Can you see it? It’s almost imperceptible. It’s as insignificant as a tiny teardrop melting into the landscape of a beautiful face. It’s like a whisper dispersed in a loud and raucous crowd. If you’re not trained to see it, you won’t see her pain. Few can truly comprehend it, and even those she loves can only form some intellectual impression of what it is really like, as if it were a slightly foreign, abstract thought.
But see, if you look close enough, you can distinguish the poorly disguised signs:
The way she sighs too frequently.
She is not irritated, just exhausted.
The manner in which she bites her lip, sometimes in the middle of your conversation.
She is not nervous, just in pain.
The way she casually leans against the wall or nearest solid object.
She is not relaxed or being nonchalant, just afraid her legs might buckle.
The way she loses track of what you just said.
She is not dumb, just suffering from relentless brain fog.
So, what is it like inside? How can you put this “thing” which no one ever notices into concrete words?
It is like existing in a thick murky underworld, in which sound and light and objects are incredibly magnified. She is tiny by comparison and her environment engulfs her, piercing through her via every open inlet: her eyes, her ears, her mind. A jumbled mess superimposes itself on what was once Clear Thought. Clear thought, that beautiful concept, is rare and elusive now; it flits in and out of her experience, but usually, it remains buried beneath a tangled, opaque mass of Nothing. She grasps for words, the elementary units of language; they exist somewhere but all in disorder. They lie further back in her consciousness; so far beyond her reach that she must stretch, and it is an exertion to catch them. They run away from her, almost as if they are taunting her smarter self, the self which still exists from time to time: the self which can fully comprehend what has been lost.
But that is her mind and her grasp of language; this represents just one small morsel of who she is. It doesn’t define her, right? There are other parts. Surely, she can rely on those other parts to fill in the gaps, those rapidly growing deficiencies. What about her lean form and its elegance, supported by those unapologetically strong legs? Legs that go on forever. They could be her Greatest Asset. But strength is somewhat of an old concept. It has been rapidly replaced by frailty: farcical, premature frailty. She is twenty-four, not ninety-two, right? That contemptuous voice in her head parodies the reality:
What do you mean you can’t walk a mile, love? Girls your age are running half marathons.
Those legs, the ones that used to get her to the local supermarket so effortlessly, are disconnected from her mind’s wants. They are obstinate and will give in like spoilt children after less than a mile, stubbornly dismissing her orders. But there are other parts; those legs don’t define her, right?
What about her spine: the architecture that holds her up straight and exists with its much-needed rigidity. It has kept her standing solid without ever having been thought of or acknowledged; it is an unimportant and boring part of her foundation. But after all those years of being dismissed, her spine is angrily and vociferously making itself known. It is burning. Quite literally. Sharp, eye-watering jabs. She cannot jerk forward suddenly or move to the side without being reminded of her spine and acknowledging that it exists. Oh boy does it exist. It still holds her up vertical, but it now operates with an inbuilt, self-regulating stopwatch. After 5 pm, Spine is finished for the day. But her spine, it doesn’t define her, right? It may give her physical definition, but it does not actually define who she is. There are other parts.
What about her face? It is lifted by that memorable smile, a distinctive feature which others can perceive. Her smile could in fact represent that all elusive defining feature. It is the part of her that encapsulates her spirit, her eagerness to leap up and boldly embrace opportunity. It is the part of her that has remained untouched as she grew: undiluted and uncorrupted by outside influence, surviving as that pure distillate. Even when her legs refuse to carry her and her spine balks at holding her vertical, she still has access to that defining part of her, right?
But at times, more recently, she discovers that her face refuses to proudly hold up its most admired asset. The desire to curl her lips remains, but in practice both cheeks roll back down: a farcical landslide. It is not under her control. See, if you look closely, you will see that she is not depressed, just bone-weary. Her facial muscles, like every other muscle populating her body, prematurely old, young-old, are slowly giving up. In these moments, she may still smile internally, although now no one outside her can see it. So, what defines her, in the absence of her smile? What parts are left?
What parts are left?