If pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin, at some point, they may flip.
Some of us may consider our personal pain to be greater than others — and for some of us, it’s true. But it’s more likely all of us have experienced the limits of what we believe we can endure. Only to find we can endure more.
When Milly lost her daughter and husband to a house fire, she was certain she had reached her wit’s end. But things were just getting started. Her daily torment for remaining alive always led to the same end: She shouldn’t exist. Yet, the world outside her skull continued to agitate the torment within via a relentless reality: she did.
After crashing her car three times, losing her job and apartment and later completing a jail term for drunk driving, she was living on the streets of Phoenix as a gray-haired skeleton determined to drift into oblivion.
On another 110-degree day, she drank herself to unconsciousness. When an afternoon dust storm ripped her tent and few possessions away, she stumbled into the street amidst the blowing sand encasing her mouth, nostrils and eyes, to be hit by a blinded van pulling over to let the storm pass. The collision of metal and human ended with a thud. And relief. At least for one of those involved.
But inside the van, the horror brought upon by inadvertently smashing a derelict stranger swamped the driver, seemingly an extension of the aggravated storm pummeling everything beyond sight.
Milly, in an emerging state of dilated awareness, instantly perceived the travail inside the vehicle.
But she was also disoriented while extricating herself from the mangled body blistering on the asphalt, as it accumulated shifting layers of blowing sand with each passing instant. Milly located herself as a point of sentience, an apparent nothingness, free from the body, free from the van, and free from the storm.
The releasing experience was as bewildering as the chaos of the scene. Yet there was an odd familiarity to the detachment. Like visiting a long-forgotten, childhood playground that was once a source of wonder.
In spite of her peculiar personal circumstances, she was drawn to the detonated emotion inside the vehicle. The mom was crying loudly while simultaneously trying to soothe her howling child. The back-seat girl appeared to be just a little younger than Milly’s own daughter when she succumbed to the inferno seven years earlier.
Unbounded by locked doors or any constructs of physical reality, Milly instinctually pervaded the van and embraced the mom and child in the way a cool evening breeze might caress two humans engulfed in despair. Even if she could only inspire in them a glimmer of hope against the tragedy of the moment, Milly was invigorated by the gesture of helping others more than she could ever care for herself.
First, the mom, then the child and even the storm stopped crying. Then the mom reached for her phone to call emergency services.
The mom’s poignant love for her child catalyzed in Milly a re-examination of the life represented by the sand-covered body. And if she trembled for a second at the waste of those years of self-punishment, it was immediately replaced by the unearthed endearment she always held for her own daughter.
Though still attempting to grasp this new freedom from the sand-covered remains with silver hair, such was eclipsed by the dissipation of self-hate, as it evanesced beyond, along with the diminishing sandstorm.
by George Alger
Subscribe to LIMINAL STORIES (free) for more short stories and flash fiction.