by Sarah J. Siedenburg
A ray of light was shinning down with radiance to warm the wood-like vinyl floor, but then a cloud drifted past and the light fell dim. Standing on the floor was a girl. She was seventeen and short in height; a scar was on her chin and a freckle on her eyelid. She was an athlete, a musician, and a writer. Creative passion was Kara’s life. But all the passion in the world could not fend off its evils, and evils like injuries were all too familiar.
On this afternoon, Kara was doing her regular routine of physical therapy. The exercises concentrated on strengthening her hips. Her therapy had evolved over three years under the care of many physicians. Each physician had diagnosed her hips with different problems, and with them, new therapy. Once they had found the root of the pain, she had even more therapy to do. Therapy, therapy, therapy. It was never ending. The exercises changed over time, but the exercises were always there, and she always did them.
Yet this session was nearing its end: Kara was performing her final task. Her mind wandered to more interesting activities she could be doing. Then a muscle deep inside her right hip pulled and evoked a sharp pain. She stopped. She knew what these familiar signals meant: she had presumed too much of her leg. She had overestimated its strength, and the muscle was now rebuking her. With hesitance she tested her muscle’s remaining energy…there wasn’t much left.
Her exhale was like a pant, as if her breath were shattering glass. It seemed to tear her heart as it went out. In silence she put her equipment away, taking short steps to minimize the pain, but the aching was constant. After acting a quick stretch, she prepared a cup of strong tea.
A couple of her family were present in the area, but she did not disturb them. She loved them, but she was against sharing her pain. She was silent and stayed far from them by employing every avoidance tactic she had ever learned. But she had to appear to put water in the kettle, so she forced a normal gait, and bit her lip to keep from wincing. When she approached the silver kitchen sink, her sister noticed: “Put some tea water in for me?”
Kara smiled. “Sure.”
With her tea conveyed upstairs, she situated herself upright on her bed with care. After pulling a large and furry blanket over her legs, she opened a notebook into which she often wrote. She searched for words, but they didn’t come. When the clock showed that an hour had passed, she was gazing at the far edge of her blanket instead of the white page. An icy voice within said that she should drive forward. An ache ran through her leg.
Below the blanket and with a lift of her short’s edge, she felt an inch-long lumpy mark of thinner skin. There were three of them, formatted in a slim vertical triangle. And there was a near-perfect replica on her other leg.
She rubbed the first mark up and down with her finger, feeling the hard tissue beneath break. She repeated with the second. Then the third. She knew these scars. The knife of a doctor had carved them. The incisions had allowed cameras, tools, and anchors to violate her body. This was five months ago.
Her correct diagnosis had been femoroacetabular impingements and tears of the acetabular labrum. These terms meant that the heads of her femurs were too big for their sockets, and the tissue round her sockets were torn.
Operation: shave the femur heads and implant anchors in the tissue.
Recovery time: twelve to eighteen months.
This news was some of the hardest she had ever received. She remembered holding back tears in the doctor’s office, and trying to keep her voice normal.
And she remembered the life she had lived before her visit to that office. There were tears in solitude. There were days so dark that they were indistinguishable from night. Her family hadn’t understood her pain. She had felt alone. She was still alone.
She retracted her hand—she didn’t want to remember any of this. With a swig of cold tea she cleansed her mind, but the bitterness hung at the edges of her tongue.
The day grew old, and as the sun was westering the sky morphed into a blanket of clouds that shrouded the early stars. The members of her house began to return from their various occupations. Her father had just entered through the front door, his brow furrowed from a long day at work. “Hey, how are you doing?”
Kara smiled as she always did. “Good.”
He smiled back with sad eyes.
Dinner came and went in its normal attitude. After dinner they had conversation, and her sister beckoned for her attention: “Come here.” She sat hunched over an image of a dress. “I really like this color…and I love the low back.”
Kara leaned over the photograph. She smiled. “That’s really pretty. Are you going to get it?”
Her forehead folded, she set a balled fist to her lips, and she sighed. “I don’t know.”
Across the table her brother engaged her with talk of a new electronic device. A smile played on his lips and a brightness shone in his eyes. “The computer inside is only this big,” he framed a rectangle with his hands, “and everything around it is battery.”
Kara smiled, emulating his enthusiasm. “Wow! How long does it last?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Nine hours…an actual nine hours.”
When the last light of day disappeared, she slipped away: the time had come to prepare for bed. A shower was in order. She stripped her clothes, set the salvageable ones on the counter and dropped the rest on the cold tile. In the mirror the red and purple stripes stated themselves with boldness.
She turned the shower knob and a gentle spray crescendoed into a loud pattering pour. It splashed the walls and curtain; steam began to curl through the mist, and she entered the rain. The water rolled down her skin. The steam ensconced her. In a moment she had succumbed to the heat, consumed in its comfort. But none of it eased her joints: they supported her weight and ached, her right the most.
She was alone. The water was now roaring. And the water was salty. Another sound joined the chorus: it was a screech, a groan, a suppressed scream. Her chest rose and fell with too much speed. She gave up washing—she doubled over instead. She let the feelings flow like the water, the memories come like the beating of the rain. She wanted to lie down, to rest, to let the drops enter her lungs, to take a razor to her wrists, to bring her head to the wall. Then just maybe the pain would leave, the vacancy would fill, the memories would erase. But the moments passed and she did nothing. She stayed caught between screams. Drowned out by the flood.
Someone would come: she had to contain and repress. She waited long enough for her eyes to ease from the red before closing off the valve to the veil. With a ragged towel she dried the drops from her, and emerged from the concealed quarters to the open room.
Someone did come: her sister. She entered the room with a smile and a wrinkled brow. “I don’t know! Maybe I shouldn’t buy it; I could find a better deal somewhere else.”
Kara smiled. “You should get it.”
She nestled into the pillows and the sheets caressed her body. A cool breeze from the window stroked her face. She inhaled the salt air of the marina, absorbed the calls of seagulls and the rustlings of leaves. A soft voice spoke to her: These scars are a part of you. There is a reason for the pain. And someday there will be light enough to quench all the darkness of your life.
A dull ache rose from her hip—the pain was still there; the tears were still a fresh memory. But she had peace. Enveloped in warm linen with nature’s breath brushing her cheek, she was comforted. She was loved. She would heal. She would be okay. Because that’s what the soft voice had told her.
The clouds had broken while she lay at rest: with the mist swept from the sky, the stars blazed forth without hinderance. Outside the window a large cloud was drifting. As its last wisps left the silver moon, the white beams grew strong until their brilliance shone in full down upon a bed, bright upon a girl.