Saturday, March 8, 2014

It's Nature's Way

How do you describe pain?  A sick feeling in the chest that flows out through the abdomen.  A aneurysm, no, an embolism.  A foreign object making its unwanted way through the circulatory system.  There's a reason we focus the description of our painful emotions on the heart.  The ache of unrequited love, the stabbing anger of betrayal, the claw of longing, the rage of jealousy.  That all happens right here.  She points to her breastbone, rubs her fist in a circle around it, massages it with the ball of her hand.  And dissolves for the thousandth time, the ten thousandth time, into the inexorable tears that feel so good in a twisted way.  The cheesy sayings, so trite, so true, wash away my trouble, wash away my pain, it's a wave that rushes up, out of nowhere, blindsided on the daily by it, after fifty years, still new every time.

She buries her face, not in her hands, but more profoundly than that, more like surrender really, into her bent forearms, cradling her head, wrapping herself up tight, the only comfort a solitary person can offer herself.   No one can do this with her.  She is all alone.   She takes brave, deep breaths, and shudders on the exhale, trying to muffle the sadness as it ripples through her.  Her friends sleep across the hall of thin walls.  They are worried about her.  She stays at work so late, then the gym, then the tutoring center to pick up her son.  She goes home finally after everyone's in bed, so she doesn't have to see their kindly questioning concerned faces.

She turns into the cul-de-sac and rolls up to the house.  Through the parted curtains she sees her ex-husband, talking with someone, her daughter probably, in that pedantic way he has, as though he were instructing, not lecturing exactly, but he has an irritating, condescending way of speaking. He knows more than you, so he has to be right.  Has all his answers ready to go, favorite book, favorite movie, or at least his top five, his top ten.  Let's see who can name more Oscar-winners.  Who won Best Actress in what year, for which role?   Now she sees him losing confidence, faltering, maybe even reeling, from the blow her departure has dealt him.  

She had dinner this evening with some friends and there was an endocrinologist there.  Even though she knew it was rude, she couldn't help herself and pumped the woman for information, for validation.  

Q.  Could someone with two bouts of acute pancreatitis in three years continue to drink?   
A.  No.  Telling the patient that it would be okay to drink would be malpractice.  
Q.  And could "the patient" just up and keel over at any moment?  
A.  Possibly.  But he needs to stop drinking immediately or he will definitely die soon.  

Maybe some day she will see him finally capitulate, abandon the stubborn denial, and ask for help.  Or maybe he'll drink himself to death.  It could go either way.  And either way, not her problem.  Not her fault.  Really and finally.

Through the parted curtains she sees her former life, wrenched from her by the people who were supposed to love her best in the world.  A life that she worked so hard at pretending she loved. Decades spent trying to fix what was wrong, to deflect blame, to dodge guilt, and failing at all of it.

The embolism of pain makes her slump over the steering wheel, the wind knocked out of her.  That life is gone, and with a mixture of relief and trepidation she considers the new one that remains to be forged.  She bids her son good night and watches him walk up to front porch and sidle in through a door barely open so as not to let the dogs out.    With a profound sigh, she releases the brake and steers the car out of the cul-de-sac, away from the stabbing anger of betrayal, the claw of longing, into the rest of her life, a vacuum waiting to be filled with the worthwhile things she brings from her past and the terrifying and wonderful things she will craft for herself from the wreckage of the last twenty years.