I found a large half-bottle in the makeshift farm vet kit under the sink. Rationed it, bought another as soon as the blank spots on the store shelves began to fill again.
C3H8O: colorless, flammable, disinfecting. An azetrope with water, its boiling point is 176.67 degrees Fahrenheit. Depressed melting point. Slightly bitter taste. Unsafe to drink.
Isopropyl, we were supposed to use you for everything then. A spray bottle in the car for hands, steering wheel, the outside of snack packages or seltzer cans. To hose down the groceries. We started buying three weeks-worth at a time. More groceries than we could fit in the cabinets and refrigerator. Hours of wiping, heaps of damp balled up paper towels piling the countertop. My hands red, raw, peeling dry.
Isopropyl, I grew dizzy with the stink of you. Your scent like that of nail polish remover reminded me how my mother banned my sister and I from using the stuff in the house after we spilled it on the newly refinished hardwood floor.
Isopropyl, speaking of the smell of nail polish, remember that time in Bali in at twenty? Drinking arak with T until I was puking in a field, a beautiful stranger holding my hair? Nothing new I guess, me being too hungry for the burn.
What I mean, Isopropyl, is that I found myself more prepared for the time of you than I should have been. Too used to living outside myself. Already ready for the edge of the cliff. You’re like the clearing in the middle of the wood, the eye of the hurricane. I stood inside your too-green moment and found I could breathe.
Which is not to say, Isopropyl, that there weren’t days I careened: picked fights with Walker, made plans to shave off half my hair, sloshed miles through mud and rotten snow sucking olives soaked in gin.
Still, it turns out there is something about terror I’m suited for. The way it drops me back into my body. The way enough of it can actually quiet my mind, scorch it clean. I loved and hated best those days when we saw no one but each other.
It was so precarious all of it, and yet it was not. Isopropyl, I mean that. We stood inside the timber frame Walker built. We stood and looked up and the light fell down upon us. We climbed up the ladder and tightrope-walked the crossbeam. Walker boosted me into eave truss to nail the pine bow for luck. We thought, We are the only ones crazy enough to build right now. And of course that wasn’t true, but also it was—suspended inside that moment as we were.
Without a roof, the frame swayed lightly in the wind, but it was solid. Heavy beams Walker had cut and chiseled and I had sanded and oiled and the crane had lifted the bents and Walker had winched them into place and we watched it come into being in front of our eyes and it was impossible not be believe it meant something.
Isopropyl, what I am trying to say is that there is beauty even at the center of a wound. Especially at the center of a wound.
You left traces of yourself all over this place. Alcohol scars everywhere. Like cigarette burns. All of us marked. All of us peeled. Holes that will stay with us. Stigmata round as the spot on my ankle from that time I spilled boiling water into my boot and W was screaming at me to get it off quick and what was I thinking carrying that five gallon pot without a lid and I was screaming back and we got my boot off, we did.
But the skin, Isopropyl, it had already melted away. And I stared at the sudden new terrain where my skin had been, waiting for the pain to hit. Oh and when it hit, it hit. Wall of throb. Night after night. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t wear a boot for months. There was the mess of it. The ointments and bandages and wraps. The oozing. It seemed as if the pain would never go away, only change shape. I could feel the skin tightening, contorting as the scar tissue formed.
But first, Isopropyl, there was just that moment—the sudden, clean redness of it, my skin all scalded away.