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The pain wasn’t explosive at first. It was more warm and beckoning. Passionate, even. Much more carmine red than cardinal. It wasn’t until I realized the pain and pulled my finger away from the burner that the hurt burst forth in fierce, angry agony. Lesson learned: the initial contact isn’t nearly as painful as subsequent or repeated contact.
It was the night of the All Star Game, 1982, and I was at my grandparent’s farm making Jiffy Pop for the Midsummer Classic. I was nine, and I remember staring at the orange/red coils and thinking, “what would happen if I put a finger on the burner?”
Not three years earlier, I was at the farm, on the back of our trailer with our Christmas tree, which we had just cut down from our own woods. I was sitting on the back of the trailer, by the right rear tire, while my grandpa drove the tractor and my parents walked behind. I was wearing my moon boots, and I remember staring at the tire and thinking, “what would happen if I put my boot on the tire?”
I remember feeling the thud of hitting the ground, the wind hurtling from my body and a warm ache just under my neck. And then I was screaming and my mom and dad were running for me. Carmine to crimson.
My first sips of beer came from cans thrown away on Jacksonville Beach. You could always find an empty on the beach, and occasionally I would pick one up and take a pull. I showed one to my mom once, and she was horrified.
From there, I went undercover and graduated to sips of Jack at my friend’s parents’ house. These raids reversed the lesson. The first taste was explosive: pure tongue-tingling medicinal fire. But then, once you swallowed, the warmth spread. It was like swallowing the sun and feeling the beams slowly reach all over my body. Crimson to carmine. I liked this carmine.
I liked it a lot.
Most of my life has been spent, I now realize, in search of the inverse carmine. The pain becomes too much and I run for the beckoning warmth. I do it again and again, realizing that the warmth deceives, that warmth is also pain, and will lead to more and escalated pain.
Still, the lure of warmth holds the greatest sway. I seek warmth like the winter sunsets at the farm, and my parents and grandparents and their loving spirits.
Warmth like endless summer days when all I had to worry about was if we’d end up at Pizza Hut or McDonald’s after Tee-ball. Warmth like jumping in the hay in the barn and dreaming about girls and real electric guitars.
Who doesn’t want to be warm and safe?
Who cares that safety is a lie?