The moths have come out tonight. Tiny ones, moon rock brown, with fringed hindwings less than half an inch across. At two am, they are my companions in this sleepless night. A diversion from the meat-grinder pain mincing my shoulder muscles. These night visitors arrive in erratic waves, glide over the banister, maniacally following the porch light’s beamy fingers.
Their veined wings light up, become translucent things of beauty, before drifting to the ground, dead Prometheans.
Behind me, high on a plank under the eave, a Black Witch Moth hangs like a bat, its enormous scaly wings caped around itself, unmoving. Not even its bristled antennae quiver.
Last winter, the orthopedic doctor sat on a swivel stool and looked at an x-ray on a screen with his back to me.
“Was it a car accident?”
“Swimming mishap, actually. A rogue wave slammed me against a pier.”
He turned his head. “How long ago?”
“Six or seven years.”
“Has the range of motion gotten progressively worse? That happens, you know. The trauma to the joint accelerates deterioration. The shoulder becomes frozen.”
He used his feet to scoot himself towards me, where I sat on an elevated table wearing a throwaway hospital gown over my jeans.
“You know, this is going to come down to how well you manage chronic pain.”
I raised my right arm as he instructed. The movement made the grating sound of scraping rocks. The doctor winced, “That’s called crepitus,” he said. “Tell me about your pain level.”
To describe the pain is to describe by approximation. A number is meaningless.
It feels like a fireball has been inserted under your deltoids. It feels like someone keeps jabbing an icepick into your shoulder. It feels like your arm is being shredded, like all the muscles running down the right side of your neck and back feed a meat grinder every time you lift your arm.
It’s hours yet till dawn and the porch light is still on. My pain has morphed into suffering that torments the mind and not the flesh. What if the agony never stops? Who am I if I can’t raise my right arm over my head? How will I ever get through this night?
In love with light, the tiny moths keep beating themselves silly. They flutter in a circle before ramming their thoraxes against the bulb, over and over again. Cutting short their lives. Even scientists can’t tell you why they do this, only offer theories.
But I do understand what it is to dive into a pool of white lightning, blinded by the beauty, transfixed, until the wild light-wave has slammed your tiny body against a wall of concrete.
Water is a longtime lover. I dive in whenever I get the chance. The abandoned pier is a local hangout, but the early hour and the high waves make for an empty parking lot. Winter swells flood the cement landing where an aluminum ladder, riveted into the side of the dock, extends down into the water.
I’m out the car door, flinging off my t-shirt and rushing to the ladder. The gray green waves are high and turn into raging suds when they flood the landing. A violent push of water carries away my flip flops. I hold onto the metal ladder, bracing myself.
Still, I feel little hesitation. Only desire. An old, irresistible attraction. I lower myself down another rung, and then look over my right shoulder, toward the horizon.
Just before dawn, I turn off the porch light. Under the eave, the Black Witch Moth has unfolded its scalloped eight-inch wings. It’s a gorgeous female wearing the typical necklace of pearls.
In the softness of first light, her inky coloration becomes a Rorschach test—a crooked river I try to read like a map.
Then her deformed wing comes into focus. She is what entomologists call a Rag. Her right forewing, frayed and scissored, looks like it’s been put through a paper shredder. Bird beak, cat claw, bat teeth, who knows what predator? Yet she has survived.
The meat-grinder pain still possesses my shoulder, but accepting it without a fight lessens it. Finally, I am ready to go to sleep. I reorganize myself, my tattered wing, into a cocoon and journey to the water in my dreams.
Header photograph © Bear Weaver.
Nothing I can say except thank you! Thank you, Linda!
I admire so much in this gorgeous piece. From the tiny moths in the first line through the Black Witch Moth in the last section, I’m hooked. And so glad that sleep came with water dreams.
It’s rare that someone explains chronic pain at all, much less in a way that feels familiar. Thank you for crafting and sharing this potent piece of what it means to live like this, and for your gorgeous words and pacing.
I want more. It is taking me away from this world.
Linda it’s a beautiful story, can feel your shoulder pain! Hope to see you soon’ take care n be safe! Both of you! Love n miss you two!
Bravo! I winced during those similes the writer used to rate the pain. I felt admiration and a physical tug at the edge of the empty parking lot. Her pacing, her timing…the 2am ground of experience, the consultation, the history of the oceanʻs magnetic pull on the writer, her relationship of curiosity and empathy through knowing, of creatures who also frequent the early hours…but wow! the flight and demise of those little Promethean creatures…the Rag with her wounded aristocratic vibe…oh my goodness!