On Thursday, just before it snuck into Friday, I peeled back clingwrap on a makeshift steamer and burned my hand in the sweltery vapor.
In the moments after the first zap of pain but before the shock bloomed, I tried some of the Thai sticky rice I made. I reached in with my unburned left hand and scooped some plump grains between my fingers.
I could tell it was perfect before I even tasted it.
I like things like that– things and people and places I recognize before fully meeting them.
I did not recognize the burn or see it coming, and the next few hours were fraught with pain and hysteria. Urgent Cares in my area are not open 24 hours every single day anymore, and Thursday happened to be a night when none were.
The shock eventually led to vomiting. I laid my head on my toilet seat between bouts, the fingers on my right hand reaching in and out of a glass on the floor to simulate running water. My toilet seat is heated because my boyfriend bought me a bidet when the epidemic began, and it occurred to me that the warmth alone ensured the most tranquil retching I’ve ever experienced.
It is 2020 and this is the sort of thing we think about now.
My roommate had been awake and on guard since the beginning of the burning. (He tied my hair back just before the puking, and so he deserves shared credit with the bidet for the comfort.)
The most interesting thing about steam burns is that the burning continues long after it should stop, and you can really actually feel it. It’s not generalized pain. It feels like more burning. I was intrigued by this even as the blisters appeared, even when my eyes rolled back in my head, even when I realized I hadn’t taken a good deep breath in an hour and I worried I would become a slack-jawed poor-toothed monkey.
I’ve been reading Breath by James Nestor lately. Listening to it on Audible ever-so-slowly. Switching to reading primarily audio books has shifted my experience of reading, especially when a book is read by the author.
You see, sometimes, I just don’t trust them.
There’s no basis for this. If I were reading the book, I’d probably make one or two notes to look up further later, but that’s all. When I listen to some of their voices, they are a pinch of rice that could be good or could be bad.
There’s no knowing till I test it.
And so, though I love the book and the idea of it, I have to pause the audible every 7 minutes and research everything he says.
I have been “reading” the book for months. That in itself is a new experience for me. I was something of a speed reader before the strokes. I never went to bed with an unfinished book, and now I walk around the world with a dozen unfinished novels in my mind.
Anyways, the monkeys.
In the book, he mentions one particular study where primates were made to breathe entirely from their mouth. It led to an actual change in their facial features and teeth. (I’ll link to the study here if you’re curious but be warned that the clinical pictures somehow very boldly speak to the often cruel relationship science has to our animal friends.) The most interesting thing about the study to me was how, when allowed to breathe correctly again, their faces structured themselves back to how they were before.
I am now, of course, reasonably, obsessed with the idea that I am shape-shifting whenever I breathe from my mouth.
And speaking of shape-shifting, my hands have long been turning into my mother’s hands. I noticed it just after I turned 31, when I caught a glimpse of them in a picture. The camera had applied a brightness to everything and you couldn’t see the brown tones to my skin. Just the shape and my nails, the wrinkles, and how they sat. I recognized them, but not as my own. In a few weeks, I turn 36. And right now, suddenly, my hand looks like my father’s. The burns have darkened the skin. They’ve wrinkled them.
I can’t wear press-on nails or paint my nails because my nail beds are burnt too, said the doctor I eventually was able to go see. This stinks, but the pain has mostly become itching, and the blisters look less blistery every few hours.
I tell the doctor that I need to stop getting injured. She says sick makes sick. If my brain was working, if I wasn’t still in recovery from my hip, I might not have gotten burned at all. I might have had a quicker reaction time and prevented the second-degree burns.
Rest, she says, like it’s a simple medicine I can just go pick up in the pharmacy of my mind. The way James Nestor says breathe.
The way the recipe for the rice said steam.
Like somewhere, these things are easy and free of cost, and accessible. Like anything could even possibly be all three of those things anymore.
I get the news that a friend from prison is finally home, and a breath I’ve been holding for five years sweeps its way through me, a deep fog of relief steams my heart soft.
My glue-sticked hip and runaway brain need to get strong enough to lift up others again, so I tuck myself into bed.
I stick my burnt hand out of the blanket so it is elevated and untouched. In a sleep state, it looks like my father’s hand in front of my face– warning the nightmares away. My mother’s hand sits on my chest, lullabying my heartbeat. Somewhere under both those hands, deep into the layers that even the burn couldn’t reach, my hands are waiting to be called into play again.
For now– for them— I rest.
A reading of this post: