How to Hurt
Larissa Pham explores the aesthetics of suffering in our inner and outer worlds
I was told at age sixteen in self-defense class that if you dig two fingers under someone’s collarbone like a lever it causes them unbearable pain. To protect our sparring partners, we practiced it on ourselves to see how it felt, which is the same theory I utilized two years later giving myself a stick and poke tattoo in my friend’s attic apartment. Now sometimes I slide two fingers under my own clavicle to remind myself I’m alive, that I can hurt others.
First tweet after the breakup. “Cool thing about being raised Buddhist is that you grow to be really noble about your suffering.” I want to be holy, I think. I want to be beyond reproach.
Pain has an aesthetic; that’s why we use anaesthetic for its removal. It’s very glamorous to suffer but everyone knows you have to do it the right way, with grace and generosity. Otherwise your pain is as mundane as everyone else’s and no one wants their pain to feel anything less than uniquely palpable. When I was eighteen I learned how to cry prettily because my boyfriend hated me and we fought all the time over Skype. In the little window where the app showed the mirror image of me I could manage my angles, though perhaps it’s worse that I cared how I looked because he always wanted to control how I looked, too. He wouldn’t let me cut my hair and he liked when I wore feminine earrings.
Now when I cry I look up and let my lashes tremble and the tears come rolling out, sideways; the way pretty girls do in the movies. No grotesqueries. No wailing. It’s clean. After, he sends me home in a car. I resolve to be good. I resolve to be perfect. This resolution crumbles.