"To be caught in secret sin is a horrible thing. Only one thing worse. Not to be caught." ~ John Piper via Twitter
"One Seventy-five, Baxter Drive, Apartment J-7," the first address I ever memorized, the one I can't seem to forget, and the vault for my earliest memories. It was here in our den where a late 60s gold and tan patchwork sofa sat inches from an oval coffee table, an antique fashioned from burled wood that had once lived in my grandfather's store. The television, our only, squatted against the opposite wall. I must have been six or seven, it was before Mama was the sickest, when she still lived at home more than the hospital.
Christmas décor magically transfigured our white-walled, three-bedroom apartment–a Scotch Pine sprinkled with wonder and sparkle; Santa and Mrs. Claus calculating naughty or nice from atop their TV perch; our Nativity scene, solemn celebration in a manger. Our apartment had no fireplace so stockings were thumbtacked to the wall; I always wondered how Santa got in.
And candles. Mama must've liked Christmas candles because she had them in the dining room, in the hall bathroom…and on the burly coffee table by the sofa.
One day I decided the candles sure would look a lot prettier lit, so I slipped open the sideboard drawer and found a book of matches. Unbeknownst to my mother I was a skilled pyromaniac, having practiced striking them plenty of times in a concrete hideout not far from our home. Metal trash cans with dented lids hid there, too.
Making sure no one was around, I opened the matchbook and twisted off one from the end; it would go unnoticed later I reasoned. Striking it across the flinty black strip with the confidence of someone twice my age, I lit the candle closest to me. Acting quickly so I could use the same match, I leaned across the table to light the second candle.
It was the first time I had smelled burning hair.
Smug satisfaction was instantly doused by the panicked realization I WAS ON FIRE! Instinct governed my two hands as they frantically clapped out my hair-fire. Body-coursing adrenaline must have quenched the heat, too–I didn't feel pain from the flames.
Heart rate almost normal, I sat on the sofa "reading" a book, one eye glued to page and the other surreptitiously surveying my home. From my vantage point, I could see dining room, hallway and den.
An invisible cloud lingered between ceiling and floor, the acrid scent of singe and deception. It was Tell-Tale Heart, a liar's bouquet, and I wore my guilt like skin. There wasn't one inch of me not covered by it.
But somehow, remarkably, no one mentioned the smell. Mama never even noticed my hair (which I purposely fixed to try to hide the damaged strands). I cautiously waited and waited and waited, and in penitence I stopped playing with matches. For a while, anyway.
Scent memory is powerful and enduring. Every time I have whiffed the trail of burning hair since–four decades!–I remember this childhood event.
On one hand it's amusing to me that immediately I thought of this story when I read Piper's quote above; on the other, it confirms its truth. Even as a little girl I understood my deceit and resultant guilt affected my relationship with my mom, even if she didn't know it.
…which makes me consider the rationalized or ignored sin in my life now. If you play with fire, you will get burned sooner or later…
Sometimes the scars are just well hidden.