Hope in the face of numbness

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This post was originally published on my Medium profile on January 6, 2016.

My left pinky has become permanently numb.

I don’t know when this started. Every day I press it, hard, to the palm of my hand, in the hopes that that feeling, that pins and needles, that signal to my brain that something is wrong with the flesh — in the hopes that will disappear. It never does.

My pinky has become permanently numb.

Maybe it started when I first put a pen in my hand, when I first learned to write. I never was able to figure out how to write without hurting myself; any session with the pen and paper leaves my left hand and arm aching. I grip my implements like lifelines; as if letting go means giving up. There is no relaxing when I write.

Maybe it started when I entered high school, and my left arm realized how much work it would have to do. Saddled with the large responsibility of getting me into college, it started talking about its problems to the only one who would listen: the pinky. My left pinky has never been trained for therapy, but listened because they and the arm were friends, and isn’t that what friends do? They never noticed the creeping numbness until it was too late.

I suppose it could have been more recent than that; I suppose it could have come about when my spine was crushed, when the injury that wrecked me finally made itself known. With my spine falling down on the job, refusing to work properly, all the rest of my body parts became overcompensators, trying to make sure the work got done before the boss noticed. (I always notice.) Maybe my left arm carried too much strain, and continued to talk to her good friend, the pinky, and maybe it just became too much.

Or maybe it happened when I started sleeping on my side, no longer able to sleep the way I had been for 25 years of living lest it wreck my back further. Resting my heavy head on my left arm has certainly done something to it; it no longer works as well as it used to, and my pinky has become permanently numb. Maybe this is just a mechanical issue, and maybe if I find a different way to sleep it will go away.

There is no different way to sleep. I must be satisfied with a permanently numb pinky and the ability to walk when I wake up in the morning.

Maybe it was none of these things. Maybe it happened when I took the cashier job, when my hands started going numb all the time, when I had to spend my down time with them at my hips, flexing them, trying to get feeling back into them. Even now as I type this my hands are going numb again, and soon I will have to break up the flow just to get them back to regular functioning.

Maybe my pinky started their long journey into numbness when I was working at a part time job that became a full time job I couldn’t physically handle; when I spent every night after work under water so hot in the shower it could melt the flesh off my bones. Maybe I cooked my nerves. Or maybe they became numb as a defense mechanism against the waves of stress that had consumed my body in those months, doubling me over with pain and sending me to the hospital with an acute anxiety attack that felt like it was the end of my life, the end of me, the beginning of my tenure as a corpse in a minivan parked outside Starbucks, having called 9–11 too late.

Maybe my pinky went numb so they didn’t have to listen to my bitching about getting hoodwinked into 40 hours a week when I’d only ever signed up for 20; maybe they went numb so they could ignore the constant ranting about that job. Maybe they went numb so it would hurt a little less to exist as part of me.

I don’t know. They’ve stopped talking to me. They won’t tell me why they’re numb. I just have to press, press hard against the palm of my hand, in the hopes that they’ll come back to me, gritting my teeth against the pain that comes with knowing that my own body no longer wants anything to do with me.