The Arsonists (Mary-Pat Buss)

I’ve known you for years, but I only met you the night we slept together. In the midst of the sparks that kindled between our bodies, I realized I was only seeing you for the first time. As the friction built, I watched your face become all angles and pain and consume the you I thought I knew.

We both closed our eyes for different reasons. I was burning down my house that night and the blaze of my marriage’s dissolution and our mutual desire was all consuming. The feel of your hips pressing against mine told me you knew. Destruction is the only way you experience ecstasy. So while you reveled in the damages, there I was dropping the match for you. What a fateful pairing we made.

The problem with matches is that they go out. Once their fire is extinguished, we perceive a small tendril of their smoke and then all they become is a discarded splinter, the flare already extinguished, and the instrument robbed of its worth.

So while you pulled your pants up and I used our sweat scented sheets to cover my body, I knew the disaster was a shared act between us. You were in a hurry to leave; maybe you also knew we had made a mistake. I did. And in my shame, I too left the bed we had shared and hurried back into my clothing. ​Hide yourself,​ I thought. ​The glow that came with desire is absent and he knows you too well now. Here is when he refuses your warmth.

We said our goodbyes quickly. Uncomfortably. The hotel door clicked closed, and I swear the sound echoed. I showered, remembering your heat and longing to banish its memory. But the smoldering remained, my marriage irrevocably torn asunder, and the understanding that our friendship was forever altered a pang in my chest. You were a stranger to me now, and I knew it.

In the months since, I have tried to rebuild your image, to take those broken angles and fumble with their edges in my unsteady hands. It never works and all my efforts leave me singed. Meanwhile, our friendship dwindles. It’s you that’s burning your house down now and I am at a distance, a self imposed island unto myself having legally left my husband and strangely adrift in my new life. I wonder after your absence sometimes, but it seems I am not the only arsonist between us. I watch as you light match after endless match and stumble when only cold darkness remains, a friend I love bewitched by his own devastation.

Maybe we should have kept our dreams of the fire silent.

Maybe loneliness is its own kind of salve; bitter, but it takes the sting from the wound.

Maybe I needed the fire to recognize how much I longed to feel my own selfhood beat against my ribs again.

But all I know now is that it is painful missing someone you never really knew.


Mary-Pat Buss is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, Cultures, English, and World Languages at Texas Lutheran University. Her research focuses on minimized feminist voices and disability studies, while her work as a nonfiction writer also explores lessons in empathy and representation. She is a recent graduate of Texas State University’s Masters of Fine Arts Creative Writing program, nonfiction winner in the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities Pen2Paper competition, and a D.H. Lawrence Society fellowship recipient. Buss lives in Central Texas and fills her time with friends, shenanigans, and playing with her labradoodle, Daisy. 


image: Jessica Mannion