It was 2007.
Almost nine years old, still wearing French braids and light up sketchers, I spent the morning getting ready for school by torturing my younger brother. Grant shrieked and ran into the kitchen, where my mother had the baby on her hip and was hurriedly making our hash browns for breakfast.
“Quit! Stop running around,” Mom turned around with a hot spatula in hand, halting us heathens in our tracks.
Grant eyed the instrument, speculating the consequences of elbowing me in the stomach as I pinched his back behind my mother’s glare. He held his Spider-Man toothbrush in his left hand, soapy suds foaming around his teeth like a bothered dog. After weighing the outcomes, Grant turned around and spit into my mouth. I tasted the mint of his saliva and reached out to grab a handful of horrible, awful, vile little brother hair. As I latched on, I felt my own pigtail grabbed.
“I said to quit! Both of you in your rooms now,” Mom lead us to our shared bedroom by the end of my braid with my fist wrapped in Grant’s waves. The baby clapped, thinking we were all just sharing fun and games. At nearly a year, Gage was always smiling.
Once us older kids were locked behind our doors, Mom set Gage down to crawl around a bit while she finished the hash browns. Meanwhile, Grant and I sat on opposite sides of our bedroom, sticking our tongues out at each other when we heard a shriek from the kitchen. Gage wailed, and Grant and I froze.
Grant raised an eyebrow, tongue poking out cautiously from his tiny lips. “Is he laughing or crying?” He asked.
I guessed, “Laughing?”
Gage screamed. Grant and I jumped.
“Crying,” I nodded.
We threw open the bedroom door, nearly trampling our mother in the process. Gage was cradled in Mom’s arms, some sort of bubbling liquid melting the yielding flesh of his scalp. Smaller parts of his arms were burned; his arms flailed painfully. His back was sensitive to any temperature. My mother had burns on her fingers as well. Grant and I exchanged a horrified and confused glance.
She ran out the door, somehow managing to call my dad, my grandmother, and an ambulance in a matter of seconds. My brother and I stood baffled in the hallway, in between the kitchen and our room. Hot grease was spilled down the side of our cabinets and spread across the kitchen floor. Hash browns lay defeatedly on the ground, half cooked. The pan was upside down and empty.
Hours later and several phone calls later, we learned that Gage was in the hospital with second degree burns after my mother herself had spilled grease on her body. She had jumped out of the way from the spill without realizing the baby had crawled into the kitchen behind her. It was an accident, but thankfully, he’d not yet learned to toddle, so he avoided grease burns on more of his head and face. Even better, he ended up recovering in a matter of weeks. Still, the initial shock of the event was enough to feel tragic and scarring.
We all give my mother grief about cooking with oils now, and it’s not really funny, but at the same time it’s useless not to tease her. Gage doesn’t remember the accident, of course. Gage only has the bald mark on his scalp, the single scar he has left from that day, to remind him that it really even happened.