As I struck a match tonight, the sulfur flared and the flame burned the tip of my right pointer finger. I blew out the match and let my mind drift back once more to my childhood. I was always a fire bug and could have stared at the dancing orange of a burning flame for hours if allowed to. I learned at an early age how gun powder worked, and that if you hold aerosol hair spray out with a lighter, you have a pretty good flame thrower.
When I lived in Victorville as a kid, I used to run a few doors down to an empty back patio to play. Sometimes I would build little camp fires on the concrete with a rock line around the edges. I would place kindling like crushed leaves or dried pine needles at the bottom, covered by a pyramid of small sticks. One time I took the "mini" idea to the extreme and even roasted mini marshmallows on tiny twigs and tooth picks. I knew it was dangerous, so I never told any of my friends what I was doing. I had forgotten the old adage, where there is smoke, there's fire. It didn't take long for me to be discovered.
The day Matthew wandered into the patio and discovered where the smell of melting plastic was coming from, I had brought out the tall pink tupperware cup. When I finished drinking the tap water from inside, I had decided that I wanted to see what would happen when the fire licked straight up the sides of the sticks. The best way to try that was to put a single stick inside the cup, burning side down. I don't know why, but I didn't expect the cup to melt. I also didn't expect the black smoke and accompanying stench.
"Whoa," Matthew said from behind me. "You're gonna get in sooooo much trouble!"
"No," I argued, "I won't because I'll kick your butt if you tell anyone." Matthew believed me. Instead of running off to the nearest person over 18 to tattle, he sat down next to me on the concrete. Then he did something that surprised us both. He reached into the tupperware cup and picked up the burning stick. He held it straight up in the air, the flame staying near the tip of the stick like a lighted match. Suddenly he screamed and jerked his hand back.
"It's hot!" he screamed a good three octaves higher than usual. I laughed at him as the stick he had in his hand arched through the air, flinging melted plastic as it went.
"Well, duh! It's FIRE, you idiot!" Suddenly, searing pain raced through my right hand and I gritted my teeth, sucking air between them in a deep, sharp breath. Down the full length of my right hand pointer finger laid a jagged line of melted pink plastic, searing my flesh as it began to cool into a gelatin substance. I instinctively tried to flick it off with the tip of my thumb on the same hand, but only succeeded in feeling that same pain coursing through the tip of my thumb.
I thought clearly in that instant. I remembered seeing a kiddie pool in the neighbors back yard on my way over, and I remembered that it had rained the day before. If I was really lucky, there might be some water left in the bottom of the pool. All I could think about was getting my hand to some water source. I took off at a dead run, heading straight for the kiddie pool. I collapsed onto my knees and forced my hand into the tiny puddle of water in the bottom near the edge. A very loud, very audible sizzle could be heard even by Matthew, who was coming up behind me wanting to put water on his own hand. Some of the plastic had dripped from the tip of the stick onto his fingernail. His nail sizzled slightly.
When I pulled my hand out of the water, my finger was still burning intensely. Instinct told me that it wouldn't stop until the now hard plastic was off of my finger and I could get oxygen to the burn. I knew I couldn't just run home and tell my parents that I had been burning tupperware cups in an abandoned back patio where I usually burned just sticks and marshmallows, so whatever I was going to do had to be on my own.
I took the fingernails of my left hand and dug under the surface of the long strip of tupperware fused to my index finger - and yanked. The entire chunk of jagged, reformed 4 inches of plastic came off in one jerk; So did a large chunk of skin, leaving a very wide and deep gaping hole in the side of my finger. I did the same thing with my thumb, removing a large portion of flesh from the tip. The end of my thumb went completely numb right then, and I've never gained full feeling in it again.
I snuck into the First Aid Kit when I got into the house and wrapped a band-aid around the large areas of missing flesh. Since I have always been right handed, it wasn't easy to eat dinner that night, but I managed. Intense pain coursed through me for days if I held anything hot or tried to hold a fork. I worked through it, knowing I didn't dare tell my parents what I had done. I was in enough physical pain to know I had learned my lesson.
I don't remember what excuse I gave my parents for having a bandaid wrapped around an obviously burned finger with an edgy zig zag pattern, but I'm sure whatever it was, they didn't believe it. To this day I carry a scar the length of my index finger to remind me about the smell of burning plastic, the black smoke that accompanied it, the sizzle of a fire that needed to go out and the searing, singeing, fearful burning I can still feel each time that smell reaches my nostrils.
It's far from being the only burn scar on my body, but it was the most memorable, hands down. It was also the last time I ever played with matches.