I am blind, and alone in the dark.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.