How It Happens
The fire was momentarily traumatic. All of my belongings up in smoke. All the goldfish boiled alive. All of my photographs and sketchbooks, the letter from the old girlfriend, things I had intended to finish writing but never again touched, a variety of electrical appliances including a slow-cooker I used three times and a waffle iron I used maybe four times, a cocktail shaker I used often. Don’t get me started on the books. I can’t mention the books. My favorite chair. Television, that didn’t matter much, needed a new one anyway. Various childhood mementos I kept in a box, several seashells from the time Melissa and I went to the shore before she dumped me, drawings from my nephews. Cuban cigars I never smoked. Several bottles of liquor, mostly the kind of sweet aperitif you get as gifts and never drink anyway. One decent bottle of scotch. The CDs I hadn’t already thrown away and two milk crates of vinyl. Tragic, that. A burned down house has a certain distinctive smell to it, and they are not all the same. All my spices in the cupboard made a contribution. Certain T-shirts are irreplaceable. Though nothing really is, you know, is what I’m trying to say. You forget and your brain fills in the empty space with more everyday garbage. Everything I hadn’t uploaded was gone. Various importance vital records, my passport and birth certificate. Many pans were intact except for their melted handles. The cast iron skillet was a little warped but otherwise fine. I kept that and a few of the Planet of the Apes action figures that were only slightly melted into the positions that I had arranged them in. It was a hell of a way to come home from a vacation. But you get over it.
Standing there among the ashes and all the soppy gray shit that had sort of been a life, I thought of all the things I would need to think of, and decided to move on instead. I don’t think the fire was my fault. I suppose it could have been. I had been away for ten days. Could I have left the iron on or something? I don’t even iron my clothes. It seemed likely more happenstance. Why did I live in Columbus, Ohio to begin with? There were better places, weren’t there? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, it was a good enough community and the job was you know just fine but for me to have ended up there, sorting through the wreckage of a burnt out apartment after spending a disastrous week in the Smokey Mountains with two friends from college who I didn’t even really seem to know anymore just seemed . . . I don’t want to say ironic because, you know, it really wasn’t ironic, more like somehow arbitrary. How did I end up in marketing research? Just what is marketing, anyway? I never really understood the point. Why was I here? There, I mean. I could have been anywhere, yet there I was, in Columbus, Ohio, and I wasn’t even a soccer fan or an alumni of Ohio State. What the fuck? I wasn’t even from Ohio. Was I upset? I wasn’t like crying or anything. I was kind of numb and also sort of free or whatever. I still had my credit cards and a liberal arts degree and a personality that could pass for agreeable though even I had to admit that my life had become uninteresting. Who gives a rat’s ass what type of snack chips average consumers prefer or what deodorant soap they’d like to use, for instance? I didn’t. This wasn’t really like a moment of awakening for me, either, it would be too strong to say that. I had known that nothing new was coming for a long time. But I still had nothing to lose, was my realization. I could go virtually anywhere and, I hesitate to say start over, I mean I was thirty years old so I couldn’t get my youth back or whatever but you know what I mean. Just leave. I didn’t call anybody or anything. There might have been messages on the machine but the machine was just a lump of plastic. I wrote my Mom a letter from Wyoming. How I ended up in Wyoming herding sheep I have no fucking idea. I’ve got nothing wise to say about journeys. It’s really no better anywhere. You just end up somewhere doing something. That’s just how it happens, man.