White Pain

It’s the first snowfall of the season, about six inches of fluffy power blanketing the ground.

I walked by the derelict 1977 snowblower, the one my father spent weeks trying to get back in shape a few years ago, but never could, hours and hours of his frustration with me as target, and got my old shovel.

I started to shovel, but my right hand hurt.  My index finger is always cold since the incident where I cut it on the toaster oven and waited an hour and a half for him to help me with the big chunk of flesh severd from the tip.  The heel of my hand shows bruising, fresh enough to keep me awake, some from the incident where my mother threw a magazine under my foot from her recliner throne and I slipped as it moved like grease on the rug, tumbling me to the floor and taking my weight on that hand.  My wrist was in the elastic cuff, and the cut on my thumb, from the cheap plastic mandolin I had to use to slice potatoes for a casserole wile constantly being interrupted made it’s presence known in my gloves.

I shoveled, without complaint, until I started doing the new walk my father set this summer out of flagstone.  It has no solid base, just some sand he had me dig and spread, and is very uneven.  As I scraped the drive clear, the shovel would come up against the edges of the stone and stop with a hard thud, driving the shovel handle into my bruised and battered hand.  It hurt, and I did cry out.

After I finished the job, I went to him.  I had him feel my fingers and see how much colder the index finger is.  I showed him the bruises.  And I asked how he had planned to scrape the stones clear of snow in the winter, how he thought this through, so I could have his technique.

“I didn’t think about things like that!” he cried.  Yeah.  Not thinking about how your choices will affect others, and just letting them work around the mess, that’s the ticket.

I went up to take a shower, and he came up soon after.

“If something is hurting you, just stop!  Either that or find another way!  I’ll clean up what you fail to do,” he told me.

Yeah.  That’s the plan.  Don’t talk about your pain, don’t ask for help, just look for another way or stop. It’s the plan that has gotten me where I am today.

Later, he gave me a lecture from Dr. Phil, saying I shouldn’t put him down.  “People don’t get what they expect and they get frustrated and get road rage.  You need to not have expectations and not get frustrated.”

I went though the details of our conversation, reminding him that I told him that I hurt and asked for a strategy.  I didn’t have road rage.  I had to go through it twice because he interrupted me in the middle.

He told me I needed to listen to Dr. Phil, and I thought he needed to listen.  I asked him what the first thing I said was.

After guessing it was about the rocks, I reminded him that I said I was in pain, and had just told him twice that was what I said first.

“I’m in pain, you’re in pain, we are all in pain,” he retorted.  “Why should I care when your pain is self-inflicted?  You need to get past it. I don’t know how to handle it.”

It took all I had not to lose it, to hold it together after that.  This is a man who always wants to identify where I failed in avoiding whatever happened, where my slovenly and perverted habits got me — it was my bad gait that got my ankle blown out according to him  — so, to him, all of my pain is self-inflicted.

Now, he did try to help later, wanting me to change gloves so my finger wouldn’t get cold (what about when I don’t wear gloves?) and wanting to get me good slippers that I would wear (I’m most often barefoot) and that would take account of my freakish gait.  To think that he has never seen me walk in heels, which, in 1983, a girlfriend commented that I walked better in them than she did

I have come to understand that I have a much higher tolerance for pain than most.  I haven’t become adddicted or such, I just keep trying to find another way and then stopping.

This surprises many people.  “I could listen to you talk for hours,” a counselor said last year, “you make so much sense.  But you keep telling me that you are in pain, and when I look in your eyes, I see that might be true.” 

“Tell me what’s hurting you.”  That’s one of the ways they teach counselors to help people through pain, not to look at the pain, but to look at what’s hurting them.

I have white pain, like white noise, a background of hurt, like white people, buried in the ethic of shutting up and talking it, and like white snow, frozen and lifeless, shutting down the surface and driving things underneath.

And I have learned that the only choice is to shut up and stop.


Make-Do Virtue

I made a fried-egg sandwich this morning.  I used the bread I got on double discount from the thrift store, cooked it on a stove where the burner is all akimbo so you can’t get even heat, with a burned out light bulb and used a Dollar Tree flipper.  I ate it over the sink so as not to dirty a plate my father would have to clean, and felt bad as drops of yolk fell, leaving me forever.

There are two ways you can be controlled by your stuff.  The first is if you have too much, and you are always looking for more.  The second way is if you don’t have enough and you are always working to compensate for the limitations.

The virtue in my family has always been make-do. We shopped at Marshalls in 1967 when there were only two of them.  We keep twine and the picture in the town history of where my father grew up is my Uncle Eli with the tractor he built out of a 1927 Ford.  I hear stories about building rope laying machines, which spun binder twine, and spinning wheels made in the blacksmith shop.  My mother gasps at people who pay retail.

There is certainly virtue in making do, in using up what you have and not wanting for more, in being smart and frugal rather than consumed by desire.

But, I suspect — and this certainly isn’t echoed in my own life — make-do not a virtue in itself, rather fugality is only a virtue when it is in service to a bigger goal, to getting what you desire.  In other words, it’s not enough just to cut and scrimp and save and minimize, you have to do that at the same time you build and invest and dream.

You have to believe that the reason you play small in some areas is to have the resource to play big in others, to not lose in expenses what you can parlay in investments.

The virtue around me, the virtue I bought into, is making do.  I’m proud of my ingenuity and fugality, doing it small and smart enough to keep things going.

But I missed the lesson, the support in doing big and good, because my big was rather too queer.

Cutting your losses only gives small losses.  It’s only wins that help you win.

And make-do?  Not the best virtue to build a life around.