Apparently… It’s All Relative

“Shhh! Your dad is upstairs sleeping. He has one of his really bad headaches again.” My mom would inform my sister and me in an attempt to keep us from disturbing our poor father while he tried to recover from the excruciating pain that occasionally plagued him.

All I knew about his headaches were that they were referred to as “cluster headaches” and they made the whole side of his head and face hurt. He couldn’t even brush his hair without extreme pain.

“You girls leave your mother alone. She came home with another migraine today.” My dad would warn us while my mother rested, writhed in pain or ran to bathroom to throw up again. And we would eat takeout for dinner if she hadn’t already suffered through cooking our meal BEFORE addressing her own needs and collapsing on the bed.

What I knew about her headaches were that they were called “migraines” and they typically made her lose her vision along with whatever she ate that day. Oh yeah… and I decided that between her and my father… adulthood pretty much sucked.

Fast forward to my junior year in high school. I vividly remember sitting in art class and reading a text book. I’m not sure why I wasn’t painting or drawing at the time but that is irrelevent here. As I looked at the grey lines of copy on the page I noticed that entire sections of the page began to disappear into what can only be described as bright, white blind spots. I felt funny and asked to be excused.

Sitting in the office while the secretary called my dad to come and get me — a terrible pain I had never felt before began gripping my forehead like a vise. On the ride home with him, the nausea came. He had to pull over just four houses down from ours as my lunch began to resurface. It was then that I remembered the horrible migraine headaches that my mother and grandmother (as I would later learn) got with some regularity. And it was then that I learned how privileged I too was to be a member of that genetic club. Thank you, mom and grandma… I love you too.

I have since learned to manage the migraines that fortunately only come around two to four times a year. I have a prescription, know some of the “triggers” and warning signs and have thus learned how to keep from losing my lunch or an entire day. I count myself lucky that I am not one of those chronic sufferers who get several in one week.

Fast forward AGAIN to four days ago. While managing an estate sale at Lee’s childhood home I began to feel a burning ache in my inner ear and several “ice pick” stabs to the back of my neck and head. I took my migraine medicine figuring it couldn’t hurt and waited for it to work. And I waited. And I waited some more. Nothing. The untouchable discomfort soon spread to the entire right side of my head and face and by dinner time I had trouble chewing because my jaw and teeth ached as well. And I couldn’t brush my hair without wincing. Thank you, dad.

Four days later of ice packs, towels wrapped tightly around my skull and “chill pills” to help me sleep… the headache (though vastly better) is still with me. Apparently, unlike it’s lesser-of-a-pain-in-the-ass cousin, the migraine… these “clusters” can last for several days. Severe episodes are often treated with visits to the ER and injections of steroids, strong pain killers and other drugs to help the sufferer through. OTC pain medications do NOT work and you wanna know the best part — they don’t KNOW what causes them other than GENETICS! Ha!

So, as much as I love and adore my amazing parents for ALL that they have done and continue to do for me and for EACH of the selfless sacrifices they have made in the name of love… I would also like to say a hearty thank you for the great genes too! I know you had nothing to do with it, really. But if I’d had the choice… I would have much rather inherited my mom’s knack for baking chocolately goodness from scratch… and my dad’s green thumb.

Puttin’ On My Big Girl Pants

In my twenties, when I was as young and stupid as a brand new puppy dog, I had a co-worker who was a few years older. She was a new mother and I often asked her how things were going with the baby.

I’ll never forget her reply one time as it was as funny as it was true. She recounted to me a morning where her daughter (let’s call her Danielle) was sitting at the kitchen table in her high chair and just wailing. Nothing would pacify her, so her mother—as many new moms often do—was reaching the point of exasperation.

She heaved a heavy sigh, looked around the room (that was empty save for my friend and her daughter) and thought aloud to Danielle: “Oh how I wish your mommy could just swoop in and make things all better for you!” It was then that my friend realized that the “mommy” in this scenario—the only one around at the time to do the heavy lifting and the one to be the savior—was her.

As adults, how many of us have found ourselves in a similar situation? When faced with something that seems insurmountable, we look up, down and all around for someone who can save us from ourselves. Be it a knight in shining armor, a fairy godmother or a full-blown cavalry — we honestly hope (if only for a second) that there might actually be an easier way out. But often times this is not the case. Increasingly as we age the only one who can deliver us from the stiff challenges of adulthood is the very one who stands before us in the mirror.

In less than four months, my fiance has lost both his father and mother. And I have been unable to do anything but stand by and watch. Don’t get me wrong, I can lend a listening ear, fetch a sandwich or two and make the occasional phone call, but short of a miracle of biblical proportion, there is nothing else I can do but hold his hand and slog through the muck and the mire right along with him.

There have been numerous arrangements to be made and entire lifetimes of memories to be carefully sifted, sorted and packed away for safe-keeping. Not unlike my co-worker and her child in need of comfort—there is no one else around to do the heavy lifting. There is no knight in shining armor, fairy godmother or cavalry to swoop in and “make things all better” like when we were children. And similar to my friend in becoming a new parent… I’m certain there were no instructions in the handbook on how to do this.

This time there is only him and there is only me wandering aimlessly about in Grownupland. I can wish all I want for someone else to shoulder the burden and do the work. But at the end of the day I am met with the realization that adulthood in it’s purest form is when you’ve looked around and discovered there is nothing left to do but suck it up and put on those big girl pants — however reluctantly.

My Air-Conditioned Life

A fat, lazy fly buzzed around my face as a large bead of sweat began it’s slow journey down the center of my back, stopping at my waistband. My forehead was soaked, my neck sticky and I could not stand the sensation of anything, I mean ANYTHING touching my skin.   

The air was as hot and thick and still as I have ever experienced with a heat index soaring well above one-hundred. Trying my hardest to make polite conversation, the faces before me began to blur and my head started to spin as I began to totally and completely lose my shit.

I excused myself from the table—eyes darting around for some form of escape… ANY form of escape—and I moved closer to the edge of the pavilion. It was then that I began to entertain a multitude of wild imaginings including the tearing off of my clothes as I headed straight into the woods to roll around in some mud like a pig on a sweltering, summer day.

I have led, what you might call an “air-conditioned life.”

In all of my adult life I have never had to work in a non-A/C environment or inhabit a non-A/C abode. Granted, I grew up in a home without A/C but in northern Ohio that wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. And I was just a kid who had yet to develope my intolerance to discomfort.

I have a career which includes sitting for hours at a time in a cushy chair in a perfectly temperature-controlled environment… never breaking a sweat (except for perhaps in the occasional staff meeting).

Those who know me best a.k.a. those who have had to live with me learn fairly early on that I have what you might call a “narrow window of comfort” that exists somewhere between 68-72 degrees fahrenheit. Some of them go so far as to consider this behavior “fussy” or “high maintenance” but naturally I disagree.

No I prefer to think of it as being in touch with my “optimum environmental performance requirement.” And what could possibly be wrong with that?

Crashing My Pizza Party

The Romeo’s Pizza coupon hung on the bulletin board in the kitchen for months. With it’s piping-hot pledge for a free 1-topping pie whenever I wanted, I knew it was something to be savored and not squandered some random night after a few too many beers.

Thus, when the phone rang at 1 p.m. on an otherwise-quiet Thursday afternoon with a request for an immediate interview THE NEXT DAY with one of the leading, most-coolest, most-coveted employers in Columbus… I felt the time had come to redeem that coupon.

I know, I didn’t HAVE the job yet. I didn’t even have the awesome, knock-their-socks-off-they-will-surely-choose-to-employ-me-the-moment-we-shake-hands interview yet — the small, step-in-the-right-direction victory felt like cause for celebration. It’s either that or I just REALLY had a hankering for some pizza.

I made the call ordering up my FREE pie which would—in a mere 15 minutes—be sitting on my coffee table with an ice-cold beverage. I drove the 5 minutes to pick it up (so as to avoid the delivery charge, making it TRULY FREE) and settled down in front of a chick flick of my choosing.

At first bite, I was blissfully savoring the emotional high of the moment. The company of my man (yes I DID share the pizza), a DE-LI-CI-OUS, saucy pizza, a mediocre Sandra Bullock movie and the knowledge that my newly-organized portfolio and smoothed-over power suit were going to land me a killer J-O-B on the morrow.

With 2 slices down, I decided that it was too good of an occasion NOT to indulge in 2 more. (Don’t judge me… They were small pieces.) So I filled up my plate with 2 more pieces and settled in front of Miss Bullock for the remainder of her luke-warm performance in a so-so movie that could only be described as a romantic thriller.

It was at that moment that the phone rang again. I wonder what this is about? Maybe it’s another interview?! Wow, when it rains it POURS!! Rushing to the phone with bloated confidence and an even more bloated pizza-tummy, I was puzzled to see the same number as earlier in the day. Huh.

  • Job Rep on The Phone: “I’m sorry to inform you Joanna, but the interview for tomorrow has been cancelled. I just received word that the position has been filled.”
  • Me (to myself): “Damn.”
  • Me (to him trying NOT to sound desperately pathetic and crushed): “Oh? That is disappointing news. Any thoughts as to how this happened? … Well, I know you’ll keep trying to get me in front of them. Thank you for calling.”
  • Him (only the fragments I retained): “We will keep trying… This happens… patience… It will happen … stay positive … talk soon.”

After hanging up I looked down at my sad little half-eaten victory meal… then to Sandra Bullock’s frozen face on the screen where I had paused her… and back to my once-lovely slices again. At first I had no desire to finish eating it. I mean, it tasted great and I still wanted it. But somehow it felt wrong to eat it.

A few tears and an encouraging, sympathetic pep talk from my sweetie later I slowly picked up the remains of what was once my celebratory victory pizza and decided it WAS still worthy of consumption. But it’s purpose had changed. It had become comfort food.

Now the coupon is gone. It is—without a doubt—squished into a tiny, yellow and red paper ball, covered with half-eaten slices, greasy napkins and used plastic utensils… and sitting at the bottom of Romeo’s dumpster. Right next to my overly-inflated ego.