The Stages of Suffering

by Callie Barrentine


Quite some time ago I was doing the dishes on dish day and thinking about an old friend. The water from the faucet was tepid and spilled across my hands, encouraging a pensive state of loneliness in which I entertained the oddities of my life thus far. In my thinking, I discovered a little hole in my brain where my sadness should be, and I didn’t know where it had gone. I was perplexed with this new kind of emptiness.  My head, when knocked, sounded hollow, and the isolation scared me. Suddenly, the water began to run cold, cold, and then frigid down the features of my arms, chilling the very blood that ran boiling through my body. The window was open slightly enough so that a trace of the cool, heavy, fall air began to leave a sort of resonance across the room. The thick scents plastered to the walls, the furniture, and the small features and accessories of the room, creating certain stillness. The sun hid, vaulted behind a thick wall of dark, nebulous clouds. Everything seemed so familiar, and it brought a sort of ominous comfort to my mind. And all too routinely, I heard a knock on my front door, but I did not attend to it, for I did not have time. The knocker was familiar, and my penurious and empty thoughts beckoned him in immediately. He was welcome there. I greeted him- suffering was his name, all too eager to be drowning once more in his sea of acquainted sadness. And that sea of sadness, familiar and filling, was just enough. I yearned to be filled and overcome with feeling, even if suffering was the panacea. But my alacrity was not met with the same eagerness. He with the name of ‘suffering’, also known as the knocker some few minutes before this moment, looked at me with boredom from the tedious and repetitious actions which I had called upon him for so many times before, and for which I was calling upon him on that day too. “Let’s talk,” I said to him, hoping he would have some empathy for the girl who was visited by someone with a name as dismembering as his. He told me, with the utmost apathy, to stop inviting him over. He said I should have been done feeling his weight by then, and all of his tools that had he used to shape me had broken. He said he had no place there and I had to let him go. Offended and a bit isolated, I replied with fiery love. “You’ve got it wrong,” I said. I told him he was still a part of my life… that he filled me up with memories of the past… sad memories, but memories all the while. I told him he was part of my roots. That he was a friend to me in my darkest times. “I was not your friend in your darkest times, I put you in your darkest times,” he stated, bluntly. My rebuttal was quick, “No, my dear, you do not understand yourself. You are only the knife. For you cannot be the force on the knife as well. And you may be sharp, but you didn’t plunge yourself into my back.” He told me to let him go. He said he had to leave now… that he was picking up new molding tools for someone new, and he would not see me again. He gave me the business card of his good friend “acceptance,” and went on his way. The room, having filled with the chill of the brisk air and the rhythmic noise of the frigid faucet, was silent and still. I sat on the edge of a cold, metal chair for quite some time, reviewing the event of that afternoon. I came to the conclusion that my friend would be back. This was just a silly joke to relieve his heaviness, I thought. And for weeks, I went on like nothing was wrong. And although the windows stayed opened and the water running, the cold did not penetrate the unending chasm of denial that I was falling in, deeper and deeper. And my little sliver of realism began to grow like a cancer, deadlier than any seen before. A couple of weeks later, it was dish day again. The air was unusually hot for a fall day, and it was bone dry. The water in the faucet ran scorching with my blood. And in that moment, what once had been a sliver of realism, formed an endless rope, and pulled me out of the depths of my denial. My body began to shake and I fell onto the floor, my knees tucked into my gut. I was hurting all over, my brain in shock and my eyes glued together with a frightened squint. “Oh God, I do not want one more look at this horrible and lonely life, not one more moment.” I screamed. My constant state of seclusion sent steam streaming out of my nose and ears. My friend had left me. My familiar friend called suffering had actually left me. Enraged, I pounced up and grabbed a glass cup from the sink and flung it at the wall. Pleased with this outlet, I began to throw more of my dishes. I cried and screamed and yelled at the top of my lungs, and the cacophony of shattering glass vibrated through the walls of my house, my screams ringing to the depths of the cement foundation on which my house lay. Messy tears stained my face, bringing with them red splotches, and bubbling spit oozed down my chin and neck from the volume of my screaming. I collapsed on the floor and cried, falling asleep to the metrical sound of my moaning, and to the soft whisper of prayers prayed in vain. The loneliness killed me. I slept there for 3 weeks, only getting up for the toilet, a glass of water, or enough food to keep me alive. The window, still open, brought all the effects of the weather inside my house. And although the weather was mellow, the rain had begun to fall a couple of days after I did, and at first, I hated it. But soon enough, the smells and cadenced sounds brought on by the penetrating patter placated me.  I lost 11 pounds because I lost my friend, suffering. After a few weeks, on a Tuesday, I stood up for no reason at all. Well a bit of a reason… it was dish day. As a result of my previous episode, dish day was done a little differently on that Tuesday. Instead of cleaning the dishes, I had to clean up the dishes, now in many, many pieces, from my still frightened floor.  I went to the store and bought a new dish set, and when I arrived home, I looked out the window and saw the rain, still falling. I had grown quite fond of it, and I opened my door and ran outside. I stood, head up, arms out, and legs shoulder width apart, as I let the rain kiss and caress and cleanse my body, inside out. I widened my mouth and made my tongue into a platform for the rain’s intricate and placating dance. It tasted sweet and lovely and wonderful. When I was completely soaked, I walked back inside, content and finally feeling fine. And a few days later, I came across the notion that maybe I didn’t need suffering. Maybe my mind would fill itself up with the future. Maybe the toils of the past did not need a place in my life anymore. Maybe my problems weren’t what they used to be… and maybe I didn’t have to have any if I didn’t want to. Or at least they didn’t get to have me if I didn’t want them to. It was spring now and the air was soft and loving. The birds sent songs through the window, and the soft scents of the flowers danced around my home. It was dish day, and I was finally happy. I was finally detached from the fetters of my old friend, and I worked merrily. The warm water danced on my fingertips and bubbles floated up from the dish soap and played tag above my head. But suddenly, and all before I realized it, the water ran frigid and the sky became blanketed with a thick and consistent sheet of black clouds. The temperature dropped to a bitter chill and I heard a knock on my door. Flummoxed, I slowly approached it. When I called, “Who is it?” there was no reply. I opened the door with caution as I peeked around it. A sort of numbness started in my ears and worked its way down my cheeks, my chest, and my spine. My legs were overcooked noodles, and my feet were marbles walking on a floor of thickly coated oil. It was my old friend, suffering, at the door. And when I looked at him, every single good thing that had ever happened to me vanished. My positive progression was wiped out. I was pulled, kicking and screaming, back into the past, once more. “I went to get new molding tools,” he told me, “but it turns out, they were just for you.” I looked at him in blank disbelief. “Come on in,” I sighed, as I had so many times before.

Author Biography: Callie Barrentine is a sophomore at Milton high school. She enjoys painting, literature, and writing. Studying as an English major for college is her goal, and she aspires to be a columnist one day. Furthermore, she enjoys competing in pole vault during track season to exercise and spend time outside.