You Will Bear This Pain Long After You’re Gone
Nobody will say how much death is too much death
[On October 7, 2023, members of the Islamist militant group Hamas, who governs the Gaza Strip, launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing 1,400 people and capturing roughly 240 hostages. In retaliation, the Israeli government, helmed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, declared war on Hamas. Israel’s retaliation campaign has killed an estimated 11,000 Palestinian civilians so far, at least 4,200 of whom are children. The casualty count is rapidly rising and only four captives have been released by Hamas at the time of publication.]
It’s not just that you had pain in your hips, a years-long discomfort that had suddenly surged: simmering water erupting into a boil. The pain didn’t resolve with stretching and resting and warm baths and actively disregarding, making it hard to sleep since you could no longer lay on your side, the ball-and-socket joint wincing at the weight of your body. Instead, you were forced instead to sleep on your back and the alteration, the reorientation, unsettled something in your psyche, like facing the wrong way in an elevator.
It’s not just that the hip issue made sex with your husband uncomfortable, that you struggled to find a position which didn’t exacerbate the pain, that it took ample effort on both your parts for pleasure to prevail resulting in less sex, less happiness. You suspected your hip condition had something to do with childbirth since twice you had labored and delivered healthy babies, your body rearranging itself in visible and invisible ways, ligaments and joints distending, pelvis widening so a human—two humans, a few years apart—could grow and thrive and pass through you.
It’s not just that when you decided to call a doctor, you had to research what kind of doctor treated hip pain and who had a clinic near your apartment and who accepted your insurance and that merely scheduling it, committing to seeing a specialist, an anatomical authority, created immeasurable relief.
It’s not just that in the doctor’s waiting room you had to fill out a thousand forms crammed onto a clipboard and that while you obliged, a newscaster on a TV on the wall declared that after weeks of infighting in the American government, there was a newly elected Speaker of the House, and when the Speaker was asked his worldview, he held up the Holy Bible. In the video of the Speaker speaking, he decried mass shootings, proclaimed that violence derived from amorality, that America had become an amoral society, that a society permissive of same-sex marriage and pregnancy-termination and feminism fosters amorality, that amorality breeds depravity, that depravity begets violence. In omitting that nearly every mass shooting is committed by a man, in associating women’s rights with male rage, he suggested something other than amorality, something worse.
It’s not just that, right before your name was called, the reporter switched to coverage of a horrible, faraway war.
The medical technician who read your forms said you needed an X-ray, a standard procedure, and led you to an imaging room where you did not recline or even sit, but instead remained upright, the machine cocked and aimed at your middle. It’s not just that you did not receive a heavy lead shield because, the technologist said, that wasn’t standard for an upright X-ray, meaning that your torso absorbed the full blast of radiation. Though impossible, you swore you felt it in your cells.
It’s not just that you were placed in a tiny exam room where an X-ray image on a wall monitor revealed the bones of you: hips and pelvis, and some vertebrae on your spine but also, to your surprise, your clearly delineated thighs and the folds of your ass and your bikini-style underwear, bright and undeniable, as though a facsimile of your skeleton had been superimposed upon a black and white photo of your rear. The doctor with whom you made the appointment was not the doctor who entered your tiny exam room; this man, a young blonde in a white coat, blushed when he shook your hand and also when he scanned the image of your ass on the wall, asked questions about your pain, its location and duration. He suspected bursitis, an inflammation of fluid-filled sacks meant to provide lubrication, he said, meant to ease what he called the bump and grind, meant to support the cartilage between bones.
It’s not just that he used his fists to demonstrate or that he smiled at the image of your ass on the wall then turned and stared at you for a beat too long and winked.
It’s not just that he left and returned with the primary doctor and also another man, even younger, whose role you did not know, and that all three men were crammed into the very small exam room, four bodies including yours, prone on the table, plus the image of your ass on the wall, and that the heat from their breath made you sweat.
It’s not just that the primary doctor—big nose, about your age—stepped in front, asked you to shimmy lower on the table for a physical exam, a movement that caused your shirt to rise up and your belly to show, or how he leaned over you, stared down at you, pressed his fingers into the sides of your hips whereupon a pain shot down your legs and you moaned and the very young man, whose role you did not know, watched all of this with his mouth ajar, his lower lip wet, as though he wished to eat you.
It’s not just that the primary doctor, who concurred with the initial doctor, couldn’t say what caused your affliction but could tell you how to treat it—physical therapy, ibuprofen, steroid shots directly into the joint, though the issue might be hard to cure—or that all three men looked at you expectantly, as though you were in a play and had forgotten your lines, until one of them muttered something inaudible and all of them guffawed, a raucous explosion, while you, legs crossed, pondered their politics, their histories. You felt very small in that very small exam room.
It’s not just that when the doctors left, the very young man, whose role you did not know, stayed behind to say there were exercises you could do at home via an app, that it had videos on it, instructions, that he could show you how to download it or that when you slid off the exam table and stood next to him on the floor—shoulder to shoulder, the phone between you, your ass still mounted on the wall to your left, your blouse a bit loose, a V-neck, and as you followed his instructions, tapping things on the screen—he stared shamelessly down your shirt.
It’s not just that when you checked out, wondered what you owed, the anchor on TV was discussing the war, how weeks before in the Middle East, militant assailants had crossed a border into a neighboring country where some of your loved ones live; that they had mutilated civilians, gouged out eyes, cut off breasts, kidnapped a nine-month-old and a Holocaust survivor, that the men were religious extremists and at least one of them called his father to boast about his crimes.
It’s not just that the head of state in the country where the crimes occurred, a religious supremacist of a different stripe, retaliated full force, rockets and missiles and tanks, white phosphorus for third-degree burns, that he commanded the killing of over eleven thousand innocents, unfathomable carnage, and the displacement of millions more; that he shut off water and power, a whole country trembling in the dark, while you wondered about the infants being born, whether they were dead or alive—any mother’s dread. It’s not just that these civilians had already been subjugated for years, exploited by the men who govern them, dehumanized and denied by the government of the neighboring country where some of your loved ones live. Nobody will say how much death is too much death. The healthcare system is collapsing.
It’s not just that a war on terror is unwinnable and that the president you voted for is financing it anyway. It’s not just that hostages are still hidden in the earth.
It’s not just that everyone on TV, no matter their side, says women and children, women and children, and you want to ask, Why aren’t we talking about the men? What they’re doing? What they’ve done? It’s not just that the militant assailants and their fathers and their supreme leaders and the prime minister and his cabinet and your president and the new Speaker of the House share something conspicuous in common.
It’s not just what you didn’t tell the doctors: that you have been having nightmares, unrepeatable dreams about flesh wounds and shaved heads, about ancestral ghosts and future ghosts, that in each of these dreams you’re wandering around looking for something you cannot find because maybe it doesn’t exist. It’s not just that you didn’t tell the doctors that the pain has grown every day since the war began, that the pain is in your hips, yes, but it’s also in your uterus and your chest, that it’s in your hands, that it’s in your womanhood and motherhood and Americanness and Jewishness. That you know why he can’t tell you its origins: its origins are diasporic. This pain is in your lineage. This is a pain that you will bear even when you’re gone. It’s not just that you will pass it on to your children.
It’s not just that as you walked home, achy and tender from the doctors’ thumbs, you considered the vulnerability of bodies. That you contemplated sovereignty, autonomy, power. It’s not just that you wondered whose God was pleased. No. It’s that you were seeking treatment for the wrong thing. It’s that you wanted proof pain could be assuaged. It’s that you wanted to know problems could have solutions. You wanted to diagnose a savage cycle. You wanted to know a body at peace.