Strike Anywhere Matches

My sister's boyfriend used them. He lit them on his truck’s rusting quarter panel. He lit one off a jagged front tooth, chipped from a water skiing accident. He was full of cinematic gestures with his matches. With a thumbnail, he flicked them into flame.  

He used Ohio Blue Tip Matches, and for years those were the only strike anywhere matches I knew. I liked the musical way the matchsticks rattled in the box when I shook them, like a brush on a snare drum. I liked the insider’s knowledge I possessed with them. I was 12 or 13 years old then and to have a preference for matches was cachet. I placed them in a circle on the sidewalk, spokes around an invisible hub, blue-tip head to blue-tip head, lit one which lit them all, a ring of fire. Older, I broke off the tips of dozens of them and made bombs from tennis balls we’d sliced in half and taped together again. Older still, I lit them off my zipper, as I'd read Jim Morrison did.

But this is how life passes.

Once upon a time I was in a state park with my wife and three children, who were watching me fail to light a campfire on our maiden camping voyage. I’d bundled together a small wealth of red-tipped Diamond brand strike anywhere matches, diy-bound with cinnamon dental floss and placed in the center of my kindling material, which included a road map from our van's glove compartment and a Wendy’s sack from under a seat.

It was too hot to be in the woods and I was sweating through my clothes like a smoke jumper. The bundle was as tightly packed as a clenched fist. I raked a match off the steel fire ring, touched the lit match to the bundle, watched the spark sizzle across the honeycombed surface, watched the surface rise in flame, watched the bundle commence to burn calm as a torch. The kindling took. The twigs crackled. I grinned at my wife and chewed on the spare matchstick I’d kept in the corner of my mouth. My children cheered.

A friend told me to hang a picture of our family in those years and title it The Happiest I’ll Ever Be.

This is that picture, Jack.

These were the incandescent moments of my life. I was, but I wasn’t, who I’d been before my family came along or the aging man I've become since. As for who I’d been, I never missed the friction of my younger life, which made me love my life as a father even more. As for who I am now, I have a faithful wife I love, and with whom I raised children who made all my rasping surfaces smooth as skipping stones.

The happiest I'll ever be.

Strike anywhere no longer. So be it. Not off brick of St. Peter's gym, where Hrudicka and Edmundson swigged rank champagne. Not off hillock and knoll that lay under treacherous high school girlfriend’s silver-stitched jeans. Not off cloth cover of Finnegan’s Wake to light clove cigarette.

Not off campsite fire ring, where the match flared like the last booster of a disappearing rocket, where it was too soon to notice how quickly the charred tip curled, how the soft-pine splint burned itself black in the matter of an instant and had to be dropped.

Bird Report

The same hawk twice in the same Malaiseville sky. How do I know? The low height at which it flew so that I could see on the right wing—the black outermost tip bent like a dog-eared corner of a page.