Friday, December 7, 2012

Much Less Alone

I am blind, and alone in the dark.

Later, I will be grateful that this blindness is temporary. Later, when the searing, splitting pain has ceased, and the bone-melting fatigue has passed. Right now, it is beyond me to be grateful. It is natural, I believe, when one suffers pain for hours or days at a time, to feel punished. And when you are unfairly punished, gratitude is in short supply.

When I am not migraining, I perceive my bedroom as soft and dim, and the perpetual twilight of my native city’s nighttime is dark enough for rest. But when circles are popping behind my eyes, their cadence echoing in my temple, even my room is a funhouse of horrors: the streetlight shining around the edge of the blinds stretches out its torturous rays toward my face, my metal shoe rack cruelly reflects the kitchen light’s sliver under the door. The red digits on the clock are the embers of Hell. Everything smells, and I smell everything. The barely scented body lotion I applied this morning. The garbage that is closed up, two rooms away. The breakfast (lunch, or dinner?) my downstairs neighbors are cooking. Yet, I am gasping for air, feeling absurdly overheated. The ice pack has warmed. I need another. I consider a trip to the freezer.

Living alone, I have at times fantasized about the perfect pet for a migraine sufferer: a quiet, unassuming German shepherd named Layla, who is trained to pull open the freezer using a strap and extract an ice pack, which she would obediently bring to me, her indisposed mistress. But could the dog be trained to close the freezer afterward, I wonder?

I once related this desire to a friend. “Sure you want a dog, not a man?” he quipped.

(But could the man be trained to close the freezer afterward? I wondered, doubtfully.)

I fight the urge to vomit, taking deep breaths. I am fortunate that my migraines are not always accompanied by prolonged periods of stomach distress. I ought to be grateful, and I am, I will be, just as soon as I’m not being lobotomized through my right eye.

I name my migraines sometimes, to help pass the time alone in the dark. And for some kind of comparison. Which migraine is worse, Frontal Lobotomy or Whole Skull on Fire? Would you rather be knifed in the temple, or have your sinuses in a vise? Does this one feel more like an icepick or a mountain-climber’s axe (and what would Trotsky say)? Dark migraine amusement.

Rita, a calico catThe bed jostles. Not enough to disturb me. Just enough for me to feel her weight, and I hear the whisper of her feet on the sheets. She is making her way toward the pillow, coming to check on her charge: me. I blindly reach out my left hand, and Rita, my calico caretaker, pushes her face into my palm with a soft trilled cry.

I know her from my other cat instantly, though I cannot see her. The small triangle of her skull, the fine fur, soft as a rabbit’s. Each ear a small, warm flap. Whiskers bending against my fingers like thin blades of grass. Her throat, where I gently rest my thumb to feel the vibration of her purr. She may be hungry. I don’t know what time it is, and if I did, I still might not remember if I’ve fed them on schedule today.

My cats seem to take that in stride pretty well. They get fed every day, and are in good health, so these delays don’t cause them too much distress. It is eerie to me that they don’t hesitate to yowl, claw and bat me awake to feed them when I’m just sleeping, but they steer clear of antics when I’m in the dark with an ice pack. Somehow, they know something’s really wrong.

Rita sits beside my shoulder, leaning her whole upper body in to be petted.

“Get me an ice pack,” I grumble at her. She shifts daintily on her front feet and bumps the top of her head against my wrist. Pet me.

“You’re useless,” I nearly shout. “Useless!”

Ow. Shouting hurts. Rita does not move, does not even wince.  Lowering my forehead to the pillow, I think petulantly that Layla would have fetched me an ice pack.

The minutes tick by, and my frustration is palpable. There are so many things I need to be doing. Dishes. Laundry. Groceries. But I can’t move, can’t even open my eyes to read a book or be on my laptop. Even checking the time on my phone has painful consequences. I am still in pain, and the boredom is horrid. Take a creative, social, anxiety-prone woman and trap her in the dark, in her own head, with pain, for hours or days, and you produce a special kind of madness. The madness of craving escape from your body, of wanting nothing more than to crawl out of your own skin.  

I have gotten so angry I’ve started socking the pillows, wanting to know why it won’t end, why the medicine won’t work faster, why it is so freaking hot in here. But Rita doesn’t even flinch when I rage aloud and punch the bedding. She knows better than to climb atop my stomach as she often does when I’m well, but she stays close, just beside the pillow or next to my arm.  She can lie contentedly in my bed, completely still, for many hours at time, for the better part of several days. She feels no distress at our lack of productivity; lounging in bed is her preferred pastime.  She is a small Zen master, a furry guru, a silent and uncritical feline confessor.

I lay a hand on her back, and relax my eye muscles, letting the purr roll through my arm and connect with my chest. I breathe deeply. She breathes deeply.  I feel like I am taking something from her, a gentle cool energy. I hate to think of what I’d be giving back. Pain. Anger. Desperation. Fear, the ever-present fear, that this time, it won’t end.

She never seems to mind. The vibration courses through my fingertips as I trail them along her spine. I listen, also, to the lullaby of her trilled breath.

The melted ice pack slips to the floor.  The mythical German shepherd is forgotten. I feel the slight tingling in my temple that can precede The End of the migraine.

I rest my palm just below Rita’s shoulder blades, trying to feel the life force beneath her calico fur. I feel her small, quick heartbeat. Steady and clear. I can hear my own heartbeat, too, as it steadies to synchronize with the one I’m feeling through my hand.

I’m still in the dark. But much less alone. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Beach Back Alley: Ocean City, NJ

Early morning on the back porch of the third-floor condo.

Back porches are preferable to front porches for their lack of artistry - no manicured lawns and window boxes - instead, laundry hung out to dry, puddles in the alley, bicycles leaning against cars. Empty trash cans in the sun, their lids askew.

Electrical wires from every house reach out to a Maypole of sorts just this side of the dunes. From the front, all the houses have their space delineated by geometric railings and neatly stacked first through third stories. Out back, the multiple levels of connected porches and awnings are jumbled and asymmetrical. Sunlight at this early hour casts long shadows, leaving half the panorama in shade.

I am alone with only a notebook and the shrill, haunting call of gulls that echoes over the alley. It is a brief window of quietude.