Spontaneous Human Combustion

And other random things to look out for

by Corey Saucier

combustionI think I am going to burn myself out of existence. There is a thing called Spontaneous Human Combustion: Where a person is fine one moment—gentle, wholesome, and kind, with life moving along as it should, and the next they are covered in raging livid flames; burning yellow and red at temperatures somewhere in the upper Fahrenheits. This, of course, is a rare phenomenon; but a phenomenon nonetheless. And I am about to self-combust.

The California summer has been uncharacteristically grueling the last few months, and I’m sure the heat is getting to me. It has to be the sun baking down on the concrete, the fact that I don’t have an air conditioner in my little oven of an apartment, or perhaps some mild dehydration that is making me make such strange choices lately….There is also a drug called crystal meth.

Spontaneous human combustion happens all over the world to all types of people and the reasons are often mysterious and unclear: As if the person caught in a whirling pyre of their own making could not have done anything to prevent this awful act of God from happening to their poor sweet selves. I like the way that sounds….

Through no fault of my own I am beginning to burn alive.

This is what I tell my doctor when she asks me how I have lost forty pounds since my last visit. This is what I say when I admit to missing a few doses of my HIV meds this month (something I haven’t done in more than eight years), and this is what I say when she touches my shirt, while asking me to breathe, and remarks that it is completely soaked through….

“I think it’s the heat.” I say.

“I think it’s the heat.” I say.

“I think it’s the heat.” I say.

And I begin to laugh quietly because it sounds so silly and hollow coming out of my mouth, like a two-year-old with his hand in the cookie jar repeatedly professing that the dog made him do it. It has indeed been really hot this summer, and I have indeed been listless and fatigued by the sun, but who the hell looses forty pounds because they don’t have air conditioning? Do you know how many people would stop using their air conditioner if they thought it would help them lose forty pounds?

So then I tell her the truth; I tell her about this thing called Spontaneous Human Combustion, and how one day you can be living your life, struggling as best you can to make things come together for your good: To pay your rent, to fall in love, to keep food in your belly, and then all of a sudden something happens, and you are fully engulfed in flames—running in circles trying to put the fire out, and wondering how this could have happened to you….

And I told her about this drug called crystal meth.

Without even flinching she gave me a crisp white card with a name and number on it. I put it neatly in my wallet behind my ATM card and in front of my powder-blue Tiffany & Co.’s card, and went back out into the blistering summer heat.

I will call the number in the morning.

I am not naïve. I’ve known about Spontaneous Human Combustion for years….I’ve heard stories of it destroying people’s lives, my mother used to warn me about it when I was a child, and of course, I always try to stay cool in the summer. But this summer has been crazy. And I think I’ve been a little overwhelmed. Things get hard sometimes; and sometimes you lose yourself. And though Spontaneous Human Combustion is a rare phenomenon, it is a phenomenon nonetheless. And everyone knows that one of the side effects of having HIV is that it makes you more susceptible to rare phenomenon. I’ve just got to be more careful that I don’t catch myself on fire, because right now it seems way too easy for me to burn.


Corey Saucier is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. He is a Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction and Non-Fiction and is currently penning his first novel. His musings and wanderings on Love, Life, and Nonsense can be found at www.justwords.tumblr.com.