Word-Pain Rising by James Tripaldi ’19

see the abyss before me, and it glows pixelated-white. I want to reach out, caress it… caress it like I might a cat—except this cat is deranged, with the cold eyes of an unrepentant killer. I anticipated an amicable response to my offering of friendship, and now I shudder beneath the weight of lightning-bolt pangs of nerve pain. Well, I almost wrote word-pain, which feels all-too-suitable under my present circumstances. Why didn’t that come to mind sooner? Word-pain; that metaphorical noose hung ‘round my neck. Yes, I am ready to admit it to the world, to thrust myself atop a pillar of Amherstian woe.

What is word-pain? Some might be inclined to refer to it as writer’s block, and those blanketed as ‘some’ include a previous iteration of myself (present in this world about, gee, I dunno—four hours ago?). However, ‘writer’s block’ falls short of conveying the reality of my situation. For you see, dearest readers—I beg for mercy at the relentless hands and toes of linguistic trauma. The last few nights witnessed this spectacle in full force:

A man sits before a computer, his unkempt facial hair and blurred-eyes cast as a sad interpretation of the human form. His fingers—for the most part motionless—do, on occasion, twinge, as if the neural pathways that induce motion are somehow aware of their own shortcomings. However, this shan’t suffice; no subtle twitching of the fingers will complete the task at hand—the fine act of ‘indicating’ the truth. No, his is a soul consumed by a certain moral shortcoming, and his mind atrophies further and further with each minute. Yet, despite his blatant misery, he resists the temptation to end his endeavor of self-torture.

“Fuck,” he mutters, bequeathing unto the world the syllables and vibrations that constitute his last will & testament.

“Meow,” says the cat, nestled by the feet of this stagnate conduit of universal befuddlement.

I know what you want, thinks the man. His ocular imprisonment disengaged, and he dares to shoot the furry beast-creature a look of spite. “You’d slice into my jugular, if only you could reach it. It’s a good thing you’re so small; otherwise I’d assume the role of victim to your assumed supremacy. Although…”

The man trails off as his gaze is again captured and tethered to the unforgivable absence before him. His eyes, strained by hours of compulsive electro-ocular transfixion, start to emit macabre, crimson-hued teardrops.

This is how life will be now, he thinks. He shakes his head, sighs, and thumbs through his pockets for the pack of cigarettes that he bought earlier. His fingers strike gold, and he pulls his carcinogenic savior out from its denim womb.

“Meow,” says the cat.

The man caves, neglecting his instinctual fear of the fur-covered flesh demon. He reaches with his arm outstretched, catering to the cat’s whims like a modern-day Christ. 

The cat, for its part, appears satisfied…until it isn’t. For this cat is a time-bomb, mired within the cycle of a perpetual countdown. The timer strikes 0:00, and the monster within overtakes its unassuming presentation. Claws unsheathe, skin is torn, and blood splatters Jackson Pollock-style ‘cross the floorboards.

“Ouch,” says the man.

“Meow,” says the cat, falling into a familiar posture; its stomach facing skywards, its eyes glistening beneath the moody lights of Seligman, and its paws raised in mock-surprise. It is certain that the power dynamic in the room favors the cat.

After that slight detour, the man steps out to smoke. The weather is agreeable for those who desire to remain jacket-less, and so he leaves his draped over the back of his chair. Once outside, he lights up, and oh…that first exhale is bliss, offering the illusion of dissipating weight. He paces back and forth, following the outline of shadows created by the electric gas-lamp as they spread across the parking-lot. With each step, he conspires ways of shaking off his intolerable anxiety. He imagines taking it ‘round the corner and shooting it, as one might do with an ailing dog. In his head, the huddled, dying mass of anxiety oozes dark liquid disperses across a likewise-imagined surface. He grins—outside his dorm, removed from the cat-monster and away from his blank computer screen, he deludes himself with notions of a power out of reach. Alas, his grin is short-lived; his cigarette is smoldering close to the filter, and the acrid scent of tar grows. He puts it out, and pauses. Why not smoke another? He agrees with his internal monologue, and procures his lighter. Ah yes, this is power.

Cigarette no. 2 burns and burns, until at last it burns no longer. The man, reckless as he is, acknowledges this as a sign that he must return to his duties. He lets himself through the first door, swipes himself into the second with his ID, and re-binds himself into the tethers of purgatory.

The cat—greatest of enemies—stretches atop its perch on the back of a couch. Its eyes, wide and mischievous, foretell a night of unrestrained energy.

The man doesn’t notice this. He’s sucked back in, a victim to the vortex of obligation. The blank document before him glows, the mouse cursor flashes, and nothing changes. Yes, he thinks to himself, this is life now. Looking for another distraction, he pulls his backpack closer. From it, he produces a small notepad—a booklet home to the ever growing list of his oppressors. He skims through it:

  • Literature essay; due two days ago.
  • Russian homework; still four days behind.
  • Research project; still need to do actual research, then conduct a presentation.
  • The Foundation Pit; must read for tomorrow. Progress: 20 pages.
  • Russian presentation; set to occur on Friday, already was extended.
  • Russian quiz; don’t even ask about that.
  • Nationalism readings; at this point why even continue?
  • Thesis funding applications; why do I do this to myself?
  • Indicator Article; due on the 18th—it is now the 20th.

The man leans back into his chair, as so that he may face the ceiling. He sighs—not for the first time, nor for the last—and then he laughs. Subtle at first, his laughter grows, swells, and crests through reality like a misshapen swan breaching the surface of its algae-ridden pond and commencing to flight. Then, the climax—the toxic, irradiated soundwaves of a mind excommunicated from the realm of sleep.

This, my friends, is the origin, product, and final state of word-pain. The power of word-pain is immense—it spirals through the mind like a drill to a skull. It spreads, like a contagion, until every facet of life is infected with a noxious blend of apathy, distaste, anxiety, sleeplessness, and outright misery. Fear word-pain, dear cohorts. Let it not distort you as would a transcendental puppeteer. Rise above it, and when the moment presents itself, strangle the life from its metaphysical form. Yes, yes—grasp it, and twist… easy does it…

jtripaldi19@amherst.edu

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