hobart logo

March 25, 2021 Fiction


Jesse Salvo

Dispatches photo

Dear Lise,

I have made my decision: I am going to set myself on fire. Do not try and talk me out of it please as I have thought it through. This is my personal decision reached after a lot of meditation on the issue. I think everyone should have the right to set themselves on fire once if they want to.

I am only writing you as a formality. You have made your bed and I have made mine and now we will both lie in them separately. The reason I am setting myself on fire is (obviously) the environment. I am worried about it all the time. I have felt such pain (even cried) over the environment. I know you think it is stupid that I have done so. But there is nothing stupid about setting yourself on fire. It’s the one gesture that forces everybody to take what you’re saying seriously and listen to your concerns etc.

I am not afraid to die for a cause that I believe in. If not me then who? If not now then when? I am looking up bus tickets to Washington. I am going to take the Greyhound bus there, sleep on my sister’s couch, stay with her and Brad and the kids for a few days, walk to the steps of the Capitol and voila. I have not figured out yet when to do the lighter fluid. I feel that if I put on the lighter fluid before I arrive then someone will smell me walking by them and go Hey Isn’t That Lighter Fluid, and then maybe they’ll stop me before I get the chance to get my point across. But then there is no way I will be able to douse myself in lighter fluid outside the steps of the Capitol without that someone about to tackle me or shoot me or something.

I am (obviously) not going to hurt anybody except myself—as it is important to make the point nonviolently but still with an impact. The point (obviously) is: 150 species extinct a day and the world ruined and nobody is doing anything. It is true that I am naturally fire-averse but that just goes to show you how serious I am.

I miss you each day and am sorry to burden you or Paul with any of this, but I do not want you to be ambushed by news cameras when they arrive asking about me. 

The point is by the time you get this letter, this will all be quite famous and there will be a lot of controversy surrounding it but I hope that you can remember that none of this is about me and to keep the focus on our earth which is the only home we have left.

Update: I just got a call from my sister, telling me the weekend after next does not work for my visit so I will need to postpone temporarily. That is obviously fine as I am patient about it. I do not think it is legal to travel with lighter fluid in the undercarriage of a Greyhound so I think I will have to see if my sister has some in the garage or else go out and buy some I guess. If she has some, I (obviously) will leave some money on the counter to pay her back. She and Brad have not had an easy life even though they are such good people.

I do not want you to think that this (setting myself on fire) is because of you and Paul (who seems great) this is my personal decision that has nothing to do with us or the last five years. I am full of hope for the future. 

I am doing it in hope that some kid today will see that a guy somewhere set himself on fire and go Huh Wow That’s Something and voila: Change.

I am enjoying a beautiful day on the porch here with lemonade and hope that you (and Paul) are well. I am petting Goober (who I will leave with my sister and Brad and the kids) on the head and he is smiling, happy. Life is so beautiful we should have a moral responsibility to do something about it. I am not saying I think anyone else should set themselves alight, just that this is how I came to my own personal conclusion.

Update: I have been doing more research on the topic and it sounds as if the House of Representatives is actually in favor of enacting broader environmental legislation but that it is not being taken up by the Senate. I do not want to send the wrong impression so I will have to see if there is a way I can set myself on fire just outside of the Senate and not the House. But if I cannot figure out a workable solution I am asking you to please tell the press. I do not want to mislead people RE: where the problem is, or that I do not know the right building to set myself on fire outside of, because (as you know) I am very well read on this topic.

Lise, I have been working on this letter for a while and thought about sending over a few times but circumstances never seemed quite right. It has been over a year and I have been putting off the fire thing, because I had a lot of important events coming up and then afterwards because I started seeing someone. I care about her deeply, but this is an important passion of mine (the environment) and I feel she will understand. But I am obviously not going to send you this letter until I am JUST ABOUT to set myself on fire, so that there is no way you (or Paul) can intercede and stop me from doing what I know to be right. I am currently looking at a date sometime after March I am thinking Earth Day hopefully (I am sure you understand why).

Lise, wow it has been a long time, I just dug this out after three years. Jamie (my new spouse) is downstairs in the kitchen. I am still obviously planning eventually to head to Washington, though we lost my sister last year and Brad and the kids have since moved, so I have got nowhere to stay now, which is sad. I think I will keep this with me and send it whenever the day comes I have made my decision though each year I feel the gesture might be less and less impactful, that it is already too late, and we are incapable of change. My sister’s loss was very hard (you know how close we were) and I have been terribly blue since, but I know she is up in heaven now smiling down (with a margarita in her hand probably!). I had meant to write you asking because one of Brad’s kids is applying to Syracuse and I know that’s your alma mater, but I wimped out and never sent any note, I think because I was scared to write you and scared of what you might say back. I think we are all looking back amazed that anyone could have ever loved us the way that we once were. But we loved each other didn’t we? At least I am pretty sure that we did. I wonder how you are doing, and if you are still with the dopey fellow you left me for. I think I was so angry back then but you must have been in an extraordinary amount of pain, to have felt that was your only way out. I’ll go for now and update this letter the next time I happen across it or am feeling blue about my sister, or life.

Dear Lise, I am sad to say Goober died. I know you will remember him from when he was just a puppy, but he was a happy old dog. He went out last night and lay under the tree swing and never came back, no nuisance to anybody.

Hello Lise, this week at the (too old!) age of 47, I became a father to a baby daughter who is beautiful and bald and has twice urinated on my chest. Our time together and the person I used to be seems farther away to me now than it ever has anytime before in my life but oh well such is life I guess. We were a high-risk pregnancy (obviously) but she is perfectly healthy with ten fingers and ten toes, wow. That is all I can keep saying. Wow wow wow wow. She is so small. Wow.

Dear Lise, I hope you are well we are having a tough year and I dug out this old letter which now spans over a decade and is fascinating to re-read. Some days I do still think about going and setting myself ablaze over on the Capitol steps (I travel there for business a lot) and what an impact it would have now! A stately old businessman with gray in his whiskers, setting his whole body alight for the sake of the future! I do not cry over the 150 species a day anymore. I suppose that is a good thing for my own happiness, but I do feel that I have failed my younger self, or gotten captured somehow. I am tied up in all my own petty concerns. Jamie has been in an incredible amount of pain lately but none of the doctors can tell us what is wrong, and we are drowning in hospital bills. If I were to set myself on fire now, I fear I would be saddling her with incredible debts she could never pay off all on her own. I suppose it is very odd that I have kept and regularly updated what I guess you could call a suicide note, I could not say why this is, or whether this is a healthy way to go on living. Until next time.

Dear Lise, each day I fear I am less and less serious about enacting the promise I made at the beginning of this letter. Even as life gets longer and stranger and I lose people whom I love very much and am close to, I can hardly even access whatever sentiment once had sat in my chest screaming. I am laying in my black suit, on the bed next to my two-year-old daughter, writing and crying. The world seems to have settled into focus for me finally and the sky is the color of stretched grey wool and the house aches from loneliness, but I don’t think I could leave any of this behind. I think I have learned the only way to keep being for me is to carry things and that I can hold the whole of myself up chest and legs and back every day use the same muscles until I can carry this baby into the next room, until I can carry as much of the world as possible until one day I carry too much and my body gives out and maybe on that day someone will find and send you this letter, if I haven’t thrown it away.         

All My Love,


image: Aaron Burch