Saturday, November 22, 2008


She'd been having a lot of headaches the past few months. At first, they were pounding headaches at her temples and the base of her neck. Supposedly, tension headaches that are typical of menopause (oh yay!). The kind of headaches where it hurts to put on a hat, or earmuffs in the cold, or pull your hair back into a ponytail, or lay your head on the arm of the sofa. But the last few weeks they've been what she called empty-headed headaches. Like the feeling your brain gets when you've pulled an all-nighter or been up for a couple of days.

She first got those headaches over 20 years ago, when she had viral encephalitis; it was the feeling of her brain swelling inside her skull, with nowhere for the swelling to go. After she recovered, she had a tendency to get the headaches when she was horrendously over-tired; with the headaches came severe nausea. The empty-headed headaches slowly stopped coming back, until she very rarely had them anymore. But now, she'd had them for about four weeks straight, with more bad days than good ones.

She stepped off the train Thursday night with just such a headache. A very cold, clear, crisp night; windy enough for the weather reports to mention a wind chill factor. It was almost 10, and she didn't make it home earlier than 9-ish any night that week. But that night, it was cold enough that as she stepped off the train, she was greeted with the distinctive smell of a wood fire. The smoke, likely from the fireplace of someone keeping warm, carried through the village on the breeze, and woke a memory in her.

You know how it is, when a smell reminds you of something...something familiar...but you can't quite place it. You think, and think, and eventually you pull that memory from the depths of the complex brain that stores all memories. Sometimes the memory is good, and sometimes...well, not so much. You live for the good ones, though.

The memory that night was right there, tugging at her consciousness, but just out of reach. She could tell it was a good memory -- no anxiety or fear bubbled up from within. Just a sense of calm, peace. But the actual memory wouldn't come forth with casual delving into her brain, no doubt due to the headache. At first, she tried digging deeper into the recesses of her mind, but it became apparent that the digging would have to be intense to bring this memory forth.

She would have to climb the steps to the attic of her mind, chop down the closet door, pry up the wooden floor slats, drag out the big old-fashioned trunk with the brass hinges, take a hammer to the lock, and rummage through the past to find that particular memory. Or into the office, and the file cabinet, with the drawers that open like the file cabinet on bruce almighty forcing him to the opposite wall as it opened, so stuffed full it was; she'd have to find the memory among all the other fluff in that drawer filling her brain.

But she just didn't have it in her tonight. Rifling through her brain like that with the headache she had would have been excruciating. All she wanted right now was about four ibuprofens and her pillow with the soft satin case. And a darkened room, with soft music -- preferably something classical. Perhaps a cup of cocoa.

So, she accepted the anonymous memory for what it was -- something lovely from her past, something that made her feel good. And all the way home, she breathed deeply in the cold night air, filling her lungs, her body, her brain, with the smell of wood smoke -- and a memory.

cats, memory (it seemed appropriate here)


trin said...

I know exactly what you mean. Exactly.

And I also know that there is little that makes me feel calmer than drawing deep breaths of cold, fresh air. Somehow cold air always seems more fresh to me.

Spring said...

Hey, trin...nice to see you!