On Friday night, I wanted to inject myself with a dose of something lethal. And on Saturday morning, I wanted to shoot myself.
Before you recommend the latest SSRI to hit pharmacy shelves or refer me to a suicide hotline, let me explain.
Those close to me know that, since my early 20s, I have suffered from cluster headaches. If you’re fortunate enough to know nothing about these excruciating nuggets of misery, I’ll permit Wikipedia to elucidate: “Experts have suggested that it is the most painful condition known to medical science.”
They come on with such rapid fury that I imagine the experience is akin to being mauled by a tiger — except that I would have the pleasure of laying eyes on such a magnificent creature.
The cause of cluster headaches is unknown, and they can strike anytime…like, for example, on a Friday evening transcontinental flight from New York to Los Angeles.
Following a week in the city — book-ended by throwing my parents a surprise 40th anniversary party (along with my brother, Justin, with whom I successfully schemed) and a late night with summary judgment motion papers — I was heading home to Venice for a long awaited day of scuba diving off Catalina Island.
Ever since I moved to Los Angeles, I’ve dreamed of exploring the enchanted underwater forests that lie just 22 miles from Venice Beach. I’ve scoured youtube.com for submarine footage taken by fellow land dwellers, giddy from the ephemeral euphoria of experiencing life at 60 feet below the sea’s surface. And on clear days, I’ve stood on the beach and gazed longingly at the island’s silhouette, anticipating the day when I would be donning an extraordinarily thick wetsuit to revel in its cool, clear waters.
After more than five years, that day was almost here — Saturday, August 21, 2010.
Everything was set. I had reserved the last available spot on a round-trip ferry ride from Long Beach, and purchased a full scuba gear rental with Catalina Divers Supply. I had arranged to meet the inimitable Stephen Mendel of Premier Scuba Diving early in the morning to ensure sufficient time for two dives. I had even reached out to all 1,032 of my Facebook friends to inquire about suitable underwater camera options. I was ready.
Or so it seemed, as the taxi whizzed across the East River to deposit me at JFK.
Armed with my laptop and a pressing need to finish researching and drafting an argument on land title, I eventually settled into my window seat and decided to take advantage of American #21’s Gogo Inflight Internet service. I extracted my wallet from my bag below the seat and entered in my credit card number; by Pennsylvania, I was online.
Just as I was about to coax myself away from images of fluorescent fish and turn my attention to Westlaw, there it was — a dull throb behind my right eye. I took a deep breath and braced myself.
Within two minutes, the headache was full blown, and more acute than any I could recollect.
I should note that a cluster headache in the privacy and comfort of my own home challenges the outer reaches of my sanity. A cluster headache at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet and four in-flight hours to go left me willing to call it a life. But since I presumed that no one on board made it past the TSA with a vial of lethal relief, I sat there, in quiet anguish, willing the pain to abate.
Thirty minutes later, the intensity had only escalated. With tears streaming down my face, I staggered to the flight attendant station after waiting in vain for someone to respond to the call button. (They too, had availed themselves of Gogo, and were all on Facebook.)
Rushing to my aid, they whipped up an ice pack, a fresh pot of coffee and a handful of Excedrin Migraine. And then I waited it out. All the way to LAX.
By the time we landed at 10:30 p.m., the agony had finally subsided and sheer exhaustion took its place. After gathering my bags, I headed down to baggage claim to collect my suitcase, and gratefully waited at the curb for my friend Caroline to pick me up.
As I collapsed on my couch, I resisted the overwhelming desire to fall into a pathological slumber, and instead flipped open my laptop to finish what I had been unable to accomplish on the plane.
At 2:00 a.m., I triumphantly clicked “send.” After tossing my swimsuit, mask and snorkel and a towel into a bag, I set two alarms for 6:15 a.m. and crawled into bed — smiling as I envisioned turning my head up towards the ocean’s sun-drenched surface.
The simultaneous clamor soon awoke me, and within seven adrenaline-fueled minutes, I was dressed and ready to make the 45-minute drive to Long Beach to catch the Catalina Express.
Until I realized my wallet was missing.
In addition to cluster headaches, I also suffer from a pesky paternally hereditary condition, which causes me to misplace/lose sundry items with disquieting frequency. So I remained calm at first, probing through every nook and cranny of my purse, computer bag, jacket, as well as under the couch, in the refrigerator, etc.
But no luck.
And then it occurred to me. In the throes of cluster headache torture, I had failed to place my wallet (containing, among other things, all my credit, ATM, insurance, AAA, and attorney ID cards) back into my bag, leaving it, I was sure, either wedged into or on the floor below seat 26J.
I wasn’t sure which affliction I should curse first.
With a sinking heart, I called American Airlines, only to be informed that its lost and found office is, brilliantly, closed on the weekends. I would have to wait more than 48 hours until Monday at 8:30 a.m., to determine whether or not my wallet was merely misplaced or truly lost.
In the meantime, however, the ferry to Catalina wouldn’t be as patient. And thankfully, I still had my driver’s license (which I had kept in my pocket after passing through security), and had either already paid for or reserved with a credit card everything I would need for the day’s excursion. I grabbed my checkbook, just in case, and raced outside to my car and then down the 405.
Doling out the exactly $14 I had left in cash to pay the $14 daily parking fee, I pulled into a spot at the landing and breathed a sigh of relief as I beheld the sparkling water and majestic white boat. The journey had been both protracted and arduous, but well worth the thrill that was now, finally, within proximate reach.
I locked the car and pulled out my ferry confirmation receipt, and then sauntered down the hill towards the counter to check in.
But I couldn’t.
Even though I had reserved my spot with a credit card and presented my driver’s license, Catalina Express’ rules prohibited its clerks from issuing me the boarding ticket without first seeing the card. And personal checks, it turned out, are just as ineffective as absent credit cards.
The ferry was leaving on time — without me.
About that gun…
* * * * *
But all’s well that ends well, and 8:30 a.m. Monday morning brought with it a wave of very welcome relief — as well as the promise of a rescheduled trip to Catalina in late September. So stay tuned!