San Diego. I'd driven there Saturday night to beat the heat and avoid the traffic... and it had worked. I sat back with a drink at Tim's. It wasn't my first but I was drinking light... I had things to do.
"You about ready," Tim asked.
"Yep," I said. "Let's go."
I put the shirt on and picked up the board. We grabbed smokes and we were out of there. The skies were clear that night and, though it was a bit humid, conditions were perfect for what we had in mind.
When we reached the beach, Tim suggested we mill around from fire to fire until we found the right one.
I went straight to the closest. "Hi," I called out to the people who were just starting the fire. "How're you guys doing?" They responded with the typical Gen-X babble. "Would you mind if I threw something on your fire?"
"What is that?" one of the people asked. There were about ten of them, an equal number of guys and girls in their early-mid twenties.
I held up the board. "Oh, it's just a board," I said.
One of them looked closely and read, "Ken a-and Ro-sa's...?" I quickly turned the sign around. I hadn't realized that I'd been holding it upright, making it easy to read.
It read Ken & Rosa's Place. It was an oak board measuring about three feet long and six inches tall. In 1995, around Christmas, only two months after Rosa and I had moved in to our house, Sean and I had gone to the swap meet to buy it. Actually, I had gone to the swap meet to buy it - to buy something special to give to Rosa for our new home - Sean had come along because I had money... and I think I was bringing him to Tommy's. I ended up buying him a machete that day... wonder if he still has it.... We were walking around, waiting for this board to be completed. The words, and a little leaf design, were carved and burned in.
"Ken & Rosa's Place." I used to say that a lot. On our answering machine, I'd say, "Hi. You've reached Ken and Rosa's Place." On our mail, I'd sometimes write "Ken & Rosa's Place". It wasn't "The La Celle Residence" - in my head, it was much less formal and more fun. It was a place and it was our place. It was "Ken & Rosa's Place".
Rosa hated the board, which was intended to go in front of the house, and refused to allow me to put it up. You might say I should have known then how things would end up turning out but when you're in love you ignore those things. You have to ignore those things.
"What is it?" I was asked again.
"It's a story," Tim replied across the fire, his flair for the dramatic working well.
"What's the story?" a couple of them asked.
"It's rather complicated," I said.
The story was about how I tried every day to show her I loved her in everything I did. I never wanted there to be a day in her life where she didn't feel loved and adored...
And then she told me to go find someone else.
She didn't break my heart. She destroyed my life. No one has ever hurt me like that and I'll never allow myself to be hurt like that again.... because she killed the part of me that allowed myself to be open enough to be hurt like that. She poisoned my innocence and left me a little more dead inside.
"I guess the short version is that this is one of the last pieces I have of a failed marriage - and now I'm engaged to be married again - and I really want to watch this go up in smoke."
"BURN IT!" they yelled out, seemingly in unison.
And, so, I threw it into the fire.
Tim later observed, "Did you notice that the fire didn't really catch until you threw the board in?" I hadn't... but it makes sense. Nothing burns quite as well as a dead thing.
Tim had expected me to take a while before I could throw it in.
What he didn't know is that I wanted to throw it in. I needed to throw it in.
Death can be very cathartic.
"You want to have a beer?" Tim asked.
"Sure," I said, the blazing fire now licking at my face. "The problem with that, though, is that we don't have any beer."
"They do!" Tim exclaimed.
One of the guys brought us a couple of beers and we drank them and smoked as we watched the board go up.
Board burns, I thought, makes ash. Ash goes into the ground, feeds life. And around it goes. I'd been burning for years, burning through layers upon layers of sorrow and regret and fear and hate and loss, and the ash has fed my will to go on. I had to allow the pain of that burning - it sustained me. Now, I'm done. And I can let go.
"I'm throwing the shirt in," I said.
"Wait until we're at another fire," Tim suggested.
"No," I said, removing the shirt. "It's going in."
I wadded it up and tossed it.
... I never saw it go up... it burned so fast.
It was the Rosa shirt. It was the shirt we had bought in Medford, Oregon when we'd stopped in there for a couple of days after driving through a forest fire. It was the shirt I'd sung to her in on our 8th anniversary. It was her favorite.
Good riddance, I thought with a smile. It felt good. I wasn't burning those things to make a statement. I didn't care who saw. I didn't care who knew. I didn't want to send a picture to Rosa with "Fuck You!" scrawled on the back. It was simply disposal. It was meaningless.
And that's why I had to burn it. I had to know it was meaningless. My future with Vicky - my life with Vicky - it too important to let Rosa still have her hooks in me.
Vicky has said she's afraid I might want to get back together with Rosa. I was more afraid that I hadn't really left.
"Thanks, guys," I called over the fire to the others.
Tim and I walked back to his place and had a few drinks.
It was a good night.