People in my family have strong hearts. I don't worry about my heart. But there's a history of cancer in my family. So I figure when my time comes, I'll get cancer and die.
Unless I die in a fiery plane crash first. I have a fear of flying, and every time I get strapped into an airplane seat, I imagine I'll going down with the plane, plummeting to earth in a screaming chaos -- although this is pretty unlikely, since I only fly when I have to, once every two or three years.
Maybe it will be a car accident. Didn't you ever have a close call with a truck at a busy intersection, or a racecar wannabe on the highway, and think, Oh god, I almost bought the farm.
Also, I admit, I am a little bit clumsy. And all my life I've lived with people who are kind of messy, who have a lot of stuff lying around the house. I'm always banging into something, or falling over something, or tripping over a pile of clothes or a piece of furniture that wasn't supposed to be there. I fell in the shower a couple of years ago, pulling the soapdish out of the wall and taking down the shower curtain and shower rod in the process. Not too long before that I tripped over the open door of the dishwasher. I didn't hurt myself. But I had to buy a new dishwasher. Did you know -- when the door of the dishwasher gets broken off, two big metal springs come jetting out at about 80 miles an hour?
But here's what happened the other night. B and I like to read in bed before we go to sleep. Actually, she went up early and was asleep by the time I got to the bedroom. I undressed, brushed my teeth, climbed into bed.
The match lit up, and a millisecond later a ball of fire flashed up my arm and across my chest. It just exploded in front of me, flying up my arm toward my shoulder. I dropped everything and slapped at the flame. It went out as quickly as it started.
I sat there for a minute, stunned. That was close. I almost immolated myself, going out in my own little firestorm. B had slept through the whole thing; and I realized, if the fire had "caught" I might have taken her with me.
How could a shirt burst into flames? I changed the shirt because it smelled like it had been scorched. I went into the bathroom and ran some cold water over my arm. I looked for burns, but didn't see any.
I came back to bed. My pillow smelled, so I changed the pillowcase. Needless to say, I didn't try to light the candle again. I read for a bit, then went to sleep.
I told B all about it the next morning. We looked at my shirt -- actually, it's the top of a set of long underwear. I thought maybe it was made of polyester -- a petroleum product, right? Maybe that would explain the sudden flash of flame. But the shirt was made of cotton. Maybe it has some coating sprayed onto it -- to make it wash-and-wear? I don't know.
The shirt still smelled in the morning, and B identified a slight brown patch where it had been singed. We never could explain what happened, really, although I resolved to be more careful in the future. As my mother used to tell me -- never play with matches.
And I realized, it's never what we worry about that gets us in the end. It's always something unexpected, something we never thought was coming.