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The Obliterator

Mood: Pleasantly Tired
Drinking: Agua

I’m a sucker for a well-told fairy tale. Pretty much any story involving magic, elves, and winged things has caught my attention from an early age.

So when I picked up Eragon, the first book in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance trilogy, a year ago or more, I was hooked pretty quickly. Talking dragons and ancient languages and elfin warrior maids, oh my! I finished Eldest, the second book, a few days ago, but there’s one chapter that is still stuck in my head…

It’s a conversation between the story’s protagonist, Eragon, and his dragon, Saphira. (Seriously, just read the books, okay?) In the first book, during a great battle, Eragon sustained a terrible wound on his back. Though the wound is healed now, physically, he is still experiencing agonizing episodes of pain that spring from the scar. The conversation I keep replaying in my head is about this wound, and it goes like this:

Eragon: “I have a new name for pain.”
Saphira: “What’s that?”
Eragon: “The Obliterator. Because when you’re in pain, nothing else can exist. Not thought. Not emotion. Only the drive to escape the pain. When it’s strong enough, the Obliterator strips us of everything that makes us who we are, until we’re reduced to creatures less than animals, creatures with a single goal and desire: escape.”

I don’t know if this thought would have resonated so deeply with me before my recent injury. It’s the biggest “wound” I’ve ever sustained, and definitely the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. From the moment my wrist bones cracked in February, I was in a great deal of pain day and night for six weeks or more.

The cast came off a week ago, and I started physical therapy today, so I’m about six weeks or so from being back to “normal”. (The fingers don’t bend and the wrist doesn’t turn the way it should. ) Although I have an itchy new rash from being wrapped up in a cast for so long, the pain is nothing now compared to what it was. Mostly I’m just relieve to see my arm again and to have a list of actual exercises I can do to help myself heal.

But in the first few weeks of this ordeal, I came to know the Obliterator. I couldn’t think about anything but the need to get away from the pain. All the creative bones in my body were held captive by the two broken bones in my wrist. They demanded all my attention. They forced me into silence.

Painkillers were prescribed in plenty, but then comes the detached medicine-head feeling, with attendant nightmares of the actual and headcase variety. So now, nearly two months later, I’m pill-free and nearly pain-free, and feeling like I have so much to catch up on. So many unwritten words, so many unanswered emails, so many unfilmed poems, so much that didn’t get done because I just wasn’t able to do it.

More than one person has said, “Well, I’m sure you’ll write some good poems because of this.” But I haven’t.

Physical pain isn’t inspiring. It isn’t romantically tragic. It isn’t something you can analyze and compartmentalize in your head. It is relentless and real, and unlike the emotional version, I can’t turn it into something beautiful.

A few weeks after surgery, when my new robot arm was causing all kinds of trouble, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a series called “War Without End”. It followed two soldiers in physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Both of them came back from Iraq without their legs.

I was incredibly moved by their stories. Here I was, sitting at home feeling sorry for myself, while my injury, though serious, is neither life threatening nor permanent. And these guys can’t even go home yet. Their lives are changed forever by bombs and fear. I just got six months of discomfort because I was 4-wheeling on vacation. It knocked a bit of perspective into me.

But I guess the Obliterator visits us all in different forms. Reminds us that we are not invincible. Keeps us humble. Reduces us down to the simple liquid sum of our parts. We live. We breathe. We hurt. We go on.

I don’t have any especially profound revelation from all of this. I just know that I’m acutely aware, now, of my own frailty. And in the end, for all of us, there can be no escaping it.

-Lo, who has a long way to go to catch up on all those unwritten poems. Is it really April, already?

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