Short Story Hegu
I kept wondering what I could do to be better than them, much more than what I could do to be good.
The weekend after our last chem-lab pair activity together and I failed to ask you what your plans were for the summer, Mom pinched the part of my hand between my thumb and index finger.
“Ouch!” I went. “What did you do that for?”
“It’s supposed to help with your migraine,” she answered. I had been complaining that they were especially bad, as of late.
“Is that true?” I asked, before she pinched again. “Ouch!”
But she was right. Once more there was a shock, caused by what felt like a viper plunging its fangs into my palm. Death seized me. Alarm bells rang. A thousand fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, cried inside me for deliverance.
And then the pain in my hand dissipated, and I felt the small relief of nothing.
Later, I looked it up. Apparently, the region between your thumb and pointer is called the hegu , or the union valley. I pinched my own hand, not as harshly. I squeezed some more until I felt a sharp little pain. “Hm. Ouch.”
The next June, at the start of the first quarter of the academic year, I ran an experiment in our class. Anytime someone expressed the slightest discomfort resulting from one of the triggers I’d read up on, I offered a hand. Stayed up to write a paper? Missed lunch? Broke up with your boyfriend?
“Care for a hegu pinch?” I answered.
I counted how many times people said yes and no. From a sample size of twelve, only two said yes, the other ten, no. (Actually, five said that they’d get back to me—including you—but I didn’t hear back before I decided it was time to reach my conclusion. So, anyway.)
I was curing headaches and, as it turned out, so much more. My new method relieved fevers and colds, lowered blood pressure, even cleared someone’s toothache. Soon, I convinced another ten students. Later that quarter, I had nearly the whole school lining up at my side. I was hailed as a miracle man, a prophet. Somewhat reluctantly, I accepted their titles. I was worrying about the burdens I would have to carry under my new status, but then you walked past me as I was stepping out of the cafeteria and I wondered: Who would fail to notice me now? There were even those who tried to imitate me, but they only brought increased limbic discomfort and were quickly discredited. Those who stayed with me became my disciples, and by the next quarter, I had taught them the proper way to pinch the union valley.
“You must be careful not to apply extreme pressure, lest you bring pain,” I taught. “Thou shalt not be worse than the pain that came before you.”
I asked only one of my disciples to record my teachings, for fear that my rivals would plot a resurgence of pretend-pinchers, fake masters who used their natural charm and popularity to claim the technique as their own. I didn’t want you or anyone else to believe them. So to speak, I wasn’t going to let my expertise fall into the wrong hands. Luckily, my practice remained the most successful one for several more semesters, and I needn’t have worried, not at least until the year before graduation.
Who would fail to notice me now?
In truth, I had become so transfixed by the need to compete with the fake masters that I lost sight of what made my work truly special. I was obsessed with the wrong people. I kept wondering what I could do to be better than them, much more than what I could do to be good.
One morning, while I was going through the day’s appointments and simultaneously pinching a hegu, my devotee flinched: “Ouch!” She yanked back her arm and nursed the hand I’d been pinching in the other. At once, jaws dropped all over my healing tent. My disciples no longer watched me in awe, but fear.
Soon after that—rebellion. A faction of my oldest hegu-pinchers proclaimed that I had been a false prophet all along. In proof of this, they published the recording of my teachings, having stolen them from our treasured sanctum. There were talks of violence, riots in the halls and even in the streets. The high administrators in Student Affairs, through their sleeper agents in the student population, attempted to have the whole thing quashed, but the most extreme, efficient solution they could think of on short notice was a campus-wide ban on acutherapy.
With the law in effect, I was labeled a criminal. To my surprise, this earned back the loyalty of some dissenters, since to them criminal was synonymous with subversive —revolutionary! They rescued and sheltered me. In their eyes, I’d held the answer to life all along—life was not pain; life was not discomfort. Life was only temporary, a moment of bliss! And then, nothing.
As soon as I heard that, I felt the urge to go home. I left my bag and lunch box; I left my tests, the school halls, and my classmates. I left everything behind. And when I got back, the first thing my mom asked me was How was school? I acted like things had gone the way they always did; I told her, Boring.
What was I doing? I looked around, and you were nowhere in sight. I remembered that all I really wanted was a good excuse to hold your hand.