams’ ghosts. I bump comfortably against its walls. I shouldn’t be back here with the traumas that birthed me, but I wish I swelled with rage. Even that seems tiresome now. I slipped back to the poisonous safety almost with relief.

The land beneath me was falling apart as I began to build a life. There was no choice but to retreat. So yes, I wish I was flaming out, born on mushrooms swirling in a forest of light, swimming naked in a river. So I could sink my body into her waters – rebirth me, renew me, restart me.

But this is my fourth fire, toasting my legs. And maybe I didn’t used to count them, maybe there used to be too many that we danced around to count. But this year is different, I can’t seem to warm up. This year though there was sunshine – summer never seemed to come.

So though this is my fourth and final fire – the summer’s final gasp – I’m desperate to soak in it’s warmth because I never thawed out from last winter’s icy grip. I’ve been alone trying to feel, but with no one to hold or pinch when I’m not sure if reality’s fading.

You don’t understand, I whisper, the Moon is sinking not rising and you’re not even here to hold me while our world collides with the stratosphere.

Your long distance love has taught me to disconnect the same way a global pandemic has. Numb – what more can we be anymore?

So this is my fourth fire, burning my flesh back to life. But to be alive while we all die – what a cruel joke: to melt s’mores on my tongue instead of your love. Did you ever deserve me? Probably not.

But who could I turn to? Only four fires and so few nights dancing under moonlight.

Forgive me, my wild child has been starved. I am not me. Myself is hollow, brittle, not like a twenty-three-year-old should be.

I should carry you back to your redemption, your youth, without breaking a sweat. But to even love now makes me heavy. Do you know I love you? Or did you forget that language? Am I like steroids, take me to fabricate your strength and then used, toss me away.

What am I to you? I wish she was the wild enough to not care.

I can feel your arms encircling my waist next to this fire. The other fires I had to myself and strangers’ laughs. But here, I can feel you slip next to me, building the tension until we couldn’t stand it anymore and you carried me away to make love under the stars. But remember, these moments alone feel infinite like I could never need you because she wraps me up in her peaks and night sky.

No, I am not lonely, but this is the first winter where I am leaving fall already cold because summer never came – you couldn’t fix that, no one could. Not even me. Four fires, one in the desert, one in a Rocky Mountain bowl, one with drunk strangers who became friends and one of them with a sinking moon.

If we all die, I don’t want to die alone, my love.

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