By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. The dark smoke billowed from the fire pit like a welcoming chimney from a cozy cottage. The ashes floated up and danced in the cool autumn breeze. The smoky smell filled my body and made me feel warm from the inside out, cleansing me of the evening chill. I hoped the fire could cleanse me of him too.
I watched as Jenny poked the leaves around with an old, broken rake handle. The fire roared powerfully. It was ready. She smiled and bounced over when she saw me.
“Is this the last of it?” She asked, taking one of the boxes I had been carrying.
“Yup, this is everything,” I said, glancing back at the house.
“I know I’ve been pushing it, but you’re sure you want to do this? I mean, there’s really no going back after you do it.”
I started walking towards the fire pit. I was sure. For once, I was completely sure about what I was doing. I wanted a fresh start, a clean slate, and this was my first step. She jogged to catch up to me.
“By the way, how do you know he won’t come home in the middle of this?” She asked.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? He’s away ‘visiting his sick mother’ for the week,” I scoffed.
If I’d had the free hands I would have done air quotes. Not that I really needed to. Jenny shook her head in disbelief.
“Wow, you just caught him last month and he’s already at it again?”
“Seems like it,” I said, shrugging.
“Same girl or a different one?”
“Both!” I laughed. “It’s a different girl than the one from last time, but she’s one that he’s screwed around with before.”
“Honestly Kel, I don’t know why you stayed with him for so long,” she complained. “This is like the umpteenth time he’s done this.”
“He said he loved me,” I sighed. “He always said the last girl was the last one, that he was done screwing around. He kept saying he would change.”
She rolled her eyes. “They always say that. They never mean it. Sure, anyone can screw up and make a mistake. Once. He’s done it at least half a dozen times by now. You deserve better.”
“That’s why we’re doing this.”
I tossed the box I was holding into the fire. I felt a strange rush of satisfaction as a pile of his baseball caps tumbled out and began melting in the flames. Jenny stared at me, wide-eyed. I don’t think she thought I’d really go through with this.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” I teased. “I thought you wanted me to get over him.”
“You bet your ass I do!” She laughed, tossing her box in too.
A shower of sparks flew up into the air. The reddish-orange embers seemed to disappear into the sunset sky. Only the faint, firey glow gave them away. For a moment, it was like seeing the nighttime sky painted red.
The chemicals in the clothing materials gave the smoke a harsh, burning smell now, but I didn’t care. To me, it may as well have been the sweetest perfume. The dark cloud that billowed up seemed even blacker than the one before as if a demon was being exorcised from our world. Well, one was being exorcised from my world anyway.
I smiled as Jenny enthusiastically threw more things onto the fire. Jenny was right, she had always been right. It was time to let him go. I almost wanted to kick myself thinking of how many times she’d begged me to leave him, how I always defended, and explained away the things he did because he “loved me.” I felt disgusted that I let myself become so pathetic.
But not anymore. While he was visiting his so-called “mother” we were getting rid of him. For good this time. I had all my things packed and ready to go. He didn’t even notice how my things had all gone missing this week. Another sign I was doing the right thing.
I’d already talked to the landlady about breaking the lease on the house. I offered to pay the fee, but she wouldn’t hear it. Apparently, she’d been a jilted lover herself at one point. She told me not to worry about it, to go out and live my best life.
Jenny said I could stay at her place as long as I needed to. Thanks to her, I’d be able to save up some money. I could be in my own place in a few months. Him though? No such luck.
Even if he moved in one of his other girlfriends to help pay, the landlady probably wouldn’t want to renew his lease after what I told her. Aside from that, he’d have to go get himself a whole new wardrobe now, considering we were burning everything. As for calling the cops, it was he-said-she-said at best, and he wouldn’t want his slimy lifestyle made public.
Honestly, none of that really mattered to me though. They were things Jenny had brought up. I’m sure she probably thought I was doing this as some kind of malicious payback, but I wasn’t. I didn’t care about hurting him or getting back at him, I just wanted to be done with him.
Three years. I’d wasted three years of my life on him. I was done waiting up all night for him to come home with a weak excuse, I was done being paranoid because he was texting his “cousin” all day, I was done catching him with girl after girl and listening to the apology speech I’d basically memorized by now, I was done crying alone in the shower and wondering why I wasn’t enough. I was done.
“So, not that I’m opposed to it or anything, but why’d we burn this stuff?” Jenny asked, throwing the last of her pile in. “We could have just ruined it with bleach or trashed it or something. Probably would have saved the environment a little toxic smoke.”
“Because I want to start over,” I said simply.
“Huh? I’m not sure I follow. Isn’t that what you’re doing by leaving?”
“Fire has been used for centuries as a symbol of cleansing and rebirth,” I explained. “I don’t just want to remove him from my sight, I want to cleanse myself of him. Not just of the possessions he has, but of him. I want the fire to burn up every memory I have with him. I want the smoke to carry these negative feelings far far away from me. I want the flames to give me the strength to say things are really over, even if he shows up again. I want this day to be my rebirth, the start of my new life.”
“Well, happy birthday, New Kelly!” Jenny laughed, hugging me. “Let’s have a party tonight to celebrate it. I’ll get some booze and we’ll have a good, old-fashioned grown-up sleepover. What do you say, New Kelly?”
“Hmm, New Kelly approves,” I said, smiling.
“Great! Give me an hour. I’ll grab us a pizza too!”
With that, Jenny rushed off to the front of the house. I heard as her car door closed and she drove off. I was alone.
The smoke from the fire began to blend with the night sky, the embers danced with the stars. Pizza, booze, a beautiful night, and my best friend. A perfect way to start my new life. Jenny’s words echoed in my head as I looked into the crackling flames.
Happy birthday, New Kelly!