“A World in Roberto Salazar”

“Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.” —Black Elk

My agony convulses in backwater bays. Crashes like severed glaciers in warm waters. Screams grating melodies from plastic islands while water creatures wail from the deep.

I imagine pain. Pain of the body. Pain in the rolling hills and in the underbellies of caverns. Pain running like frigid fingers down mountain spines—through a people unaware they have lost the way so gnash at their own hands in search of blood.

Like the boy, Roberto Salazar. His instinct did not tell him to suck life from breast or bottle. At three months, his mother fed him with an eye dropper and at eight months, a stomach tube.

They say he never cried. Not from hunger or shots. Not from scraped knees or spankings—and they tried to make him cry. Tried to make him feel something that told them he was alive and might continue to live.

When the boy started teething, something in him knew he needed to chew, but it wasn’t hunger that told him so. Curiosity gnawed on his hands and lips, bit off part of his tongue. Doctors pulled out his teeth so he couldn’t continue to maim himself.

This congenital analgesia is a genetic mutation; the pain channels are cut off, so an insect bite, a concussion, a broken bone, a burst appendix—all go undetected by the body.

How could he know not to jump from the roof? The temptations of falling, flying, wind in the hair. Not to place a hand on a hot stove? The raging red beautiful, the singed skin curious. Not to run to world’s end, legs burning, lungs groping?

Every sensation of pain is brain made. No pain emanates directly from tissue. The brain reads signals from tissue and creates the illusion that pain comes from torso or limb.

People know more about space than they do the oceans—more about pain than a lack of it. The evolutionary marvel of pain signals the need for change, but what if no pain exists? What then? Though his wounds fester before his eyes, young Salazar continues to poke at them just to see what if.

The ancient philosopher Lucretius investigated the effects of emotions and pain. Battle lust disassociated a soldier from the torment of life-threatening wounds and pushed him anew into the fray. The deafening sounds of battle, hypnotizing him into numbness.

During World War II, Henry Beecher studied the expressions of pain in the badly wounded. He concluded there was no major correlation between the severity of any wound and a man’s expressions of suffering. The correlation came from a man’s emotional state. Nearly a third of those asked claimed to feel no pain at all.

Roberto Salazar cannot sweat or regulate his body temperature. He lives the summer months inside, in air-conditioned rooms devoid of bird song, of wind, of croaking tree frogs and light-as-air butterflies. Of bumbles burrowing inside cones of nectar, of roiling clouds and the sharp ozone smell of rain.

Doctors say he will be wheelchair bound by age ten, his femurs crooked from overuse.

He will perish long before his time.

If I am the battleground, numb are the soldiers. Their coal burns bright and hot and they choke on their decisions—a global suicide pact.

This pain is a ghost. It haunts the imagination. Only I see its dark mark pouring in rivers from my wounds while I lie here dying.

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About Staci Mercado

Staci Mercado won a Midwest Book Award for her historical fiction novel, Seeking Signs (Four Feathers Press, 2013). She has published work in Broad Street, Barely South Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Our Iowa. Staci teaches writing at her local high school and works as a creative writing professor. She was awarded the 2017 Outstanding Literary Arts Educator Award from the Midwest Writing Center.