Lori Thatcher

Writing and Thinking about writing

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Once a month or so, a pinpoint of light appears in the center of my field of vision. If I’m watching TV or driving in the car, I don’t notice it at first, but if I’m staring at a blank page or even the blank computer screen, I see it right away.

This time, I pick up the bottle of liquid Advil capsules nearby and realize it’s empty. I shake it to make sure, and then panic. I yell to my husband to help me find some. There’s usually a small supply in my handbag and another in the car, since I don’t want to be caught without it. The sooner I take them, the less time I will lose to this migraine.

By the time I down the pills, the point has grown to a circle, the size of a penny at arm’s length. Within the tiny circle, the colors are brighter and distorted by undulating lines. It’s not dissimilar to the areas of wavy glass on very old window panes that bend and alter the light passing through them.

It’s impossible to look away from it. As I avert my gaze, it follows, always in the center of my field of vision. It’s like the floaters in my aging eyes, except when I try to look straight at those, they jump to the side. This spot is impossible to look away from. Even closing my eyes doesn’t make it disappear and it carries into the dark of shielded eyes or unlit room, the last colors in view, magnified and sparkling.

By now it’s impossible to read written words. Soon it would be dangerous to drive, or for me, even to walk.

By the time it’s grown to the size of an apricot at arm’s length, the spot will change into a zigzag, wavy, backwards C. It will continue growing, usually until it takes up half of my field of view.

I go and lie down with my hand over my eyes to wait out the twenty minutes it usually takes for it to develop and then dissolve.

Except that this time, the capital C is not backwards and it disappears before it gets much bigger than a grapefruit. Different than usual.

Still, I’ll have to wait another twenty to thirty minutes to know if I medicated fast enough to dodge the headache completely, or just to mute it. Regardless, I’ll be left slightly nauseated, like I imagine a mild hangover would feel, similar to how I feel the day after taking the Valium that allows me to tolerate being constricted in an MRI.

The first time I experienced this migraine, I was in my thirties. Late for supper, I was making a quick stop at a discount store after a long day at work and before a long drive home, desperate to find an appropriate white blouse for a performance by the chorus I had joined recently. Without warning, the light in the store changed, increasing in intensity and appearing to flicker. I tried to ignore it, but finally, with several white shirts in my hand, I ducked into the dressing room and cowered on the bench. Lines of fluorescent lights above me changed into menacing zigzag teeth. Was I losing my sanity?

Closing my eyes didn’t help, the gaping mouth stalked into the dimmed area behind my eyelids. I froze and attempted to slow my breathing and relax; perhaps it was just stress playing tricks on me. After a while the visions dispersed and I flew out of the cubicle and thrust the hangers at the attendant mumbling something about the clothes not working.

I was already more than half way home when the nausea hit and horrid pain clamped onto my head. I took some aspirin from the glove department, dissolving several of the foul tasting tablets in my mouth. But it was too late to help. A half hour later, I limped up the steps into my home, said barely a word to my husband and tunneled under my bedcovers. Sleep brought relief but the next morning, I felt hung over.

The lull between the visual disturbance and the headache was such that it took two more occurrences before I made the connection. Now it’s a rush—get some pills into me as soon as I see the pinprick and I can intercept and knock down the worst. I still get the hangover, but it’s not dreadful.

I feel lucky not to undergo the excruciating, debilitating pain most migraine victims do. If I have to be a migraine sufferer, this silent migraine or “aura type” is probably the best type of migraine to have. As soon as I think that, it seems silly to me, like I had any choice in it. But not quite the same way it did in 2003 when my gynecologist called me in on lunch hour with the office closed and dark—“Knock on the window and I’ll let you in.”—to hold my hand and gently tell me I had cancer. She said, “If you have to have cancer, this is the one to have.” I pray it will be, one day, a world where no one has to have cancer, or for that matter, migraines.



The Boundless Sea

        When I was fourteen, I saw the sea. I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been convinced that I was approaching my last breath.

        My Dad had lived with his sister ever since he was released from the hospital after being shot by his lover’s husband. His visits were wrapped in disagreement between him and my mother. I grew sad and fearful.

        I took to consulting a Ouija board. It spelled out words I didn’t know. We spoke to souls of the dead – one hanged for stealing a chicken. It was an appealing diversion for sheltered country kids.

        When my father decided to take my brother and me to Maine on our first-ever vacation, I was ecstatic—the sea. My mother bought us new clothes, normally a once-a-year occurrence.

        Before we were to leave, the Ouija board spelled out that if I left Massachusetts in the next month, I would perish. “Doesn’t perish mean die?” I asked.

        Suddenly the trip was a death sentence. But it would be unthinkable to even tell my father, never mind cancel.

         I felt like a person on death row. The world was at once sweeter and sadder. I said goodbye to my mother and my horse. I wore my seat belt without being told. I awaited my impending death.

        We had not yet seen the sea before we crossed the border to New Hampshire. I was sure I would die without having seen it, but the border fell behind us and I still drew breath.

         Then it came into view—the vast, the limitless, sea. I breathed easier, surely this could not be the last time I would see it. Somehow I came to believe it wouldn’t be. Little by little, I relaxed.

         It indeed wasn’t my last time.


This Challenge prompt was from: 

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-HoodThis week,  Kir of The Kir Corner gave us this quote:

“The cure for anything is salt water….sweat, tears or the sea.”
~ Isak Dinesen, pseudonym of Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke

Did you come to a resolution by the sea? Did a character reach a crossroads of sweat and tears?

Link up your 300 salty words (oooh!), but only if you’ve responded to the prompt.



I woke up and saw the fence looming. My hands were gripping the steering wheel as I slammed my foot on the brake pedal, knowing that I was too close. I would never be able to stop in time.

But the car wasn’t even running, never mind careening towards an imminent accident. My heart was thumping as I stared with wonder at the fence a few inches in front of my bumper.

Slowly I came to the realization that I was sitting next to our apartment in Easthampton. The fence in front of me was the one that bounded the parking lot behind our house. I had fallen asleep after pulling in and parking, but before my hands had released their grip on the steering wheel.

I looked at my watch. It was 2 am; I had been asleep for only a half hour.

It had taken a lot longer to reach home than I expected because of my sleepiness. I’d stopped a half-dozen times to jog around the car trying to wake up enough to drive another 20 miles. I had napped for 10 or 20 minutes in two dark roadside rest areas and afterward poured an entire bottle of water over my head, not caring as it soaked the fabric seat. I had shouted and screamed and sang at the top of my lungs, but it was not enough to stem the tide of exhaustion.

It was Wednesday morning. I had slept a few hours Monday night, but I had been without sleep for the entire week-end before that, if you didn’t count shutting my eyes and laying my head on the light table for a few minutes.

Monday noon was Wheeler Dealer Magazine’s scheduled press slot and if I missed it, it would throw the whole schedule off. If I wasn’t there on time, the layout for our small advertising magazine would be pushed into the pile of things to do when the press crew had extra time – it might be Thursday before the issues were printed. That would push distribution into the weekend when traffic and store closings would cause even more difficulties. Our sales would be hurt also, because many readers wanted to snatch the issue up in the first couple of days hoping for a miraculous deal on a used car.

I had picked up the finished issues at four Tuesday morning in Holyoke and finished the day’s route at nine Tuesday night after delivering magazines all over western Massachusetts. I was delivering to convenience stores and  trying to open new outlets for the automotive photo advertiser  that I had run mostly by myself for the last few months.

We couldn’t afford to hire anyone else and David had to keep his job, because the ad revenue and sales income didn’t pay the bills yet.

Running a business, the American dream, was our dream. We wanted the freedom of working for ourselves. And eventually we did have some of that freedom, but also found that some of the freedoms of working for one’s self are not as free as they seem.

But that night all I had was overwhelming fatigue. Right then I didn’t care a bit about the dream, I just felt sorry for myself as I cursed David for seeing the ad in the local paper that said “Like photography? Want to own your own business?”

I knew I should go inside to bed but even thinking about it seemed too demanding, so I sat there until I fell asleep and slept for another two hours in the car. At least this time I had my hands in my lap instead of clutching the steering wheel.  

Before another year passed, David would quit his job and begin working with me and shortly afterward we would hire several people to do the job I was doing that week. We would continue to publish the magazine for 18 years, and during that time I fell asleep in some other strange places, but none as disturbing as the night I almost ran into a fence with a motionless car.

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When I heard my father call my name, I froze. I was on my back on the top of the hay in my favorite place right next to the wall, where the sun shone through the cracks and illuminated a snowstorm of hay dust in the shafts of light. I had been there since I finished my barn chores after school. I guess I was daydreaming, although if you had asked me, I would have said I was just looking at stuff: The light, the yellow-green color of the hay that looked like it smelled and the snatches of scenes I could see through the thin cracks in the barn wall. I moved to slide down off of the pile, but hearing my name called a second time Continue reading

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The New House and the Lesson of the Pump

My grandfather owned a large piece of land in Montague Center, Massachusetts, in an area that people called the Montague Desert. The land had been part of an ancient delta that flowed into Lake Hitchcock, a lake that formed when the glacier receded and the melt water was blocked from flowing into the ocean by the terminal moraine. The delta sorted the soil so what was left was white sand that looked Continue reading