next to each other.”
– Sanober Khan
I grew up in a house with a wood-burning fireplace. On the first fire of the season two parents, five siblings and two shivering Chihuahuas huddled close to the flames. In a family often surrounded by the cold of angry, disappointed parents and wild, rebellious children the warmth of the fire sunk into our bones and we melted closer to each other than at any other time. On those nights cocoa was made and popcorn eaten. Stories were told, or games played. But mostly we poked at the logs mesmerized and silenced by the dancing flames.
A lost girl frozen in the wilderness of childhood, I craved that warmth, craved connection, and most of all craved love. Eventually the fire died down, along with my dream of the family I wished we were. Each of us stood and turned our toasty warm, popcorn filled, flaming heart bodies towards the dark of night.
Here in Northern Portugal the nights can get cold during the winter months. Most apartments have no central heat and electricity is expensive, so space heaters are kept on low. My husband bought a fake electric fireplace that looks like a cast iron wood-burning stove. The mind is tricked into believing the flame is real and when the heater is turned on the body really is warmed by the “fire.”
We decided to keep the home fire burning as much as we want during our first winter in Portugal. In the flames of a fake fireplace I see the Chihuahuas sitting as close to the fire as possible. I see five kids passing around popcorn and laughing. I see happy parents. I see stockings hung at Christmas, photos on the mantelpiece and a family at ease with each other, moments forever frozen in time.
I reach out and hold my husband’s hand. My flaming heart burning brightly as I feel all the things I longed for as a child; warmth, safety, connection and love. I can only hope we’re not left cold when our electric bill arrives.