When my elderly neighbor Marsha would blow glass in her garage, I would always come over to watch. I was fourteen in the summer and I believed I could see my future and the stars and all things beautiful within her glass. She would blow many colored pieces and then set them out to dry in the corner of her scorching garage, and they were like slow-oozing rainbows in the furnace– candy that was too powerful and too sweet to touch. It would burn off your tongue if you tried.
I spent every afternoon watching her because I had no friends and could not waste a beautiful day inside. I believed it was a sin to God to stay indoors on a sunny, temperate day. I would paint my toes bright candy colors to mimic the colors of her glass sculptures as they came out hot and glistening. I would long to touch the molten shapes.
But Marsha would push me back and say, “Not if you want to be a lady, Gwen. Ladies have fingerprints and the skin of porcelain. You’ll burn yourself.”
“So give me the gloves,” I said. “I won’t drop it.”
But Marsha would only shake her head and turn her body so it blocked my view of the furnace.
For my fifteenth birthday my parents finally paid for me to take glass-blowing classes at the local art museum. Tuesday nights I would go and learn about blowing techniques and furnace temperatures from a potbellied man that always seemed to have a cold, which confused me because the room was always hot. There were two other students, both guys about my age, which further confused me because I didn’t think guys would care about the making of delicate things. I soon realized I was wrong about that.
My favorite part about the whole process was in the very beginning, when I dipped my blowpipe into the pool of molten glass in the furnace. I would spend more time than I needed at the mouth of the burning pit, stirring my blowpipe around in the glass, watching it turn in on itself while my face became slick with sweat.
One time I spent ten minutes gathering glass in the furnace, and one of the other students, Kurt, came up behind me and asked if I needed help.
I told him that I was fine, but he stayed there, watching me like I had been watching the flowering shapes of glass. I looked down at myself, sweating through my t-shirt and shorts, lit by the unnatural red of the furnace fire, and I could see the similarity. It was then that I was grateful to Marsha for her first lesson.
I gave him a look that said buzz off, and he turned around and sulked back to his station.
I watched him go. “Don’t touch,” I muttered to myself, smiling. “You will burn yourself.” Then I went back to pushing and molding the molten glass with my rod, the fire so hot my eyes burned from it.