Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On Pain

Except it's in, not on. Not atop or about or above or by, but within, encompassed, located, enclosed, sealed, in the mail, in the air, in pain.

Prepositions never lie.

Pain's been on my mind lately. It's a phase I've passed through, a country I've toured. I could put it on my "where I've been" map if I cared to record things like "where I've been."

You've been there, too. Sometimes you show me pictures, postcards, souvenirs. Sometimes I've bought you the plane ticket, or you've bought one for me, or there we are, 36,000 feet up, hurtling together through the blue.

Today I said, "it looks like this is painful for you" to a mother who bit, with her upper teeth, her lower lip, then nodded. Today I barked my shin against the bed frame. Today I, like you, like the wall-eyed, stringy haired drunk I walked five blocks out of my way to avoid, hurt.

I have that cartographic urge. I want to map, to chart highways and byways, to plant my flag and claim this country for England, O England. I want to fix, with certainty, where I am. Is your pain the same as my pain? Is today's pain the same as yesterday's? What's the difference between slicing open my finger and slicing it off?

The funny thing, the only thing I know, is that pain and reality, like maps of the same country from different centuries, are only sloppy facsimiles of one another. Sure, you can trace the transformation, over time, of life into pain, but the landscapes are startlingly different. You cry, inconsolably, when your mother dies. And when you lose a part in a play. And when you realize your child will never speak, and when the boy you like goes for someone else, and after your third-grade teacher yells at you for talking out of turn. Small hurts can be more painful than larger ones; subtle aches can be more agonizing than stabbing loss. Is this condemnable? Or commendable? Or contemptible?

Maybe it's just human. Pain, like Texas, is a country unto itself. An interior country, spread over your vital organs, your hopes and dreams, your rules and regulations. The pain you admit to and the pain you don't; the pain you can explain and the pain you can't; secret pain and shared pain; the pain you know is legitimate to feel and the pain you know is wrong, that you haven't earned and shouldn't feel and aren't entitled to, but that, nevertheless, you're in.

That preposition again, with its howl for metaphor. Not a gunny sack or prison or love. Maybe poker.

All in.

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