Chemical Burn

Chemical Burn

Chapter 9

Tyler’s saliva did two jobs. The wet kiss on the back of my hand held the flakes of lye while they burned. That was the first job. The second was lye only burns when you combine it with water. Or saliva.
“This is a chemical burn,” Tyler said, “and it will hurt more than you’ve ever been burned.”
You can use lye to open clogged drains.
Close your eyes.
A paste of lye and water can burn through an aluminum pan.
A solution of lye and water will dissolve a wooden spoon.
Combined with water, lye heats to over two hundred degrees, and as it heats it burns into the back of my hand, and Tyler places his fingers of one hand over my fingers, our hands spread on the lap of my bloodstained pants, and Tyler says to pay attention because this is the greatest moment of my life.
“Because everything up to now is a story,” Tyler says, “and everything after now is a story.”
This is the greatest moment of our life.
The lye clinging in the exact shape of Tyler’s kiss is a bonfire or a branding iron or an atomic pile meltdown on my hand at the end of a long, long road I picture miles away from me. Tyler tells me to come back and be with him. My hand is leaving, tiny and on the horizon at the end of the road.
Picture the fire still burning, except now it’s beyond the horizon. A sunset.
“Come back to the pain,” Tyler says.
This is the kind of guided meditation they use at support groups.
Don’t even think of the word pain.
Guided meditation works for cancer, it can work for this.
“Look at your hand,” Tyler says.
Don’t look at your hand.
Don’t think of the word searing or flesh or tissue or charred.
Don’t hear yourself cry.
Guided meditation.
You’re in Ireland. Close your eyes.
You’re in Ireland the summer after you left college, and you’re drinking at a pub near the castle where every day busloads of English and American tourists come to kiss the Blarney stone.
“Don’t shut this out,” Tyler says. “Soap and human sacrifice go hand in hand.”
You leave the pub in a stream of men, walking through the beaded wet car silence of streets where it’s just rained. It’s night. Until you get to the Blarneystone castle.
The floors in the castle are rotted away, and you climb the rock stairs with blackness getting deeper and deeper on every side with every step up. Everybody is quiet with the climb and the tradition of this little act of rebellion.
“Listen to me,” Tyler says. “Open your eyes.
“In ancient history,” Tyler says, “human sacrifices were made on a hill above a river. Thousands of people. Listen to me. The sacrifices were made and the bodies were burned on a pyre.
“You can cry,” Tyler says. “You can go to the sink and run water over your hand, but first you have to know that you’re stupid and you will die. Look at me.
“Someday,” Tyler says, “you will die, and until you know that, you’re useless to me.”
You’re in Ireland.
“You can cry,” Tyler says, “but every tear that lands in the lye flakes on your skin will burn a cigarette burn scar.”
Guided meditation. You’re in Ireland the summer after you left college, and maybe this is where you first wanted anarchy. Years before you met Tyler Durden, before you peed in your first creme anglaise, you learned about little acts of rebellion.
In Ireland.
You’re standing on a platform at the top of the stairs in a castle.
“We can use vinegar,” Tyler says, “to neutralize the burning, but first you have to give up.”
After hundreds of people were sacrificed and burned, Tyler says, a thick white discharge crept from the altar, downhill to the river.
First you have to hit bottom.
You’re on a platform in a castle in Ireland with bottomless darkness all around the edge of the platform, and ahead of you, across an arm’s length of darkness, is a rock wall.
“Rain,” Tyler says, “fell on the burnt pyre year after year, and year after year, people were burned, and the rain seeped through the wood ashes to become a solution of lye, and the lye combined with the melted fat of the sacrifices, and a thick white discharge of soap crept out from the base of the altar and crept downhill toward the river.”
And the Irish men around you with their little act of rebellion in the darkness, they walk to the edge of the platform, and stand at the edge of the bottomless darkness and piss.
And the men say, go ahead, piss your fancy American piss rich and yellow with too many vitamins. Rich and expensive and thrown away.
“This is the greatest moment of your life,” Tyler says, “and you’re off somewhere missing it.”
You’re in Ireland.
Oh, and you’re doing it. Oh, yeah. Yes. And you can smell the ammonia and the daily allowance of B vitamins.
Where the soap fell into the river, Tyler says, after a thousand years of killing people and rain, the ancient people found their clothes got cleaner if they washed at that spot.
I’m pissing on the Blarney stone.
“Geez,” Tyler says.
I’m pissing in my black trousers with the dried bloodstains my boss can’t stomach.
You’re in a rented house on Paper Street.
“This means something,” Tyler says.
“This is a sign,” Tyler says. Tyler is full of useful information. Cultures without soap, Tyler says, they used their urine and the urine of their dogs to wash their clothes and hair because of the uric acid and ammonia.
There’s the smell of vinegar, and the fire on your hand at the end of the long road goes out.
There’s the smell of lye scalding the branched shape of your sinuses, and the hospital vomit smell of piss and vinegar.
“It was right to kill all those people,” Tyler says.
The back of your hand is swollen red and glossy as a pair of lips in the exact shape of Tyler’s kiss. Scattered around the kiss are the cigarette burn spots of somebody crying.
“Open your eyes,” Tyler says, and his face is shining with tears. “Congratulations,” Tyler says. “You’re a step closer to hitting bottom.
“You have to see,” Tyler says, “how the first soap was made of heroes.”
Think about the animals used in product testing.
Think about the monkeys shot into space.
“Without their death, their pain, without their sacrifice,” Tyler says, “we would have nothing.”


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