Phoenix

Phoenix

Lisa Lerma Weber

When I was thirteen, I played a game with my cousins as we sat around a campfire, the waters of the Gulf of California lapping at the sleepy shore. Our parents had gone for beers at the closest bar, leaving the older boys in charge. I don’t know whose idea it was, but we decided to light matches, then put them out on the delicate skin of our inner arms and pale thighs. The point was to see who was toughest, who could put out more matches without wincing or crying.

I don’t remember if we crowned a winner, just that it wasn’t a challenge to me. Sure, there was a split second of pain, but it was nothing. Nothing like the pain of hearing my parents heated arguments or watching them burn the bridges to each other’s hearts. Nothing like the pain of discovering violence was an inheritance in my family, that it seared the pages of our history. Nothing like the pain of loneliness I so often felt, an ember carried away on the breeze, searching for a forest to burn but quickly distinguished.

Fast forward five years and I played a similar game. Only this time, it was cigarettes. The pain lasted longer and left angry red blisters on my forearms. Again, it wasn’t much of a challenge for me. One of the guys I played with later regretted having played. He said it was stupid and he couldn’t understand what compelled us to do it. Maybe it was the beer. Maybe it was the boredom that permeated the air in that god-forsaken desert town. Maybe it was all the questions burning inside me. Why did I scar myself? Why did I feel the need to prove my strength? And who was I proving it to? Everyone else? Or myself?

They say everyone has a devil inside. And I wondered if mine looked for ways to make itself known. Or if maybe I wanted to release it, to be free of its scorching punishment. Or maybe it wasn’t my demons, but just me punishing myself.

Now I am older and I know my strength—and my weaknesses. I know that like the phoenix, I have risen from the ashes of the lost soul that I was. I won’t deny that I still feel the need to prove my strength. I won’t deny that I still fight the urge to punish myself. But now, I can stare into a fire, watch the flames dance, and not want to join them.

I still have a fire inside. But it burns with passion. It burns for my husband and son. It burns for the people who will read these words and find some measure of hope. It burns for everyone searching for some warmth in this cold world.

I still have a fire inside. But I also know the cooling waters of love. And so I rise.

Lisa Lerma Weber

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