Delaney Nolan: I was a Teenage Arsonist

Nolan reflects on the fires we wish to set and some we can't @ The Rumpus. My school was on fire. It was exhilarating. Fire trucks were whipping their sirens around, and my whole high school was out on the football field, chattering excitedly, whispering in little groups, because we were missing class, and oh my goodness, firemen! The headmaster came onto the green lawn and waved for our attention. He used a megaphone to make an announcement. I was barely listening. I was looking at the buildings, trying to see smoke.

“The school will be okay, and there aren’t any injuries,” the headmaster was saying. “Unfortunately, though, it appears that somebody has set this fire on purpose.”

I started paying attention then. He’d told me something I knew already. Standing alone on the second floor of my school, I felt goosebumps run up and down my skinny teenaged arms, because I was the one who had set my school on fire.


It’s an action movie. It’s a joke we’re all in on. When I tell this story, now, at parties, with gold light and the bubbles in the glass, I tell it like an adventure. I try to work up some suspense and then a good punch for delivery. I tell it like it’s funny. People cheer, they give me high fives.

“You’re my hero,” some strangers say.

“That takes balls,” said one boy.

“Why’d you do that?” That’s the question I get the most, over and over. “How come?”

“To get out of Spanish class” is my answer, and that’s a sort of truth.

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