Face The Flame

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When a ball of fire hits you in the face, time stops.

In that moment, the surprise outweighs the massive heat. Pain, too soon, too fast to register. The formatting of the nerve endings are leaps behind the mental acknowledgement that your face is on fire. You hear a scream in the distance, and can’t grasp that it is you.

You are lifted off your feet by the force, reeling backwards into the table that was behind you. Stainless steel, hit hard. You know this only because, later, as you were being wheeled out, you saw it toppled over.

Running feet, yells. You are lifted again, but this time by others, not flame, not the shock. Except, a new shock hits you as ice cold running water is sluicing over your face, your head. Your glasses are gone and you are sputtering, drowning after being torched. The water, it’s own torture, continues it’s pouring. You are half in an over-sized sink, with the icy water soaking and choking you. You mutter and mumble thanks, and what you think happened, and you’re being told “shh, shhh, we called the ambulence” and you only want to be absolved for undergoing the forge, the anvil of fire that was one with you, in that space where time had no meaning whatsoever.

Time is running again. It has been all along, you just not being aware of it. Pain like this allows no time. It’s all one. You feel hands on your shoulder, a new voice, telling you it will be all right, come with them. They are packing creams on as they lay you down on the stretcher. Your assistant, one of those who threw you in the sink, and kept on dousing you, brings your glasses. They are slagged. Your eyes are fine. The glasses are slagged, your eyes are fine, the glasses are slagged, and your…

Your assistant shakes you, bringing you aware, and quieting you down. The ride out of the kitchen, down the hallways, through the doors, to the waiting ambulance are uneventful. The pain that starts to grow overwhelms all else. There is little they can do for you they tell you. You think they say this a few times. All you know is your face is on fire, the flames are alive and singing along your nose and forehead, and it danced inside your mouth and up your nose, and you did not want to be partner to any of this. The EMTs kept squirting a cold solution, moving your hands away from touching. You are aware of a rocking and siren, but it’s so far away.

The next bit is obscured. Water, cool down, warm up, water, cool down..and again, over and over. Finally, they release you. A Zinc cream based bandage becomes your new face, and somehow you are home. Pain killers take the edge off, but…

Fire visits you in the night. It shimmies and beckons, and it has this VOICE that is fire, pure and volcanic as it calls to you. The feel of the heat is dredging over you, kneading into your pores, inflaming the follicles.  You wake screaming, often, and she says “shh, shh..it’ll be all right” each time. She can’t hold you to comfort you. She is a furnace.

So, three days later, you are fired for negligence, even though you reported the equipment faulty. Even though you know you would have had to quit. There is no way you can face the flame. You’ve had nightmares and shakes and even the distance of fire on a TV show sent you into such a spin of terror that you blanched to pure white. She panicked when she saw you like that, getting in the way of the screen but not your scream.

You could not turn on the stove, light the oven, be in the presence of a candle (even when it was her birthday), and you could not do the job you spent fifteen years of your life slaving over. You went into complete melt downs with the slightest “wooosh” of a striking match, the sound alive and cloying, calling to you, laughing at you. You walk into a Chinese take out, and have to carry you out, because of the panic and melt down you experienced when a grease fire on the top of the fryer went off JUST as you got to the counter. You break a bathroom stall, bending the door with your foot as it kicked out, trying to rid you of the flashback of advancing fire.

She stays with you, but the fire creates a chasm that is never really filled in. It’s too deep, full of tendrils that want to drag you down and burn you to a crisp. The holidays with fireplaces and cookouts and all that has ended for you. Movies…you never realized how many movies have fire shooting out of the screen, reaching for you. It all becomes too much for you. You want to hide, but you close your eyes and plug your ears. You dont’ see, but you can hear. The fire’s voice. It is calling.

Time passes, and the effects lessen, but they are still there. Fifteen years later, and you can just barely tolerate a candle on a table in a restaurant, and you have to explain again and again why you sometimes have to blow out the candle, or hide it with a menu. This is always to a new date, as they don’t last long. She didn’t last that much longer. The chasm of fire engulfed what they once had. She crumbled, and as ash she blew away.

You have not lit an oven in all these years. You have a new career, but you still suffer from the old. What wasn’t crisped then still is burnt around the edges.

Today, you turn to the oven. You light the covered stove and stick a long kitchen match in to ignite it. Opening the oven door, you start to bend down, your face level with the insides, black and charred. You bring up the flame, and you face it.

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27 responses »

  1. Terrifying. I didn’t want to read/hear/feel this, but I couldn’t stop. It’s hard to imagine that this didn’t happen to you. Crazy. These are all compliments by the way!

  2. Hey Stuart -

    Isn’t it so true how a traumatized event sticks within us for life? Sometimes we have to turn and face the horned bull that is charging at us, and charge back in the eye of danger. Fear can be a powerful ally or our own despair. Nice read. :)

  3. Very impressive Stuart. I just like reading your works. It’s both talent and skill… I truly admire you. I do have to plenty of flames to face and ranging in different degrees. Most have scarred me for life.

    I’ve assisted burn patients in the hospital and it’s an excruciating pain it creates. It takes lots of patience to heal and lots of love and care to trust others to cure it for you ;)

    This forms my reflection for the day. Thanks Stu :)

  4. A wonderful, multi-faceted story. Allegory, insight into PTSD, and a compelling, painful and frightening story, all rolled into one. Your creativity has really been flowing lately!

    • Hi Li… I forced myself yesterday. I have NO time today. Rehearsal, home to change, then off to a dinner AN HOUR AND A HALF AWAY! ugh…Thank you for all of your support. This one was one of those that just flowed out, where I struggled more with Lev. Funny.

      THANK YOU.

  5. Stuart,
    Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire… If it’s not some girl being killed off, you burning the to charred bits and pieces… I think if I were to die I or get hurt badly I would not like it to be by fire…
    Cool story but ouch the fear
    xoxox
    Jess

    • ROFLMAO…ah, Jessica. The stories take me where they do. Not everyone dies. Sometimes things are left in a certain way. I never did say Damy was dead, did I?

      Yeah..fire..bad..soup..good.

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