I know the storm is coming because our old dog, Fortinbras (named for the dog in my favorite childhood book, A Wrinkle in Time, and not directly after the Shakespeare character) is whimpering and pawing at me.
At his insistence, I wake up, and immediately I’m assaulted by a splitting headache and beg my husband to make it stop. “My head is going to explode, I say.” But the storm is already in full force – it crept up on us while we were sleeping. “Or implode,” I correct, because what I feel is immense pressure, as if someone is trying to crush me from above.
“Take your meds,” he says gently.
“They make me into a zombie,” I complain.
“Better zombie-wife than screaming-in-pain wife,” he counters. “Take. Your. Meds.”
I roll my eyes at him, but I sit up in the bed and twist, so I can reach the bottle of blue pills on the shelf of the headboard. They’re uncoated. They’re bitter. I hate the taste, the texture, the size. But I shake two of them into the palm of my hand and reach for the glass of lemon-water on my nightstand. It must be lemon water. Plain water makes me puke.
I screw my face into a horrible expression, but I swallow the pills.
Then I wait.
Outside our bedroom window, lightning sizzles and I can taste ozone. “That was close,” I observe.
“It’ll move away soon,” he says.
“Yeah.” The thunder rumbles, and I imagine it, embodied, as several cranky old men – traveling salesmen from the sixties – knocking on the door. “Sorry sirs,” I address the sound. “We’re not interested in vacuums or blenders today. Maybe next year. Or never.”
“You’re doing it again,” my husband says. He’s sitting up in bed now, too. “Talking to the thunder.”
“It’s trying to sell us stuff we don’t need,” I explain.
“O-kay.” His tone is half-way between merely dubious and maybe-my-wife-should-be-committed, but he puts his arm around me anyway.
“How long has it been?” I ask.
He has an almost supernatural sense of time. He doesn’t even have to look at his phone to tell me, “Ten minutes.”
The pills take thirty to work. I rest my head against his shoulder, let my right hand fall to his thigh. I reach across my body with my left hand and place it over his heart. The steady beat, the darkened bedroom, his arm around me… these things ground me.
When the lightning flashes again, it’s less bright, further away.
“How long?” I ask again.
I close my eyes and count to sixty once, twice, three, four, five times. And then I feel it: the bubble inside my head pops and the pain and tension are gone.
The thunder makes another attempt at rumbling, but it’s barely a murmur.
As the storm abates, so does my ability to be awake or lucid. I slide back into the bed, and turn on scoot backwards, into my husband’s embrace. “Sit in your chair,” he says, meaning that I’m supposed to nest myself within the curve of his arms and bend of his legs. “Sleep. I’ll keep you safe.”
But what he really means is, that he’ll keep the animals safe, because while the pills soothe my aching head and send the storms away, the zombie part isn’t entirely an exaggeration. The last time this happened, I ate the neighbor’s cat when it jumped our fence.
I was picking calico fur out of my teeth for days.
“Remember when I used to love storms?” I ask softly. “Remember when they happened because of normal climate patterns, and not because my brain is wonky?”
“You’re obsessing,” he says. “Clear your mind. Go to sleep.”
And I do, but my dreams are nightmare memories of the dengue fever I caught after our summer planting trees in Costa Rica. The doctors and chemists and virologists and entomologists had no idea what I’d eaten, what had bitten me. They only knew that when the fever left me, I’d been altered.
The symptoms developed slowly: the nausea-inducing migraines, the storms that always seemed to come whenever my head hurt, the craving for hot animal flesh and blood when the medication that stopped the pain and storms finally took hold.
Other people talked about their migraine medication as making them into zombies… but for me, it wasn’t an exaggeration. It was a harsh reality.