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It's Not that Easy Being Burned

I write today wrapped in old clothes I don’t care about, so the bleeding won’t matter. Half of my body shines luminous scarlet, as my skin heals from the latest laser procedure. I am hot, I am itchy, I am tight. My brain bumps at half-speed, recovering from this week’s anesthesia. But I am prepared to be cheerful.

Nobody likes a whiner.

Why am I getting treatments on fifty-year-old scars? I have been asked this question by numerous people. Some of them mean it as a complement: “Hey, you don’t look bad! You don’t need to do this.” Some of them seem to channel an eighteenth century view of women’s bodies, as if my attractiveness is settled by my marital status: “If you are married, and your husband loves you as you are, why are you doing this?” Some of them just want me to be comfortable and at peace. (For more on the laser procedures I am having, please read:

Here’s the thing: What would you endure to make your face and body look… normal? What procedure might you undergo in order to walk down the street and be stared at… less? Would you get shot by painful lasers every few months? Perhaps you would.

Whatever I am going through now is nothing compared to wide swaths of my childhood. Months disappeared into Boston hospitals, where I stayed, almost always alone. Surgeries were terrifying and excruciating. My parents arrived on weekends, dutifully (my mother) or restlessly (my father). Otherwise, I managed by myself. I was four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years old and on. I made friends with the other kids and ingratiated myself with the nurses. This is what I learned: no one likes a whiner. Also, there is always suffering and there is always someone suffering more than you.

I had lunch recently with Tina, my best friend from kindergarten. We were close back then, before she moved away, but we hadn’t spoken in about 50 years. I found her, where else, on Facebook. I messaged her and we clicked, instantly engaged again. I said, “I remember you as being creative, intense, and shy.” She laughed, agreeing. Then she said, “Now let me respond. I remember you as friendly and ebullient.”

I don’t know how I learned to be cheerful when I was five and didn’t have much of a face, but yes, that was me. Maybe I was upbeat because I had friends like Tina who cared for me. Maybe that's why I'm still reasonably ebullient now.

My face and body were forged in a fire, and my spirit was forged in its aftermath. I share this spirit with others who have suffered grievous losses. I might have gotten started extra early, but I am hardly alone. Life comes for us all, sooner or later. Illness, suffering, death, hunger, rejection; the world is full of people in pain, despite what you might see on Instagram. The best we can do is to be compassionate when people suffer, band together with love, and keep our collective chins up, as cheerfully as we can manage.

I could go on, but my lasered skin is tight and hot, and it distracts me. Let me say this: being burned is still hard. I faint in the heat. People stare at me at the beach. It is not that easy being burned. I will not pretend otherwise.

But nobody likes a whiner. It doesn't hurt to try to be positive.

And always, let’s remember: life isn’t easy for anyone. So, let's be kind to each other. Really.

The author's memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.

1 Comment

Oct 14, 2021

Why you? The 'Why' is not about you

Why have you been able to rise above?

Because you are determined to let nothing beat you or hold you back.

Because your heart and mind and soul were not burned;

they have led you along a path of care and love and fulfillment.

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