They burned him twice. First, on the first official night of the event. Second, on Saturday, the night of the burn–the only night he should have burned. That was the one that was planned. That was the one that was expected. But instead, he was torched Tuesday morning just shy of 3am. Poor thing, a victim of arson, he went up in flames. We watched flabbergasted as our man burned soon after the lunar eclipse.
I was ecstatic, experiencing one of those rare astronomical events at an event that I loved. Burning Man, Black Rock City, the playa, home. This was my home. Every year for six years. Imagine a vacation getaway, a home away from home. Community, art, music. Not make believe. A real home. I felt like all the stars were aligned that night. It was the first official night. The streets were alive. People were awake. I was bright-eyed and happy, clutching on to someone I connected with. From the desert, the total eclipse of the moon looked like Mars, like a gigantic ruddy red planet in the middle of the sky ready for its close-up.
After the eclipse, there was smoke in the middle of the playa. We didn’t know there was a fire installation scheduled. Hmmm, wonder what they’re burning near the man. Wait, it’s the man. The man is on fire. Oh shit, the man is burning! Bikes zipped by us. There was a whole movement towards the man–the central figure of all Burning Man. His positioning, his neon lights, guide you home. Without him, getting around the city for the directionally-challenged can be even more difficult.
I heard the chaos via internal walkie-talkie. Confusion over what really happened. Flicking the man’s neon caused a circuit to short, setting him on fire. Arson. Arsonist. Suspect has been apprehended. Evidence. Pictures of the arsonist. Backup is needed at the perimeter. Press release meeting. Get something on the radio. Need to assure participants who are waiting at the gate to get in. We are open for business. Announcement over the airwaves.
Evenutally, we heard it made headlines. ‘The man burns early.’ Stories were exchanged between those who were there and those who were not. There were quips about prosecuting the arsonist to the fullest extent, getting him on manslaughter. A friend laughed, “Well, this is the first year Burning Man decided to have someone black as the Man.”
And then the enjoyment of having experienced two burns. Two burns for the price of one. I made the mistake of mentioning that to a crew member who chastised me, “No Catherine, two burns for the price of two.” It takes months to build him, teams of people, long hours, sweat, toil. In less than 48 hours, they rebuilt him. The crew member was referring to all of that labor compressed into so few hours. The man would burn again.
They burned me twice, too. By the time the man burned the second time, I had been burned just like he had–not once but twice. But unlike the man, where one burn was planned, I had been burned twice unexpectedly. The details are unnecessary. The only point of importance is that I thought they cared. I shook my head, hoping I could shake away the emptiness I felt. How can I get so much attention during this event, then inevitably get rejected by the two men I wanted. Two men I thought wanted me!
On Saturday night, I watched the man burn. Surrounded by friends I love, I was fine. I was in ecstasy on ecstasy. I was perfectly fine.
Already burned once, the man was resilient. He seemed like he took forever to burn. More so than ever before since the wood they used hadn’t been able to dry. He just kept burning. His last hurrah to us all.
As I biked away with my friends, I thought I lost the fire of love deep inside. Fuck men. I focused on people who had been there time and time again. My burner friends…year after year. Always burning together. Always loving each other even if our together time in the real world is seldom. I thought of my friends and family outside of Black Rock City, particularly my nephew who had learned a nickname for me. This is about community, friendships, people here and now. Not about dating, potential relationships, being romanced. Home is love.
Then it happened. Suddenly, a small spark right in the middle of the biggest party on the playa. I murmured, “Aren’t you the guy..”
He interrupted, “I remember you from the Deep End.”
I had met him early on in the event at a daytime party, but dismissed him for only one reason; I was certain he was younger than me. I would have bet on it. I’m simply not attracted to younger guys. But I could care less at that point. My friends had dispersed and all I wanted to do was dance. Cute guy, what does it matter if he’s five or so years younger. We got to talking and the age discussion came up. I scoffed, “I guarantee you I’m older than you.”
“Not a chance.”
“Oh yeah? How old do you think I am?”
“See I knew it. I know I look young. Clearly I’m older than you. I’m 32.”
“Yeah and I’m 33.”
I smiled and practically leapt into his arms. We were still dancing when the sun came up. Twice burned, but open for business. Never let them get you down. And even if they do, there are more than enough friends and family to kiss your boo-boos, apply salve to your burn scars. There are people who will love you day after day, burn after burn. Community is alive and well.