The Personality of a Pain

IT was an elusive creature enough, winged rather than possessed of ordinary feet, the first time that it came. It flirted lightly by once or twice and brought hardly the consciousness of a presence. It was even pleasant to realize it; comfort is more comfortable when it is flecked with pain.

The second time it had achieved substance: it was cloud instead of vapor. But still it was impossible to think that an actual enemy, and an enemy vigorous enough to be formidable, could be embodied in the owner of such brushing footsteps.

After that it gained personality with every visit. It was as moody as a woman, and as cruel. I grew to watch for it, to anticipate its whim of the day by the feel of the air that whisked about it as it drew near. I waited for it with dread ridiculously tinged by interest; the fact that it was endowed with the always redeeming virtue of inconsistency made me greet it with something less than hostility. Indeed, to-day, now that it is gone, I recall its versatility with more amazement than its unkindness. After all, it was true to type, it fulfilled its destiny, it was as essentially torture as it is possible for a mere pain to be. At the least it was fascinating, at the most it overwhelmed my mind, my self, my very soul; while all the time some small bit of speculative ego sat calmly apart from me and analyzed.

There were days when it crept up lightly as a river-mist, tiptoeing across my temple, and perching on my eyebrow with its feet swinging. It had dainty pointed feet, which touched very slightly each time they swung. Their rhythm of vibration was hardly more painful than the pricking of a pin in a finger numb with cold. Usually, in a little while, it stole away again, elfin and unobtrusive.

Then there were days when it came with the suddenness that marks the awakening from a pleasant dream. There would be a rudeness about it that gave warning, a jocular haste indicating malice aforethought. And my soul would cringe! It brought deadly intent to its task. Like a girl paid for the number and swiftness of her steps in a dance, it jigged madly down my optic nerve, bounded from branch to branch of the trigeminal, and flung in perfect abandon along the facial. To the wild music that sang continually in its own head and echoed in my ears, it invented a thousand and yet a thousand whirls and pirouettes. Even handsprings and an occasional somersault were born of its wanton fancy; and every step, every touch, of its faëry feet or thin fingers, was consummate agony. It was inexhaustible and merciless, mocking at persuasion, at pleading, at anathema, and at aspirin. When it had played sufficiently on my capacity for suffering, it subdued the measure to ritardo and dolce, and finally, with a backward kick of its foot and a swirl of red skirts, it vanished.

It had coquettish days, days when it would come and pretend uncertainty, tilling and rocking on my forehead for a moment, Hitting away, returning with a sudden skip, and at last flying with the wickedest flicker of a smile. And sometimes it was as gloomy as a black wilch: it would brood for an hour, huddled into a corner close against my optic nerve, sullen and motionless, and at length, with a gesture of hatred and desperation, move slowly away and disappear.

Last in its range of feeling came the glorious omnipotent mood when it played Satan in a small and individual Hell. Seated somewhere on my head, it would swell to magnificent proportions, its finger pressed on my eyelids, its weight and bulk increasing every second, till I was a puny Hercules with the sky sinking down upon me. That was a feeling where pain was so utter that it transcended pain and became pure wonder at the perfection of suffering, — a sort of vicarious pleasure, — and Satan defeated the Devil.

But indeed, as pleasure recollected may be largely pain, so pain remembered can be almost wholly pleasure. A pain with a personality justifies itself by the fact that it is unique. Even when it so plays the harlot with sensation that it sublimates suffering to a kind of delight, it is hard to think of it afterward with positive distaste. For contrarily enough, though he may curse it and dread it and hate it when he contemplates it as he lies helpless, a man will never forget a pain, and of his conversational foster children it will always be the favorite. And perhaps of all men it is most true, that ‘Poets act shamelessly toward their experiences; they exploit them.’