This Ash Wednesday WordBowl Word of the Day — FLAGELLATE — courtesy L. Fragner. Who simply defies description.
You dwell in the Land of If.
If only I had picked-up-the-phone divined-the-signs responded-to-the-message left-earlier left-later never-left tried-better demanded-more shouted-less fought-harder fought-smarter found-the-right-words said-the-right-thing. Loved greater.
Maybe if I…
In the Land of If, you wade along the Shore of Should, where verb tenses collide, what you should have done, what protocols demand you should do now.
You cannot remember what came before, the life you so assumptively lived. Sound and air distort, as if you are underwater, suspended, people darting in and out, circling around as you hold your breath. Breathing, laborious, an exacting effort, complex orchestration of organs, body parts, diaphragm, ribs, chest, lungs, esophagus, lips.
Lips with which you once kissed, once reveled in kisses, once tipped your fingers to, remembering, the touchstone of that first kiss, before kisses bruised, tasted of futility, failure.
You are careful whom you tell, you take care in the telling, but this news slips from your control, gushes like gossip. People leave messages, send digital missives, tasteful cards. You respond so as not to incur more guilt for being unresponsive. They are kind. They say hello, head tilted, extra syllables. They ask, how are you, voices lowering, eyes sliding away, because while this is a normal greeting, these are not normal times, how are you an actual question, a loaded invitation.
Perhaps you told too many people. Perhaps your colleagues wish they could just ask you for the report or update you on the latest developments without first inquiring, gently, how are you?
Rhetorical questions, rhetorical answers. No point in going into detail. You are toxic, you should secret yourself away from the true friends and good people with enviable lives and secure spouses and aspirational children, in order to ensure you do not infect the unafflicted.
They say, feel your feelings. You do not feel, not the expected feelings, so you fail at this, too.
You distrust the pills handed to you to induce sleep or anesthetize your basic chemistry. You turn to your steady friend, booze, but there is not enough alcohol in all the world to drown out the noise in your head.
Still, solo, you find yourself having a drink in unfamiliar places where you will not be recognized. A stranger asks, how are you, their eyes bright with desire to tell you their stories, stories sheened by years of practice. They look directly at you but they do not see you for what you are, an open wound, crying to be cauterized. You tell yourself that is why you are here, just another anonymous barfly.
You long for pain, corporeal pain, to pierce the numb. A single searing pain to lacerate the dense nothingness pressing from all sides. Simple pain. Graspable pain. Understandable pain. Pain with precedent. A physical sting so sharp you have no choice but to respond, Pavlovian. Pain that only marks your skin. Pain you can move through and past, to a place where pain is just a memory.
“flagellate” handwritten on a bitter Sunday evening at the newly opened cocktail-dining-live music destination Moscow 57 (the only Moscow-meets-New Orleans spot in NYC) and edited on an equally bitter morning at the newly opened Lower East Side outpost of the warmly welcoming Why Not? Coffee & Wine (can vouch for the coffee, have yet to indulge in the wine).
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