“This is your brain.
This is your brain on drugs.
That PSA from the late 80s is seared into my memory. A guy is holding an egg. He cracks it and pours the contents into a hot frying pan. The egg sizzles and pops. Yep. That is my brain right now. Fried. But I am not on drugs. I simply have a lot on my mind and I am sleep deprived. I’m on a plane en route to Northern California. I am flying WOW Airlines again. I’ve been to Iceland 5 times in the last 5 months just for layovers. It was actually sunny outside when we landed in Keflavik today, and cold. 17°F. I was only able to find one glove in my purse, so when I got off the plane and walked to the bus, I pulled my small black suitcase behind me with my gloved hand and put the other one in my coat pocket. I was one of the last people allowed on the bus. The other passengers were forced to wait outside for the next bus after they had disembarked the plane, which seemed a little cruel. I saw a woman with a baby in the distance and wanted to switch places with her, but as soon as the thought entered my head the bus doors quickly shut and we were off.
I thought about my own babies. Leaving Paris this morning was hard. The alarm went off at 7:30 and I went right to the boys’ room to snuggle. I wriggled my way in between them and got under the covers. It was cold in our apartment. Rocky said, “Mama” and wrapped his arms around me. Rhône’s hand slid through the crook of my arm and found its way to my hand. I turned my head to the left to look at him and Rocky used both of his hands to direct my face back towards him. “No,” he said, “look this way.” We had breakfast together and then I ran around the apartment hiding little notes under their pillows and in their backpacks while they watched an episode of Danger Mouse. Jonas got up, got the boys dressed and we all left the apartment at the same time. We hugged and kissed goodbye at the end of our street. Rocky said, “Mommy you’re going for one day?” Rhône said, “No, one WEEK.” Rocky looked disappointed and my heart sank.
I crossed the street and then turned and watched Jonas and the boys walk to school. I swallowed the lump in my throat and headed toward the métro. I didn’t feel well. Saying goodbye made me sick to my stomach and I also had a splitting headache. I usually get one every month and the pain always seems to gather in the back of my head just above my neck. Today the sensation traveled in a straight line up my scalp like a mohawk, beginning in its usual spot and terminating at my forehead. I took a deep breath and walked on, eventually catching the RER B at Châtelet to go to Charles de Gaulle airport.
When I first got on the train there were no seats. I noticed a woman reading something on her iPad in Arabic. The characters were big and looked like they’d been painted or written with a calligraphy pen. A seat opened up across from this woman and I sat down. I closed my eyes and massaged my forehead with one hand. I felt like going to sleep and forgetting the pain. “Madame?” I was rubbing my temples now. “MADAME?” Startled, I opened my eyes. The woman across from me asked if I would like some Doliprane, French aspirin. I surprised myself and said, “Okay.” She said she noticed me rubbing my forehead and figured I must have a headache. She passed me two sealed Dolipranes and also offered me water and a croissant. I thanked her and told her I had just eaten. I took one pill, washed it down with some water I’d brought from home and thanked her again.
Okay, so technically I am on drugs but Doliprane is so mild, it shouldn’t even be considered one. Just yesterday a fellow parent whose daughter is in Rhône’s class asked me, “What do you think of the pharmacies here?” I elongated the French word ben, meaning, “Well…” I was stalling. I finally said that they give you a lot of things but that the medicines are not very strong. He agreed that the medicines in the U.S. do a better job of knocking things out. I told him I have asked friends to bring things like Sudafed, Aleve and NyQuil from America because the French over-the-counter medicines are “moins efficace” (less effective). A lot of people are sick in Paris right now and I guarantee you that they have cupboards full of stuff from the pharmacy. I do too and I can tell you from experience that if those people have the flu or a serious cold, most of that medicine will make not them feel much better.
I imagine this is similar to what my mom is experiencing right now. She’s undergoing chemotherapy and the side effects are brutal. We’ve researched how to reduce those side effects (ginger tea, ginger candies, CBD oil, essential oils) but these natural remedies are just not strong enough to mask the intense discomfort she feels when the medicine courses through her body. I knew it was bad when Mom, the eternal optimist, said, “When you’re that sick you don’t care if you live or die.” I spoke to my dad recently and he admitted that my mom was really suffering. She’s lost about 45 pounds, has no appetite and is getting weaker. As soon as I got off the phone I burst into tears. Jonas said, “Do you want to go?” and I said, “Yes.”
My parents don’t know I’m coming. I think if they did they might say something like, “Oh no, Brookie. You don’t have to do that. Your boys need you more than us.” Of course they need me but I also know that they will be fine – more than fine – with Jonas for a week without me. It took traveling to California alone once before to realize this and now I have no hesitations about going. Right now I need to be with my mom. I want to talk to her doctors and find out everything that’s going on. I want to hold her hand during chemo. I want to comfort her when she’s feeling her worst. I was wondering how I might do that. I found an answer in my new friend, D’yan, an 83-year-old comedian, singer, musician and two-time cancer survivor. She told me, “Just be with her. Sit with her.” Sitting I can definitely do. I’ve been doing it for almost 8 hours now. I am a champion sitter.
My headache from this morning was starting to fade but now it’s back in full force, probably due to exhaustion. I haven’t been able to think clearly all day. I initially couldn’t get through an automatic security checkpoint at the airport because I kept scanning the wrong boarding pass and once I got on the plane, I sat in two incorrect seats before finding my own. I compared my brain to a fried egg before; at this moment it’s positively scrambled. It’s the middle of the night now in Paris. I can see Rhône and Rocky sweetly sleeping next to each other in my mind’s eye. Rocky is all the way over on Rhône’s side of the bed with his hand placed gently somewhere on Rhône’s body. I wonder if they discovered my notes under their pillows. I can’t wait to lay my head on a nice, soft pillow and get a good night’s sleep. Until then, I need to do my best to get some rest on this plane so I am in good form for my mom. I’m almost there, Mama.
Update (Jan. 20, 2018): My sister picked me up last night and drove me straight to a taqueria where I had a glorious shrimp burrito with spicy salsa. She got me settled in her apartment and then went to a friend’s house for Board Game Night. I took a hot shower and then fell into bed. I was knocked out within two minutes. When Hilary came home at 11 p.m. and slipped her key in the bottom lock, apparently I started screaming, “Ahhhh! Ahhhh!” (I have no recollection of this.) She proceeded to unlock the top lock, entered the apartment and I was still screaming until she softly said, “It’s okay. It’s just me.” She recounted this story to me this morning and could not stop laughing. “All I did was put the key in the door!” She regained her composure long enough to say, “You were screaming as if someone had ALREADY broken in.” Wow. Nothing like jet lag and exhaustion to mess with your head! We both cracked up over this as we ate our breakfast, which just so happened to include scrambled eggs. Now on to Mom and Dad’s house.