A World Without Pain
It's better this way. I think. Isn't it?
It's better for me.
I put my headphones on. I scrunch up into my seat on the bus and turn the music up so that I won't hear them. So I won't not hear them. They're there on the periphery of my vision, flickering there as the street lights twitch past us out the window. And I rest my head on the glass, listening to the sound the engines makes, feeling the vibration through my forehead, hearing the tiny thunder of tyres running over gravel.
I know sometimes other people try to reach me. There'll be somebody who takes the time. Who tries to start a conversation, or who reaches out a hand as if to touch my arm. Someone who'll try to concoct a little meaning out of the void.
Hey, we've all suffered loss, one way or another. Other people know how you feel.
They do. Ugly, brittle, crystal-sharp mirrors. They're diminished figures just like me, huddled all over this bus, united in our greyness, united in the quiet, non-tactile universe we've slipped into. Ask us no questions. Don't waste your time.
I remember when my mother used to tell me: “Don't cry now. It's only pain.”
The scraped knee bled up at me, sucking all of existence into itself, flaring the size of whole football fields.
“There,” she said, “I'll kiss it better.” I'd always shrink away.
“No. Sweetness. Make friends with the pain. It's how you know you're alive.”
It's also how you know you're mortal. And she learned that. Breathing through wires and plastic, propped up on a bed. Looking like plastic herself. Looking like white, shrivelled rubber; un-brushed hair seeming to hang off a wrapped and dried skull.
Make friends with the pain.
The joke was on her. Did she look back at that and laugh bitterly inside herself: naive young woman, stupid, ignorant, clueless? She'd never seen this coming, never understood the enormity of what it was going to be like. Not until it came and found her, came down on her like a bloody tsunami. A whole new understanding of what knowing you're alive could mean.
And the joke was on me too. I stood on the sidelines. I couldn't quite bear to get closer, I couldn't be folded into those skeletal arms, touch those dessicated cheeks. No. Couldn't. And then when they made me - eleven, 'old enough', traumatised “but think of your mother” “you'll regret if you don't,” - I knew I could hear her electric breathing, her clockwork 'no-more'. No-more; No-more: No-more: No... More. No... More. While the universe refused to listen.
Well, I've been touched. I've been young, and I've been in the world. Been part of it enough to have eyes wander over me. And, believe me, I've touched back.
But then I've been touched so that its like being scalded on the inside. That grinning mouth. Those rock-hard hands. I'm sure I'll never forget him, I'm sure of that. A face: half in shadow. A name: Jeremy. Just Jeremy. Not last name. Jeremy and his grasping, searching hands. Eight or nine of them all at once, and him between me and the door.
Instead of pain there's this: the steady rhythm of the engines, the quiet rumble that sinks beneath your skin. The way the bus shifts - lumbering like some huge, worn-out beast - whenever the driver changes gear. The music in my ears is full of pain, full of songs about pain and loss, about hearts opening wide, glowing, being filled, and then breaking. The soaring, then the falling, then the hitting hard asphalt and breaking like an egg.
No more. No, no more.
A stranger passes me. He looks as if he would speak, he looks at me, his mouth seems to try to form words. Words impeded by a mouthful of silence.
A twitch of his mouth – a memory of how once to smile.
My stop comes after his. I stand, moving towards the front. It's easier now, in these new days, this rewritten world. It doesn't hurt at all if someone pushes past you – their nothingness brushes through your nothingness without slowing it down. A breath, nothing more. And anyway, what's the hurry? What's the point?
When I walk past the driver, I reach out on impulse. It's for no particular reason, nothing special about him, just a bland guy in his thirties, a harmless non-entity. No reason for him to be special.
And he's not. My fingers slide through him as if he's not there. And he looks at me, sadly, seeing what I'm trying to do, maybe longing for that connection in some backwater part of his mind: some place that remembers. But the moment is nothing, it's gone as soon as it's born, and my feet move numbly down the stairs, into the cold, into the cacophony of street-lights. They cause us to cast a multitude of shadows. Well, we are a multitude of shadows, aren't we? All wrapped in our silence. I can see a couple of men, their mouths moving, no sound coming out. I see where strangers walk a little too close, brush, weave, meld, but then leaving nothing of themselves on each other. Shoulders slide through shoulders, and there isn't any pain.
No matter. I turn the music up a bit, and head down the road for home.