Inashortfiction's Blog

The Burden

Posted in writing, short fiction by Psychopoliticus on September 10, 2009

He called his old self “topaz”, a clandestine name. Each time he was alone now, he thought of a line from Heine with bittersweet ideation: sleep is so good, death is better, yet/ surely never to have been born is best. He thought of Lorca’s “Llagas de Amor” but in a completely different context, as though his separation from himself was like an ulcer. And he knew not why he woke up that morning and suddenly everything was different, and every step he took was not free because the thought of the burden cycled through his conscious mind every few seconds. But there was nothing the matter but the sensation of the burden. If only he did not have to live the paradox– for no external cause compelled the sensation.

At the outset, he attempted suffering, on the analogy that a headache vanishes with sufficient endurance. This lasted only a short while. Then he attempted distraction; he gyrated and sang repetitive songs in his mind to pass the time. He had a special thought reserved for particularly trying moments; “if it gets too bad, I will run away”; he thought often of running away but each time he would start he would remember that his body ran with him.

Not long after, of course, he decided to see a doctor. What amazed him was the stratification of labor and displacement to authority; the nurse was there solely to poke him with a needle for the purposes of drawing blood. It was not possible to ask her for any assistance or advice. The specialists he was referred to only commented on the specific body part under consideration. It was a category error to ask them other questions, he learned. After learning that nothing is wrong, he stopped going to doctors. Medicine has not yet reached the Cartesian realm, he decided.

After a while, he became audacious. If never having been born is best, then what of all the things I might as well do?, he thought. And he remembered all of the things he had wanted to do before the onset of the burden and now, like a laundry list, he would complete them on principle despite the lack of corresponding dopamine surge that accompanied each action. He bought a violin, and also a dog. He learned how to program. He went to beaches, rode on trains, particularly enjoying dismounting at arbitrary locations. He became impulsive too. He slept with countless women and men.

Months passed and he broke down. He was especially influenced by normative ideas now since before the burden he suffered from seclusion. It is accepted, thought he, that when we suffer we seek wisdom from external sources. So he went to his grandfather. After all, he had been through famine and war. And he implored him: why do things not feel the same? why do I feel this way? He described in nearly poetic detail the sensations and limitations of the burden, and he remembered the precise moment of its onset. He recounted each stage of the struggle, and each realization. His grandfather was unfazed: “What you describe is the way everyone feels. Everyone feels this way!”