Thursday, September 16, 2010


Her pain tore through her insides like a serrated blade, yet she smiled. She refused to cry out. She refused to be bowed down by that which she could not see. If it was unobservable, it could not possibly exist. To admit the pain was there, that it was real, would be to accept that unseen things were possible. It would mean the unseen could be real, even if unquantifiable or otherwise indefinable. This opened up too many possibilities she shuddered at internally. She remembered believing in ghosts and curses, but that was long ago, in a time much less rational than today.

Every test had been performed. Every sonogram and ultrasound came back clean. Various probes entered her through various orifices. There was no physically identifiable reason for the pain per her lab results and multiple examinations. They called it fibromyalgia. She accepted this diagnosis. It seemed to fit, but she held her doubts. She understood her doctors were simply classifying the unclassifiable. The doctors’ little checklists best matched up with this diagnosis based on questionnaires and spoken (if intangible and unseen) symptoms. The symptoms pointed towards a diagnosis, and the doctors prescribed treatment.

Yet, none of the therapies helped. None of the medicines worked, not even nerve blocks. The pain refused to retreat. It clung tight to her joints and abdomen like “white on rice” as her mother liked to say. Her sick days – once so plentiful – began shrinking away.

She wanted to know so much. She had so many questions. What was the pain? Where did it come from? Why was it here? And, most importantly of all, how could she make it go away? The doctors provided no answers. The medicines offered no solutions.

So she kept smiling as she lay in bed and stared at the ceiling fan. The blades twirled in cycles. She thought there might be meaning there, but could not fully decipher what it might represent. It could mean so many things. Her thoughts twirled with the fan.

The days grew long and the nights longer. The pain increased until it hurt her too much to move at all.

Her sick days disappeared. She stopped answering her phone.

She lay still. She refused to move. Movement only made things worse. So she remained motionless.

The fan spun above her in an endless loop.

She thought again that it might have meaning, but then decided that this, too, must be meaningless.

She lay still and grew stiff. Her smile remained as she turned to stone.

When the landlord eventually found her, he was moved to tears. He wanted to pay his respects. He wished he had thought of her sooner, but last time he saw her she smiled. He assumed she was okay.

To assuage his guilt and pay his respects, he put her on display in the playground in the center of the apartment complex. It seemed the only sensible thing to do. Now, she smiles throughout the day as children play. The kids twirl on a multicolored steel merry-go-round in cycles while tight clusters of their laughter crowd upwards towards an open blue sky. At night the stars cycle above her. Inside the statue, her ghost imagines it all means something, all these cycles, even if these hints at meaning sometimes grow confused and indefinable. Yet, she learns to accept these hints as something resembling meaning.

She smiles now, not to hide the pain, but because the pain is going away, replaced by mystery.


  1. At first I thought, "Wow, how does he know what childbirth feels like." ;)

    Painful, lovey, but good.

  2. Some great imagery here, T.J., and some very vivid descriptions. That ending...surreal and very emotional. Good job, as always!

  3. Brilliant story, TJ. As someone who has Fibromyalgia I can empathize with her. I fought the pain & the drugs and am on my way back to remission but there were several years before my diagnosis where turning to stone would have been preferable.

  4. Interesting progression from straightforward descriptions to her surreal decline. Great metaphors for shutting down and being unable to change, while life spins on around her.

  5. Sad story. I like the way this was told.

  6. Sorry I didn't swing by to respond to comments earlier. It's been a hectic week.

    Terri-Lynne: No. Not child birth. :)

    vandamir -- I was actually curious to see how you would respond to this story. Based on research and what I know from some friends who suffer the condition, fibromyalgia is such a strange and horrible disease. Condolences. I am glad to hear you are on your way towards remission. Thanks for commenting.

    Pamila, Aidan, & Travis -- Thank you!