PHOENIX HAS RISEN. For the Umpteenth Time… (A memoir of a Mama On Fire – literally and metaphorically.)

The remains of the day. That WAS my shirt.

(Google, if you are unaware, the bird called the PHOENIX…the one who famously arose from ashes to soar once again.)

I have a newfound respect for fire.

While cooking Indian food, i made a pound of GHEE (clarified butter, now known to me as human lighter fluid) and accidentally spilled some on my tee shirt. Did not give it a second thought.
Bent over front burner to stir the basmati rice and peas in the back, and all I remember is hearing the sound, “WHOOOOSH.”
Softly, yet roaring in my ears like the quiet loudness of the ocean surf in a hurricane.
The sound one hears in tragic nightly news footage, or worse, in personal experience,
of a building or a car spontaneously and completely combusting.

That sound was the sound of my entire upper body instantaneously igniting, and burning at lightning speed.

MY HEAD, and my entire torso from the waist to the back of my neck and ears, was ON FIRE. In flames.
Big, orange and yellow hungry ones. They licked at me with the furiosity of a tiny, starving kitten crouched in front of a ceramic dish of cold milk.

I watched in horror as my lovely brown cotton tee shirt melted into the flesh of my abdomen.

I stood very, very, still and said the most sincere and silent prayer of my entire existence.

I had accidentally turned myself into a HUMAN TIKI TORCH.
A veritable 5’2″ 95-pound candle with flaming limbs and head.
“Hmmmm,” I remember thinking, from some faraway place. “I wonder what one does in THIS predicament?”
I, who thought, as a feisty Italian-Irish NYC ex-patriate, that I KNEW it ALL.

HA! Wrong-O, Janny Dangerously.

A brand new experience for a woman who had erroneously thought she had seen and done it all — who KNEW?

I stood motionless, everything moving as in a gritty Super 8 film, watching myself burning alive.
Then I had an idea. I poured a pot of water from the sink over my head.
I heard sizzling and smelled something akin to Moo Shu Pork.
And HELL knows I do not eat pork. Won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Except Gramma Cindy’s Christmas ham. To this juicy and << VERBOTEN>> delicacy, I cannot say no.

The remains of the day. Thank God, it is not my painting arm. GOD DOES EXIST 😉

FRIED. DAY 2.5. 12.31.11

Hypocrisy – are we all not guilty of this?

So, onward and upward.
My blouse had almost completely melted into my body and half of my hair had singed off.
There was an acrid aroma of spare ribs and burnt hair suffusing the entire kitchen, and the kitchen mat was covered in blackened tee shirt tatters.
I have a bit of OCD about cleanliness and order. Mama Jan was very, very, dismayed.

I am covered in bandages like a MUMMY — somehow strikes me as funny, to finally be a real English Mummy to my son,so very PROPER. I CAN do a very good British accent to rival that of John Cleese or Dr. Who. PERFECT after all!
Perfection makes me very content.

HEHE…funny,funny mama. NOT.

Spent the wee hours in the trauma burn unit at Metro Hospital being doused with ice water and given an IV drip of painkillers.
I was totally naked on front of some very handsome doctors, so at least i had a tad bit of fun.
Yes, I am an admittedly sick and slightly twisted woman.
Or maybe just a passionate Italian painter with a curious mind and a (literally) flaming heart.

Third degree burns over entire upper body, some skin burned completely off left upper arm. I can still use my hands! I AM SO GRATEFUL! They told me the scars would likely be pretty bad.
I asked them if they had ever read THE VELVETEEN RABBIT.

Our scars are what make us beautiful and REAL,
truly, truly REAL.

I bet I can hop even faster and higher than that ol’ stinky and much-loved stuffed rabbit any day now.

Miraculously, my face was untouched, save for a blister on my lip, and my fingertips are in pain — but I can still type, since the blisters make them momentarily numb before
the rage of pain screams at me to use a pencil to peck at the keyboard, which I am doing right now.

It is slow.
This irritates me.
I like to do EVERYTHING and ANYTHING quickly, efficiently, and thoroughly.

I am fine, do not worry. I need no pity, and seek no drama.
I despise pity, and DRAMA has a very advanced GPS system. My street address, as well as my email addy and links to my FACEBOOK page, are typed in as multiple entries for ease and expedited, not to mention (KEY WORD) FREQUENT, location and usage.

If one thing is for sure, i am even MORE full of joy because when my son’s grandfather raced over to save the day,
he found me writhing on floor, smoke still rising from my burnt body.
I was softly still screaming to Jesus, Mary, Joseph and GOD ALMIGHTY to please HELP ME.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph and GOD heard me.
This, I know, is true.

As usual. As ALWAYS.

The whole house could have burned down and i could be Janice Chop Suey, six feet under! ANd thanks be to ALL THAT IS GREATER than I, my two year old son will not be traumatized by the horrendous memory of watching his mother stand burning alive in front of the stove, screaming out for the most Holy Trinity, arms outstretched and paralyzed by disbelief and unfathomable pain and terror.
SO GRATEFUL TO GOD, so so very thankful for my life.

Once upon a time, this my a lovely scoop neck blouse. Mama caught on fire.

On some good painkillers and making a piece of art with the shreds of my burnt tee shirt.
God is good, so so good. Bless you, all my friends. I love you dearly. Never forget that.

I went to the little mom-and-pop candy shop around the corner with my baby’s grandfather Ted today, though it was hard to walk or get in his big truck (I am very tiny and stiff with charred flesh).
I just NEEDED to see at least a small part of the world for a few minutes after being confined to the house for fear of infection.
(Just call me Michael Jackson, HAHA.)

The owner, a lovely round and jovial elderly woman named Mary who is a real-life faux-Grandma to me, had always asked me to tell her the story of how and why I had a tracheotomy tube in my neck,
and why I was in two near-death comas.  I relayed to her the tale of the “Indian Cooking Incident”.

She looked at me, smiled her sweet Italian smile, and said to Ted and me while shaking her head slowly,

“Oh my, pretty Janice.  You certainly don’t do ANYTHING half-way, do you?”

(Does ANY Italian Irish woman do anything half-way?)

“No, dear Mary, I most certainly do not,” said I.

LIVE TODAY TO THE FULLEST. Treasure EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT. They are, each and every second, GEMS.

The Crispy Critter/Mama On Fire hath spoken.

Moo Shu Janice. 😛

FALLEN. 2006, Pencil and ballpoint on paper. SOLD, collection Daniel McMurtrie, Richmond, VA

Janice J. Cunningham
Cleveland, Ohio 2011


Filed under diary, food/recipes, humor, imperfection, life, rabbits, stupidity, Uncategorized

13 responses to “PHOENIX HAS RISEN. For the Umpteenth Time… (A memoir of a Mama On Fire – literally and metaphorically.)

  1. Beth Ptak

    oh my my Janice!… you and St. Lawrence! shesh… I will spend my day in a prayer of Thanksgiving that someone was close enough to help, and you are in good medical care. I will also keep your time of recovery in prayer too… I love the way you tell the story… human tiki torch! ha!…well, we laugh now…but at the moment…not so funny eh?
    Praise be to Jesus Christ for saving our lovely Janice!…for her lil Will. :O)
    love ya kiddo….Beth


  2. Cathie MacArthur

    Heal, baby, heal.


  3. Hello beautiful Janice,
    You don’t know me at all. I found your name and comment on one of my facebook aquaintances’s page and I clicked on the link to your blog. And Oh Wow, you tore my heart to pieces with you tale of horror and courage and spunk… You are one remarkable woman and I feel lucky to have stumbled on you.
    Please keep your magnificent spirit and keep on writing. You are an inspiration to us all.
    Thank you for sharing your experience and reminding us of what is truly important: enjoy every single moment as if it were our last… and be grateful every single day for being granted another day on this beautiful planet.
    I take a deep vreath as I write you these words and I feel all the light, peace and joy that’s filling my lungs and every cell in my body and I’m sending the same bliss your way…
    Again thank you,
    Wafa F. Hallam
    Sag Harbor, NY


  4. kayla2873

    Janice….your words put me in the kitchen with you…and I felt my mouth open on a silent scream and stay that way….until I came to your Velveteen Rabbit excerpt….at which point, I bawled like a baby. My favorite book to this day. Still has the power to reduce me to a crying 4 year old hugging her stuffed animal. (I still have my own “Velveteen Rabbit” although he is an elephant named Wobbles…but he is REAL…no doubt :-))Yes, scars are what make us real. They shape us, and change us, and make us into beings with substance….with stories to tell. They give us memories…yes, most of the time they might be bad, but even the bad memories are able to be conquered and looked upon with, if not a fond eye, then a discerning one. If we are strong enough, the darkest moments make us into something beautiful. YOU, whose body and mind seems to have weathered more storms than the mid-west during tornado season, YOU have proven, without a doubt, that out of destruction and chaos….out of the ashes…something BEAUTIFUL can rise.

    We may not achieve perfection by the world’s standards, but we are most definitely able to achieve it in ourselves, even with our scars…..After all, as I tell myself every day, “I am not Perfect…but I am Perfectly Me.”

    Love and many wishes for a speedy recovery,

    LKela Lawler 🙂


    • Lkela,I have no words (for once). I kept waiting and waiting to reply to you, until I could find the right thing to say to express my gratitude…but they never came. So, thank you. Thank you. That is all.
      Oh, and God bless you.


  5. Ron Rivituso

    Janice, you are an amazing person..I wish you the best in the future ! Ron


  6. I’m speechless. It is so remarkable how you kept your sense of humor and that you are so full of gratitude for life. Very inspiring. What a horrific tale!! Very well written, heartbreaking and riveting. I’m so glad you are ok!!!!


  7. Beautiful Strong Woman.
    You’re life is exactly like your beautiful paintings – You must brush and scare the canvas to create a masterpiece, if not – it is simply a piece of gessoed fabric in a carefully carved frame.

    You are strong and beautiful and an inspiration to us all.
    Peace & Blessings Always

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Angel Savant

    Janice (purposely leaving out the ‘Moo Shu’ bit),

    Very well expressed horrendous account (loved the line “Perfection makes me very content.”) A scary reminder of how an instant can affect our lives. Both bravery and luck circle over your spirit, feeding off of your gumption and pluck. I’m very happy you didn’t burn even worse, that you’re healing well, and can see the Phoenix watching you.

    How is the art piece using the shreds of your burnt tee shirt coming along?

    Rise away.


    Liked by 1 person

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