I’m Going to California

When I Come Back I’ll Be Tired

I’m going to California
When I come back, we’ll be married
What do you want me to bring you?
She answered:
A hat with a crooked crown,
A pair of high-heeled shoes…

Those are the opening lines to Kaleponi Hula by Bina Mossman, one of the great hula writers of the early 20th century, words which were forever imprinted into my memory by my junior high school gym teacher, Miss Karp, many years ago.

For reasons unknown to me and I am sure unknown to the dozens of other half-formed girls clad in white bloomers more befitting the 1930s, right down to the names we were forced to embroider over the breast pockets, we were required to learn this hula down to the last hand gesture in the confines of the basement gymnasium of Grover Cleveland Junior High School in Caldwell, N.J. To achieve the proper island spirit, we removed our regulation footwear and performed in our regulation athletic socks. The effect was dramatic, I am sure. I do not recall the Board of Education supplying grass skirts.

I do have a point, and I will get to it, but I intend to make you suffer through my story first.

Once we had sashayed through the hula for a few weeks, rather than moving on to basketball (which in those days was restricted to three dribbles before we were forced to pass the ball, and no crossing the center line—really!) we switched over to a unit on square dancing, all of which I have forgotten, except for one horrible day where we practiced a gigantic round of galloping around the gym with a partner, linked arm-in-arm in some sort of two-step pattern. I don’t recall who my partner was, but let’s call her Barbara, mostly because I had a very nice friend named Barbara who very well could be reading this, and why not bring a slight blush to her cheeks right now.

In this gymnasium there was some sort of semi-permanent metal contraption for doing chin-ups attached to the floor smack-dab at 90 degrees along one of the side walls, which they probably removed for the boys’ basketball games, but not for the silly girls’ gym classes, and we had to gallop/square dance around it at full speed in a long column. Miss Karp carefully blasted her whistle at us full throttle every time before we started to remind us about it, but once you got galloping and thumping, caution was thrown to the wind and I just plumb forgot about those guy wires holding up the contraption and cracked into it, spilling Barbara and me to the floor in a rather artless way, causing many full-throttled whistles and a large pile-up behind us. If the light is just right, I can still find the scar on my shin from the incident, and I believe I had “an excuse” from gym class for three days because of it.

Grover Cleveland Junior High School still stands in Caldwell, N.J., renamed today Grover Cleveland Middle School, its third name. It started out as Grover Cleveland High School, three-quarters of a mile from where the former president was born.

I’ve always been amused that I studied more about the hula than I did Grover Cleveland when I was in junior high, and that’s why I can recite those opening lines to Kaleponi Hula, while CF, who was born in Hawaii and graduated from high school in Hawaii, has never heard of it. (In her defense, she didn’t live there very much in between those two events.)

But the words came crashing back to me—and congratulations, you’ve read far enough to reach my point—because I’m going to California, and when I come back, I’ll be tired. (I’m already married.)

My whole family is going to California because (cue trumpets) (gee, we had snare drum and cymbals not too long ago. what’s going on?) (anyway, cue trumpets) NF’s baseball team WON THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP!!!! Yes, they are the BEST 13-year-old Pony baseball team in Washington state! The way Pony Baseball works is you compete locally, then at district, regional, zone, and national levels. So his team has worked its way through local, district, and regional (undefeated!) levels, Washington being its own region. Thirteen western states make up the western zone, based in California. So it’s off to California for the Western Zone Championship starting July 21, with Washington vs. Hawaii, of all states, in Game #1 at 9 AM.

Pony BaseballHe is very excited, as you might imagine, because not only does he get to play baseball in a very cool way, he gets to go to California with a dozen of his best friends AND stay in a hotel WITH a pool AND get room service AND ignore his parents AND spend all of his money AND go to a major league ball game AND go to Disneyland where he knows his parents will never take him AND buy crappy food from vending machines AND tell the chaperones that we allow him to drink all the caffeine soda he wants AND generally have a great time. Without us. As he should.

CF and I, on the other hand, will find the cheapest flights we can, the cheapest hotel we can, the cheapest meals we can. Not from vending machines. We want NF to know that we are in the stands cheering for him, but we are spending all the dollars on him, not on us.

And that’s just fine. No matter how fancy or plain the hotel, no matter how quick or slow the trip, no matter how long we linger here or there, when we come back, I’ll be tired. Fact o’ life. Anytime I step out of my usual routine, I end up tired beyond belief.

I know I’ve written about this before, and you are probably, well, tired of hearing about it. But you are going to have to read another version of metaphors. Or you can quit here.

Here goes: Your plane leaves in 10 minutes. You’re at the bottom of a long, crowded escalator with a heavy suitcase, wearing a winter coat. It’s a “down” escalator. You need to go “up.” There’s no “up” escalator in sight. No staircase, no elevator, either. You have no choice except to plow into the people on the “down” escalator and fight your way to the top. Did I mention the pulsing lights and the Caroline Karp/Bina Mossman arrangement of Hawaiian favorite melodies playing on the loudspeaker system?

This is what the fatigue is like. It is without a doubt the worst part of this whole stroke/M.S. afterlife. But if you get to watch your son win a state championship, it’s worth it.

And this has been one long blog entry mostly about nothing to do with strokes or M.S. or anything but my old gym experiences and NF’s baseball experiences but we’ll get back to normalcy next week or thereabouts and I thank you for your indulgence this week. As you might imagine it has been a bit fuddling around here, what with winning a state championship and Peggy going home and everything.

P.S. Any of my junior high classmates are encouraged to join me in dancing the hula at 9 A.M. Pacific time to urge on NF’s team. He will be properly mortified.

Grover Cleveland Junior High School

Grover Cleveland Junior High School


Got A Headache On My Mind

There was a time a number of years ago when I got a headache once or twice a week. It drove me nuts. The same throbbing headache, pounding away across the front of my head. I couldn’t figure out what was causing them. Then one night it dawned on me: spaghetti sauce. Yup, that was it. It was the spaghetti sauce I was using. I haven’t had one of those headaches since.

Now, whenever my family has pasta for dinner, we each have our own sort of sauce. NF is still partial to my old sauce, CF has her own weird stuff, and I’ve switched over to pesto, eschewing anything tomato-based entirely.

Which means that by and large the only headaches I’ve had ever since have been migraines. They’ve been the classic kind: the spooky aura of rippling lights, as if The Twilight Zone was descending on you, followed all too soon by every hair on one side of my head developing a very sharp barb on its submerged end, trying to rip itself free of my scalp. Not to be outdone, one eye decides it’s time to swap places with its unwilling neighbor, which sets off a rather nasty tug of war. And of course, there are those three little aptly named bones in my ear, the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, one of which is pounding the other while the third goads them on.

Migraine medication is great, but you can’t take it until you know you’re about to get a headache, so there’s always that breathless period between the aura and the medication kick-in when you tip-toe around terrified you’re about to get very snarly.

If you haven’t had a migraine, you might find it hard to imagine what this is like. Well, imagine a nail gun positioned next to your head, ready to bang away at your brain five times a second unless you stop breathing. Yeah, that’s about it.

Since I had the seizures last August, I have not been able to take migraine medication because of drug interactions. I’ve had to rely on Vicodin instead. With Vicodin, the idea is to swallow it quickly, run to a dark bedroom, shut your eyes and try to fall asleep right away. Oh, wait, that’s what you’re supposed to do with any migraine medication. What’s the difference?

Oh, yeah, Vicodin makes you sleepy. Cool. I’m ahead of the game! But does it cure migraines? Nope. Not for me.

At least it didn’t cure these headaches. That’s because they weren’t migraines.

I’d managed to convince myself they were migraines, even though I hadn’t seen the aura or gotten nauseated, because they were classically one-sided and my eye throbbed, and anyway they were the only kind of headache I’d gotten for years. I’d managed to just disregard the whole seizure thing entirely.

Fortunately my neurologist is smarter than I am. And wonderful. She recognized that the solution to the headaches was to ante up the anti-seizure medication.

So far, so good. I really do not like taking all this medication, believe me. But if you ask me to choose between taking anti-seizure headache-curing Topimax and sleep-inducing yummy-making Vicodin, I will gamely choose Topimax.

But if you ask me to choose between no medication and chancing more seizures and/or stroke, I will swallow as many pills as you want. No way, no how, no never am I going back there.


Pow! Right in the Kisser!

Sometimes finding an idea for this blog takes a while. Sometimes it comes up and smacks me in the head.

This one smacked me in the head.

Nevertheless, I hesitated to write about it, because I don’t want you to think I want you to feel sorry for me. “Oh, poor Chris, so brain-damaged.” Ick.

I decided to write about it because it gives me an opportunity to show you how ridiculous brain damage can be. What a waste of time it can be. How it can sneak into the most treasured parts of your life and trip you up. How it can do the same to the most trivial parts of your life. How nothing is safe, and everything is up for grabs.

Tuesday was our 30th anniversary, CF and me. We had talked quite a bit about how we wanted to celebrate, and finally decided on a quiet dinner later in the summer when our son is away visiting relatives. We were married in Canada on our 25th anniversary and threw ourselves a party then, but otherwise we don’t tend to call much attention to the day, and we have never exchanged presents. It just isn’t our style.

But in all that talking about how we would celebrate, just the two of us, in all of the reminiscing that we did in the days leading up to the anniversary itself, I forgot to prepare for the one very small thing that we have always, always done: exchange cards.

And so on Tuesday morning, there on the table was a card for me, along with a dozen gorgeous irises. I took one look at them and burst into tears.

It’s as if my brain had called for a drum roll, and the snare drummer had been dutifully drumming a single paradiddle waiting for me to enter, when CYMBAL CRASH! I spot the cards and my memory of how we celebrate our anniversaries comes flooding back.

I have a drawer full of anniversary cards from CF, carefully saved over the years, little reminders of our (almost mostly) happy times, timecards of where we have been, postcards from the past. I can look through them whenever I want, reread the words CF felt were most important five or ten or twenty years ago whenever I want. How could I have forgotten that?

But brain damage goes where it wants. It finds an opening and slips right in to any crack, any fissure. It hides behind the electrical impulses our brain depends on to operate, and then pounces all at once. It destroys some parts so they never return; it interferes with others just enough to frustrate our lives.

With enough of a push, I got back my memory about exchanging cards on our anniversary. I indulged myself in a good, pity-me cry in the bedroom, got my car keys and went out to the store and found the perfect card. CF did not hold it against me. (In fact, she felt terrible for making me cry.) I have retrieved that memory, for many years to come, I hope.

But I don’t anticipate getting back my memory of how to program computers or do much math. That, I suspect, is gone for good. Those are procedural memories, much more complex, involving multiple components, multiple areas of abstract reasoning. Recalling real memories is much simpler.

The real memories are still there, sitting quietly in their little axons, waiting for us to find them via a new route, one that the brain damage hasn’t ripped apart.

I’m fortunate that I still have lots of axons left intact. I remember my first date with CF (we went to Grendel’s Den in Harvard Square for dinner; she had an omelet, I had a club sandwich). I remember our unprecedented string of terrible vacations (Ant Lodge, Spider Lodge, Arctic Blast Lodge, you get the idea).

I remember the birth of our son. I remember the frantic drive from Maine to Virginia, including a desperate stop in Nyack, N.Y., at the Toyota dealership for a ring of some sort to hold the exhaust system in place after we nearly lost it on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Because of this side trip, we missed NF’s birth by half an hour, but at least we arrived quietly. We still have that car, and it still has that ring. And we still have that son.

Speaking of which, NF’s birthday is next week. I’d better double-check with CF to make certain I haven’t forgotten anything about that celebration, but I think I’m all set. CF’s birthday is in September, and I am already planning ahead. Last year, I was still in the hospital on her birthday. Her sister Peggy was able to find the present I had for her hidden in my office, but I think really CF was just happy I was conscious enough to tell her where it was.