When I was eight or so I was hiking with a friend. On our way home we stopped at a shack on the outskirts of town. There was a couch and not much else inside. We had matches which any outdoors man would not be without. We started playing with them and started a small fire on the couch. We panicked and ran the few blocks to my friend’s home and informed his father of the fire. My recollection was that he was unconcerned so we headed back to our handiwork. In the meantime someone had called in the volunteer fire department to extinguish our couch. I remember talking to the firefighters and one of us said we saw some big kids run off into the bush. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed my father, the editor, with his camera around his neck. He had followed the sirens for a possible story. I don’t recall any reference to the episode at the family dinner table so I assume our story convinced even the media.
The episode always stayed as a memory and in my innocence as a psychiatric patient I disclosed the story to a doctor at some point. This reference became a permanent part of my history and when they compiled my list of behaviours and sins it was included for the Board of Review to see that I had been a fire setter as a child.
I really don’t see myself as such and I resented the sociopathic connotation it carried. I often wondered if my partner in crime was ever considered a fire setter. Was his involvement drawn out before people who determined his suitability for re-entry into the community or had he simply forgotten or kept quiet? I rather doubt the incident had any further impact on his life and I wonder if the same information fell on hands outside of the psychiatric profession it would have any meaning at all.
I do like fire, whether it is a pile of brush or leaves or a simple gathering of beach wood at the lake but I have my doubts that it is any more pathological than anyone else on a camping trip.
What makes it pathological is not the act, not the person, but simply the profession.