I DON’T LIKE LIGHTING CANDLES BY MYSELF, not unless I have to. There are twelve burning before me now and I have not yet lit a single one. I usually light two: one for me, and one for wife, but tonight I have chosen not to watch the flames as they dance softly in the night, jittering as if tiny men are shaking and waving. They burn brightly before me and warm my face and yet there is nothing I can think of other than grabbing one so I can jab it into the centre of my eye and feel it burn.
I shouldn’t want to do this, but I feel so guilty about what I am that the candles are all that I can look at without feeling like I want to kill myself. Suicide, which is a concept that I once believed to be the trait of the hopeless, but I suppose that’s what I am now.
I was eating dinner early last night, with my wife and mother. The forks were clanging and there was not a single word spoken by anyone at the table. We were all so perfectly silent, because we didn’t want to be anything else except that.
“Do you want anything to drink?” I asked, gesturing to the pitcher of water.
There was no answer.
We sat longer, eating, and listening to the grim quiet. I was putting on a façade, because I knew what they were thinking and I was perfectly inclined to sit and wait for the time to pass, but this was the last time I would see them, the last meal we would share together for a long, long time.
My wife looked at me with wrathful eyes. She didn’t want me to speak. She told me that this was my fault and I should be regretful before we sat down, and although I was, that still wasn’t going to stop me from at least trying to enjoy some of the moment before I went away.
“Over eighty percent of ex-convicts return to prison within the first year of their release,” she uttered, a few seconds later.
My mother sobbed and my wife scowled as I held my fork in my hand.
“Well what ever happens,” I said, “I’ll be sure to…”
She scoffed and kept eating.
She understood what I was really trying to say to her.
The letters I wrote were one of the first ways that we began our relationship. I closed each with a smiley face, followed by an xx and an oo. She would love when I wrote her. She said it was a classic way of keeping in touch, though I know now that it will not be the same as it was and I’ll only be pretending like it is.
When I would write to her, it was usually about how much I missed her. We would talk about the lives we wanted to share together, even the color of the drapes that we were going to choose for our first home. We decided against some of the choices because we knew that what ever we did do would be good enough. Then everything changed.
“It’s not like we planned, is it?” she had said to me.
After I returned from the tour I tried to find work where I could and she tried to do the same. We were like discarded non-people who didn’t matter and what we wanted mattered even less.
“Are you going to do something about this or not?”
Of course I knew it was me who had to try. I knew it was my job to make sure everything was the way it was supposed to be for us. I promised her that it would be and I wasn’t going to break it. I didn’t break promises. It was my thing.
I spent ten days trying to figure things out and decided to solve our problems in the only way I knew how. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t care, because it’s what she wanted me.
It was my job to do.
As I reach out to light a candle, I chose the one that appeared to be the most wilted. I am hoping that it will return to the way it was, but it won’t, and I know that it won’t.
My wife and I have learned this together.
We learned that there’s little you can do to change the past. She believed me when I said this, but that was before.
I ate my last meal with her and walked away without saying much. My mother probably knew where I was going, as well as where I was supposed to be, but she knew it wouldn’t matter.
She knew I was going to run.
Now I am here, waiting for them to come and find me.
The candles are shining brightly now, perhaps more brightly than they did when I first looked at them. They are all standing in a row, flickering, dancing, as they always have. I wait for one to go out, but it won’t. The flames are too strong to dwindle. I wish I could blow them out and light more because it’s what I want. But life is not like candles, and even when you blow one out, the one that once was still leaves its mark.
Fires can burn brightly but then again, so can light.