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What has not waned is my willingness to take nearly any imperative as advice: horoscopes, graffiti, addictive couplets, poignantly agrammatical moments in an instruction manual.
While watching a movie about a serial killer, I catch you repeatedly holding your body rigid in uncomfortable ways. Your knee digs into mine, you flex a foot til it cramps, one eye closes, and your hand is raised defensively at your chest.
So on the afternoon of my 26th birthday, I decided (and said) that I would buy the flowers myself. By that point, every conscious moment was an unexpected gift.
I realize that this is the way the victim should hold her wounds to mitigate the pain, staunch the bleeding, placate impending death. “Arrange whatever pieces,” Virginia Woolf said, “come your way.”
Since I was eight I have known how to thread a cord through a piece of fabric, make a knot, pull it tight. This is how to cinch. If you can baste then you can cinch. It’s a skill I don’t have much use for anymore.
Almost a week later, in a kitchen with five burners and tea cups with tea bags but no hot water, M (of MS and MF) said that he would like to start a relationship in person and eventually move it onto the Internet. Let’s meet at a bar, he suggests, and if it gets intimate, we can move things to OkCupid. A little later, below an inflatable shark, my full teacup shook when I laughed and I spilled over a stylish carpet that M referred to as a tidy zebra. Like your sweater, he said, which was neither tidy nor a zebra. M returned with stain spray, “I have this. Do you think it’s okay?” And at the same time M and I arrive in the same place, “of course it’s okay that you have it.”
In what turns out to relate only tangentially to the climax, the stain is successfully lifted; it is not a zebra at all. It is rectangular slices of white horse, patch-worked into rectangular slices of black horse– that is, if it’s acrylic equus at all.
I am hesitant to risk romanticizing the pain, if for no other reason than that the pain is inescapable.
On the morning of my 26th birthday, I sat on the kitchen floor, I made a phone call, I waited for help. “I have this,” I told my roommate. I was wracked with pain which woke me at four am when I mistakenly believed I was suffering a solid, throbbing, ache– the kind treatable with Tylonol and consequently jostled too quickly for the pills. It turns out that the pain was also liquid and my movement dislodged some crucial dam and it sloshed upward, pouring out of my right nostril and then my right eye. I spend the next eleven hours wiping and half-blind, able- at most- to comprehend the briefest phrases: haunting aphorisms, the punch lines of jokes, horoscopes, graffiti.
At four am I feel a creeping thread pierce my forehead and slide down over my cheek bone. Hitting lip level, I feel the knot and it is pulled tight. If you can baste, you can close my eye for twelve hours. I am hesitant to not romanticize the pain because romance is one of the only things that makes it bearable.
Something new that happens when you cannot imagine a more intense pain. When I was a little kid, I used to lie in bed and pretend my mother was stroking my hair and back and that when she did that I wouldn’t be afraid anymore. Now I am older, I can lie in bed and this monster will stroke my hair and back and I am not afraid. It is a peculiar feeling to weep only at pain and not in fright– to watch what extremity winnows out. I didn’t even know I had been that scared.
While watching a horror movie, I discover that I’m tensing my face to awkwardly mitigate, staunch, placate. Twelve hours after it wove in, the cord is snipped and the right side of my face falls unexpectedly flat, bagging and disfigured with effort, misshapen by stitches, still oozing. I can relax.
It is nearly 8 before I can control my eyelid. It is twenty-four hours before my face does not feel black and blue. It is a week before I am exuberant enough to tell a parable with my whole body on Franklin Avenue.
A week later, I cannot tell whether the tea has gotten into my sock, as well. Awake, painless, elated by jokes, my best friend, two sofas, two strangers, two M’s, I am no longer isolated by agony. This time it is distraction which prevents me from understanding the difference between thread and drip. My words are back and it no longer seems crucial to use them to identify whether something has been absorbed.
Whether or not anyone can escape, I can relax. It’s true, I say, it’s okay that I have this.