I never told you that I set fire to your hat.
You probably suspect that after the explosive, catastrophic end of “us,” I threw away everything of yours. Any photos, clothes, belongings that you’d left in my car. I got rid of them all; they still made me panic, still held the fear of you, and I wanted no reminders that you’d been in my life.
Nearly a year passed before I found your hat, crushed between possessions in the back of my trunk, the space usually reserved for long-lost umbrellas and old receipts. A black corduroy newsboy cap.
When I found it, I stood frozen in place and stared at it for several minutes without moving. As if I thought it might attack; as if the memory of you inhabited it, and it might speak to me.
I remember that I left it there at first. I stood there silent for several minutes — which would have looked extremely strange to anyone watching — and then, for no apparent reason, I closed the trunk of my car and walked away from it as if I hadn’t seen it. For days I pretended it wasn’t there, that I had imagined it.
That’s the thing with holding on to an ex’s belongings — you have to do something with them. You either decide to keep them, throw them away, or ignore them. But with ignoring them comes the inevitable downside: that they are still physically there, all the time, lingering in the back of your mind as “To Be Dealt With.” And until you make that call, to keep or to destroy, you haven’t really gotten free of that ex. They still have a hold on your consciousness, which is almost worse than giving them a hold on your heart.
I went back to the hat occasionally, opened my trunk just to stare at it. It became a strange, ritualistic kind of compulsion. It was like I needed to assure myself that it was, in fact, real. It was something To Be Dealt With, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to touch it. There were too many ghosts in the fabric. I was scared that it would smell of you, of whiskey and cigarette smoke and paint thinner and charcoal. I worried that touching the brim would bring back memories I’d tried so hard to erase.
So I’d look at it, and resolutely close the trunk again.
Months passed, and I nearly forgot it was there again. It took a bright, hot, sunny summer afternoon to chase away the chill in my bones. I’ll admit I spent several minutes in indecision, but I finally got up the courage to move it. I picked it up and felt some relief in the fact that it was as it appeared; just a hat. Just a scrap of fabric that had no power over me.
I still put it down as if it had burned me, on a shelf in my closet where I could close the door.
Moving it into my room, however, turned out to be my own real-life version of The Tell-Tale Heart. I felt like you were in the room with me sometimes. It seemed like any moment you would appear, asking me why I’d never returned your hat to you.
So finally one day when no one was home, I took the hat outside, and pressed a lit match to its brim. There were tears in my eyes as it caught fire.
I felt like I had slain a dragon.