Setting Tears on Fire

“I know pain.

I know what pain feels like.”

My mother looked at me, uncertain.

Startled by my words.

The psychiatrist looked around the room, nervous,

Wiping sweat from his brow

And letting his shirt soak up the dampness from his palms.


“I know how it feels to dive deep into yourself,

To go to places you were never meant to be,

To go to dimensions that were never fit for human life,

To see things you were never meant to see:

To have your eyes catch fire because the sight is so atrocious,

And in the end, it always ends up that the sight upon which

You fixed your eyes was just yourself—your insides.”


Now my words frightened even myself,

And my mother began to lose her patience.

But the psychiatrist inhaled deeply, exhaling the tension

Into the humid air to be breathed in by my mother

Who begged for his help through her helpless eyes

And tried to offer a hopeless smile to me.


“Once I crawled so far inside of myself that I

Couldn’t find my way out for months.

During this time, people were always looking for me.

They’d talk about me in the third person because they knew

They wouldn’t get a response.”


“How long has she been like this?” the psychiatrist whispered

To my mother, as if I couldn’t discern whispers.

He loosened his tie, and wiped droplets of water

From his bald head.

“For way too long,” my mother whispered back.


“Truly, I was right there, trying to claw my way to the surface,”

I continued. “Yelling out for help, but they wouldn’t hear me.

I found my way out when I quit trying.

I had quit gasping for air, given up, when I relinquished

Myself. I wish I had not because the nightmares are worse than the act.”


“So, you need something to help you sleep?” the psychiatrist questioned,

Nodding as if all my problems could be solved by an orange pill bottle.

“It’s not about sleeping. The nightmares come when I’m awake.

I need to find a place to stay that won’t swallow

Me up any chance it gets. I know I can’t do so safely

In my own body. I know the danger of being eaten

Alive again by myself, only to be spit out and left

To deal with the memories.”


Eventually my mother made me stop talking,

And the psychiatrist thanked her with a sigh of relief.

I returned home with a bottle of pills kept inside an orange bottle.

So, I did what I could going forward. I had to fill the empty space

Within me that I knew would envelope me any chance it had.

First, I tried to fill it with love, then fun, then flames.


I shook bottles of little white pills into the hot, empty air

Of the body that held me hostage until there was little space left.

I filled the rest, the little crevices between each pill, with booze

And then I set the whole damn thing on fire.

My mother took my burning body back into the psychiatrist’s office.

“The pills aren’t working. They’re only making it worse,” she told him.

But all I could see were flames that dried the moist air of the room.

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