I don’t blow enough shit up. In fact, I’ve never blown up any shit. I sometimes wonder if it’s just because I’m a girl. As a kid, I was one of those girls climbing trees, catching lizards, and scraping off layer after layer of knee skin in failed attempts to do tricks on my bike. Why did it never occur to me to get cherry bombs and blow up a mailbox? Why did it occur to the neighborhood boys to do such a thing? If I had blown up a mailbox, I’m sure I would have felt guilty. Guilty enough to turn myself in. That would have been no fun at all.
My friend’s older brother once threw a can of spray paint into a fire. It blew up, and a chunk of the can hit her little brother. Her dad responded by beating up the older brother. It was not the first or last time she would see her dad punch a kid in the face. Her whole childhood sounds like a series of explosions. My friend never felt compelled to turn herself in for anything that she did wrong. She could make herself believe all sorts of lies that expunged her guilt.
I once made a New Year’s resolution to get into a fist fight. It was after I was asked to leave a party because my presence was upsetting my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. I left that party and went to another one. After downing a shot, I looked to my best friend and told her my resolution to kick someone’s ass. She laughed in my face and said it sounded like something I would do. She meant the crazy resolution, not the actual act of fighting. That was almost ten years ago, and I’m still waiting to punch someone in the face. Or to have someone punch me.
I was walking through the French Quarter in New Orleans a while ago when a man, a stranger, reared his leg back and horse-kicked me in the hip. I looked up at him bewildered. Rather than say, “Excuse me,” or “Sorry I kicked you,” he said, “I didn’t want to touch your stinky ass anyway.” All I could muster was a high pitched, “You can’t just kick people!” Then I walked away embarrassed.
I don’t shoot real guns. For a couple of weeks a man was going through my neighborhood breaking into houses and trying to rape people. He was really bad at it and kept getting scared off when his potential victims fought back. One woman bit him on the thumb. My ex-girlfriend bought a BB gun that looked like a real gun in case he decided to try to get us. We shot it at a two-liter coke bottle in the back yard. Once, a badly aimed BB ricocheted off the fence into a gas can. Nothing blew up, and it was kind of disappointing. Later, I shot the gun off in the house. I don’t know what came over me. It wasn’t an accident. I pointed the gun at the floor and just shot it. I wanted to know what would happen. The BB ricocheted off the floor into my ex-girlfriend’s wrist. It didn’t hurt her, just a minor sting. But she blew up a little bit, and it was kind of disappointing. If she had shot me, I think I would have laughed. But I don’t know. Sometimes it’s easy to yell at people we live with over small things, such as getting shot.
I have no desire to shoot real guns. The thought of a weapon in my not-so-skilled hands feels like a crime waiting to happen. I get instant guilt just imagining the weight of it in my hands. One time I did shoot a gun, though. At a small outdoor shooting range in Amite, Louisiana. My hands shook the whole time. I fucking hated it. I went with a girl I had a crush on. It was a first date of sorts. We went with her dad. He tried to get me to fire a really big gun. I picked the smaller one and prayed the bullets wouldn’t ricochet and kill somebody. That would be embarrassing. The range was full of men wearing jeans and work boots shooting huge automatic weapons at a large hill. These were the type of guys who stockpile guns all over the house “just in case.” Before the shooting commenced the guys in line would shout, “We’re going hot!” I would smile and look over at the girl I had a crush on. She would smile back and then shoot. There was a tiny white piece of paper resting on the hill. She got off a good shot and turned the paper into confetti. I’m still terrified of guns, but first dates aren’t so scary anymore.
My family has a Christmas day tradition: drag the tree out into the yard and set it on fire. Happy birthday, Jesus. We cover the tree with crappy ornaments and leave it in our living room for a few weeks. Then once Christmas finally arrives, we strip the tree and light it on fire.
The tree is usually a mass of ash in minutes. It’s the only time I ever see my dad look giddy. It seems dangerous to keep those things in the house. They burn up so fast.
My little sister set part of my mom’s kitchen on fire while making popcorn. The oil splattered onto the burner and within seconds the whole stove area was swallowed in flames. She did it two days after I got arrested for driving while intoxicated. My mom didn’t blow up. She used the fire as an excuse to get new appliances and paint her cabinets. Her only response to my arrest was to say, “You should have known better.” Her jaw clenched. I grind my teeth when something annoys me. Now my jaw clicks. I could just tell people when I’m annoyed. That would maybe stop me from clenching my jaw. But dragging things out until they explode, or slowly fizzle out into nothing, is somehow the most comfortable option for me.
One year I went to a Christmas tree bonfire on New Year’s Eve. Everyone from the neighborhood brought their trees out to be burned. In past years responsible adults from the neighborhood placed the trees in a heap and lit the fire. This time police and firefighters set up a barrier around the discarded Christmas trees and controlled the proceedings. It was disappointing to have them there making sure everything went safely. The fire should have been a chance for people to feel like they were breaking rules and being dangerous, but the night was just too safe. There was an air of boredom despite the twenty foot flames licking into the night.
This was a time right before several of my friends were about to break up with their partners. One relationship would go up and then, like a fire leaping from rooftop to rooftop, we all began to ignite what we had. Now, at the Christmas tree bonfire, we stood still, watching things get reduced to ash, but with authority figures around to make sure everything went according to plan. There was no spontaneity, only a grim procedure, which is how the relationships were looking as well.
Then a lady took off her clothes, jumped over the barricade and streaked around the perimeter. She was the first attractive streaker I’d ever seen. A pale body lit by orange flames. Everyone screamed and cheered her on. She was smiling as she jumped back over the barricade straight into the arms of a cop. The crowd groaned. Our hero, the one who broke the rules, was caught. We stood in the cold, wishing we could be that brave.
5. A Side Note On Water
Nobody in New Orleans swims in Lake Ponchartrain. It’s full of street runoff, cars, dead bodies, who-knows-what (a local sanitation company has even been caught pumping Porta-Potty waste into drains that lead straight into the lake). It’s not the cleansing water of myth. I baptized myself in it anyway after a break-up. One spring day, my belly full of beer, cheered on by two friends with just as much beer in them, I waded in and tried to keep my mouth shut to keep the water out. I swam out a few hundred yards and turned to see my friends laughing and pointing. I felt okay though. I was alone out there, doing something I knew they would never do. And I felt okay being alone even if I was dirty as hell. Even if it would take a thirty minute shower to feel clean again. I rode my bike home alone after I got out of the lake. A spring storm came in fast on a strong wind and big fat drops of cool rain began to fall. If I hadn’t already been drenched I would have maybe been more concerned. But as it was, the rain was what I needed to rinse off that lake. I rode by myself, soaked to the bone, grinning like a skeleton and ready to start over again.