An Excerpt from a Work in Progress
A combination of factors is more often than not the cause. Winter has brought us an unusually high number of snowy days and the landscape is white, white, white. (Except for the dark trunks and foliage of the ponderosas.) Wyoming can boast, on average, 300 days of bright sunshine. I call our home a rabbit warren for its long shape and mostly low ceilings. Even above ground, it can be dim—a good thing, when a migraine aura begins. Blinding spangles of light announce the oncoming headache. If I take two ibuprofens at the onset, the vision distortion will abate in about twenty minutes and the headache reduced to only an annoyingly dull ache instead of pounding pain.
If, upon awakening, I glance out the window out of simple habit, as I did this morning, I may feel the migraine begin almost instantly. It is most likely the glare off the snow if it’s a sunny day, or a drop in barometric pressure, or the glass of red wine I drank the night before, or the piece of dark chocolate, or my having stared at a computer screen. Or, all of the above. In the last week I counted four attacks (not too strong a word). I can and do restrict my wine, chocolate and aged cheese (proven triggers), but snow and Wyoming’s sunshiny clime require the wearing of sunglasses indoors (and definitely outdoors) or the drawing of drapes à la, oh, Miss Havesham in Great Expectations. I prefer the rabbit warren analogy. Besides, we have them living under the back porch all winter and no eccentrics. (I hear a distinct clearing of the throat.)
We take the bad with the good in winter.
I lie down on the sofa, close my eyes and wait for the spangles to disappear. Rest, my body says. Plants in the south windows will forfeit a full dose of sunlight for a while. Dosage and frequency—the magic formula to be puzzled out by trial and error, in all things. The utter quiet where we live is a gift I take for granted. If we lived on a busy downtown street, the constant noise might interfere with healing. Earplugs, I hear. Still. . .
One day, at work as a carpenter’s helper in Douglas, Wyoming, I was standing on a rooftop when a headache struck. A disconcerting feeling—unable to judge (or see) the distance to the edge of what you are roofing. Stupidly, I believed my being female (and in need of the job) prevented any complaint. So I managed, but only just. I was able to sit to position my shingles and pound my stubby nails.
This was in 1977. I earned $5.00 an hour and never wondered, or asked, how much the young man hired after me earned, doing the same jobs as I. But I liked his name, Rufus, and saved it for one of my literary characters. Character-building, I’ve named the often freezing experience, my building houses from November until April, until I discovered I was pregnant with our daughter, at which point I left. Painting interiors, et cetera, was contraindicated in my condition.
And yes, there was sexual harassment on the job, but I ignored it. If I’d been a housekeeper in the South, I might have spit into their iced lemonade for the opportunity of satisfaction. But when working alongside someone on a roof, or on a scaffold, you look out for the other. There is no room for spite. I settled for thinking of (some of) them as idiots (a kind of curse, I suppose), and released my personal opinion on the icy Wyoming wind.
The list of jobs I held after graduating from the University with a bachelor’s degree in French reads like Jill-of-all-trades, mistress-of-none. I have worked as a housekeeper—“But miss, you are overqualified!” exclaimed the Holiday Inn supervisor in her German accent. Newly married, my husband and I needed the income. The fräulein didn’t want to hire me, suspecting I’d leave before long, and she was correct. I respect housekeepers. It is tedious work and underpaid. Tip them, or at the very least, do not be a slob.
For a time, I proof read for a geology professor and enjoyed this work. When we moved to Lusk, a small ranching community in southeast Wyoming where Jeff student-taught for six weeks, I found a job, performing on Friday and Saturday nights in Torrington, an hour away. I entertained in one of my “singing dresses,” as I called my collection of long folksy garments. This earned us grocery money, with the additional benefit of keeping me in practice and voice.
I have worked as a teacher’s aide, a substitute, a GED tester and a French teacher; I have sung for weddings and funerals, clerked, and waitressed—as a “singing” one too. I was hired to rewrite a natural history association’s rock climbing manual; I gave English riding lessons and guitar lessons. I have sold essays, published a collection and worked as an editor for my father’s posthumous aviation memoir (no longer in print). A return to school in ’85-’86 earned me a teaching certificate that became an “insurance policy,” there being no French program in Crook County, where we moved when Jeff accepted the job as principal, and later as superintendent.
In other words, I have stayed busy over the years. Housewifery and motherhood, more than default, were early enthusiasms. A latent one, writing, to the exclusion of almost all else, prepares me for the next thing and I take the good with the bad.
When I can lie down and simply allow a migraine to pass, it is good.