"I've lived too long with pain. I won't know who I am without it."
Ender's Game ch. 15: Speaker For The Dead (1985) by Orson Scott Card
"No. You aren't Francis. This is not the person who I married." I felt my cheeks flush. He stepped closer, and I stepped back. I swatted at the air between us. He opened his mouth to speak, but I didn't hear what he said. I was already running away from the patio. I stumbled, and I stepped on the spider lilies we planted last month.
I ran until my chest burned and my throat felt raw. I sat on a boulder beside a creek. We deliberately decided to move to a place close to nature when we got married. He loved to run and hike, and I was a biologist. Normally, all this green would calm me. Now, looking at it made me want to vomit. A squirrel sidled up to the boulder I was sitting on, and then moved toward my feet. Out of anger and instinct, I kicked it away. It was thrown a few feet. It didn't look injured, but I could see it was painful. I covered my mouth with my hands.
"I'm sorry!" I cried out, lunging forward again out of instinct, as if to embrace it. The squirrel did not interpret my movements that way, and fled as fast as it could. My knees fell onto the moist mossy soil, and I let my shoulders slump. I don't know how long I cried for, but it was a long time.
When I stopped, the sun was already about to touch the horizon. I took out my phone and decided to call a friend. Half an hour later, Jessica arrived to pick me up.
I remember stumbling. I remember a sharp sensation in my knee. Then, it felt wet. What was this feeling? It was like nothing I've felt before.
"Mommy, help!" I yelled. My hands grasped and tugged at the air. Stop it, stop it! I don't want to feel this anymore.
"Oh dear. There there, sweetie. I'm here. Mama's here." She kissed me on the cheek and carried me home. She washed my scratched up knee and bandaged it. "It's okay now. It won't be painful anymore."
Ah, so that was what it was.
"So, feeling better?" Jessica asked me. I wiped my puffy eyes. "Yes, mostly. Smells good," I said. And it wasn't flattery; she was truly a talented cook. She had made a mushroom and spinach quiche, and some rhubarb pie.
She sat next to me on the table after she laid out the food. "What exactly happened between the two of you?" she asked while tilting her head. She had asked it just as I had taken a bite out of the quiche, and I had to silently sit there while I chewed and swallowed.
"He decided to get wireheaded. When he went on the work trip last week, he had also set up an appointment."
She tilted her head even further. Normally, I would have poked fun at that habit of hers. "Okay, is that it? Nothing else...happened?" She interlaced her fingers and rested her chin on them.
I shook my head. "No."
She looked up and took a sharp intake of breath. "I remember you told him he had some chronic pain before. I can't remember what, exactly, but it was pretty bad. I don't quite understand why you're so upset."
"Don't you see? He's not the same anymore. Or, rather, wouldn't be. Something like that would change a person. They went and cut into his brain." I took another bite of the pie.
"And all the painkillers he took earlier didn't? Regardless, change is something that happens. I would think this would be a change for the better. All things being equal, wouldn't you prefer he be happier?"
I felt my eyes watering again.
"Mommy, how come it didn't hurt when had to take out my tooth?" I felt my still numb lower lip.
"They use something called anesthesia, Charlotte. It makes it so that you don't feel anything."
"Oh, so it isn't painful." I touched it again, but it wasn't just that I didn't feel pain -- it was that I felt nothing. I wasn't quite sure how to feel about that part. I kept prodding it, willing that sensation return, but my mother stopped me.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" she asked again. It had been several days.
I nodded my head.
She continued, "This seems a little...rash for you. You can just accept him and what he did without doing it yourself. I don't want you to do something you'll regret."
"No, I realize that it's what I've wanted too, for a long time now," I said while the two of us stepped out of the car.
I continued, "My mother fussed over me a lot. Probably because I cried a lot. She never wanted to see me in pain. Mother Nature isn't as kind. I think this is the time where we should reject the gift she gave us." I suddenly remembered the thing Jessica told me, about "gift" being German for "poison". I chuckled. Jessica didn't react -- she was used to me doing that.
"Does this have something to do with us being 'vehicles for our genes' or something like that? Are you about to launch into a spiel?" She laughed.
"No, I'll spare you the spiel. You can probably fill in what I'd say, anyway."
I woke up, and felt relief descend upon me. Or was it satisfaction? The inside of my nose itched, and I smelled the smell of fresh rain on soil. Petrichor was the name of it, I remember. I smelled hibiscus and ylang-ylang. A shiver went down my spine, and I felt the air-conditioned coolness of the room. I opened my eyes, and everything felt sharper. Not that my eyes were any more clear, but that everything felt *realer*. I touched his hand and felt the ridges on his skin, the calluses on his palms. I looked at him and saw flecks of amber in his iris. I hadn't noticed that before.
"You didn't have to do this," he whispered.
"I didn't. But I was wrong. You're still my Frank. I am so very sorry for what I said earlier." I felt my eyes water again.
"Don't cry. You don't have to cry anymore. Not ever." His smile was like the rays of the sun filtered through the clouds.
"Yes, well, I'm crying tears of joy this time."
I had finally succeeded in convincing Jessica to teach us how to cook her rhubarb pie. She had me cut the stalks into chunks.
It was a while since I last cooked. I slipped again, and I cut my finger. I yelped as blood poured from it. I felt pain. Quite a deep cut, it seemed. The two of them quickly went to me. I gingerly touched the cut. I felt the sensation of touch, but there was no pain anymore.
I had been informed that I had been injured. That was the purpose of pain. Once I had been told, there was no reason for the messenger to stay.
I've been sitting on this story for a while, and forgot the deadline was today. I quickly cleaned it up. I hope my story can still get squeezed in.
Inspirations for this piece include The Goddess of Everything Else and Samsara by Scott Alexander, Don't Make Me Think by Zero HP Lovecraft, and The Hedonistic Imperative by David Pearce.