My knees hurt from the weight of my body. Then my shoulders ache, after I push them to their limits of exertion to awaken dormant muscles and feel the burn. Pain travels through me like a devious dune in a desert, always shifting, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. She (of course – do you even need to ask?) will not settle; she craves recognition. ‘Why must I be forgotten so easily?’, she asks haughtily as she builds bridges to travel across blood and skin and bones, finding nooks to rest and grow in. In the nerves caught between the discs of a spine, tongue sores, throbbing blood vessels from a migraine. Her appetite is sated by generous morsels of neglect, self-pity, self-loathing, indulgences.

I want to set her free; I really do. I gather her scattered fragments like a seasoned butterfly catcher, holding a net and creeping softly behind wherever possible. She does not resist. But when I stand in the moonlight and try to release her into the deep night, I change my mind. How can I live without her? She is the bearer of secrets, my protector. With her by my side, I do not hear the hollow ringing in my ears or feel the discontent churning like bitter beer in my empty belly. I tame her with numbing balms, bottles of wine, and reassurances. I beg her, ‘Stay still, be with me, help me, keep me safe from your ferocious and unforgiving cousin – sorrow.’

So, she stays and comes alive when I most need her. On tender nights when men enter and tear my insides, thrusting into my body to release pleasure and curiosity – she is there. Smiling and holding me from the inside, expanding to show how good she can be. When I fail and fall and crumble like biscuits in tea, she reminds me to play music, whispering, ‘Find the song to match me right now. Come on, hurry. The melody is your antidote.’ And I find it – the notes of a piano and some words – an elegy for the cells and memories I must shed. She holds me in her lap at the height of my realizations, that I am everything and nothing, that I am an unbearable mixture of disappointment and hope.

Sometimes I avoid her, creating my own methods to cope with madness. I pick at hardened skin on hands and feet, peeling away layers till I reach blood. I hold my nightmares in bed. I drown in beautiful poetry, reciting the words to myself, connecting with the universal love for a cruel world. But in the end, it is never enough, and I go to her quietly like a rebel child proved wrong.

We co-exist while the heart sustains us; pumping blood, spreading oxygen, playing its own beat. It shudders and breaks and curses us while we laugh and wander about. One day, I know it will give up and shatter into glossy pink smithereens. And she, my beautiful pain, will hover and weep for me, dispersing hoarded pearls into the salt of her tears before melting into thin air. 

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