When I was four years old, I caught my arm on fire. The story goes one of two ways- In my memory I was reaching over the candle to get a bowl of ice cream, but what I told my parents at the time is that I wanted to see if my nighty would burn. Either way, burn is exactly what my night gown did. Stretched out over the fire, the thin cotton sleeve lit up and carried the flames from the square 80’s candle onto my skin.
Being only four, I knew very little of how to deal with fire. And as we all know you should not do, I waved it in the air franticly causing it to grow in strength. I clawed at the flames with the fingers of my other hand and in turn scorched them into crispy black tips.
I’m not sure if it was mine of my sisters screams that brought my father running from the next room but run he did. What do you think as a father when you hear your daughters yelling and race in to witness your middle child with flames leaping off of their little arm? Or do you think at all? Do you just act? That is what my father did. Grabbing a thick feather pillow off the bed he wrapped my arm tight in it and quickly suffocated the flames.
Flesh hung off my arm in little ribbons. I have a brief image in my mind of seeing it, but much of my visuals are from a few old slides in our closet. The burn was raw and deep. No clean, fresh skin could be seen on that side of my arm & it took a VERY long time to heal. That length of skin never looked the same.
After months of care and my arm finally being healing, I never thought much about the scar. I mean as a kid, you just look to the next fun thing in your life without worrying about little discolorations on your body. But come the teenage years, it was a HUGE source of embarrassment to me. In some situations I would wear a long sleeved shirt or keep my arm turned so that people could not see it. Once someone told me I needed to wash my arm because it was dirty, and I had to explain the different between dirt and a burn scar. I would forget about the scar until someone would ask about it and my face would flush red that they noticed it.
Over time as my arms have grown into adult size, the scar takes up less space and has become relatively small. No one ever seems to notice it anymore. I never notice it. But today as I was putting lotion on, I suddenly did notice. That smooth, patchy, seven or so inches of burned flesh. I ran my fingers over it, remembering when they burned at the touch. I pinched the skin, watching it wrinkle up as only skin that has tasted fire can do. And I smiled.
I was flooded with memories of my sister beside me in our shared room, my little nightgown that could be sold as vintage if it were still around now hanging on my skinny shoulders, my father bursting in to rescue, my family gathered around me in concern, being bandaged and cared for, being spoon fed since my right arm was wrapped up, wearing a “cage” around it for months since I kept bumping it on things, and I remember my family & friends taking care of me like I was a princess.
What began as pain & progressed through shame, has ended up being a memory I hold close to my heart. And maybe all of our scars will one day be a treasure.