That could have easily been the headline in the Oakland Post in 1963, but as far as I know there were no stories written about the little girl who sat on her bed looking at a picture book being scalded with a bucket of boiling water. Nor were there any published psychological profiles about the little girl’s neighbor who threw the water through an open window. The girl and her mother weren’t featured guests on any of the morning news shows at the time; there were no fundraisers by those in the community, or visits to the hospital by any sports stars or celebrities. The story was relatively irrelevant. However, although decades old, the story does touch me deeply, because I’m the little girl.
Rarely do I think about that day, but last night while sitting at my dining room table reading the draft of the third installment of the Cass and Nick trilogy, I flashed back to the morning I was sitting on my bed in our small duplex apartment flipping through the pages of my sister’s school book. My sisters and already gone to school and my mother was mopping the kitchen floor. While my eyes feasted on the colorful pictures, I longed for the day that I could kiss my mother goodbye, and join my siblings in a world that was a mystery to me. I can’t remember the name of the book, but I do remember looking up and seeing our neighbor descending the backstairs with one of the biggest silver buckets I had ever seen in my short life. The second thing that gave me momentary pause was the white smoke that hovered above. I didn’t jump up or run. At three, I had no idea my neighbor was a threat.
By the time she had reached our window, I was so engrossed in my book I hadn’t even realized she was standing there. The next thing I felt was excruciating pain. I jumped off of the bed screaming to the top of my lungs. My mother nearly knocked the door off its hinges when she ran into the room to see what was going on. She took one look at my wet corduroy pants and began ripping them, and unbeknownst to her at the time, the skin off of my legs. I can still remember the sight of my raw flesh. My mother was out of her mind, but she managed to stay in control. Everything after that point is a bit hazy. I remember being in the hospital and I recall being home in my crib with my legs extended with some weird contraption. I had second and third degree burns on my thighs and I had to undergo skin grafts. My older sister tells me that when my mother changed by bandages my wailing sent chills up her spine and brought tears to her eyes. I have to thank God that the water didn’t reach my face and that I healed relatively well. I can still see the discoloration on parts of my thighs, but overall, I’m in good shape. The woman was found and institutionalized.
When I reflect on this incident, the one thing that stands out more than anything to me is my love for books at such a young age. Even though, I couldn’t read, I always had a book. It seems as if I’ve come full circle, that I was destined to become a lover of books and a writer. I also thank God that the incident didn’t scar me emotionally. I shudder to think about my life today if I ended up with a phobia about books. I believe that event and other challenging times in my life have made me a strong person and have given me depth and understanding that serves me well when writing. At present, my novel “Married in the Nick of Nine” is on submission and my agent and I are waiting patiently. It took me thirteen years to land an agent, so the wait now is a piece of cake. Heck, I’m the girl who was scalded by her neighbor and lived to write about it! It’s all gravy.