Humble brag: I am very adept at burning bridges. I may have a little arsonist in me. Emotional arsonist, that is, not the Smokey Bear kind of arsonist.
That said, when I was about 13 years old and trying desperately to look cool, my mom sneaked into my bedroom and did a random search of my backpack. There she found a Caboodle — because it was the '90s. Inside the Caboodle she found a lighter and a pack of... tissues. She confronted me about the lighter and demanded to know whether I was smoking cigarettes. I told her I most certainly was not smoking cigarettes. I had tried it once, and it had made me cough and had burned and had absolutely not been for me. "Then what's the lighter for?" she demanded. My mom is not someone to mess with. When she asks a question, you had better answer. So I told her the truth. The lighter was for smoking.
"But you just said you're not smoking!" she exclaimed, more than a tad exasperated — which, of course, was beyond reasonable.
"I said I wasn't smoking cigarettes, Mom."
"So, you're smoking pot?"
"Mom, did you find any pot in my backpack? I can't even handle smoking cigarettes." I, too, was exasperated, but I'm pretty sure it was in that unfair way that 13-year-olds just wake up exasperated. Adolescents must have some pretty aggravating dreams.
"So what are you smoking?" my mom demanded.
"The tissues you found in my Caboodle. Duh." I went on to explain that I knew smoking cigarettes and pot is bad for you. But on the walk home from junior high, all the cool kids were doing it. So my friend and I would roll up our tissues — which could, from a distance, conveniently look like cigarettes or joints — and smoke them on the way home. We thought this was genius. And we would continue to think so until the day we got caught smoking tissues by my popular arch-nemesis a few weeks later. My mom, however, immediately thought this was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard.
"Smoking tissues cannot be better for your health. Also, don't they burn quickly?"
I assured her that they did, in fact, burn quickly but we made sure to drop them on the ground before they singed our fingertips. Perhaps because it was autumn and the ground was covered in dead leaves, my mom responded, "Great, so you'll just start a fire."
Which did scare me — more than tissue toxins in my lungs did. I truly do believe that only you can prevent forest fires. You and Zeus. He's the lightning bolt god, right? That saying might need to be amended to, "Only you and Zeus can prevent forest fires." It's never a good idea to leave a major god off a T-shirt that applies horrific destruction credit to mere mortals. You might enrage the god. And then what would you get? Torched earth. Which, I guess, does prove that only you can prevent forest fires. Don't discard cigarettes; wet the area thoroughly after s'mores; and don't anger the gods.
But despite this dance with arson in my youth, my real skill is in burning emotional bridges. I have previously lived in the metropolitan areas of Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Learning to skillfully burn bridges is basically your bat mitzvah, a rite of passage into adulthood, if that rite of passage is about being a jerk who can't hold her tongue. The thing about bridge burning and rudeness in many of these urban areas is that everyone does it, so it's forgiven. The rudeness garners some respect.
I have since moved to a small town where everyone knows everyone. There aren't many bridges, and for the first time in my life, lashing out is seen as, well, what it is: rude. The lesson has been one I've been a tad slow to learn. In all fairness, I was the one who thought smoking tissues was a good idea.
This week, my son is participating in the most amazing wilderness camp. They build shelters and make fires and pretend to be fairies prancing in the wood. A number of parents, a few of whom I've had spats with in the past, have asked for an adult version. I've asked to join. I heard bridge building will be one of the wilderness workshops — Zeus permitting.
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book "Stop Farting in the Pyramids," available at http://www.creators.com/books/stop-farting-in-the-pyramids. Like Katiedid Langrock on Facebook, at http://www.facebook.com/katiedidhumor. To find out more about her and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.