Exploding heads

I had a frozen margarita in a darkened alley near Union Hall last night. My friend had a pink sangria, with frozen berries floating in it. It was quiet, just us on barstools at a table to ourselves, and another group a few tables over. We spoke quickly and intensely and without stopping for an hour, maybe more, until the server came by to announce last call, though it was only 10 p.m.

When we got up to leave, my friend asked if we should get another drink, and even though 16 ounces of margarita is enough to make my body feel weightless, I said yes. I wanted to be out in the streets of Brooklyn, amid whoever and whatever was left in this sultry city. So we walked up Fifth Avenue passing diners and revelers in the newly configured outdoor restaurants, lining the street, and spilling onto the pavements. We ordered beer indoors with masks on—”I’ll serve you,” the bearded bartender said when we asked if they were still open. He was the only human in the storefront, standing behind the long polished wood bar.

We took the beers to a table at the curb, in what once was a parking space and continued the conversation. This time my friend spoke earnestly about trying to become more accepting of his own feelings, and more mindful of his ego, and to try less to preempt things—to scan everyone else’s possible feelings and reactions before they even happen, in order to alleviate them—something that he and I have in common. He misunderstood the question that I’d asked, which was a more practical question about how he was going about his new efforts at discipline: getting abs, playing the banjo, eating healthier, though I’m glad he did.

I biked back around midnight, lightheaded and sweaty, even with the thick breeze and in a quick summer shower that petered out quickly.

I woke at 6am with a familiar weight in my forehead, still wearing the shorts I had worn the night before.

Thinking I was hungover I took Advil and tried to sleep it off, in denial that the alcohol had triggered a migraine: the flame of pain on the right side of my skull, the daze, the inability to mesh my perception with the reality around me, were obvious indicators. So I spent most of the day pretending to believe that coffee and Advil and a little bit of pushing myself was enough. I sent a quick email to my boss so he’d know I was alive, then ignored everything work related.

By early afternoon, the pain and nausea were bad enough that I went back to bed and curled up amid a mess of clothes, with an ice pack over my forehead. I tried reading on my phone, and when that wasn’t enough to distract me, I repeated like a mantra in my head,”I want to die, I want to die, I want to die.”

In the past, when the migraines were bad I’d imagine a gun shooting my head and the whole thing exploding. Not visually. Just the immense feeling of relief. The pain gone. Nothing left to hurt. Over and over, I’d imagine the gun, the shot, the explosion. Poof. No more pain.

This wasn’t about death, it was about relief. So I was surprised to hear the words in my head. The gun seemed more benign. By switching it to words, it remained similarly situational, but also it opened a door to thoughts I might not otherwise consider. What would it really be like if I were no longer here? If I died on this bed, surrounded by laundry and pita chips and blue Ikea bags?

In the nature of migraines, the thoughts didn’t go much further. They repeated on a loop with short bursts of what-ifs. Who would find me. How long would it take. What about the pita chips. What if I never felt this ever again. What if my head, and the pandemic, and injustice, and bylines, and subtweets, and love, and disappointment, and missing PPE, and the census and the postal service and birthdays and color-coded sticky notes and health insurance and the American experiment descending into authoritarianism, ceased. Exploded. Poof.

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