I threw up again this morning.
This hasn’t happened in months, but the burn feels the same as it always does.
Last night’s sandwich spurts, then drips, out of me: a fire that runs on it’s own because my eyes are shut tight, shoving out the light.
Wish it was a hangover.
Or food poisoning.
The flu, something I could cure.
I was a senior in high school when headaches forced themselves into my daily life, when I woke up with a little bit of the night before’s food stuck to my lip because the pain secured its place again. Caused me to perish. Succumb. Stay in bed. Cry. Run to the bathroom. Vomit. Sit with my legs crossed and stretch my arms over my head. Close my eyes. Focus on the pounding. Let it create a symphony made of pain, one that played only in my ear drums.
I’d think of the the pain, feed it like an addiction.
It reminded me to feel.
Mom told me that when Dad was alive, he popped Advil like an addict. A desperate attempt to make his head stop throbbing. It didn’t work.
We were in the car when she said it. Trapped together. I turned the music down, closed my eyes and jammed the palms of my hands into my temples. Mom sighed. I put my hands down. My fingernails gorged the skin on my legs. Why didn’t she tell me this before? I felt the warmth of my blood as I tried to imagine I was somewhere else. With somebody different. Somebody who didn’t leave me crammed. Packed. Loaded and ready with questions that I couldn’t fire off.
“I’m sure nothing’s wrong,” she said. “But this makes me wonder if he should have been checked.”
“Checked for what?”
“His headaches made me nervous. But he never went to a doctor for them, was never looked at.”
Open-ended essays are no way to live, but I have to survive.
I add headaches to the slow-growing list of things I know about my dad.
He dunked his steaks in A1 sauce.
Loved when Mom made meatloaf, spaghetti, scalloped potatoes.
He ate green olives by first slurping the red insides then devouring the green ovals from the tips of his fingers, and he always fed some to his cat, Norm.
Played football in high school.
Joined the army when he was 18.
He came back at 22 and wore a white tuxedo to Mom’s senior prom, angry because he couldn’t order beer with his dinner.
Then he watched hockey.
Yelled at the TV.
Grew up to be jacketed in flannel shirts and work boots.
He was an iron worker.
I was two years old when he fell twenty-one feet.
Landed on his head.
Was lost in a coma for two days.
A head injury concluded his headaches.
As soon as Mom revealed that my dad experienced the sting—the spasms, the sharp strains of the mind—I welcomed the pain. In the morning. As I drifted into unconsciousness under the pressure of cold cloths draped over my forehead. I welcomed the pain as I fell asleep. It felt like a secret, a way of him telling me that he’s still here. With me. That there was a connection I needed to find. If his head hadn’t hurt, he wouldn’t have fallen. My new mantra. Finding out what was wrong with me would tell me why he was gone.
Doctor’s office. Migraine medication. Blood work. Chiropractor: the whack of joints popped. Acupuncture: tiny rivulets of blood partially hidden in my hair line but still seeping down my cheeks. MRI: The nurse warned Don’t move or it will all start over. I sat and accepted the drum, drum, drum of the machine. Scrutinized my heartbeat. Tried to restore it to a normal pace. Felt sweat droplets form on my lip and slide into my mouth. My wrist burned from the IV injection, a hole in my flesh that allowed dye to spread over my brain to assist abnormalities, let them show up. Afterwards, I squeezed this spot, fingered my bandage. Treasured my wound because it is tangible.
Mom was right. Nothing was wrong. Good news. But also bad. If there’s nothing wrong, there’s nothing that can be fixed. So my doctor pulled out his perception pad. These will help. Take one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Years before, I insisted on hunting through my house. I was in a constant search for something that would tell me who my dad was. I found his graduation cap and letters from old friends and girls that loved him. A pocket knife. A day planner. I was searching for something that would prove to my memory that he existed, that the phantom image I’d created had a muse.
I went to school high on painkillers and didn’t like the way colors popped out at me. The way I could feel the green of the chalkboards move through my blood. That night, while watching the yellow bottle of pills slip from my fingers to the trash, I began to accept that not everything has a simple answer.
Bad days still come, always come.
Can’t get out of bed.
Pain in the right side of my head.
And the left.
It propels itself as acid to the throat, forever rawness.
I wipe the spit that dangles on the tip of my chin.
Stare into the toilet.
Remember: I’m his daughter.
Sam Frost is a shy, scared, newbie writer that’s currently trying to survive the thrill of living in Los Angeles and sharing her words with other people. You can follow her awkward adventures on Twitter @sammfrostt