Pain has an element of blank, Emily Dickinson said.
I think she was trying to say that in the face of pain, the rest of the world recedes, until all there is is the present moment, and how much it hurts. It’s also not easy to remember pain. You can remember how miserable you were when you were feeling it, but you can’t summon up or well describe the actual sensation, even if you want to. We protect ourselves this way, I think. If you could remember pain well, and know you will feel it again multiple times…for myself, I might just try to end it all. There have been pains for me that, had I been standing beside a cliff, I would have jumped.
I was a tortured adolescent when the physical pain began. I was already an emotional wreck from an undiagnosed syndrome and a home life that was hell. I was already wearing black, listening to Nirvana, holding back my tears and just trying to survive. For a while, it was bearable. Then came the years of podiatrists and physical therapy, and after that the years of palliative care because I was scared of surgery. A few years ago I completely changed my mind about that, went eagerly into two surgeries on each foot, and to be honest, part of my eagerness was the recovery period of people doing things for me, a relief from the constant cleaning up and cooking.
My surgeries were what they call plantar fasciotomy and tarsal tunnel decompression procedures. Looking back, they did help, I think. Rheumatoid arthritis came sweeping in at some point, I don’t know when. I’ve always at times felt like I had a fever, and my immune system was always remarkably strong. Maybe it was always in me, from very early. My rheumatologist and podiatrist were shocked that no one ever tested me for RA. I was told once that I have “the opposite of arthritis,” so I never considered RA either. I don’t remember if it was ever one of the diseases I prayed for as an adolescent; probably not, because it’s not fatal. It shortens lifespan, but I was asking for cancer, AIDS, that sort of thing. I know, that’s awful of me. But you haven’t lived this life.
I had it planned out, to some extent. A neutral-colored office, a kind doctor gently telling me I have two years, or one. Promises that I’d be kept out of pain, given as much medication as was needed. A hazy year or two of watching a garden bloom, whispers about my bravery each time I got out of bed, writing one last novel or two – I do after all work better with a deadline. People facing death like that take on an ethereal quality, with one foot here on Earth and the other extending home to the Other Side. Before, my oldest son was ill all his short life, living only to age seven, and he was like that, more an angel than a child, concerned more for my tears than his failing health.
I did, I daydreamed of growing thin and paler, me who had always played Beth in Little Women games with my sisters. I wanted a long, painless wasting away, a death not by my own hand, one I could not be blamed for, leaving novels behind for my family to publish, memorable last words. I guess I wanted an honorable death, and those are not easy to find these days, especially for someone like me who could never get through boot camp to the Army. I wanted, if I couldn’t have my lingering goodbye, to die for something bigger than myself. I daydreamed too of robberies and hostage situations, shielding a woman and her children with my body and dying for someone who actually wanted to live.
I still want these things, but no longer all the time. What changed? My nieces and nephews started to come to Earth, and I loved and love them more than I thought myself capable. I dreamed of the Other Side, my soul-self before the Council and being asked, will you stay, or do you still want to come Home? I can’t decide. My answer changes with the movement of shadows, the twinge of muscles, the song playing, how hard my body shakes with sobbing.
I had a good friend who asked her spirit guides for me what I should do about the pain in my feet, and they said it wasn’t a physical problem. Maybe I carried it in, like my memories and feelings, from another life. Maybe my feet were once bound and broken and that’s why I have a dislike for China. Maybe it’s symbolic of life-weariness, having walked too many roads and gotten really nowhere. Maybe it’s a (now body-wide) pain referred from my Homesick soul, and the pills I take merely soothe the sharp and dull aches of the body…or just shut my longing mind up for a little while.
The pain I don’t remember always returns, and I don’t know if it’s the same each time. I know I need this to be so, or I would spend all my time panicked, so much that I’d die of something anxiety-related. I should be grateful, I suppose. But it feels like gratitude to a rapist for using a condom. I’m angry about the need, the system, all of it. The world is hard enough for a healthy person. What are we suffering and soul-sick learning that is worth this? If anyone ever gives me an answer…I don’t remember that either.