Phantom Limbs and Dog Bites: On the Transference of Pain.

I could have been any age, sitting there, waiting on the water to move me to feel something I lately can’t conjure by myself.  Six, sixteen, twenty-six– I could be any of those ages.  But the problem was, I was feeling the age I am now, and the age I am now is dealing with the heartache of earlier ages– dark things that have me hung up and snapping at my Someone and meddling in the sort of feelings that have me shutting down every feeling.  So in Vermont, alone in the woods on a rock by a creek, I was looking for the sort of answers that would help me be healthy, if not happy.  I was visiting all of my ages.  And a barefoot me in the woods on a rock by a creek is a common seance.

I was armed with journals and books and pens and an instrument, but for the love of the afternoon’s changing light, I couldn’t do all else but sit.  It had been ages since I’d been alone with all of my ages and a dog.  Which took me back to my other rock with my other dog.  The memory of that dog instinctively had me grabbing my right hand with my left, remembering every dog bite I’ve ever had.

I watched the river as I ran through the memory.  Any memory to take me back seems important.  Anything to get me to feel anything.  I was twelve or I was thirteen, and there was a knock on our door.  Our slightly neurotic hunting dogs snarled and clawed at the storm door window.  I reached for the doorknob, while Jake– the oldest and crankiest– tried to escape.  When I held his collar to pull him back, it happened.  Three big chomps to my right hand.  The surprise of what he had done sent him running back into the living room.  The shock had me politely asking the person at the door to come back later when my parents were home.  As I closed the door, I fell into a heap in the entryway, holding my hand and closing my eyes.  When I opened my eyes then, it was a stream of blood and an archipelago of bruises.

I remembered the entire thing vividly.

Which is why I was shocked when I opened my eyes in real time by a creek in Vermont, cradling the wrong hand.  My left hand, still with the distinctive scar, seemed surprised, too, and leapt up in front of my face to be examined.

“I’ll be damned,” I said to the woods, my right hand– the wrong hand– still aching from a two decade old dog bite it never had.

I have been thinking lately on the transference of pain.  This is partially due to the dark thing I am working through.  When time traveling to my ages, I am grappling with what was true– what happened and what is merely a side effect of what I can’t remember happening.  I am all wobbly on my memory’s feet, tripping over details and worrying that my full ethnographic study will be incomplete or, worse, inaccurate.

Each morning as I stretch, I rub my right knee and twirl my ankle.  I give my right side extra attention during yoga.  And then, I talk to my mother weekly to see how much longer until I am back to normal.  My knee started hurting just a couple weeks before my mother’s surgery.  The day of her surgery, I could barely walk.  In the subsequent weeks, its been a slow process of careful attention and long stretches.

My Someone calls this my witch stuff.  I call it inconvenient cosmic empathy.

Since my mother has been having knee trouble in the last couple years, even before she tells me, I have indicators in my corresponding leg.  While I am a believer in coincidence, I am also in love with a world filled with inexplicable magic.  It’s a complicated relationship, and one that I don’t often put stock in aside from checking in with my mother occasionally to see our progress.  The transference of pain here has become so literal, that when I complained to my Someone that my right knee seemed to be doing better except for at night when it was nearly causing me to lose sleep, he asked me when I had last spoken to my mother.

“Oh, I’m good,” my mother said to me the next morning, “the knee is much better.  I’m getting around during the day, except in the evenings it’s much harder.  And at night, I can hardly sleep because it hurts so much.”

I am bumbling through fears of victim blaming and no-one-will-believe-me-if-I-don’t-have-every-answer-correct.  But pain, it seems, is pain.  Even if not remembered correctly or carried by the right person.  And to better help me sort it out, I am attempting to give myself a pass on the grounds of empathy.  I am working so hard to believe myself, that my right side is empathizing with my left.  My fifteen-year-old self is trusting my thirty-one-year-old self, and the latter is believing the former.  It’s tricky business, and while time traveling through these ages, I am attempting to keep everything as I found it so that my present remains in tact.

But truthfully, meddling with time in any sense will leave a few ruffles.  Phantom limbs are still retracting from invisible dog bites.  And if the scars aren’t there to prove it, I am still learning to listen to any amount of pain, tracing it back to the source– figuring out not just where it came from, but from who. And remembering that, like it or not, it is connecting us.

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