THE PAIN YOU SEEM TO BE EXPERIENCING
You'll suffer mild migraines -- mild only because you'll be deprived of the electric Kool-Aid visions true migraine sufferers describe. It'll be like a failure, this second-rate pain.
A bulge behind your right eye will signal the onset. You'll have to be stealthy; walk slowly to the kitchen to eat something bland before swallowing two Excedrin. If they fail to work (which they will, but take them anyway: you'll at least feel better you tried), the pain will build. The bulge will become a balloon that expands against your skull and threatens to erupt out your ears, while the Excedrin will leave the impossibly simultaneous impression that someone is digging your brain out with a spoon, dipping into cerebrospinal fluid like soup. The bulge will sprout tentacles that tunnel their way into your stomach, where they will sit, unsettled, at the pit, like an infested peach.
You'll start throwing up more often. If anything can make you feel helpless, it's hanging a sober face above an open toilet seat. You threw up a lot as a kid. You got headaches then, too. Easy, childish ones. Your father would sit beside you and stroke your forehead. He would soften his voice and tell you to picture the pain as paint: a drop of brown paint dripped into the ocean. Watch it, he'd say. Watch it muddy the water. Watch it swirl and loosen into liquid thread. Watch it until the water returns to bluish-green, until all traces are gone.
It worked for you, back then. It won't now. But be grateful for your father's quiet acknowledgment of pain -- not just your pain, but his own. Once, when you were a teenager, you were in the kitchen with your mother when the back doorbell, a previously puzzling feature of the house, rang. You answered, found your father on his belly, reaching high above his head, pressing the button over and over as if it were a morphine drip. A ladder was propped against the siding and a paint bucket (yes, paint again, only white this time) Jackson-Pollocked across the grass. He looked like something that just crawled out of the primordial ooze. It hurts, he said, without a hint of his usual smile, the one that made him look like he was perpetually preparing for a punch line. You laughed, but you swore you felt bad doing it.
Later he told you about the doctor who examined his throbbing foot. We can't seem to find a reason for the pain you seem to be experiencing, the doctor said, and you pictured a prick who prescribed pills for pain but didn't believe in it. You pictured tapping him on the white, lab-coated shoulder, waiting until he turned, then throwing a punch, going right for the gut. You pictured doubling him over, teaching him to believe.
You believed. And not just because of the black and purple bruise that finally developed on the sole of your father's foot (you didn't touch it, but you imagine if you did it would have felt like rotten fruit). You believed him because he believed you.
What you'll wonder now is what to do with this pain, a pain that can't be touched or seen, that isn't bound to muscle or gut but narrow, threadlike vessels, a pain that hides like thought, impossible to pinpoint but insistently there.
Sometimes you'll feel it's best to fight it; others you'll just give in. Sometimes the pain you seem to be experiencing will break and enter, the hell with ringing the bell. To survive it, you'll have to hide. Turn off the lights. Close the shades. Get in bed. You'll wish there wasn't a body shop outside your window, cranking cars toward the ceiling all day. You'll wish you had a cold compress. You'll wish you could believe there was still a world beyond your head. But that world will have already turned into a drop of brown paint, and the headache will have become an ocean, and you'll be powerless to stop the swirl. You'll melt into a single-mindedness so complete that, when it's finally over, you'll stupidly envy it, wishing you had that kind of concentration for working or writing or washing dishes.
You'll want relief to come at once, in a dazzling absence, like a magician opening a suddenly coinless hand. Instead, you'll fall asleep. When you wake it will already be gone, along with your memory of it. At most, a vague buzzing will remain. A gentle pressure.
You'll stagger out of bed, blink at the light still too bright between the blinds. You'll be better. And you'll have gotten something out of this: a prize. A disappointing, adult prize, like cuff links or a blender or Employee of the Month. You'll understand that your father has been on the receiving end of this prize once or twice himself. An understanding: the pain will come but it will, at some point, also leave you alone. Until then, accept it. Say thank you. Smile.
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