Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Memory of Pain

Nine years ago today, something happened that hurt me terribly; I felt the sting of it for years afterward, even after I'd long since lost contact with everyone else involved. Even now, when what happened no longer actually has the power to hurt me, I can't help but think of the time I wasted in moping over it and wishing that the people who had hurt me had suffered for what they did. I won't go into any real detail about what happened to cause me all that pain because it isn't really relevant. Suffice it to say that it was rotten.

I still remember some almost impossibly small details of that day. The weather was beautiful; there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the sun was so bright, so warm, that I could hardly believe I was actually feeling so cold inside. I remember the tea I drank—Earl Grey, which has always been one of my favourites—and the pattern on the mug I was drinking it from. I remember the card game that some of my acquaintances were playing at the time, and a discussion about runes and tarot cards I had with one of them. ("The only cards I know anything about come 78 to a deck," I grinned.) After my chance discovery, I remember getting up from the table I'd been sitting at and nearly tripping over the ridiculously tall shoes I was wearing; the soles were about three inches thick, and I really only bought the damn shoes in the first place because they were the only ones I could find in my size that had decent arch support. I remember going to my locker early—this happened in my final year of high school—and digging around for a book I needed for my homework. A couple of hours after I got home, I took a long walk. Unfortunately, part of that walk took me to the place where one of the other people worked (I hadn't known about their job until I got there), and it all came crashing down on me again.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted both physically and emotionally, but I did my damndest to pretend that everything was normal. I suspect that I was successful; my parents didn't ask me what was bothering me, and at the time, neither of them really understood that I need to work things out in my mind before I'll talk about them. I'm sure they thought they were doing me a favour in encouraging me to talk about my feelings, but quite frankly, every time it happened, I felt more like I was being hounded to share things I wasn't ready to share, like my privacy didn't matter and my inner thoughts weren't really mine to keep. Any acting talent I currently possess can probably be attributed to that.

I remember what I ate for supper, hours later; it was pasta with white sauce and various kinds of seafood. I remember getting through my homework somehow and then flopping on my bed, staring at the ceiling. And I remember writing about the incident in typical teenage histrionics, but perhaps I can be forgiven for that, because I'd just discovered something that meant that someone I thought was a friend really wasn't, and I had a feeling—one that actually proved to be right a couple of weeks later—that things were going to get worse for me before the end of it.

Nine years later, although the pain of betrayal has long since faded, I still feel the mental echo of it once in awhile. Certain songs will remind me of it. Earl Grey tea, while still one of my favourites, is not necessarily a beverage I will consume quite as often as I used to nine years ago. Clear and sunny weather on the ninth of May is an obvious trigger. But the remembered pain doesn't rule me anymore as it did back then when it was real; now, I look at it as a reminder of a lesson learned rather harshly when (I suppose) I really, really needed a smack upside the head. DON'T TRUST THE UNTRUSTWORTHY.

Even that day, though, I knew that the pain wouldn't last. The next morning, though I wore darker clothes than usual and was a bit withdrawn even around my friends, I started to work drafting a ritual that would help me to distance myself from the hurt a bit. For whatever reason, it worked. Actually, it worked so well that the day after, I actually capered around my room singing the refrain to Britney Spears' "Stronger"! (Hey, I was eighteen, and that was actually the most appropriate song I could think of at the time.) And over the years, I've actually used that very same ritual to help me to get over similar—or worse—moments of pain in my life, only altering it to make it appropriate for the new painful circumstances.

That's not to say that everything was sunshine and roses, of course. As I said before, things actually got a great deal worse for me about two weeks later. May 9 was only the start of it, but of all the dates when things that happened that were related to this initial incident, this is still the day that reminds me of it the most. It's the day when I found out that all was not as it seemed, and when I realized that Something Really Bad was on its way.

In the end, I suppose I ought to be grateful for that unexpected revelation. It helped me to prepare myself for what was coming at me, and because I wrote that ritual I gained a tool for helping myself to clear my mind and step away from the distraction of mental and emotional pain. And it taught me a valuable lesson, which I believe I've already outlined.

Through the years, I've found that sometimes suffering makes me stronger, but only under certain conditions—namely, when I have the resources to deal with it. Sometimes I don't even know that I have those resources until I have to put them to use, as I did on May 9, 10, and 11, 2001. And so it seems that the ninth of May, while still the anniversary of a tremendously painful event in my life, has gradually become an almost triumphant reminder that pain doesn't have to be forever—and that if I can find a way to reinvent myself, even just partially, then maybe I'll be OK and even manage to pull out a useful lesson from the wreckage.

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