Set it free

The western sky bled out the remainder of the sunset and we lay cheek to cheek in the dewy lawn, our feet pointing to noon and six. As the sky grew dim, the stars faded into life and their juxtaposition against the orange haze gave the illusion of an old photograph, speckled white as if a grainy film. The barn was just up the hill and we knew we’d walk there later but not just yet. A bard owl spoke to us from across the field. Stark silhouettes of the naked autumn trees on the horizon.

*“I bet there isn’t a single person that ever lived who can claim they knew exactly what they wanted and where they were goin’ and why they did what they did, the way I see it”, *I said.

“That’s comforting, I s’pose”. *I sensed but could not see the smile that whispered across her lips. “So we’re all just fakers?”*

“Worse, I think. It’s like a sad resignation. In the morning you’re a naive college graduate with this… this *plan to do things differently, and suddenly dusk rolls in and you’re a world-weary adult and then what? By then it’s almost easier to settle in further. Pretend you’d meant it that way all along because confidence is maturity.”*

“You’re doing it again, you know. Dwelling, when we’ve already made up our minds.”

I sighed, deep and exaggerated.

“You’re right. Let’s go.”

We stood and pushed our feet through the lawn up to the barn. The doors were latched and we slid them back only far enough to squeeze in. The door slid closed again and we were plunged into the inky darkness during the moments it took to light the oil lamp we’d brought. The barn was empty but still littered with hay, the grassy scent thick in the air. A metal drum stood at the center, just at the edge of the lamplight, its top removed. Newspaper and firewood leaned against it, and a book of matches.

She quietly built a fire in the barrel while I removed items from the knapsack we’d carried up with us. Remnants of our time together, both the distant and recent past; pictures shot on Polaroid, letters snuck into backpacks before work, postcards from Italy. Photo booth strips from work parties. All of them small pieces in a puzzle that once completed landed us here. Stuck. Stale. Unhappy, and yearning for the excitement we recalled from earlier times.

Two weeks ago, each of us gave notice at work, suddenly and to the disbelief of friends and acquaintances alike. We were the work couple, a bedrock, a mainstay. Content. Happy-seeming. That night, we donated the bulk of our savings to our favorite charity, one that funds alternative education schools in countries where “dreams” refer only to sleep. Two weeks later, after leaving work for the last time—and without a single glance back—we handed over the keys to the condo we’d bought five years before. We packed the car—one suitcase each—and drove to the dealership, the same one we’d bought the car from, used, seven years ago. We sold it for a pithy sum and took a cab out to the cabin. A tiny, one room dwelling, large garden in the side yard, and a magnificent barn a mile out on the back property. Our new home.

She brushed against my shoulder, startling me out of memory.


With my silence as assent, she gathered the pile of memories into her hands and turned back to the barrel, scattering them onto the pyre inside. I joined her beside the drum and held a matchbook as she struck one alight. She glanced sidelong at me, quickly, and then for a second time and we held eye contact. There were legions spoken in that moment before she dropped the match. A rush of heat blew up into our faces as the gasoline took to flame, but we refused even to blink, enrapt by the flames.

“If you love something, set it free”, famously wrote Richard Bach. “If it comes back it’s yours. If it doesn’t it never was.” We loved each other, and we loved ourselves, but were trapped by a life we’d unconsciously fallen into, begrudgingly pulling ourselves through each day, postponing happiness. So with the drop of a match, we set ourselves free, curious to discover if we’d come back as ourselves and sincerely hoping we wouldn’t.