Getting My Voice On

Some people might find getting burned in a fire difficult to connect with how, when and why I became an actor but that is essentially part of my story line and are inextricably linked.  As the burn story goes, my sister Susie always told me how she “smelled” me from her perch in the basement that morning and told my mom who was ironing away down there with her to check on me. There she found me, stuck to and burning on the stove. As Susie tells the story, I was silent. Not crying out or calling for help. It seems I had lost my voice.

 So today when I voiced tags* for 29 tv commercials across the country, I silently counted my blessings. A number of years ago, I found my voice and I don’t think I would have realized it had I not gone through the fire. The story is too long for a single post but this blog helps me tell it in my stylish, compartmentalized way.  Even this snippet focuses me on two things:  1) I need to have another conversation with sister Susie to see if the wives tale I’d heard is still her story today; and 2) Soren Kierkegaard‘s quote mirrors my own thoughts these days, “Life can only be understood backward but it must be lived forward.”

That Baby Book Again on My Birthday December 8th

Now that I am a regular reader of my own baby book, I thought I would share this entry from my mother on December 8th, my birthday, the year of the burn, “Anne spent her 2nd birthday in St . Vincent’s Hospital. We didn’t recall to her it was her birthday, but every few days took a gift up for her.” It’s unclear whether I spent my 2nd birthday or my 3rd birthday in the hospital — my mother’s entries had some inconsistencies on the years. It’s understandable of course, the woman was going through some rather traumatic stress in her own right. When I think about this, I might have done exactly the same thing with my small child if faced with a similar situation. I mean, why remind them of something they probably wouldn’t understand anyway. In any event, happy birthday to me. How would you handle a situation like this with a 2- or 3-year old?

Happy Burn-iversary!

Today is the anniversary of my ill-fated climb up the kitchen stove, according to the best research source I currently have — my blue baby book. Without evidence-based confirmation from a verified medical record, which I may or may not ever find, I rely on my mother’s elegant script in the baby book, where she marks this date in an eerily understated entry, “My oh my. Another big scare with Anne……”. This is the first year in the more than 40 since that I’ve even known the date — the first time I’ve looked in that ole baby book to check it.

Parents Notes- Mom's description of accident

Putting on my detective hat and with the not-so-clever use of the Internet, I see that November 24th way-back-when was a Tuesday just two days before Thanksgiving. I wonder so many things — what were their Thanksgiving plans that week? Who was cooking? Did their plans change when I went into the hospital for a 2 1/2 month stay? Did they visit that day? Was I in surgery on Thanksgiving? Did they cry when it happened?

To date, I’ve interviewed a number of my parents’ friends and relatives and no one remembers that specific week, those specific activities. In the end and in the big picture, I know it doesn’t matter so much but it is still a nagging curiosity even though I feel more like a voyeur to my own story than its main character. Is that how I cope? I’ve always been expert at compartmentalizing and I wonder if this is why.

In all of this, the most important piece is that I’ve found resolution and peace. In the most fortunate of ways, I heard my parents own words many years later. That they wished they had spoken of this earlier. That they loved me. That it changed their lives far more than mine. I’m lucky this way. Many people for many reasons don’t open this door. Have you?

What’s Your Fire?

The other night a friend, Kay, who has been reading this blog told me her own story. At 4, she was involved in an accident that left her back and neck burned with collateral damage to her ear. It had all the clear markings of a very bad burn. Yet she didn’t know the details of the accident. When she asks her dad, “What happened?”, she is referred to her mother. When she asks her mother, the story she’s told doesn’t add up. So she’s left in a quandary of sorts but has found a way to make peace with it. Being of the spiritual mindset, Kay believes everything happens for a reason and the resolution we DON’T find in this life carries with us to the next — call it karma, call it reincarnation, call it the law of cause-and-effect — we choose to let history repeat itself until we address it. That’s great motivation to explore the fires that rage within us and can counter the nagging downside risk, “What’s the worst thing I can find out?” What’s your fire?

Unshackled!

Earlier this week, I received a call from Unshackled!, the nation’s  longest-running radio drama produced here in Chicago every week before a live studio audience.  Someone had a conflict for Saturday’s show and as a member of the actors pool, I was asked to fill in, to which I happily obliged.  Curiously, I was asked to play two Hispanic roles but that is another story in itself. In any event, as a show with a religious theme,  Unshackled! (www.unshackled.org) has a strict dress code — modest skirts or dresses for women actors; jackets for the men. It’s been many moons since I regularly wore dresses or skirts for work (think 1980s Dynasty big-shoulder pads days). For the show, however, I have a few skirts I regularly wear when called up, a kind of modern-day Catholic school uniform if you will. So there I was prepping my outfit of blue pin-striped skirt and white blouse. I went to my drawer to peruse my usually large collection of black tights and black sheer panty hose. It was sadly small most likely due to my daughter raiding my lingerie drawer. Egads, there was only one pair of sheers without holes. I sighed in grateful relief and put them on. I mean, what would I do if I had to resort to nude panty hose over the burned leg? In front of a live studio audience? Of course, it struck me how ingrained my habit of leg-cover-up is as well as how silly it remains. But, as they say, it is what it is. My goal in public appearances is to NOT draw unwanted attention to myself — trust me, it invites stares and the eyes-looking-down-I-didn’t-mean-to-look-but-I-couldn’t-help-myself-and-I’m-really-sorry look. Uncomfortable for them and for me. So, black tights or plucky black sheer hose is my uniform with the skirt. By the way, the performance went well and I pulled off the Hispanic accents quite well.

Many People Write About Burns

Cover of "The Burn Journals"

Cover of The Burn Journals

If you poke around, you’ll see (as I have) that many people write about burns. Recently I finished Burned: A Memoir (www.louisenayer.com), and was fascinated by this book because it describes the effect of a mother’s burn on her daughter. I contacted Louise to ask her some questions about why she wrote the book and we’ve developed a communication of sorts. Other books I need to explore include Burned But Not Broken (www.michaeljnolte.com), Nothing Left to Burn (www.jayvarner.com) and The Burn Journals (www.burnjournals.com).

I’m not sure if the world needs another burn memoir but I still want to publish mine and I realize even from this handful of books that my story is completely different than these. Every burn it seems is unique.