I started to burn when I was seven years old, alone in the basement with my mother's lighter, squatting in the corner behind the furnace. There was a pile of desiccated leaves at my feet, with a moulted skin of my pet snake coiled on top. I started with dead things first, the trash that accumulated around our lives; old receipts outlining our physical space in the world: what we wanted and sometimes needed, last year's fashion magazines with health tips that had been disproven, and--recently--I'd started to pile my old picture books. My parents would buy them and never read them to me, and the shiny paper released a wonderful smell as it crisped.
I didn't burn these things as an outlet for something else--some other repressed desire or frustration. It wasn't because my family neglected me or that I felt alone or had psychopathic tendencies. You see, it's easy for doctors and therapists to diagnose something after the fact, to map up your psyche in a few simple lines of cause and effect. When you are the one living it, you don't see your habits as a natural result of your mother not breastfeeding you or your father not spending enough time teaching you how to hold a baseball bat--it's just a flow of the moment. I didn't burn things for any reason like that. I did it because I simply wanted to. There was a beautiful satisfaction in destruction, of closing my eyes and breathing in the mold of the basement and the smoke of all the unwanted. I liked making nothing out of something, of feeling the ghost of it in my lungs.
And then, of course, I started burning bigger and better things.