A Special Family
My mother always told us that the secret to our family’s powers was a deep connection to the earth—an ability to “become one with everything,” whatever that meant. When my sister and I asked her how exactly a person could become one with everything, she would usually give the same reply.
“Oh, it’s different for every person. When the time comes, you’ll know. I knew when one day I watched a bird in flight, and suddenly its point-of-view became my own. One minute my head was tilted upwards toward the bird, and the next it was tilted down towards me.” This answer, of course, never satisfied us; it didn’t even begin to help us awaken our own abilities. One day we decided to bother her until she forked over the manual to “becoming one with everything” we knew she kept hidden in her brain. After an hour or so of our pestering, she finally acquiesced.
“Go outside and bury your heads in the ground,” she told us, “If that doesn’t work then I don’t know what to tell you.” We rushed at once into our backyard and set about digging head-shaped holes. Once they were dug, however, my sister and I both hesitated. Something about sinking our brains below the dirt felt terrifying.
“How about we both go on the count of three?” My sister asked. I agreed. “Ready? One, two, three!” I feigned participation, but pulled back at the last second while she bashed her skull into the hole with a soft thud.
“So,” I asked after about half of a minute, “are you one with everything yet?” She offered no reply, and made no movements. “Sissy? Sissy!” I yelled, starting to panic. What if she couldn’t breathe under there? What if worms were crawling around in her eyes, or the grass had leeched their roots into her veins? She looked, after all, as dead as a sack as fertilizer. I grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her violently, and at this she raised her hand and signaled her safety with a thumbs up. Breathing a sigh of relief, I ran inside to inform our mother of our experiment’s success—and to tell her that sissy probably wouldn’t be joining us for dinner.
“Huh,” was all she said, “can’t believe that actually worked.” The next morning I went outside to check on her, but she was gone. My hole sat vacant in the ground, but in the spot where she’d buried her head was a patch of grass as tall as the blades that surrounded it, as if the whole event had never happened. I walked over to where the indentation should have been and stepped on it.
“Sissy!” I screamed. “Sissy, where are you?” At my cries the grass coiled around my feet. Leaves from the branches of an apple tree that hung overhead fell in a perfect circle around me, and a single piece of fruit dropped into my hands. A gust of wind tickled my inner ears, and her voice whispered.
“It’s okay. I am all around you.”
Everyone thought my grandma would die before she moved from that chair, but she always insisted that she would die only if she moved from it. Her health decayed until her body looked more like a melting wax sculpture than anything that had ever housed life, but her incessant “nos” when we tried to take her to the hospital told us that life was still, in fact, extant in that semi-corpse. Eventually we gave up on her relocation. Her skin fused with the wood so that she couldn’t lift her hands, and one of us was tasked with spoon feeding her twice each day. I more-than-half-expected to find her dead whenever it was my turn, and I dreaded having to check her wrist for a pulse; not because I was afraid of her death, which was long overdue, but because of the splinters it would always leave in my fingers.
One day when I went to check on her, I thought that she’d finally croaked. Her entire body had become wood, and when I knocked on her forehead she sounded hollow. I recruited the others to help me pry the bits of her sculpture from the chair (which my mother believed would look much nicer inside the house, and without an “old hag” attached to it), but when we finished peeling away the planks we were astonished. Sitting in the chair was an infant child whose features were strikingly similar to that of my grandmother’s—minus the wrinkles and melted-wax effect. When I tried to lift the baby, I found its bottom to be fused with the strange piece of furniture. When I gave up trying to lift it, it only giggled and winked at me.
I was about ten when I learned—by accident, as these things usually tend to happen—that my body was completely immune to the cold (it’s a wonder, really, that I hadn’t found out sooner). It started snowing the night before, and my parents insisted that I try and build a snowman. It would be fun. Having no prior experience with snowmen, I ran into the blizzard and started piling handfuls of the diaphanous powder onto my head, eager to transform myself into a man of snow. After watching me stack about a foot and a half of the substance, my mother asked with astonishment, “Aren’t you cold?”
“What is “cold?”” I responded, confused. “I am having fun, like you said I would.”
“Huh,” was all she said in return, as I added to my stack until my hands couldn’t reach the top any longer. At this point I began rolling around in the stuff until it coated every inch of me, from my forehead to my ankles. The way it felt on my skin was delightful: like a blanket of airy beads.
“Look, Mom,” I cooed, “I made a snowman!”
Another, perhaps even stranger, element of my newfound trait that we soon discovered was my own body’s seeming lack of a temperature; I didn’t emit any heat whatsoever. Instead of gradually melting away, my suit of snow remained exactly where I formed it. When it was time to come in for supper, my mother told me that I had to brush away the particles before I was allowed inside. I resisted, as I wasn’t done playing “snowman” yet. I ate my food outside for the next couple of nights, until the storm finally subsided and the sun melted my padding—which had grown to more than a few inches.
After learning about the “cold,” though having no real way to conceive what the word actually meant, I soon heard of its counterpart: “heat.” My discovered imperviousness to this sensation, however, was much less of an accident. I had noticed that, in the mornings when my mother brewed coffee, she took extra care not to come in contact with the surface on which the pot rested. When I asked her I why this was, she told me that the stove was hot and that it would burn me if I touched it.
“What is heat?” I asked her. She removed the coffee pot from the stove and told me to hover my hand above it. Waves of air breathed across the surface of my palm. “That feels kind of nice, actually.”
“From a distance,” she replied, “but if you were to actually touch it, it would hurt you.” What else was I to do? Before she could stop me, I slapped my entire hand against the stove. She screamed and covered her mouth, but I just stared at her with a blank expression. When she peeled my hand away and saw all of my skin intact, the color drained from her face.
“Huh,” was all that she said, but I could tell that she was concerned. While my immunity to the cold amused her, something about my heat-resistance concerned her. Soon it would make sense why.
Once I learned about my strange gifts, I became fascinated by things that others described as hot or cold. I would hold ice cubes in my hands for hours, then let matches burn underneath them before the flame devoured the wood and died between my fingertips. I would scorch myself with frayed wires, then douse the region with liquid nitrogen from my school’s science lab. My parents looked at me like I was an alien, but my friends found my tricks to be pretty cool. Eventually, one of them convinced me to light myself on fire.
We found an old jerrycan in my parent’s barn, and to our unmatched delight discovered it was full. I knelt to the ground and extended my arms at either side, and my buddy soaked me with gasoline. The smell bothered my nostrils, but the prospect of what we were about to achieve excited me.
“Stand back,” I told him, striking a match. We both laughed as the flame worked its way down the wood, but my friend’s expression changed at once from excitement to terror as the flame reached my skin. In an instant I was ablaze, and he was screaming. The fire spread quickly throughout the rest of the barn, catching at first the hay and then the rafters. My friend sprinted from the scene as fast as I’d ever seen him run, bolting into my house to grab my parents. I followed him at a casual pace, unsure whether to laugh or cry.
When my mother came out I started towards her, but she screamed at me not to come any closer.
“Just sit down,” she said. “Dear god, just sit down.” So I did. Before long the entire field was in flames around me, and I could hear the barn crackling into ruin behind me. I could hear my sister’s screams in the wind as they mixed with the infant cries emanating from my grandmother’s chair. I’ll never forget the sheer horror on my mother’s face, as I sat cross-legged in a ball of light, like a Buddhist monk in protest of the Vietnamese regime, and stared into her eyes.
Luckily, a thunderstorm extinguished the catastrophe before it could reach the house. I was grounded for a few weeks, and deprived of ice and fire—which made sense, and was probably for the best. Still, my parents have never quite looked at me the same since that day.