Migraine from Hell

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“It was nice.”

“Nice? What does that even mean?”

“It means it…it wasn’t bad.”

“Bailey? That doesn’t tell me anything. Did you have fun? Do you like this guy?”

“Well, it wasn’t not fun,” her sister said, not sure how to answer the question any better than that.

“Okay. Great! That was so much more helpful,” her older sibling said with a strong hint of sarcasm.

“Zoe? Can you just let me do this at my speed?”

“If I let you do that, you’ll be single for the rest of your life. And I’m not letting that happen.”

“You do know you don’t really get a vote in this, right?” her ‘baby sister’ said as politely as she could.

“Okay. I get it. You don’t want me butting in and that’s fine. I didn’t get dumped on my ass, so I can’t really understand how you feel, but if you want to spend the rest of your life without some special in it, that’s your business.”

Bailey Chandler was 41 years old and been single for nearly three years. Two of them as a divorced woman following a year of legal separation and a divorce. Her sister, Zoe, was 44 and a happily married woman with three wonderful children between the ages of 11 and 15 while Bailey was…alone.

After the initial shock of being told her husband didn’t love her anymore wore off, Bailey spent several months doing what she hadn’t done since she was in college many years before. She hooked up with a handful of men, all of whom were single and attractive.

It wasn’t that she was ‘that kind of girl’. It was more a sense of validation. She was 39 years old and needed to feel wanted, and most of all, to have men tell her she was still beautiful. And now, two years later, she believed she was still reasonably attractive, and yet she was lonelier than she’d ever been, to include those first months after her ex-husband moved out.

Bailey Chandler wasn’t cut out to sleep around, and yet finding someone she could fall in love with and give herself to completely seemed like…the impossible dream. And lately, she felt like the female version of Don Quixote, with men she found uninteresting or uninspiring, her windmills.

She’d tried again just last night with someone Zoe assured her was an amazing catch. And yet the best she could come up with to describe their dinner date was ‘nice’. ‘Meh’ was an even better word, but Zoe was already frustrated, so her sister let it go knowing her older sibling cared about her deeply.

Zoe Chandler-Miller was and always had been Bailey’s best friend. Even now, with a husband and three children, she made time for her sister and that included trying to set her up with decent, eligible bachelors.

Living in Alexandria, Virginia, meant there were tons of single men to choose from, and many of them had good jobs and earned decent money. But Bailey wasn’t interested in money. She wasn’t rich, but she had enough of it that it held no fascination to her at all. She was interested in love, and love was a very scarce commodity in her world these days.

“I’m sorry, Zo,” she said, shortening her sister’s name. “I’m not sure what else to say.”

“It’s okay. Honestly? I had such high hopes. Jim is such a nice guy. And you have to admit he’s a very nice looking man.”

“He is. On both counts.”

The fact that Bailey didn’t say anything more told Zoe everything she needed to know. Being ‘nice’ wasn’t good enough, and as much as she wanted her sister to be happy, she knew that settling for ‘nice’ was acceptable. She was fortunate to still be very much in love with the same man she’d married nearly 20 years ago, and that’s what she wanted for Bailey.

Zoe had often previously thought that’s what her sister had had, too, but after her ex-husband moved out, Bailey admitted things had never been all that great. Evidently, cheating was in his DNA, and it had began early on in their marriage. But it wasn’t until he had an affair with a much-younger woman he fell for that he finally informed his wife of nearly eight years that she wasn’t enough for him.

So while she tried not to push the issue too hard, Zoe hurt for her best friend, and she was willing to take some heat for caring too much.

“Okay. Then we’ll just keep trying, right?” Zoe said as cheerfully as she could.

“Right. We…will do that,” Bailey said with a little bit of an emphasis on ‘we’ to again remind her sister that this was something she had to do on her own.

Zoe sighed then said, “So…Molly’s birthday party. Is everything a ‘go’ with the cake?”

“Yes. I’m picking it up tomorrow around noon, and I’ll bring it straight to the house. Is there anything else I can do?” Bailey both said and asked.

“No. Other than showing up. It wouldn’t be much of a sweet-16 party without her favorite aunt in attendance.”

“I’m her only aunt,” Bailer reminded her older sister.

“Yes, but you’re still her favorite.”

Now it was Bailey who drew the deep breath before sighing audibly.

“So I’ll see you somewhere around one, okay?”

“You better,” Zoe told her ataşehir escort bayan with a laugh.

“You can count on it. I’m almost as excited about this as you and Molly are, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Thanks, Bails. Love you!”

“Love you, too, Zo-Bug!”

As she hung up the phone, Bailey sighed again as she got ready to get on the rowing machine for another hourlong workout. But just before she sat down to get started, she took a look at herself in the mirror and asked, “What’s the point?”

She turned left then right, and couldn’t see an ounce of fat anywhere. She moved closer to look for the first signs of those hideous wrinkles around the eyes, and yet even when she squinted, she couldn’t find any.

“It’s just a matter of time, though,” she told herself as she then took a closer look at her face.

It was still very pretty for a woman of 41. Her skin was taught and smooth, and she’d been blessed with high cheekbones and a pair of soft, full lips which surrounded a beautiful set of very white teeth. Her naturally blonde hair was back to shoulder length after having cut it to just below her ears a few months before the ‘big revelation’. Along with her very blue eyes, she knew she wasn’t bad—for a woman her age.

The truth was she was ‘hot’ for a woman her age, and very attractive for a woman of any age. But she was her own worst critic, and couldn’t see herself the way other men saw her. Instead, she’d internalized the way her ex-husband saw her, and that meant she had to be flawed. Deeply flawed. Were that not true he wouldn’t have felt the need to look elsewhere. Or so she often told herself.

She stepped away from the mirror—for now—and asked herself yet again, ‘if she couldn’t find someone she could love, what difference did it make how she looked’? So as she turned around to get started, she laughed when she thought about having two huge slices of cake with a double scoop of ice cream at her favorite niece’s birthday party. But once the completed the first few strokes of her session, the thought of doing that to herself made her shudder, and she began rowing like a wild woman; a wild woman who wasn’t wild at all. Rather, she was just another middle-aged woman who felt like she would never be in love again.

*****

“Okay, girl. You ready to go shopping?”

The yellow Labrador Retriever barked quietly, knowing her human wanted her to speak.

He slid out of the cab of his truck then turned around and said, “Come!” followed by, “Sit!”

He closed the door, turned to his left then said, “Heel!”

The dog walked on his left side without a leash as she’d been trained, and she also checked for cars both ways as they crossed a lane of traffic just before entering the store.

Giant was a well known grocery chain in the area, and it was also close to home, so this is where Leif Elliot did nearly all of his grocery shopping. Because he never went anywhere without Lexi, the service dog who did wonders to keep his PTSD at bay, most of the cashiers who worked there knew them both.

Lexi wore a scarlet and gold vest whenever they left the house. Those were the colors of the U.S. Marine Corps, the organization in which Leif had served for three years before the wounds he suffered in Afghanistan forced him out of the military.

He had a 50% disability rating, but no one just looking at him could tell. The scars were all covered by clothing, but the worst of it resided in the space between his ears where the sounds of mortars exploding and machine gun fire along with the rat-a-tat-tat of AK-47s still tormented him.

Even worse was the sight of his radio operator, a young Marine corporal whose last name was Cooper, who’d been killed by the same mortar round that had severely wounded him. When he turned to him to Cpl Cooper to call in an airstrike during the firefight, he saw something he’d never forget. The corporal’s limp body looked like someone who was sitting down with his head slumped between his legs. When Leif reached over to check on him after he didn’t respond to his very loud verbal commands, he saw that a large chunk of this young’s man face, which had been hidden from view by his shoulder, had been blown off in the attack. The young Marine had been killed instantly, but the radio on his back still worked perfectly well, and somehow Lieutenant Elliot managed to not only use it but accurately read off the nine-line brief to the aircrew that was just two minutes away and loaded for bear.

In spite of the severity of his wounds, he’d been able to go to work within weeks of having completed physical therapy, a long, grueling ordeal that began after his first surgery to repair the badly-damaged leg. He still saw a VA counselor once a week for the PTSD, but Lexi had taken him from feeling mentally disabled to a place that was much more manageable.

As they walked inside, he said, “Good girl!” and wondered where he’d be without her.

“Lexi! How’s my girl?” one of the women who worked there escort kadıköy said as soon as she saw them. She bent down and petted her even though Leif had politely asked her not to at least twice before.

The dog was working, and petting was a distraction, but Leif couldn’t bring himself to make a big deal out of it, especially since this particular woman was so nice. And not just to his dog.

“So. How are you doing, Leif?” she asked with a sunny smile.

“I’m okay. How about you?” he asked, remembering to smile back.

“Not too bad. Better now that I’ve seen my two favorite friends,” she told him, the smile even bigger and warmer.

Her name was Emily, and she was a very pretty young woman who was maybe 22 or 23. Leif was 27, and he could tell she found him to be very attractive, as did most women. Had he not had his brain scrambled so hard, he’d have undoubtedly asked her out by now, but he’d have just gone to bed with her and that was no longer what he needed or even wanted. He was now at a point where he felt like he could possibly handle a real relationship, and much of that was due to Lexi being in his life. That said, he couldn’t handle a relationship that would require a lot of maintenance, and Emily screamed ‘high maintenance’, something that scared the hell out of him.

“You need any help today?” she asked just as perkily.

“No, thanks. We’re good, right, girl?” he asked his dog.

Lexi saw the look and heard the tone of voice and quietly barked once. Leif petted her then told Emily they should probably get started.

“Okay. Just give me a holler if you need anything,” the cute Giant employee told him.

Leif grabbed a cart then headed toward the bakery and produce area when the first hint of an ‘aura’ made itself known.

“No. Not now,” he said as he stopped the cart, stood very still, and closed his eyes.

Lexi stopped, too, and sat beside him, looking up to assess what was wrong.

Moments later, Leif slowly opened one eye and then the other, and thought that perhaps he’d dodged a bullet. Migraine headaches were common since Afghanistan, and they varied in intensity from mild annoyances to full-blown incidents where he would be in bed for a couple of days in which he dealt with crushing pain and the need to vomit every few hours.

Were he to get one that bad now, he wasn’t sure how he’d manage to get home. The good thing was Lexi would bother people until they came to see what was wrong, and eventually, someone would offer to help by either calling 911 or a taxi or maybe a Lyft driver.

As he looked up, he saw a spot in the lower corner of one eye, and knew he’d been overly optimistic. That was a sure sign a migraine was on the way. The only question was how fast it would come on and how severe it would be.

Before he had his first one, he used to think migraines were just really bad headaches. Then again, he’d never really given any thought to them at all, and looking back, he didn’t know anyone who got them. But after the first one, one that laid him out for three days during which even the smallest amount of light or noise made him want to throw up, he knew they weren’t just headaches.

This aura was almost always followed by a narrowing of his vision in which he could see on the periphery as his vision disappeared from the center and moved outward. Once the aura filled his entire eye, it would then go away only to be replaced by the kind of pain he’d only experienced after being hit with a large chunk of shrapnel from a Taliban mortar round.

It had ripped through his right leg missing the femoral artery but shattering the femur, causing him to collapse during the middle of firefight in which his platoon was engaged with about 30 enemy jihadists. Adrenaline kept him in the fight and allowed him to call in the air strike which ended the battle, leaving a mess of mangled bodies in its wake.

Only then did the pain and loss of blood cause him to pass out, and when he woke up, Leif was in an Air Force hospital in Bagram where they stabilized him before putting him on a plane to Germany where he underwent three separate operations on his leg.

Evidently he’d also suffered a severe concussion from the blast, and that was supposedly the cause of the migraines. As he’d recovered, the experiences of that day played out over and over in his mind until they were almost the only thing his brain would entertain. So even as his body began to heal, his brain was going through something he was still dealing with on a daily basis.

Fortunately, since getting Lexi, the migraines were now fairly rare, and he’d been able to find a very decent job which allowed him to use the engineering degree he’d earned at the University of Virginia but never used after joining the Marine Corps the day after graduation.

Leif stopped again and closed his eyes while trying to use the techniques he’d been told could help. But within another minute, it became clear this wasn’t going to be a minor event. When he opened maltepe escort his eyes again, most of the area was nothing but a blur of wavy lines, and he knew the searing pain wasn’t far behind.

Once she sensed that something was going on Lexi barked loudly two times. Several shoppers turned to look, but when they saw the service vest, no one gave it a second thought. Except for one woman who was standing at the bakery counter waiting to pick up a cake.

“Is he okay?” the woman asked the clerk behind the counter.

“Him? He’s more than okay. He’s hot!” the younger woman said. “He comes in here all the time with that dog. I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but I’d love to help him find a cure.”

Bailey ignored the remark and said, “He’s just standing there with his head down. I think there’s something wrong.”

“I have your cake ready,” the Giant employee said, but Bailey was already moving toward the younger man and his dog.

“Sir? Are you okay?” she asked once she got closer to him.

“No,” he replied without looking up or even opening his eyes.

“Do you need me to call an ambulance?”

“I…I just need to get back outside and into my truck,” he told her as the first wave of pain hit like a hot knife entering his brain.

“Can you drive?” the woman asked.

“I’ll…I’ll be fine,” he told her even though he knew he wouldn’t be.

Bailey wasn’t a doctor, but she knew he wasn’t okay.

“Listen. I can take you to a hospital or back to your house,” she told him.

Leif shook his head and said, “I can’t ask you to do that.”

The woman looked down and saw Lexi’s vest with her and the letters ‘USMC’ embroidered on it.

She had an uncle who’d been a Marine in Vietnam, and although she knew very little about the military, she had a huge amount of respect for those who’d served.

“It’s no trouble,” Bailey assured him as she tried to figure out what was going on.

“I…I can’t see,” Leif told her. He actually could see because the aura was gone, but were he to open his eyes in the bright fluorescent light of the store, he would almost certainly throw up.

“Oh. Are you bli…visually challenged?” she asked, using the politically correct term.

“No. I’m not blind. I just have a migraine headache.”

The nausea hadn’t hit him yet, so Leif tried to be funny.

“A blinding migraine headache.”

“I’ve had several of them,” the woman said with understanding and compassion. “I know you can’t drive, and you can’t stay here. So please let me help you, okay?”

Lexi looked at her then barked, and that’s when Leif gave in.

“That would be very kind of you.”

“Can you stand up?” she asked.

Leif knew what that meant, but he also knew he had to do it. He steadied himself then slowly raised his head as the jackhammer inside it increased in intensity. The woman heard him groan in pain and instinctively reached out for his arm.

“It’s okay. I’ve got you,” she told him as he waited for the surge in pain to pass and go from unbearable back to awful again.

“Can you lead me outside, please?” he asked.

“Of course. Here. Let me switch sides.”

Bailey moved around so that his service dog could be on his left side then took his arm and asked if he was ready.

“No, but as you said, I can’t stay here,” Leif told her.

“All right. One step at a time,” she told him as they slowly moved toward the exit.

“You’re a godsend,” Leif told her after they made it to the sliding glass door.

“No, I’m just someone willing to lend a hand to someone who’s served. And God bless you for that,” she said.

“I’m Leif, by the way. And this is Lexi,” he said as the pounding grew worse.

“I’m Bailey. And it’s a pleasure to meet you…both. I just wish it wasn’t under these circumstances.”

“Bailey. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that name before.”

“Except for Beetle Bailey, right?” the woman said in a voice that Leif liked even though he still hadn’t seen her.

“Something tells me you’re a lot prettier than Beetle,” Leif said, forcing himself to be nice in spite of the nearly unbearable pain.

“You haven’t opened your eyes yet, or you might not be saying that,” she told him with a self-deprecating little laugh.

Leif couldn’t resist peeking and opened one eye just enough to get a decent look at her. Bailey noticed and smiled when he did.

“Nope. I was right. You’re beautiful,” Leif said as the first wave of nausea swept over him.

It hit him so hard he had to stop and fight off the urge to vomit.

“This is a really bad one, huh?” Bailey said with the same level of understanding.

“The worst,” he replied as his stomach swirled and the taste of bile welled up in his mouth.

“We’re in the parking lot, so if you need to, you know…”

Before she could finish her thought, Leif lost it. Bailey never took her hand off of his lower back as he bent over and hurled and retched several times. When he finished, the thick taste of saliva was heavy in his mouth, but that was barely noticeable when compared to the railroad spikes the heaving drove into his brain.

“You okay?” she asked as she gently rubbed his lower back.

Leif hadn’t stood up completely yet just in case there was more to follow.

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