My last entry reminded me that I hadn’t posted this story here. Hopefully, it’s the last of the Al stories.
I found out that my stepfather was having an affair with the wife of my mother’s first cousin the day my husband set himself on fire. You just can’t make this stuff up.
I got the call while at work: “I am calling from St. Mary’s Hospital. Your husband as been in an accident.”
“What kind of accident? Is he okay?” My voice was trembling.
“I don’t have all the details, but I know that he’s been badly burned. He is in an ambulance on the way to the burn unit at Doctors Hospital in Augusta. We don’t have the facilities to treat him here.”
I must have made a loud noise of some kind because people had started to gather around my cube, concerned looks on their faces. I frantically grabbed my things and called my sister on the way to my car. She told me that she was on her way and would drive me to the hospital.
My mind was swarming. Burned. I didn’t know where or to what degree. I didn’t know if he was conscious, if he still had a face, if he was dying. My sister arrives and as we start our trip she informs me that our mother, who lives 600 miles away, has called and is on her way. Al, our stepfather, and Gramma (who was down from Michigan for an extended stay) were going to be with her. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Did you tell her that wasn’t necessary? That I don’t even know if he’s that bad?” Of course, I know my sister has told her all these things and more, but mom insisted on coming.
I get a call from one of the EMTs in my husband’s ambulance. He will be okay. He’s conscious. His hands and stomach are burned, mostly second and third degree. They let me talk to him and as soon as I hear his voice, strained, but strong, most of my nerves stop jangling. He has a voice, which means he has lips. I can work with this. I get the first of the details, too. He was refueling the lawnmower, and the gas ignited.
Mom calls as well and confirms her imminent arrival. My sister starts to tell me something and stops. I make her continue.
“You shouldn’t have to hear this now, but you need to know.” She says. “Al has been having an affair.”
Okay. Well, he’s a cock-stain. I’ve always known that. So, he got caught. Good.
“That’s not all.” She pauses. “It was with Cousin Gini.”
Oh, holy hell! Cousin Gini is married to Cousin Chris, which is my mother’s first cousin and has always been close to her. So that’s part of the reason mom is coming. It’s not just for me, but for her. She needs to be around family. I can’t deal with that now.
We arrive at the hospital minutes behind the ambulance. An EMT leads me through the corridors and numerous double doors to my husband’s room in the burn unit. There are nurses buzzing around him attaching the IV’s and monitors. I stand by his bed and stroke his head. They have to attach the blood oxygen sensor to his toe, because both of his hands are wrecked. They are a swollen patchwork of dark red and black char. The skin on each of his fingers had split open down the length and curled back revealing angry pink skin that was never supposed to be seen. His stomach is not as bad, but still blistered and black. His eyelashes and brows are singed and the top of one ear has a blister, but his face is otherwise untouched. A nurse mentions that his necklace, his St. Christopher’s medal appropriately enough, needs to come off and as I reach for it I also look at his left hand. His wedding ring isn’t there. My heart sinks. Oh, god. Did they have to cut it off? He smiles at me. “I wasn’t wearing it.” He says. “I took it off before I went outside to mow.”
Before the nurses made me leave, I was able to get most of the details of what happened. He had finished mowing the back yard with our riding lawnmower and was about to start mowing the front, but he decided to refuel first. The gas can, one of the old metal kinds, was full and had been sitting partially in the sun. He raised the hood of the mower, lifted the gas can and popped the little red plastic vent. The gas inside had expanded with the heat and the pressure made it spew out of the vent opening all over his hands, shirt and the hot exhaust of the mower. It ignited instantly. He pulled off his flaming shirt, which caused the singed brows and lashes, and when he noticed that his arms were still on fire he remembered three little words from childhood: Stop, Drop and Roll. Later, he would recall that while he was rolling in the grass and screaming like, well, like a man on fire, he was thinking of the neighbor’s damned dog and how much poo he was probably covering himself in. After he put himself out, he opened the gate to the back yard, got the garden hose, turned on the spigot, dragged the hose to the front to put out the flames on the lawn and the mower, then dragged the hose back, turned off the spigot and closed the gate so the dogs wouldn’t escape. He did all that, with his charred, blistered hands. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing. He said that he was really starting to feel the pain when he went inside to call 911. By the time the ambulance arrived, he was in agony.
The trio from Florida arrive late that first night. I answer their questions, tell them what I know. They don’t know that I was made aware of the affair and I don’t mention it. I can’t deal with that now.
The next four days were a blur of hospital food, nurses, morphine drips, doctors, bad television and worse magazines. No skin graphs would be needed. He was finally sent home with gauze bandages and under that something called Biobrane. It was a special breathe-able bandage that would fall off on its own as the skin underneath healed. It looked like saran wrap with lots of tiny holes punched in it. A large sheet was on his stomach and several smaller sheets were used to cover the skin on his forearms and hands. It was all attached by staples. We cut away the excess as it fell off the healed areas. It became a game, every day looking for new areas that could be cut away and staples that could be removed. Every day, a few more inches closer to normal.
I learned that mom and Al were going to counseling. Dear, lord! Was she trying to work things out? I can’t deal with that now.
Two weeks after coming home, we had our first follow-up appointment with the hospital. All the Biobrane was gone and he was applying lotion to the new skin several times a day. He could now go back to work.
Three weeks after that was the second and final follow-up. He was healing very well and the scaring was minimal. However, we did ask the doctor if he could write a prescription for some steroid cream because while mowing earlier that week my accident prone husband managed to get poison ivy directly on some of the new skin. The nurse suggested that we invest in a lawn maintenance service.
At home, things were finally back to normal and I was ready to deal with “that” now. I called my mother and told her that marriage counseling was a waste of time. Al wasn’t worth it. Hell, he wasn’t worth the last 20 years that she spent on him. I told her that if she wouldn’t leave him for her own sake, then leave him because when I was fifteen years old he asked me to have sex with him. Then for three years after that he would constantly try to put his hands on me, no matter how much I punched or screamed. If that wasn’t enough reason for her to leave him, then I didn’t want anything to do with either of them.
She filed for a divorce.
Later, she called me up and said that Al wasn’t agreeing to her terms. He wanted too much money, too much interest in the house, too much everything. Florida being a no-fault state, she couldn’t sue him for adultery. So, I sent Al an email. I explained to him that if he didn’t grant my mother a divorce under terms that were agreeable to her, that I would call everyone he knows, his family, his work contacts, and let them know he is, in no uncertain terms, a pedophile. I didn’t tell mother about the email. A few weeks later she called to inform me that, for some reason, Al was now being amazingly compliant with her wishes.
It’s a skill I’ve honed over the years, being able to prioritize. I tell my husband, “we can’t worry about that now, the bigger issues first.” I deal with one thing at a time, in the order of what has the most immediate impact on my life at the moment. But, when I’m ready to deal, I deal with a vengeance.