Becoming Flashback Girl
I was “Case Number One.” I never knew my lawyer presented my story to the U.S. Senate. It wasn’t until I was 54, trolling the internet, when I discovered my old photo, permanently enshrined in the 1971 Committee on Commerce hearings. These hearings, including my case, eventually led to the landmark creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
I am four years old in that photo, half-naked and burned all over. I am propped up into a sitting position. My hair, which had been honey blonde and bouncy with waves, sprawls in a dark, stringy mess. My chest is completely covered with tight, raw bands of scars. My right arm, also constricted by scars, is attached to my torso by contractures. My left wrist contracts in as well. You can see my tiny right ear and my nose unscarred, still sweet and untouched. The lower half of my face, however, is obliterated. My mouth gapes wide open because I have no lower lip to close it with. Fire has devoured my lip, chin and neck. The remaining skin tightly draws my face down into my chest, like a reverse face lift, preventing any emotional expression. The black band in the photo covering my eyes was to keep me from being recognized. If you could see my eyes, though, I would have been trying to smile as best I could. I was a good girl, and I aimed to please. Effort were paid to keep my tiny face in profile and to hide my eyes. But burn scarring is as unique as fingerprints; no two burned people get burned exactly the same way. It was clearly me.
This was one of several stunning revelations I uncovered as I began to investigate the fire that nearly killed me a half-century ago.