Tag Archives: pain

Upset and Annoyed

“The woman was an example. Of something. Of not making it easy.” (p11)

Little Constructions by Anna Burns must be considered an inevitable follow up to her brilliant Milkman. Both books map the topography of chaos; the damage of whole societies as well as individual persons living in a state of trauma that creates a fractured, splintered atmosphere imbued with an absence of hope—not hopelessness—an absence of hope, like the idea of hope has yet to even be considered. One needs a root in order to fool around with the suffixes—to have the luxury of attaching the lessness to the concept. But Little Constructions takes the Heideggerian aspects of an always already traumatized population into something of a third dimension.

“So what’s going on? Do we have a psychoanalyst or a psychoanalytical psychologist or a psychophysiological profiler or even an unaccredited enthusiast with Jungian leanings in the building who could perhaps do a bit of maturity work for us here? Is this a state of stuckness? A state of sickness? Did these men perhaps leave school before they’d learnt enough and should have? Or is it that they couldn’t get themselves individuated and thus had intermingling mythic mirages, not only in their dreams but in their waking lives as well? I wouldn’t know about interpretations, for my expertise lies in being a bystander.” (p31)

The actually story is brief, but the tale is long, convoluted, and necessarily repetitive as trauma grotesquely repeats itself, doesn’t it? The characters practically all have the same names highlighting the incestuous nature of the situation, both concretely and metaphorically. It is easy to follow because what we have, really, is a simple tale of murder and incest, but at the same time difficult to follow as we have a dizzying array of the casualties, the fall out of the mess is strewn about like shrapnel, one hardly knows how to catch the through line, but fear not, we have our narrator, our friendly bystander, to explain the situation to us with verve and patience.

“And he went off. Ramblings. You know ramblings. So did Jotty. Even before he started, she felt Early Onset Compassion Fatigue Syndrome set in.” p 284

I love a good narrator. The intimacy a good narrator can create with the reader, or at least with this reader, is a powerful attractor. She’s talking to me. She’s funny and smart, and while in-the-know, also, sometimes, as puzzled as I am over the goings on; but as told by her, the dark tale becomes farce and gallows humor is a comfort to us both. The trauma is set off as to expose its ridiculousness. It’s all an absurdity. The real tragedy is the waste. The wasted time of the wasted lives that can’t get beyond the de-personalized injury inflicted upon them. It’s like they are twice assaulted, once by the assaulter, and again by their own fixation on that assault which had, in reality, very little to do with them beyond the happenstance of being there, then. But try telling that to the ruminating machines we call brains.

How do we cope? We say nothing. It’s best to say nothing, after all. Break the machine. Speak and think in code if you must think or speak at all to get as far away as you can from the thing—as if that thing had solid form within our heads—in order to physically get away from it a psychic fracturing is necessary and obviously logical. It’s upsetting and annoying, but it must be done.

“‘Julie,’ she said, and by now she was beside herself. ‘I’ve just come from therapy. Just found out at therapy. My therapist says that even though I say I’m upset and annoyed – she says that in reality I’m much, much more than that!’ […]

Julie was stunned. Both of them were stunned. By this time they had stopped walking and were staring fixedly into each other’s eyes on the High Street.

‘How’d you mean?’ said Julie. ‘I don’t understand. Where is the evidence for your therapist to be saying this? How is it possible anyway, to be more than upset and annoyed?” (pp 245-246)

How indeed.

The Speed of Tragedy

Marylin-marilyn-monroe-35537214-335-500

I am not a frequent reader of biographies. So often they seem unconvincing by virtue of their speculative nature and groping about for truth in cold facts. Another problem I find is that with so many people that populate one person’s world it is hard, for me,  to keep them all straight. Lifetimes, even abbreviated ones, are relentlessly convoluted.

But I was given a biography of Marilyn Monroe, written  by Donald Spoto. It came to me by such a long and strange way I was especially compelled to read it. My step-father had picked it up in a waiting room while visiting a friend in an Irish prison. Clearly, if surprisingly, absorbed by the story, the warden told him he could have the book. Deeply moved by the story of Marilyn’s life,  and particularly taken with Joe DiMaggio’s loyal love for her, he brought the book to me. The lives and travels of individual books are a wonderful thing.

I had an intense autumn and slogged through all the books I was reading at a snail’s pace. But a few days ago, just half-way through the 600 page bio, I reached the denouement of the tragedy and suddenly it moved swiftly— as I guess all tragedies do.

Spoto writes of Monroe with such tender sympathy and admiration that it is hard, (as by all accounts it was in her lifetime) not to fall in love with her. He takes care to give context to her raging insecurities, as well as to respectfully recount her intellectual curiosity, humanitarianism,  and her true talent as an actress.

The doctors and psychiatrists that controlled her life and, according to Spoto, her demise, were egregiously derelict and just plain awful.   But Spoto is careful to try to explain how it is that people end up hurting people they are ostensibly seeking to help or love. The collateral damage that is inflicted upon the world, not necessarily with malice, but rather by damaged people reeling senselessly with their own pain— is truly heartbreaking.

Marilyn Monroe had a deep need to be loved. But I suppose we all do. She just let the world see it.

 

Harmony and Melody

Where was he from? And where should he go, and did he have to go any farther? And what was life, this pulse, this breathing, this waiting, what was this ecstasy, this grief, this war? He was so weak, but he had a powerful harmony in his heart, a melody in his head” (25) – Nina Berberova, The Resurrection of Mozart.

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The Tattered Cloak and Other Stories by Nina Berberova is exhibit A in my perpetual side note defense of libraries. Her books happen to lay on the shelf above the Bulgakov I had sought out. In all honesty it was another title of hers that first caught my eye, The Book of Happiness. I can’t quite say why I chose this one instead…perhaps it stems from my status as an unbeliever, but now that I have read her stories I feel confident that she and I have some congress. Still, one must roam. One must have the opportunity to bump into books. We are all far too limited, left to our own insular and circular devices. What will become of fate?

“I don’t smoke and I don’t philosophize,” said Astashev (125, Astashev in Paris)

Fine with the smoking but, As Mallarmé wrote, let’s think it over…Berberova’s character’s are a hurting shell shocked bunch, their lives are one blow after another – philosophy is hardly possible in a state of shock, and difficult in a state of poverty, but seems, to me, essential. In these stories, as cynical and inured to fate a person may seem, there is no end to the stupefaction of the dischord. I think we all know it’s not suppose to be like this.

But I wasn’t going to hug her anymore, and I wasn’t going to cry with her. That night I had hardened, and I even experienced a certain satisfaction from feeling harder (177, The Tattered Cloak).

Written in the 30’s and 40’s Berberova’s stories are primarily about Russian emigres in Paris. The one-two whammy of the world wars is described with a cool distance: a disjointed, moorless, disconnect. It is heart wrenching- the true result of war – death: for the dead and living alike. I already would have taken some convincing to believe that anyone could raise the bar for the  Russian Department of Despair- given their exposure, but holy smokes, Nina!

I would drag Tolstoy back into God’s world. Wasn’t it you, dear sir, who denied the role of the individual in history? You who declared that there would be no more wars? And wasn’t it you who took a skeptical view of vaccinations? No, don’t try to wriggle out of it now. Just have a look at the results” (6, The Resurrection of Mozart).

I will confess that I would have most likely put this book aside had I been without another (I have a high tolerance for pain, but I am truly on a campaign to change my errant ways, I swear). There was a glimmer in Astashev in Paris, but that was, apparently,  just my relentless seemingly innate groping hope rearing its head. Needless to say, Berberova slapped that bitch down.

“You’ve got a lot to learn, Zhenechka. I suggest you start taking instruction from me” (141, Astashev in Paris).

I really wanted this one to end well….I think that is the point – isn’t it all suppose to end well? How does it happen that it doesn’t? There is something un-credible about the human ability to manufacture its own pain and suffering so relentlessly.  No child would believe it. Some call it innocence, but I feel there is that bud of love in our cores that wants to grow, must grow, and the perversity of a world which stunts that urge is appalling and unbelievable.

She had everything I hold dear in this solar system, all the rest was Neptune and Pluto (271, The Black Spot).

It was Berberova’s story The Black Spot that will stay with me always. By the time I got to it, I was fully Russian in spirit if not actuality. Far away, almost like a dream, the narrator’s voice called…yes, she said: this is the story, this is reality, but… but I tell the tale for a reason, I give you, Reader, these dead hearts so that you will know there is another way. As bleak as it is, as crushing as poverty and the stupidity of war is, we all want the same thing. Yes. We do. Fate will write the score, but we are not wrong to expect harmony and melody from each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heart at my tongue, tirelessly sung

That most folks misunderstand one common state:
The flip side of love is indifference, not hate.

-David Rakoff, Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish A Novel (103)

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Clementines, lithograph by Victoria Accardi 2009

A friend of mine, so young and so dear
Lent me a book a little queer.
Written in rhyme, the two of us mused
Left us feeling somewhat bemused
With our minds caught in quite a mess
Of unruly and permanent rhyming redress.

David Rakoff on his deathbed wrote
A book of some considerable note.
Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish A Novel
Will leave one with kvetch or kvell.
Life’s bitterness is nothing new
But the rare lilt of a rhyme adds to what’s really an adieu.

Okay, like mine, the rhyme sometimes falls flat
But the author’s just dead- I can’t be that much of a twat.
Even still the rueful humor will ensue
And I feel duty bound to give it its due.
All that is true
And all we go through,
It’s our stories that remain
Whether told in fun or unbearable pain
The truth of our lives here on this earth
Is our shared saga, and an earnest desire for innocent mirth.

Except for instructions he’d underscored twice
Just two words in length, and those words were,
“Be nice!” (77)

Sire, remember the Athenians

In order to contemplate [my  wandering thought’s] ineptitude and strangeness at my pleasure, I have begun to put them in writing, hoping in time to make my mind ashamed of itself. – Montaigne, The Complete essays of Montaigne, from Of Idleness (21)

DSCI0014One of the wonderful things about Montaigne is his prodigious use of ancient writers to shape his ideas. He flings one quote after another onto the page at a furious pace. In the essay That our desire is increased by difficulty there is this gem:

The courtesan Flora used to say that she had never lain with Pompey without making him carry away the marks of her bites:
They hurt the longed-for body with their viselike grip,
And with their teeth they lacerate the tender lip,
Goaded by the secret stings to hurt the very thing,
Whate’er it be, from which these germs of madness spring.- Lucretius (464)

I found this essay particularly interesting having recently finished Love in the Western World because Montaigne discusses the same subject but his conclusion is slightly less hysterical.

What is allowed, we scorn; what’s not allowed, we burn for. – Ovid (466)

Rather than Rougemont’s pointing the finger of blame for this inclination at a “Pagan” mindset, which he argued had loose ideas about love and marriage that now makes us all confused by an addiction to the “pain of passion,” Montaigne describes the very same pain of passion as belonging to all time and all men (I have to resist my temptation to italicize the word men, but if woman had written more history and philosophy would we constantly be having this argument?).

Considering Montaigne’s liberal use of ancient sources, it is clear- if it’s true- we are and have always been warped, nothing particularly Christian or Pagan about it. Never the less, Montaigne very soon gets a little off the track of love, and uses this principle for a diversion into social engineering. He argues it is the bars on the windows, so to speak, that increases the desire to do wrong. If you do not want your house to be robbed- don’t lock it. If you do not want someone to walk across your garden, better to put a little silk cord across it than a tempting  fence which will perversely induce the desire.

Locked places invite the thief. The burglar passes by what is open. -Seneca (467)

I hesitantly agree with much of this principle- forbidden things are given allure that they do not necessarily possess.  But, as I mentioned in my ramblings regarding Love in the Western World,  the  I love her more because I can’t have her meme is as insulting as it is immature. Obviously there are plenty of odious rakes throughout history that are only occupied with their ennui and narcissism: those that seek merely to play with other people’s hearts until they are captured, only to be abandoned. But isn’t it possible that there is a lot written and thought about the pain of love because it’s often…painful? Real hearts get broken. This is life. Whether by death, circumstances, or simply unrequited (although that last one I am not convinced of – seems more a form of masochism than true love), a broken heart is the sort of pain that is so excruciating the only means of encompassing the throbbing aura of ache is art- consequently the intensity of poetry looms large in this domain. I will go out on a limb and suggest that Montaigne might agree, which may be why he wanders away from love in his essay and widens the scope to the dangers of unnecessarily forbidding our desires to more mundane aspects of life.

There are many thought provoking pieces in this collection, but I will mention just one more, because I loved the humor and truth (those two are always hand in hand in my mind). Of liars begins with a discourse on memory, as Montaigne puts it,  It is not unreasonably said that anyone who does not feel sufficiently strong in memory should not meddle with lying (23) He bemoans his own inferior power to recall, but then adds a couple of silver linings, one being:

My second consolation is that I remember injuries received less, as that ancient said; I should need a prompter, like Darius, who, so as not to forget the harm he had received from the Athenians, had a page come every time he sat down to table and sing three times in his ear: “Sire, remember the Athenians.” (23)

That one made me laugh aloud because, while I am sadly lacking in servants, I should at least probably make a note or two for myself to try to counter-act  my failures of memory. I have more than once had to stop myself whilst talking with someone (usually my children) and exclaim, “Wait a minute, I forgot- I’m mad at you!” Instead of Sire, remember the Athenians, mine will be- Jessica, remember the child that finished all the milk so you had none for coffee this morning.

It is always a marvel to me that from before the time that we humans had even begun putting pen to paper we have puzzled over the same unanswerable questions. It is never enough that someone else has done it before me, it’s not even enough that I have done it before. Whoever I will be tomorrow, the next day, and beyond, will continue mulling over the sometimes beautiful and sometimes painful mystery of life.

I cannot keep my subject still. It goes along befuddled and staggering, with natural drunkenness. I take it in this condition, just as it is at the moment I give my attention to it. I do not portray being: I portray passing. Not passing from one age to another, or, as the people say, from seven years to seven years, but from day to day, from minute to minute. My history needs to be adapted to the moment. I may presently change, not only by chance, but also by intention.
from Of repentance (611)

*The Complete Essays of Montaigne translated by Donald M. Frame

That Dweam within a Dweam

Romance only comes into existence where love is fatal, frowned upon and doomed by life itself. What stirs lyrical poets to their finest flights is neither the delight of the senses nor the fruitful contentment of the settled couple; not the satisfaction of love, but its passion. And passion means suffering. There we have the fundamental fact.
-Denis De Rougemont, Love In The Western World

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Jupiter and Io c. 1530 Correggio

Looking at slides in my art history class recently I saw a painting of Tristan and Isolde. Or maybe it was in the text book as I was reading. I see it in my mind. It was a depiction of the moment when King Marc switches his sword for that of Tristan’s which lay between the sleeping lovers (Isolde being the King’s wife). Perhaps I imagined it. I can not find it now, nor clearly remember where I saw it.  I didn’t even like the painting that much, at the time I think I compared it to Correggio’s passionate Jupitor and Io which is wonderful.  But I had one of those countless moments of curiosity–what about Tristan and Isolde? I then went on to look for the myth–which I also did not immediately find. I instead happened upon a book about the myth. This is the sort of thing that will drive me mad. I swear I saw a painting. It was real. But there is no proof. The painting in my mind does not exist as far as Google is concerned–certain death if ever there was.  Which is actually perfectly to the point of the book I read as a consequence of my apparently imagined painting.

Suffering and understanding are deeply connected; death and self-awareness are in league; and European romanticism may compare to a man for whom sufferings, and especially the sufferings of love, are a privileged mode of understanding  (51).

M. Rougemont book (published in 1940, France) has an interesting, if depressing thesis of what has made the myth of Tristin and Isolde (or Iseult as he calls her) so enduring. He frames it as a kind of Christian heresy and then goes on to relate it to the modern breakdown of marriage. I must necessarily skim the surface here. Rougemont’s idea is complex and he offers up a lot of evidence as a defensive measure against his critics. He wants to understand the preponderance of adultery as a plot line and fixates on Tristen as a subverted reaction against marriage. He implicates the Troubadours and the Cathars as misguided primary sources, and then goes on to expose the literary thread that supports his thinking.

But Racine, in being content to represent ‘passions excited’ and to produce the ‘sadness’ in which he invites us to find an indefinite ‘enjoyment’, betrays a rather morbid acceptance of the defeat of mind and of the resignation of the senses (202).

This is “love” that can never be consummated because that would be the death of the romance–the only proper release being actual death as in Romeo and Juliet. Cervantes ridicules the pain-of-passion novel, while Stendhal, and many or most others revere it–mistakenly, according to Rougemont:

On this theory, falling in love is to endow a woman with perfections she does not in the least possess. And why do we do this? Because we need to love, and because the only thing that can be loved is beauty (225).

This is a tragedy of objectification. I am sure it can go both ways, but more often than not women are mere two-dimensional objects in which their true selves are not valued and ignored. The fact that most of Rougemont’s examples are married woman (thereby creating an unattainable object of desire for the man) matters to his idea that the love is of an object (because, again, it is not a stretch, traditionally, to view a woman as an object) That a “passion” of epic, religious proportions (like the passion for God or Jesus which can never, by virtue of its very nature, until death, be realized) is foisted upon actual feeling breathing humans is a serious failing indeed. But Rougemont describes the problem as a confusion that the worship of (the pagan idea of) Eros has wrought on the Christian concept of love which is a communion (with God, ultimately). But, it is significant to me that he defines the word passion as it means in the Christian Biblical sense instead of how I might mean it, not to mention D. H. Lawrence, where passion is simply a deeply felt awe of our shared humanity.

As I have said, passion means suffering. Therefore, inasmuch as our notion of love enfolds our notion of woman, it is linked with a theory of the fruitfulness of suffering which encourages or obscurely justifies in the recesses of the Western mind a liking for war (243).

There were many moments while reading this book that I felt a strong need for a good therapist. One for everyone in fact. But, let’s calm down here for a moment. Anna Karenina without adultery is Levin and Kitty: a sweet but far less complex and riveting story. Can not a snake just be a snake? Or drama be drama? One could just as easily argue that the preponderance of the adulteress is better drama–being that much more outside the patriarchal norm of our society.

Rougemont waits until the near end to give his assessment of the state of things. In his view ‘passion,’ as he defines it, is a throwback to paganism, and paganism he casts as some sort of debauched bacchanal. In order to have a compliant society, which is, I think, one of his concerns, marriage must be preserved. How does one preserve marriage when we are all, according to him, infected with the desire for romantic passion, which marriage destroys? By adhering to the contract (a nod to Deuteronomy?). He emphasizes making a decision to put the contract above all else. It is a sort of because-I-said-so mentality that smacks of the sort of  patriarchal thrust the non-secular world is founded upon. I am not a hedonist, but the free-thinker in me provokes me to ask: is there nothing in between, or dare I say–outside the choice of being a martyr to contract or debauched excess?

It is interesting to take a moment to consider the more matriarchal aspects that paganism can represent, which Rougemont ignores. What?! a man dismissing a female perspective? How unusual. One doesn’t have to be a scholar of the ancients to figure out that the earliest pagan societies were not all a sexual free for all or societal anarchy. So much of philosophy, history, and religion is written and thought out by men that alternative perspectives are regrettably absent.  The more I read, the more I really started to go in a very different direction from Rougemont. When I got to this line from page 312: “Christianity has asserted the complete equality of the sexes…” I was truly perplexed, but then, the Bible has always been abused as a book of selective interpretation.

While Rougemont is onto something regarding the fundamental selfishness of love borne of vanity and boredom: love that is in love with love rather than a person (whom if one actually loved they couldn’t help feeling concern or in other words, that “feminine” sensibility called caring) He does not allow for actual romantic love, which of course exists. There are far more examples of couples, married or not, that show two people whom want to spend time with one another and want to make love to one another. It’s not complicated, it’s just perhaps not great drama. I am not prepared to be declared ill for appreciating desire or for caring about the happiness of those I love. After all, there is evolution and progress in the balance of personal and societal good. We should always strive to thoughtfully make a more lovely life for ourselves and for all.

Sound of Longing

DSCI0015the smallest sound,
a mmm of ecstasy
or mourning.
stain left along the round,
an ahhh of pleasure
or despair.
skimming the vowels
u u u.
the finality of
hard consonants fall
prostrate before my tongue.
press my lips
and hope to lie.
the open nerve
wrapped along my alphabet
must straighten up
if I’m to dive
and strive and revive.
u u u.
the smallest sound
a stain along the round
where my words and I, were found.

JA/2013

Prolixity, Thy Name is S.A.T.

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Evanesce the pain,
of sitting at the skimpy school desk
gently holding my brain.
Trying to repair the wreck
I wrought; maybe staking a claim.

All the hard looks that say-
you don’t belong here,
are nothing new today.
Never mind the end’s not near,
over the Rubicon I’ll stay.

Another hurdle’s shown,
despite all of my loves,
(someday I’ll have it honed)
it’s the same as it ever was-
I just go it alone.

JA/2013

*Post-SAT fare. Kids, my fellow test takers – don’t try this at home: Spanish Cava and Punitions (a French butter cookie).

The Goddesses We Meet

St_Augustines_Ramsgate_Mildred“My God, this is fabulous.” I held up the heavy beaded gown. Rows of shimmering glass, the elegant tiny rectangular pink beads tightly lining the tan fabric undulated as the weight pulled my arm down. Staring in awe we simultaneously imagined her in the dress, once regally adorned.

Draping the long disused garment over my arm, I carried it and the other blouses and slacks, all carefully pressed and hung, back up the stairs. Squeezing past the motorized chair that carried her decaying body up and down, I bounded up the steps: steps that before the chair was installed, she had had to crawl up as her bones cruelly disintegrated. Scanning her bedroom I’d look for anything I could quickly do to help her now that we had organized her clothes. The bed was undone, easy for me to fix. The piles of towels on the matching twin bed were  a simple thing to organize into neat stacks of ascending order. I felt the quiet thrill of purpose as I folded.

I carefully pulled her stockings onto her feet and helped her get her shoes on. She dragged her body with excruciating effort towards the door. In the time she took to get there I would briskly straighten up the kitchen, wash the cups in the sink, and wipe down the coffee machine. Until every movement had to be carefully weighed and considered she had kept a house of perfect cleanliness and order. Now she sat in her chair as the dust bunnies mocked her. We laughed at her mental war with them together, and when she was not looking I gathered them up and threw them away. I could do that for her.

She took me to lunch and we laughed some more. She had stories to tell: sharp, compassionate and dead funny. That which had the memory of magnificence had become a source of unimaginable pain- but she laughed at the rearrangement of hairs from her body to her face, the leftover glory of her breasts that no longer appeared anywhere near her chest. We were like two school girls with the giggles. She ate meatloaf and laughed at me because I always ordered the BLT.

Aware of the cost of every step she took I’d take two or three, trying my best to correct the math: zipping in front of her, moving things out of her way, holding doors,  her walker, her purse. All the stupid little things I could do for her, and she embarrassed me with her gratitude.

By her admission, her heaping  measure of the pain life so generously offers came mostly at the end. We talked about suffering, love, death and God. She was not afraid of any subject. We allowed each other to feel the force of our personal miseries without pity. It could always be worse we told each other, sometimes with a laugh. Because it can.

I know what she looked like, sitting uncomfortably in her chair, woozy from her battle to find relief. I never knew her any other way. But when I picture her, the photograph on the sideboard that I passed each day as I left  is what I see in my mind.

There she stands, next to her adored husband: perfect eyebrows, tall proud figure and bright eyes. I see what she truly was. She was a goddess.
Rest, sweet woman, in peace.

A Waiting Game

“His heart does not at first take in the whole grave extent of this disaster; he is more disturbed than moved by it. But as his powers of reason gradually return, he feels the depth of his misfortune. Every pleasure in life is as nothing to him, he can only feel the sharp claws of the despair that is rending him. But what is the use of speaking of physical pain? What pain felt by the body alone can compare with this?” Jean-Paul

None, but let me try,

Caution: Exits after nine months

Childbirth comes the closest. It is the sort of pain that makes your soul bounce up against the top of your skull searching for a fissure, a hole, a space to escape. I would rate it a 9 on the pain spectrum. Most people do not go above 7. That is a statistical fact. So basically meaningless, but I suppose we all reasonably assume that it can always get worst. Childbirth allows for a reassessment. I imagine torture does the same. Perhaps I could have experienced more pain, but I am approximately fully confident that all of my senses were maxed out; there was literally nowhere else to go. Well, there is death. I did feel close at moments -and I would not have minded. And to think I had more than one. The unique thing about childbirth is that it leaves no permanent psychological scars. In fact, that is why it can never be a 10 (if all has ended well) there is no mental component: shock that one could experience and then survive the ordeal, yes, but no blame, shame, wishing you hadn’t done something so stupid.

Caution: Holds an edge

I was peeling butternut squash about a year ago. I cut it in two and rested the flat cut end on the surface so that I could separate the thick skin from the flesh. Once the squash is peeled it weeps a slimy film that makes it difficult to hold. Having mostly peeled the top half, I cut it in half the long way and then cubed it. As I held it with my left hand and applied, with my Sabatier, the strong pressure required for the densest part, I experienced that particular moment of knowing before comprehending that something was awry.  The inside of my left ring finger had parted ways with the rest of my hand. It is hard to see the scar but I can feel or rather, I can no longer feel, that side of my finger. After the initial feeling of nothing, the pain built up. My finger overtook my entire body, all my concentration. The blood was alarming but once I had dealt with that, I had a huge bandaged finger that throbbed and got in the way as I continued to peel and cut my squash. Lying in bed that night I rested it, over the covers, on my chest, silently observing the pain, wondering what permanent damage I had wrought. I’d give it a four.

Caution: Slippery when worn

My daughter and I were playing, she had snuck up on me and in retaliation I chased her up the stairs. Going around the circle that the bedroom to bathroom to hall made, I stealthily caught up to her, and in the dark of the room leapt out shouting “Boo!” I spun, laughing wickedly and tried to run down the stairs to escape her grasp as she recovered herself. In my hast to descend, the slippers I wore  gave way to physics: my mass plus gravity sliding the synthetic “leather” soles forward. I began to fly. I landed on the bottom stair; my tailbone meeting the edge of the stair with a crunch that I still can recall with perfect clarity. I lay at the bottom of the stairs on my stomach, the pain was intense and I knew it was bad. I felt all wrong. I began to laugh. My daughter brought me a pillow that I put under my hips and a bag of frozen peas that I put on my derrière. I lay there, wondering if I had broken anything (I had), wondering how I would know and if it would be smart to try to get up. I’d give that a six: a generous six.

Caution: You will not feel a cool stream running, quite the opposite.

Sitting on the edge of an examination table I am asked by the nurse, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?” I tell her 5, but remind her that I am under the influence of ibuprofen; it takes the edge off of what would otherwise be a clear 7. It is so painful to swallow that I would rather spit out the saliva that relentlessly accumulates in my mouth. I can barely open my mouth wide enough for the doctors to see the swelling. Everything that enters my mouth has to be carefully considered. Is the pain worth it? I think of all the things I’d like to eat. All the things I’d like to say. I wake in the middle of the night, the pain screaming in my throat. I gargle with salt water and see a stream of blood go down the sink. I hold my jaw so that I can cry in as little pain as possible. My hand shakes as I place the ibuprofen one tablet at a time on my tongue to swallow with the meager amount of water I can process: about a thimble full. I can only wait; wait for it to subside.