I’m not a pyromaniac. Really. Not at all.
When I was a little kid, I somehow ended up with the impression that our house could explode if it caught on fire, and that mixed with a certain level of natural anxiety until it turned into a full-blown phobia. I’d get out of bed at night, terrified that the house was on fire and nobody had noticed – this would be, of course, a very special sort of fire that didn’t trigger smoke alarms, make noise, produce light, or smell like smoke. I’d put my little hand on my bedroom door, concentrating with all my might to see if the door felt warm. It never did, but it was years before I convinced myself that my house would not spontaneously combust and send me to the Great Beyond without even giving me the chance to put on clean underpants first.
Setting buildings on fire was thus never particularly appealing to me, but I was an utter nightmare when it came to candles. I was forever sticking my fingers in the melted wax of a lit candle, letting it build up on my finger, and then putting my finger just close enough to the flame to melt the wax back off. When my hair was long as a child, I’d pull out one carefully selected strand and dip the end in the fire, watching the tiny flame travel its way up the fine blonde shaft until it burned itself out in a pungent little puff of smoke. Setting bits of paper on fire and blowing them out at the last minute was the inevitable next step, and by high school my mother had banned me from having candles in my room for fear that the whole house would come down in ashes around our ears.
I have, for the most part, grown out of this. I still light an inordinate number of candles, and not just at the holidays. I still like poking at the wax on the edges so that it burns evenly. I light a candle on my bedside table every night just before bed, so that I can turn out my light and look at the flickering flame for a quiet moment before blowing it out. But the urge to actually torch things has pretty much gone the way of my poofy bangs and mint-green crop tops (with matching ankle socks and hair scrunchie).
There is one huge, glaring exception to this rule. I am terrible, truly terrible, at throwing papers out if I think I might need them some day. However, I am getting ready to move for the first time in ten years, and I find myself looking at all this paper with an uncharacteristically cold eye. I can’t bear the thought of packing, transporting, and unpacking the ridiculous number of boxes of paperwork generated by two homes, three banks, four surgeries, five cars, six pets, seven jobs, eight loans, and I would be completely unsurprised if I found records for a partridge in a pear tree that I’d totally forgotten about.
Paper is flat, so it can hide. If I was a paranoid sort, I’d think that it had evolved the characteristic of stealthy two-dimensionality on purpose. It lurks in dark corners of file cabinets, slithers under boxes in the closet, and perches with a deceptively innocent demeanor on top of printers and desks – “I’ll just be here a minute, don’t mind me!” After a while, it gets bolder and starts to migrate, flaunting itself on bedside tables and infiltrating the usually strong defenses of the living room.
When it goes unchallenged, it finally bursts out of ambush and builds a nest on the kitchen counter, shaky towers of school lunch menus and advertising fliers forming a protective wall around a Queen File Folder deep in the center of the pile. If left alone, worker envelopes bring her new supplies of paper, and the reproductive cycle begins, unseen but impossible to ignore for long. Unfortunately, soldier memos have evolved a fierce defensive system characterized by impenetrable wording, cleverly designed to deter even the most aggressive housecleaning. Pitiful humans, trying to reclaim their lost territory, approach the nest and are faced with “Fill in ALL blanks on form and mail to insurance company with relevant documents attached – Please contact your agent at this number if you wish to challenge any part of this claim – Choose a new user name and password and destroy all previous cards associated with this account.” Baffled and disoriented, the humans retreat and vow to try again another day.
Today is that day. I am armed with a two-hour block of time, good strong tea, a chocolate bar, Queen on the stereo, and a shredder. I will dismantle this nest, I will determine which records are important enough to keep, and I will locate the Queen Folder and send her to the Great Filing Cabinet in the Sky. I will run my shredder until it overheats, and then I will sort more paperwork until it cools down and I can feed more of these vile little pests into its hungry maw.
But all things considered, can you really blame me for wanting to do the expedited version of this project and find a match? Not a big fire, just a little one … please?