If I were going to attempt to explain why I would purposely burn myself
, I suppose the only thing I could say was out of love.
Not love for any human, but for the love of feeling. For the love of light (how it flashes in my eyes when I feel the pain), the love of color (light peach skin fades into a rush of red, into a melted pink laffy-taffy hue), and for the love of realizations. Conflicting realizations— but realizations none the less.
I realize I have a problem. But I also realize that the pain of the flesh, once inflicted, can outweigh the pain of the mind. And so, for a while, the mind forgets the sadness, and reminds you that you now have a searing welt on your arm not unlike the shape of Arkansas.
My perception of reality at the time when I actually committed this particular act, the one which would send me out to Monroe, Georgia with Jack, was much too distorted to truly be considered reality. Once again, I burned myself on purpose. I guess it was on purpose. Only it felt much more like I was forced to do the burning—I didn’t see myself as the person who turned on one of the front eyes on top of the oven. I couldn’t make out who was actually doing it to me—the figure I invented in my mind, grasping my arm in the kitchen, was shaded. Tall and disguised by a cloak of darkness. But I stood there as the obscured figure disintegrated in front of me, melting into the floor like the wicked witch of the west. And then I observed the eye, watched as the coils changed color, changed into that insanely fiery orange that screamed out “I am the color of damnation. I am the color of hell you bitch.” Yes, I could hear it screaming. And it was me who placed the soft, tender side of my left arm there on the flaming eye.
Those excruciating coils. I could hear the hisses. Like seething slender eels tightly wrapped into formidable circles, the hot one just aching to sting.
I realized that the squealing eye wanted my arm so badly, so I just had to give it up. It wanted my arm on top of it, to have sex with the pale, neglected ivory skin. And once I placed it there, for the briefest second I swore I didn’t feel a thing. But quicker than water I felt that eye suck onto my flesh, attempting to meld my arm to the stove as though it did not want it to leave. Perhaps my arm wasn’t there for more than six seconds, but the pain seared me like a sizzling pointy stick, and moved through me sharp as a needle being shoved into my back, steadily digging down into the roots of my spine. And the agony came hard, pounding through my body so real and so caustic I suddenly laughed. And then, I was gone.
I fell to the floor. Blacked out for maybe an hour. Jack was the next thing I saw.
“Slade?” His voice was like some solid mass being shoved into my ears. “Slade, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
I came to. Looked down at my arm and saw that I had turned that clean slate of skin into a putrid pulpy mass, looking like the slobber of a bitten grapefruit half. Jack’s face was the other half, distorted in sickness and confusion. He angrily forced me to my feet and began to yell.
“What did you do to yourself? Damn it, Slade! What is this? Whatever made you think that I—” He began to laugh, out of disbelief.
You know. He was thinking it was his fault.
He was guilty of a lot of things. But not my masochism.
How did I appear to him? A 22-year-old lacking in important brain equipment. A girl who fell in love with a stove for a few moments. I’m sure he was wondering, as I was myself, where I’d gone at that moment. Where had I gone, and if the person he thought he knew had even returned.
I stared down at the flesh on my left arm, the tender underside just before the elbow began. I stared at it with grass and sun in my eyes. A picnic of disbelief. And then the burn altered, turned into a train wreck, all distorted and puffy, changing from wet pink plaster to a bizarre railroad mess. My arm was a train wreck where I could see all of the people, bloody and confused, stumbling out of my skin like human rivulets. My eyes had watched in sheer horror as my arm became this sick mass of burning steel. Tons of luggage spilled all over the tracks. Babies crying.
“I caused a train wreck,” I sputtered out to Jack. Was all I knew.
He wasn’t going to do anything, just then. The swallowing of a whole bottle of aspirin later that night was the thing that really blew his chip.
He induced my vomiting. Didn’t want to take me to the hospital. He held me close next to the toilet, murmuring sweet nothings as I brought up the wet tablets. It was probably the sweetest things he ever said to me, and the closest he ever held me.
He promised me he would help me get through my mess. He promised he would take me out to live with him in his dead grandmother’s home, now his. We’d dance, grocery shop together, watch movies about silly, happy, G-rated families. He wasn’t going to leave me, whether or not I wanted him to.
Two weeks later, the night before I was to go with Jack to see “our new home” in Monroe, I dreamt I drank a shot of Vodka, and the whole world grinned at me with pearly tablets of aspirin in place of their teeth. We all sang old Leonard Cohen tunes and dug green dirt from the ground to eat. I awoke and turned on my side, stared briefly at snoring Jack.
Through the darkness I gazed at my arm, lying on the pillow next to my head, and stared at the thick milky scar still quite visible and still holding an odd yet distinct pain within its tissue. It stood out above my cobalt blue veins. Those hidden topaz rivers. Those rivers of life. And by taking note of these, my veins, I made a complete recognition of myself, Slade Warner, being still alive.
In the silence of that dim a.m. I moved my head across the pillow and kissed my train wreck.
Excerpt from a larger work. The title is taken from “First We Take Manhattan” by Leonard Cohen.