There's something about being set on fire that is simultaneously panic inducing and utterly paralyzing. The sight of your own flaming flesh is an arresting one that is not soon forgotten; nor is the smell of your rapidly singeing hair. I've been unlucky enough to tuck both memories under my belt. But also lucky enough to emerge from these incidents alive and without severe injury. Let these tales be cautionary ones—and, whatever you do, never stray far from a water source.
Cautionary Tale #1: Teenage Hormones and Bic Lighters
When I was 13, my best friend Ida had a boyfriend, Justin, who was 15. He was a wigger of the worst sort, and aside from his increasingly less petty other crimes, he was an asshole. I spent many of my afternoons at Ida's house, where he would routinely come over with one of his friends—usually this guy Will, also a wigger. It was sort of like double dating, except instead of going to the movies they would fling us around the empty house, throw us down the stairs, or hold us down while they administered the most hideous of adolescent male inventions: The Tittie Twister. I still have a bump on the back of my head from a pool ball one of them chucked at me, which probably explains a lot. During one such workout, Will had me cornered on the couch in some hybrid of a wrestling hold and erotic posture, when he grabbed a fistful of my hair.
"Have you ever seen blonde burn?," Will asked Justin.
No, unfortunately Justin had never seen blonde burn. Will obliged him by igniting clumps of my hair, then slapping them out with his hands before the flames could get out of control—after all, he didn't want to actually kill me... I don't think. When I finally managed to squirm out from underneath him, random chunks of my long hair were gone. Ida and I tried to rectify the situation later with an awkward bob courtesy of Ida's arts-and-crafts scissors—but the damage had been done. [Postscript: Both boys ended up in juvenile detention several years later. Ida was still going out with that asshole Justin at the time.]
MORAL: If you're going to be in an abusive relationship, try having one with your own boyfriend, instead of your friend's boyfriend's friend. Just kidding! Don't sell lighters to wiggers!
Cautionary Tale #2: The Ghost of Lizzie Borden
Have you ever had one of those artsy-fartsy boyfriends who's always roping you into weird projects? Well I had one, and he convinced me to play the part of Lizzie Borden for a performance with his band. Borden was a little girl believed to have murdered her parents and baby brother—and then eaten them! (Actually she was a grown woman, they weren't eaten, and she was acquitted of the crimes, but the legend lived on in nightmares and nursery rhymes).
My primary Lizzie-duty was to jump rope with a flaming jump rope. I practiced for a few weeks with some fire dancers, and in rehearsals the flames would sometimes hit me, but nothing happened. I wasn't even afraid of it by the night of the performance, and the first round of jumping went fantastically.
But then, near the end of the show, I was to perform my flaming jump rope act again. Confidently, I swung the rope in front of myself, preparing to jump in. When it tapped me on the shins, I didn't even look down. That is, until the audience let out a collective, horrible shriek. Both my shins were ablaze!
By the time they put out the fire, my tights had melted into my flesh. They had to cut them off, and the resulting wounds looked like ground chuck. But lucky for me, my boyfriend had recently set his face on fire (don't ask) and still had this mysterious Japanese horse oil his mom had given him. I used it on the burns three times a day for months and months. And, now there's barely any scarring!
[Postscript: The performance was videotaped, and everyone agreed that the part where I set myself on fire was really cool, so they ended up using it in one of their music videos. I broke up with my boyfriend less than a month afterward.]
MORAL: Don't date accordion players! Just kidding. Don't invoke the souls of legendary evil figures!