Friday, September 17, 2010

Phantom Pains

I've read before that when a patient needs a limb removed either because of irreparable injury or cancer or infection that they can sometimes "feel" the limb even after it's gone because the nerve endings transmit sensations as if the limb were still there. I can't imagine how disconcerting this must be to the amputee, especially in the months immediately following the amputation. Can you imagine waking up one morning and feeling your arm only to come fully awake and realize that this appendage you can't imagine being without is gone? Forever? If the arm or leg was lost in a clinical setting, clearly it had to go. A conscious decision was made to sacrifice a limb to save a body, but that can't make it any easier to be without. Maybe it helps to rationalize and be philosophical about the loss, but in the end it's still a loss - a vital loss - and it must be heartbreaking.

Without indulging in hyperbole or stooping to teenage poetry, I'm feeling a bit like that these days. Before I go on, I have to admit that I'm a writer. It helps me make sense of things and order my thoughts. It's sort of like organizing a disheveled work space. Bills go in one folder, incoming and outgoing memos are separated, trash is disposed of, and before you know it, you can see a clear path forward and prioritize your actions. It's like that, but with emotions and thoughts and hopes. In realizing I need to do this to make sense of myself, I have to ignore the audience. It isn't for the audience (well maybe this explanation is), and I can't help that I know some of the people who will read this and that they may see themselves in it. It's not a message in a bottle or a flare from a sinking ship. It's where I am and hopefully a starting point to where I want to go.

To pick back up my analogy, my amputated limb is the loss of a relationship. I mean that strictly in the sense of loss and the now, more than three months later, realization of the gravity of that loss. It's the strangest thing that the easiest part of a break up, at least to me, are the few weeks immediately following the decision to end it. All of the bad things are perched aggressively in the forefront of your mind and the frustrations and hurtful things and reasons why it's not right come at you like a rapid fire diagnosis. I had to end things to save us from an unhappy relationship. We have to take your arm to save your body. I can accept that. I imagine most amputees can as well. When you're presented with all of the reasons why a thing has to be done, you can rationalize doing that thing, even if it's highly unpleasant and emotionally wrenching. But then the recovery starts...

You don't miss having your arm because it had cancer. You miss your arm because it was a part of you; because you could climb and throw and reach and hold hands or stroke your lover's face. You come to this point months after you've experienced the loss when the clinical decision has been taken and the necessity of having to make that decision has faded into the past. I don't miss my girlfriend because we fought and didn't trust one another and became gradually resentful of our differences. I don't miss her because I never felt she was comfortable being totally vulnerable to me or because I craved a measure of warmth, intimacy, and understanding that I'm sure looked an awful lot to her like losing herself. I miss her because she gave me exhausted hugs at the end of her workday and she sometimes unknowingly used the wrong word to hilarious effect. I miss that she has to sleep in pitch blackness, is the world's worst cook, won't save herself from embarrassment if the story is good, smiles like a spotlight, and when she genuinely laughs, sounds like a symphony. I miss her striking beauty and her graceful power. The diagnosis has faded and now I'm living without something I thought I would live with for the rest of my life.

Which places me at a starting point. Pick yourself up, kid.

1 comment:

Mr. Right said...

I am sure you had the right reasons to do it. Pick yourself is correct buddy.