Not located in any particular organ, this “hard ache” fills the entire being of this poor soul.
I don’t think my student actually meant to measure degrees or kinds of aches; she probably thought she was using a term she had heard, and used, before. But I would be sympathetic to the idea that there are aches and then there are aches.
The boy I yearned for all through ninth and tenth grades caused me plenty of ache, because he never indicated the slightest ache, or even interest beyond the impersonal, in return. My suffering was punctuated by sharper pains and pangs—seeing him laughing with some pretty little thing he obviously “liked,” watching him dance with everyone but me at school dances, sitting right behind him in Hygiene and knowing full well that if I gave in to desire and extended my index finger far enough to actually touch him he would think I was crazy. But most of the time, my longing for him filled me with a steady ache that even at the time I kind of liked. That was a soft ache, maybe, or at least a sweet one. It came easily, too. Definitely not a hard ache.
I feel another kind of soft ache when I picture myself back in college, or in grad school, with the world all before me (like Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost) and the energy to take it on. I wish I could be her again, with all her hope and hunger.
I can see that the “him” of my student’s sentence isn’t feeling that kind of ache: knowing he has to die really, really hurts. He isn’t filled with a warm wash of wanting; for him, it’s solid steel pounding against the insides of his bones, his muscles, his skin, and hardening cement filling all his brain’s cortical corrugations. The pain is pitiless, unrelenting—hard. It might even be “hard” the way toil of body or intellect is hard: difficult to do, difficult to understand, difficult perhaps to justify.
I wish she had wanted me to read her sentence like that, instead of knowing that what she meant was “heartache”— painful and sad in its own right, but nowhere near the inexorable and inhuman experience “hard ache” conjures.
So far, this and yesterday’s are the only two Horrors I’ve gotten where matters of the heart and sorrow are concerned. I dread the future apparition of a “hard brake” that has nothing to do with panic stops on the road.… Meanwhile, I’d love to hear any other variations readers have encountered!