When There’s Nothing Left to Burn You’ve Got to Set Yourself on Fire

I received a text message from an old ex-boyfriend today. I knew it was him, even though his number was not in my phone, because he is the only friend I have who fled with his degree to Hawaii to be a carpenter.

“do you need to be content to be happy? maybe i have to re-read that book you sent me.”

I chewed on my bottom lip. “You need to be content to be happy, but not visa versa.”


“Contentment is true happiness. What you think happiness is, that is just fleeting rushes of serotonin.”

He didn’t respond for a while. I knew he was mulling it over, probably sitting outside in the sun smoking a filterless cigarette and singing softly to himself. I don’t know if I thought about him for months, but suddenly my heart ached for our young romance. It was thrilling: all happiness, no contentment. It popped and fizzled like a can of soda until it eventually went flat. So I called him.

“Hi. It’s me. Are you okay? I haven’t heard from you in so long and this feels so out of the blue. What time is it there?”

He laughed at the sound of my voice. I could picture him throwing his head back, the way he used to, and letting himself love whatever in his head he was loving. Unlike my big island dreams, he said it had rained for a solid week. Last night he did acid and thought about me, and happiness, and what it means to be content.

I love when people think of me when they drop acid, I told him. He laughed again.

Are you depressed? I asked.

I don’t know. Do I sound depressed?

He asked me if I was still in the same apartment on the Upper East Side, with the same roommate, at the same job. And I felt stifled and wretched and nodded. Yes, I am. I am barely making rent and culling together enough money from my job to pay for living expenses and happy hours. And no, I’m not wearing my Birkenstocks around anymore. And I retired my vintage Who t-shirt. And I don’t listen to Clapton as much, or that Phish show from Boston we had gone to and cerimoniously made love to when we found a recording.

He told me he switched carpentry gigs and was staying on some land his friend was watching for a client. I jokingly asked if he had been rained on. Actually, he said, he was out buying more tarp. Suddenly I remembered why we broke up, but why I had adored him in the first place: these reasons are one in the same.

After we spoke, I thought a lot about happiness and contentment. I remember how happy he had once made me, and the thrill of waking up next to him, wrapping his arms around me, and listening to the music I loved so much with my hips pressed into his mattress, a joint in between my lips.

Back then I’m not sure if I was content, but I’m positive about those long bursts of serotonin.


6 responses to “When There’s Nothing Left to Burn You’ve Got to Set Yourself on Fire

  1. I came across your blog and must say that this post was very well written. Thank you for a nice reading experience.

  2. This the 2nd post of yours I’ve read and I agree with Tom, you write well.

    Although the specifics are obviously quite different, I’ve been struggling with the idea of happiness vs. contentment myself. In my case, I’ve often felt what I thought was contentment ( it turned out be merely apathy) and at same time would say I’ve never felt true happiness. Perhaps, I’ve felt neither. But I’m working on it . . .

  3. you do write really well….and it helps me think of my relationship that im in right now. im just learning that we are somewhat two different people. well its vaentines day, hopefully everything will work out..

  4. i like your style, and your writing, and your writing style. you remind me of a girl i always thought it would be interesting to meet. among the many things i wonder about after reading this, the most concerning is: where does the quotation “when there’s nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire” come from?

  5. I don’t know how I randomly ended up on your blog post, but I found it strangely appropriate for the mood I am at in this moment, a sort of semi-nostalgic feeling of regret and a longing for contentment. I feel glad to know that someone else was feeling this feeling, at some time, in some place.

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