While Taking This Medication

by Jamey Temple

Whitney’s way of rebelling is pulling her trigger list from the refrigerator, wadding it in her hand, and sitting in front of the opened fridge, imagining. Today she touches the soy sauce, remembering her take-out days, the salt. She sees Jim’s Coke and can almost feel the burn in the back of her throat. She lifts the package of bologna, but then she notices something odd in the back. A large bag of sugar. She isn’t sure why it’s in the back, behind the baking soda, the jar of pickles, or her mother’s canned preserves. She yanks it from the sticky glass, and studies its faded expiration date—March 2007. It has been in her refrigerator for three years.

Whitney has been discovering similar lapses of memory. Finding wedding presents in the dining room hutch, the laundry room, and in the guest bath closest. This is all her doing. Not Jim’s. Her forgetfulness is like having a bad tape for a camcorder. As if anyone’s brain couldn’t record. She is becoming one of those people. The ones who take thirty minutes to retrieve the answers to random questions like, “Where did you buy that gorgeous new sweater?” or “What did you have for lunch?”

Her brain isn’t the working sponge it once was. For every quick, witty answer, she has a few jumbled ones. Like forgetting a colleague’s name. My name is Steven, Whitney. Steven’s cubicle sits adjacent to hers at Pendleton’s Publishing. He offered coffee on her first day, five years ago. Or like last week when she asked a client, “Please stand in front of this tree while I take your picture,” knowing the tree was a bush. It might have been an understandable mix up if the bush was large, not a mere low-lying shrub.

Her employer is more understanding of the memory problems than the sick days. She sends emails, notifying Mr. Voglesang of doctor’s appointments, of blood-testing, check-ups, MRIs; she inches into his office if she must leave for a migraine. Though he doesn’t intentionally make her feel guilty for leaving, he always asks, “Is the doctor trying something else?” At night, she wants to flush the Topomax, and all of the other prescribed “something elses,” down the commode.

It is a sunglasses day. Sunny, not overcast. She slips on her Ray Ban’s, drops a pack of Zomig into her purse, and double-checks her doctor’s appointment card. Yes, her appointment is today. She drives down Main Street without the sunroof opened, her hair tossed by the wind. A new yellow two-door beetle with a sunroof. Her dream car. Owning it is a weird, cruel twist of fate. As if it were the climax of her life’s story. She’s reached the point when good things had started to happen to her. Jim. Her job. This car.But now she’s on the downslope. Her life flickers before her like fragments, and falls into Before and After. Before, she and Jim went on long-weekend trips, without worrying about a disruption to her sleeping patterns. Driving wasn’t a last resort option. She drove her car as far and as much as she wanted without the fear of losing her sight. Eating wasn’t a chore. There wasn’t the list on her refrigerator telling her what she could and couldn’t eat. The term trigger referred to a gun and not something that caused her to be sick.

She wasn’t unlucky, before—until her brain declared war.

Whitney squints, even behind the Ray Ban’s. The sun reflects off a parked car’s side-view mirror while she waits for the light to turn green. She adjusts her visor, squirms in her seat, closes her eyes—does anything to make the spots disappear from the back of her eyelids. Lately, she’s become sensitive to reflections, which can cause her vision to distort. The first time it happened, she thought she was having a stroke and went to the emergency room. After three hours and a shot of morphine, she was referred to a specialist.

“Does anyone in your family have headaches?” the neurologist had asked, scribbling notes onto a clipboard.

“They have headaches, but not like this,” Jim offered.

“I’ve had headaches. But these aren’t the same. They start out with a tiny flash in one eye . . . then grow larger. There’s a zigzag arch that starts to spread.” She drew the arch with her finger. “But it gets so big I can’t see anymore . . .”

“How long does this last?”

“Twenty to thirty minutes.”

“Any vomiting?”

She looked at Jim, standing at attention like an Army guard.

“Yeah, so much so I have to go to the hospital sometimes.”

The doctor peered into her pupils with what looked like a pen.

“How would you describe the pain?”


She walked out of the neurologist’s office with another handful of medications and a diagnosis with which no one seemed to sympathize–migraines.

You’re taking off for a headache? You were fine an hour ago.

Jim has never had a migraine, but he doesn’t question her. He has been in the unlit bathroom while she rocks to and fro, crying and praying to die. He has taken her to the hospital when she can’t eat and keep fluids down.

Whitney merges onto the interstate, wishing for a companion. She hates going to this doctor, the most humbling of experiences, if not the most vulnerable and compromising. It isn’t like going to her neurologist where she can be fully clothed, knocked on the knee, asked to do some weird arm movements and leave. No, at Dr. Hayden’s, she has to be naked, feet in stirrups, asked to open her legs even wider, while he and his nurse stare at her privates.

She never realized migraines affected sex lives, too, not until her neurologist said “no birth control pills,” another trigger. Jim began wearing condoms like they had before they were married. It isn’t the same. She knows and feels that. To keep him hard is tiring. She doesn’t say anything, sorry she has put Jim through too much already.

“It’s like wearing socks,” he’d said, holding her in their bed.

“We can try a different brand,” she offered, wishing for a resolution, yet feeling hopeless. She was glad her back was to him, that he couldn’t see her eyes water.

“I don’t think that will help.” He squeezed her tighter, as if knowing that she wanted to pull away. It was too hard to be close to him without being intimate.

They tried the diaphragm, but she was allergic to the spermicidal. Now, she returns to the doctor to try a new solution—the IUD.

If she weren’t so timid about it, she could have done something before now. It has been two months since they made love, and she didn’t pick up the phone to do anything about it until she caught Jim masturbating in the shower. She locked herself in their walk-in closet for two hours, crying. He never had to “take care of himself.” She used to exhaust him with their lovemaking, but everything is messed up. He is doing it all now. Washing their clothes, cooking their meals, filling her prescriptions, jacking off.Life became more challenging as she tried several types of medicines, only to find the one that worked also caused the worst side-effects. She read the warnings but didn’t think the side-effects would happen. Loss of memory, loss of a sex life, loss of children.

When the neurologist mentioned Topamax, he asked if they were planning to start a family soon. At twenty-four, her answer was a quick, “No.”

Even if she considered children in the near future, getting rid of the headaches seemed more immediate and important. So what if it could cause birth defects? She still wanted it. She didn’t want to feel like she was being tortured nine times a month.

But now, in the back of her mind, she worries about an unexpected pregnancy. She takes other medicine to help combat deformities in case it were to happen, but it isn’t guaranteed to work. Every time Jim touches her, she thinks about having a deformed child. Each form of contraception they use slips further and further away from the security of her birth control pills. If the condom broke . . . if she didn’t place the diaphragm properly . . . she can’t take that risk.

Having her migraine attacks cut in half seemed like a miracle. Having the memory problems seemed like a reminder she wasn’t in control. And three years after taking Topamax, she knows she can’t live without it.

Life isn’t simple anymore, and her doctors don’t care. They hand her medicine, push her out the door. She wants answers. Why me? She wants them to guarantee the Topamax and Zomig will work, that the contraceptive will keep her from becoming pregnant. She wants them to guarantee she’ll regain her memory once she stops taking the medicine. She wants them to guarantee that this won’t be her life forever.

But doctors can’t make promises.

She taps the steering wheel anxiously. Cars zigzag around hers, causing her to scan the mirrors. The clock mounted in her dashboard blinks 12:00. She knows it’s more like 2:00 but has forgotten how to change the time. A sign appears in the distance reading “Beware of fallen rock.” She doesn’t like this reminder as she approaches the wall of stone with pine and oak trees kissing the top edge, jutting out as if they can fall on her car at any given moment or kick over a rock large enough to flatten her. The worry soon fades as a white van maneuvers and hesitates beside hers. She glances to the driver, a man with scruffy hair, laughing in his rearview mirror. She focuses her attention back on the road, then over again to him as he inches his way in front of her. A big pink bow bobs in the side window. His daughter. This could be Jim. This could be their daughter.

She and Jim had talked about kids, especially after her commitment to the neurologist, but haven’t since.

“Do you still want kids some day?” she had asked, while walking through the medical-center parking garage to retrieve the car. She hadn’t been sure what she wanted Jim to say. Yes, he wanted children. No, he’d rather have her healthy.

“I wouldn’t mind having one or two.” It rolled off his tongue like a stale I love you. She waited for him to continue. One, then two seconds. He didn’t say anything else.

“What if I can’t have kids? You heard what the doctor said. No medication once we’re pregnant.”

“Let’s not worry about that now,” he said, sounding as if he’d sucked in the hurt. He’d squeezed her shoulder, like he used to squeeze her hand three times to say you’re my everything.

But he mentioned the condoms. Maybe he is desperate. She hopes he isn’t desperate enough to find someone to take her place. Someone without her problems, someone who can have sex without barriers. Someone who can have kids.

Someone who can take care of him, not the other way around.

It is unsettling to not know what he thinks. He’s become passive like he’s afraid he’ll become a trigger. He can pat her head with a cool washcloth, but he can’t mention simple things like his job, his friends—anything about himself. She longs for one good fight—a bout of honesty and then a make-up session between the sheets.

She wants to know him like she has before—as her lover and not her nurse.

Whitney parks her car in front of the tall, gray stone building reading “Women’s Health Center” and makes her way to office suite 202. She picks a seat between two empty ones, across from a pregnant woman. The lady’s round belly is the size of a basketball, and she keeps petting it as she reads Parenting. Whitney scans the room. Most of the women are pregnant. Some have other children draped on their laps or fidgeting in the neighboring seat. Others have husbands or boyfriends.

She pictures Jim sitting beside her like the other men, excited to see his baby on a screen. He shows her an article in Parenting, urges her to consider making food for the baby instead of purchasing the jarred varieties. Or asks if maybe cloth diapers are more cost-effective and healthy. Plastic diapers have chemicals in them.

“Whitney Davenport?”

Whitney rises, taking her purse to the receptionist’s desk.

Something is different about her. Whitney peeks over the counter—a baby-bump. The receptionist is in bloom, too.

She turns back around to the waiting room. The entire space is filled with pregnant women. The men are pregnant, too. God, everyone is pregnant but her.

“Mrs. Davenport? Are you okay?”

She can feel it coming on, her eyes unable to focus, the tingle at her forehead and temples. She has maybe one minute.

“No, I’m not feeling so good. I think I need to cancel.”

Whitney runs from the office, crying. A little wavy line bursts into her view as she pushes through the bathroom doors. She feels the tears running down her cheeks as she dumps her purse out onto the counter, spreading its contents to find the medicine. Frantically, she searches until she finds the Zomig and struggles to tear the silver off of the back of the package. The little orange pill quickly dissolves on her tongue. She takes another pill, Phenergan, the one to keep her from vomiting. The lines take over her eyes now, looking like the haze off a hot paved road.

Sliding down to the cold tile floor, she doesn’t care about its coatings: damp strips of toilet paper, muddy footprints, and wadded-up, brown paper towels. She only wants the florescent lighting to be less harsh. If she could rise, she’d turn off the damn light. But she can’t move. The flicker remains on the back of her eyelids, and she massages her temples for some relief. Breathe in. Breathe out.

When the massage doesn’t help, she tries folding into herself, squeezing her knees to her chest and resting her head on top. The flickering is more intense–no longer dark behind her eyelids. The worst is near.

She tries to distract herself, imagine herself differently. Summer. Jim flips hamburgers on the grill. She lies in the hammock. Under two towering trees. Oak. Strong, resilient. Children. A boy. A girl. Dark-headed like Jim. They swing and slide on the swing set. A golden retriever weaves in and around them, its tail wagging.

“Wagging, wagging,” she says, trying to hold onto the image, but the knife stabs her temples, steals her solace.

The Zomig will kick in soon, she reminds herself, rocking to and fro. Soon.

Jamey Temple teaches writing courses at a small liberal arts college in Kentucky where she also acts as managing editor of its literary journal, Pensworth.  Her prose and poetry have appeared in numerous publications including Kentucky Monthly, Repurposed Magazine, Still: The Journal, and The Path Magazine. She is also an editor for Hopewell Publication’s Best New Writing.