Sunday, December 27, 2009
The last hoorah
I'm outside the city of Pucon, Chile, on my hands and knees on the dirt on the side of the road, fingernails digging into the dirt, throwing up. The tension in my skull is momentarily relieved. I can open my eyes without the evening sun gouging them. When I climb back into the car, Matt, Dave and Andy are silent. Someone rolls down their window.
I don't mind vomiting from a migraine. Besides providing a slight- albeit temporary- relief, I find it proves a certain point that is difficult to otherwise get across: just how cruel the pain inside your head really is. You can be curled up in fetal position on the couch, a sweatshirt tied around your eyes, hands clenching and unclenching in some sort of primal pain response. You can be crying, silently, and breathing in quick labored breath, or sitting in a cold shower with the lights off and your clothes on and still you get the same response: Headache? Do you want an Advil?
There you are, brain swelling until it bursts over and over, and someone offers you a pharmaceutical normally taken for muscle aches. It's is ludicrous. If you could, you would remove the sweatshirt and tell the person politely just how misguided they are. If you could, you'd ask them to go get you a hack saw so you could cut open the roof of your skull, give yourself a skylight into the brain, to relieve the pressure. You really would. But you can't talk, and you can't move.
But when you throw up, it's a new ball game. Your migraine thrusts itself rudely into the lives of others, comes out in the open. It's especially poignant when you are sharing a confined space with other people, such as a car, especially when you are driving back to another small cabin with a shared bathroom. Especially when your having to pull over and double over on the side of the road is making them late for something. Suddenly, they have to deal with your headache in a very real way. It's sort of satisfying.
Back at the our cabin, the 9 kids running around with sticks and a BB gun shooting at dogs, I walk with a scarf tied around my eyes to my bed, hands out in front of me, feeling along the walls. The kids want me to come play with them. I tell them no, as usual, that I'm not feeling well. As usual.
The modicum of relief allowed to me at the sacrifice of my dinner is gone. My head is filled with metal butterflies beating their barbed wings, banging around my skull looking for the way out. I can't help but buzz with bad metaphors. This thing in my head wants to be named, wants to be recognized. Just as I think the butterflies cannot beat their wings any faster, they open terrible mouths and sink their rows of shark teeth into my brain.
The butterflies are sharp and vicious- the stabbing, the fine bladed knife etching a story into my gray matter one letter at a time. But there is also another kind of pain, the dull, pulsing pressure. Picture a ball, the size of a baseball or a fist, rolling around the base of my skull. I tilt my head to the right, just the slightest bit to reposition on the pillow, and ball of pain rolls to the right, bangs to a stop. I turn my head to the left, it rolls heavy to the other side.
A parade of images is marching through my head. The dog I saw on the sidewalk today, blood seeping from a hole in its head. The dog wasn't exactly dead yet. It made the flies happy. There is sand in the sheets and the hot water is broken. Yesterday Andy washed his clothes with a stick in a bucket, later on I stood shivering in the same bucket throwing teacups of cold water over my hair. I think of stupid, irrelevant things. The bones in the chicken we were served at the Achibueno, the way I picked around them, the ligaments that we pulled out of our teeth. The time we ran out of gas on the highway and Dave, Andy and Matt ate from a bag of leftover turkey and bread, grease everywhere, using the hood of the car as a picnic blanket. I had lay in the grassy ditch near the highway, hungry, a headache swirling behind my eyes. I began to think, I'm losing my edge for this lifestyle.
The bloody crusade in my brain continues and I'm helpless. Tino opens the door a crack to check on me but I whimper for him to shut it, the slice of light seeping in unbearable. He goes away. I kept thinking about the girls, how they stayed home from the river one day to bake with me and I was late, I had forgotten all about it even though I had promised them. I think about the way my heart scurried like an animal in my chest the time I was stuck in an eddy about a huge, unrunable rapid in a canyon, how I spit with fear and cried.
I try to take control over my thoughts. I count the days until I go home- 7 days? 8? If I have to lie here in my bed until then, I will. I think about my home, clean sheets, evening light on snow. Everything clean, cold.
When it's dark enough, I take a sleeping pill. I wilt into a strange sleep. The headache lasts for three more days. On the final day, we throw a birthday party for Clay. We're at a hotel in Villarica, playing croquet and making ice cream. It's a lawn party. There is wine barrell hot tub, still cool, the water heated by a wood stove. I curl up in it, lay motionless under the water for three straight hours. By this time the water has warmed sufficiently. The kids join me and we're all having a good time.
By this time, of course, I've come to a realization. For a year I have been travelling with the school throughout Chile, Canada, the Southwestern USA. I'm so good at my job. I've been so happy. But I'm not up for it anymore. I don't feel good, ever. Something must be wrong with me, and I have to go home.