TRIGGER warning. Do not read if you’re sensitive to descriptions of pain. That said, I was sitting at work earlier; at lunch…eyes downcast and peeling thready white pith from tangerine segments (my hands will be citrus-smelling all day-lovely!:)My view: a carpet (this one’s taupe) which has the type of pile (the kind of plush style where the fibers are the same height) that shows traffic patterns, and vacuum lines.
Visually taking in the carpet indentations, I was of a sudden recollecting in precise detail, my first migraine. Of all things, because there is a vacuum associated with that memory.
I was always having ear aches as a kid and they followed me into adulthood too. I was born with a temperature of 104 as I’ve mentioned before- and a cracked eardrum too (I would burst my eardrum at least a half dozen times throughout my life, endure some hearing loss and eventually have an implant). I think my birth mother had a high temperature too -a sickness in the last few weeks of her pregnancy which she passed to me in the womb.
My earliest memories of my mother (The one who raised me, I was adopted at three days old) are of her warming towels over the oven door to place against my raging defiant ears. I knew pain early from the ear pains but the migraine at five years old initiated me into a pain club I’d rather not belong to, thank you. Funny how I know people who rarely suffer even a slight headache —never mind migraine force pain. My father is like that. Never has headache. Lucky him. I have high pain tolerance except when it’s in my head and then I go into myself and silently endure until the blanket of pain lifts.
I’ve said before, I lived in a hoarding home. My parents would save green stamps, as everyone did and I’d lap them, pushing aside a tower of clutter, quite masterfully -to allow me a small area of clear table space to happily press the green stamps into booklets to be spent on merchandise at
“the green stamp store.”
Sperry & Hutchinson designed this program in 1896 to encourage customer loyalty. Supermarkets, boutiques, and gas stations would give them out after a purchase.
Well, I’d seen the kid’s vacuum at the green stamp store. Pity it was pink-such an unnatural, such an ugly color- but boy did I want it! I began saving their stamps in earnest when my parents succumbed to my beggary and said I could have the vacuum. I am sure I must’ve jumped up and down in unbridled joy at the mere thought of owning such a great toy which was really not a toy but kind of a grown up and useful item!
Finally the day came. For many weeks, I’d affixed pages and pages of S&H stamps into the booklets, truly it seemed like 100s of stamps and probably was. The little plastic vacuum, just my size, was actually a “carpet sweeper,” my mother said, which meant it really worked and was probably offered at some odd number, like 1,438 stamps.
It was on display at the store on a carpeted shelf… This I knew. For months it swam before my eyes. I see it still. On Grey carpet to be exact. Nubby commercial grade grey carpet with black speckles was where it was parked on a shelf up high so I craned my neck up to see it in all its glory.
I had built up this trip to the green stamp store in my head. If I possessed the vacuum, you see, our house would no longer be “messy.” I’d fix it all.
It was not so long ago before the
that we’d had my mother’s twenty-something niece come for a visit…
She resembled my mother in appearance: blond, cheeky, a grin with squinty eyes that crinkled in sync with easy laughs, unlike me. I wouldn’t know I was adopted until I was an old woman of twelve. I recall that my mother produced a saucer of red pistachio nuts to serve with their coffee.
All was going well. Our guest was exchanging funny stories with my mother, cracking open nuts, popping them in her mouth,
and then the worms!
She sort of squealed. Her chair screeched backward on the linoleum and I watched her stand up; hands waving, spitting. I’m glad she managed to laugh. Afterwards. She was a very nice person.
Underneath the nuts, we could see what I now suppose was wormy larva of the indianmeal moth, squirming to and fro. And such as it is in a hoarding house. Surprises abounded. My vacuum would ‘help out’ and make all the nasty little (surprises) things go neatly away. Because we kept everything, there didn’t seem to be an ‘away’ but I wanted to try.
So I got into the backseat of the car that day, my five year old self. I remember that in the backseat, alongside of my window, were the letters LTD. It was about a 1/2 hour trip to the store and it was a swelteringly hot day. My horse mane black hair was “secured” back from my face (as well as it could be; it still defies gravity to this day and often still daily resists arrest) in a band with glass balls on it.
An interminable time later, I felt the car crunch into the gravel lot of the store at last. “We’re here!” Called my father. The store pictured here is an old one from Florida I found online-I’m sure the Connecticut store must’ve looked similar.
“Earache?” Asked my mother tensely- she was suddenly reaching across me- the smell of her nicotine and bath soap cloying, and the back of her hand, it was always the back of it, was feeling my forehead.
It was not an earache.
“I cannot go in,” I mumbled and to me my voice was booming. Indeed every sense was reverberating too loudly as if echoing out of a snare drum or blooting out of a tuba.
My head was a bruised fruit.
They were confused because I had wanted this trip so earnestly!
We turned the LTD around and went home; postponing the vacuum purchase.
I would get my vacuum on another day.
It did not make the hoarding go ‘away.’
-and truth be told every time I saw its gaudy pinkness standing rigid like a broken promise amongst the possessions (we had so much more STUFF than anyone I knew) I forever associated the blameless vacuum/carpet sweeper/toy with the sledgehammer of migraine. The brain is like that with its sorting of association to association like some intricate and undependable filing system.
That day in the car I’d went into a fugue state so quickly that it surprised me in retrospect-although I did not have a name for fugue then. The foggy-headedness, the glare of the too-bright sun, the sudden queasy stomach and blinding ice pick behind my eye rendered me immobile. A soul forced into hiding deep in the body’s recesses without thought, enduring thuds, hiding from stampedes of heavy animals leaving hoof indents in a muddy cerebellum, indentations that seemed to fill with blood. Riding it out, willing it to go away. Incidentally, the blood filled hoof prints across the brain are a description of migraine I picked up in a book somewhere-Stephen King I believe.
I’ve come to terms with migraine now as it’s happened to me at least a 100 times since. But sometimes I see a vacuum and my neural pathway zips unbidden; over to its migraine association. Because that was the first one and the first anything leaves an indentation, a distinct impression in the plush piles of memory.
In this ‘day and age,’ when parents are increasingly naming their babies after Instagram filters (I’m not kidding: the names Valencia, Juno, Reyes, Ludwig, Amaro, and Willow soared in popularity in 2015) do kids know simple pleasures anymore?
Hours of Crazy 8 card games.
Riding down slopes on box flaps.
Playing jacks on the church steps.
Red light. Green light.
Playing housekeeping with sticks for brooms…
Riding invisible horses.
I used to play the actual game Twiddlywinks too!
I was watching the TV show Hoarders the other day and I’m always struck by how damaged the grown up children feel.
I just feel dam lucky. My own mother was a selfless, caring and loving woman, a bit frail health wise and somewhat easy to fluster, with a strong sense of family loyalty. She also had trouble making decisions, and of course throwing stuff ‘away.’ But there are people today who still say they miss her laugh. And I don’t feel damaged. By the looming piles of STUFF and the paths in between them. At least not damaged enough to complain. It was what it was.
Gosh, at one point we had 20 or so cats (yes I remember all their names and distinct personalities ) and four dogs…
I just scratched my nose and my skin is still delightfully tangerine scented. 👏🏻
May I ask a favor?🍀
At the symposium/book reading/signing/art show this Saturday, Elizabeth is setting up an armchair and lamp onstage for my reading for that homey comfort feel.
Please won’t you think of me at approximately 2:30? On Saturday? Close your eyes if you’ve the time and imagine
good luck best wishes calm energies
fizzing out your third eye where the forehead is -like a laser beam- and aim the thoughts towards Cambridge straight at me. Thanks in advance!
as they say. I just got this in the mail. Aaah… the puzzle paintings I’ll create now!