By far the most traumatic event of my adolescence was Sue Cook’s house fire. I recall the suburban home ringed with a crowd of people, spewing fire and black smoke out of its windows. I stood there watching solemnly with Sue, who whispered, “Don’t tell” and held me in the grip of her panicked eyes.
We both knew how the fire started. We had accidentally dropped a burning cigarette onto her couch only hours before; it had disappeared into the box springs and, unbeknownst to us, smoldered into life after we left. What began as a mischievous 13-year-old secret became a life-altering disaster.
For about a year, until Sue’s father discovered the matter, I carried two monsters on by back—guilt and shame. Guilt reminded me of the horrible thing I’d done, while Shame told me that the horrible thing defined who I was. When Guilt flashed the burning house before my eyes, hissing, “You lit this fire!” Shame followed quickly with, “You arsonist, you!” Guilt afflicted my conscience, while Shame …
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