Fire under my feet. Every callous whimpers, tortured by the white sand. Grains seep through my toes, but I don’t feel them. I can’t feel them. There is only heat. Heat and pain. My legs break beneath me, into a sprint. Screaming towards the ocean. My body falls into the ocean. Cool as tears on a flushed face, the water embraces me. It dances around my legs, through them, over them. My feet breathe, recovering from the scorching sand, and I smile a soggy, salty smile. A jump into the ocean never fails to flip my world.
Pain flees and happiness invades the instant, every time I leap into the sea. The switch is immediate and more contrasted than love and hate. But that’s how I know that it’s real.
Reality hits hard at 10:50 under the stars. The car was exhausted, and so were we. But a boat launch, back roads, and a beach parking lot hadn’t been long enough. Words were still slipping from our lips, more honest than accidents. And we were still in his driveway,
Crying. My entire heart cried that night. Because eight years was enough time to piece together a puzzle of dazzling memories, but eight years wasn’t enough time to draft a happy ending. Because the boy in the passenger seat held me so gently on so many nights, and that night, after the car door clicked behind him, he never would again. Because that was his choice, because he admitted he was giving up. I cried because when he looked into my eyes I always started writing poetry in my head, and because even when he looked at me with a defeated frown and tear stained cheeks and said he had no explanation, the poems still wouldn’t stop.
The drive home that night was cold. Cold and painful. But slowly, over the next couple weeks, my heart turned. It encompassed friends, family, my own independence; one 80-degree afternoon, I saw the switch. Coasting with my hands out the sun roof and the music bouncing off my sweaty, smiling cheeks, I realized. I was happy. The pain had disintegrated, and in its place was the purest form of happy.
If pain never crippled, could I ever reach such euphoria? No. Factored into those resilient smiles is a distinct pride – a pride in the knowledge that I am bigger than the hot or the cold, that my heart is stronger than the break. It’s the same as when an athlete finishes a run, or when a student submits their term paper; when a mother gives birth or a middle schooler finally graduates. They are happy with a side of clear memories of hurt, but the fact that the hurt is overcome enhances the happiness. When pain subsides and we finally feel happy again, it is in part because we also feel strong, wise, smart. We are survivors. Without the pain, though, there would be nothing to survive.
Which is why pain is a sunrise. Unique, lovely, heart-wrenching. Pain and the sunrise are fire before your eyes – early-morning fire that cools into sunny afternoons. Fire that fades as the day begins and life goes on. Pain is a fire that can make you hot and cold, and it is the first phase of pure happiness. That happiness is beautiful, and so pain must be a little beautiful, too.