Wednesday, July 23, 2008

memories, migraines, and dead meat in your bed

One of the memories I have of my Gramma is of her sitting on the "Davenport" -feet apart, elbows on her knees, bent over leaning in to listen to Vince Sculley on the radio or on t.v. as he commented on the Dodgers. "Hot Damn!" she would exclaim as she slapped her knee when she saw or heard a great play by "one of the boys." Listening to the play by play meant it was time to clean something special. She had a chrome cigarette lighter that resembled the Chrysler Building, or maybe the Empire State Building, I don't know, I was 4, at the time it's what I thought they might look like.

The lighter was heavy for it's size, about 4 inches tall, rectangular, and at the base 3 or 4 'steps', the tall mid section and then, again 3 or 4 more 'steps' to meet the cap that had spring loaded hinges that snapped open and closed. Inside was the magical little wheel that she would spin with her thumb, a tiny mechanism with grooves around its' edge for friction, spin it just right and it would ignite the same flame, blue and yellow, that was on the tin of Ronsonol.

I would watch as she would load the minuscule tabs of red flint into the cartridge and soak the felted lining with bright chemical smelling lighter fluid. Anyone who touched it would leave dull gray fingerprints smudged on the shiny chrome. Gramma would methodically and almost ritualistically wipe the chrome down with fresh Kleenex as she listened to Vince talk the Dodgers into a victory.

She would stop to smoke, and I can remember how she would blow the smoke high into the air through her wrinkled and pursed lips. The smoke would shoot almost straight up, then begin to curl and dissipate, the gray soft curls of her hair a faint reminder of the 'magic' she just blew away.

Grampa also smoked, a cigar on occasion, but more often a pipe filled with cherry tobacco. He too would clean the pipe while listening to "the game". Multi coloured pipe cleaners would be pulled from their clear plastic bag one by one and carefully twisted through the stem hole. Not the thick chenille stems people call "pipe cleaners", but the actual pipe cleaners. The bowl would be tapped and the unburned contents removed. It would be cleaned before repacking it with more tobacco, fresh from a large round tin with a deep red label and large white lettering. He also, would use a fresh Kleenex to polish the deep burgundy coloured wood on the outside of the bowl until it shined. Packed and readied, he would carefully light the interior and blow large thick puffs of 'cherry scented' smoke balls into the small apartment. It took me several decades to realize the scent of their home was actually that of Lysol, LifeBouy soap, and stale tobacco, seeped and almost steamed into their immaculate furnishings.

Mom and dad also smoked. I am not sure of the habit count, was it a pack a day or more or less? All I know is that when mom decided to quit it seemed to happen without incident or remorse, although it was then that she gained her weight; weight that would never come off. Dad was another case. His habit drug on (literally) for years. He would try to quit. Claim to have quit, only to be discovered at work during a surprise visit or to have the claw of dependence dig into him during times of stress or crisis. It was years before any of us truly believed he had kicked his habit. I can remember the cigarette breath and now when I smell it on a stranger there is a familiarity to it as to almost make them an immediate acquaintance. The smell of smoke drenched clothing sends me to home closets and the smell of Aquanet and cigarettes makes me think of mom's Beehive hairdo dotted with spring daisies and carefully wrapped each night in toilet paper to keep it looking nice.

High school would not have been complete without the smoke in the girls' room or the "smoke" out in the field. But by the time I was in high school there were already rumors and those trying to convince the public about the dangers of smoking.

Seeing the trouble my family had when trying to quit I decided to never start. I had plenty of bad habits to keep me going a lifetime, I didn't need this one. As the years went by I found myself, as most adults do, surrounded by people I chose to be with rather than forced to be with. That group of associates was sans smokers. There are still a few smokers in the family, however even they prefer to smoke alone and away from the group. I am just not that exposed to smoke anymore.

Several years ago I realized that I -somewhere over the years- developed a keen and nasty allergic reaction to smoke, any smoke. My sensitivity in regard to smoke is like Spiderman's "Spidey-sense" or perhaps Obi Wan's connection to the force. I can tell if someone is smoking in a car two cars ahead or in the lane "over there" before we have physical proof. I smell it in malls or parks or at the beach when most people are not aware of it. And smelling most smoke gives me an immediate migraine headache complete with nausea and vomiting. Burning tobacco products, pot, or (real) weeds or wild land fire smoke will induce immediate throbbing in my (usually left) temple. The pounding, if left untreated will radiate down into my eye and then into my stomach where it violently tries to exit my body via my stomach and throat.

The only solution is to (within 5 minutes, seriously) of smelling the smoke, ingest 2 Excedrin with a large glass of (as cold as I can get it) milk. The milk is really just there to stave off the eminent nausea on an empty tummy. If it goes any longer than the five minutes I can count on trouble.

This morning (now yesterday...I wrote this about 11:30 at night) I woke up to someone in the neighborhood burning their weeds, which kicked a headache into gear. I was asleep at the time so I missed the window of opportunity to stop the sledgehammer of doom from cracking open my cranium. It was the throbbing in my eye that initially woke me and I knew I was going to have a bad morning as soon as I stood up. The room began to pitch and swirl, the light from the morning sun began to poke me in the eye like a dull finger intent on touching the back of my skull via my orbital socket, and I had an immediate urge to sacrifice to the porcelain gods.

The dry heaving began before I could reach the bathroom, and once there I began the gag inducing reflex exercises that rival a morning workout with Jillian Michaels.

I decided to head to the kitchen for a glass of milk and then remembered that I had run out the night before. (Lesson learned: Listen to the Little Voice when it tells you to go to the store now, not later.) I got dressed and put my head into the shower. Two reasons: One, because ever since cutting it short I have amazing bed head in the morning, but I'm not brave enough for my 15 minutes of fame -even with a migraine; and Two; Cold water would help alleviate some of the pain until I could get some meds in me. I made my way to the local store and grabbed a carton. Obviously, I didn't learn my lesson and again ignored that Little Voice when it told me to grab a bag of frozen peas while I was there. I get home, down two Excedrin and a couple of swallows of luke warm milk. It makes me gag and I think I need to get my head on a pillow and into a dark room pronto. I go to the freezer to get the last of the required ingredients to save me from tearing my head off in search of relief when I notice I am out of frozen peas.

Frozen peas. The saviour of gray matter during these times, frozen peas, are not to be found. I can't take it anymore, I run to the sink and gag a few more times, and turn to grab anything frozen in there. Walk to the drawer that houses tea towels, wrap a rock hard slab of ground beef and press it to my forehead and eye as I make my way down the hall and into the bedroom. I get undressed, because even though I am sick I still need to be undressed to lay in bed, it's weird, but yeah. I also know that I am going to need to be under the covers, so I turn the fan on, knowing I will burst into flames without it and tuck my head under a pillow, adjusting it just so. I need enough room as to not feel my own hot breath and enough coverage to block out any light. Freezing my eye into a solid dull aching orb and feeling the icy brick against my head I fall into a fretful, yet grateful-to-have-it sleep.

All this, because of smoke.

Why the photo of the green spiky ball? 'Cause I didn't have any other picture to grab your attention.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I am off in search of the towel wrapped piece of (now thawed and warmed) beef, I have forgotten until now, that is buried somewhere in my bed. I sense another gag coming.

add to sk*rt


chronicler said...

I can still see the lighter in my minds eye. Polish away she did! What is more intense than the pictorial memories is the smell of the lid of that lighter. It was an interesting smell of lit flame, burned ronsonol, and metal. I'll never forget that smell.

You make smoking around our home sound way more glamorous than I ever found it. I decided as a wee five year old that my breath would never smell like my mothers, and even at that young age I knew it was from cigarettes. blech! gross! eweeee! Then when you talked about dad smoking, I thought it was interesting because I don't remember dad smoking. Then it fell into place. You were talking about a different dad. Oh childhood was fun.

S'mee said...

Chronicler, you're right, in my little toddler mind it was magic and celebrity and all the people I loved partook! I wanted to belong more than anything as a kid, so giving up this "get into the club free" card was a difficult choice. The "dad" in the post would be the same one who crawled across the floor begging your forgiveness; but I can understand how one dad gets mixed with the other(s).

It's weird, that smell of the lighter is right there, right now, as if I were holding it to my nose.

maren said...

Having heard snippits about your dad in the past, I too wondered what dad you were talking about.

I love that little voice in my head and wonder why it takes so many experiences of NOT listening to it before I learn.

S'mee said...

ah, Maren. Yup the whole "How many dads *did* you have?" thing! hehe. And yup, I'm such a dope when clearly that "Little Voice" wasn't whispering at me either time, it was talking quite loudly and I chose to ignore it. ugh. My own worst enemy at times!

SalGal said...

I keep a 3 month supply of narcotics on hand for just such an occasion! Although, thankfully, my migraines never progress past the throbbing nightmare that starts in the eye socket and wheedles its way down the back side of the ear and neck.