by Keith Krulik
We all have obstacles to climb, personal barriers or demons to get over, physical or mental challenges to overcome. These are the things that build character, that turn followers into leaders. The question I pose is this: How much can you endure before you cease to build character, before you don’t build into a leader and are yourself destroyed? How much can you take?
When my headaches began over two decades ago, I felt my body as a blanket, a thick, heavy quilt. I hung on a clothesline as Evil stood beside me, wielding a baseball bat, inflicting pain every few seconds, over and over. Back then the pain was just beginning; improbably, it seemed less intense as now. Over time and the continuous beatings, the blanket has worn thinner. In those eight thousand days, I have transformed to a thin sheet, something even a homeless person would discard.
Each day I receive my beatings through all sorts of conditions, through all the seasons. I hang there and look to the heavens, feeling the heat of the sun, the wind on my face, and then it slides down my body just as the bat hits me once again. In the winter, the snow feels good against my skin, reviving me, but making the sting of the bat that much worse. My body, my blanket, is more brittle in the winter. The Evil one knows this, adding a little extra to each swing. The bat strikes me on my body, but I feel the pain on my head, at my temples.
Five concussions over a long period of time, beginning in high school, have given me these headaches. Over the years, I have gone to doctors, the process and results always the same. They subject me to blood tests, CT scans of the head, MRIs of the brain and neck, and end up coming back with the same answer, “I’m sorry, Mr. Krulik, but all the tests came back negative.” Does that mean my headaches don’t exist?
The first doctor I went to for my headaches in the mid 80s suggested that it was probably just stress. It would be five years before I would see another doctor, only to hear from him, “It’s only headaches.” I found out the medical profession didn’t take headaches and migraines very seriously. Later, when I saw a family doctor in the 90s, he offered me scripts for Percocet, Darvocet, and Vicodin. I refused because I drove for a living and I didn’t want to become addicted to pain medication. Again I returned to the clothesline and my Tylenol, 16 a day.
The Evil one has had me engaged in a war of wills over the years. I have a high tolerance for pain, but everyone has a breaking point. Eight thousand days of unending pain is a long time, treated by only Tylenol. On the pain scale, my headaches would reach an “8” and I would take three Tylenol, dropping it to a “3” or “4” for thirty minutes to an hour and then it would begin its rise again, and in three hours I would be back to that beloved “8.” Evil never left me. Never.
As I hang there, sometimes I look down and stare at Evil itself as it beats on me. The body is not imposing. It is not superhuman at all, rather normal. I don’t look at the face always, but when I do, it’s different each time. One time it’s the face of the kid who gave me my first concussion in football as a sophomore in Tucson, Arizona. The next time I look it might be the face of someone I confronted while driving a cab a few years back. A few days ago I looked down and Evil looked like the woman who hit me head-on and gave me my fourth concussion in 1979. More often than not it is Satan himself, complete with the classic horns.
Our two kids are grown and have known for years that their dad takes a lot of Tylenol or aspirin, although they don’t know the exact amount. My own parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all know I have headaches but don’t know the severity of them. All my relatives, including my kids, see my temper has changed over the years. Everyone just thinks Keith is a “hothead.” No questions are asked, but I am lectured by my retired Colonel father. I say nothing. I would rather have everyone think I’m a jerk than have them worry about my health. What would I tell them anyway?
Each year that passes the pain gets worse, the depression deepens. I can feel myself slipping into a darkness I may not escape from, from a darkness I might not want to escape from. I go to my granddaughter’s gymnastics meets and my grandson’s baseball games, but I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to be anywhere. The pain crushes more than my head. It crushes my will. The Evil one beats on not just me, but everyone around me.
Death is something I think of. Because of ethical beliefs, I would never take my own life, but I have already used my job as a cab driver to provoke the less than righteous people into arguments and fights that would see me as a victim on the late news, ending my pain for good. So far, I can’t even get that to happen.
My rock, the love of my life, waits for me each evening. She is the only person on the planet who knows how I feel, and yet I don’t tell her everything. I don’t tell her my deepest fears. I don’t tell her how I spent most of the day thinking of thirty different ways for me to die. I don’t tell of the near misses, of the days when guns were drawn on me and I secretly hoped the trigger would be pulled. She is on eggshells each night as I come through the door, wondering what mood I will be in. She is hesitant to ask me how my day went, for fear that I may snap, or almost as bad, say nothing at all. The Evil one strikes me day after day, but he strikes the one I love more than anyone each time he strikes me.
My body, my blanket, wears thin. You can see through it now. Something has to be done. This has to end. This has gone on much too long. One last doctor perhaps? Confront one last bad guy?
Some things remain constant. I am the blanket. The clock keeps ticking.
Keith Krulik lives in Indianapolis and just finished his first mystery/thriller novel to be published soon. He also contributes to a blog called FictionForgeIndy.com with three other friends, where Keith specializes in humorous postings. His next major project is an expansion of "The Blanket" into book form, the telling of his story of 25 years of chronic pain along with 18 years of on again, off again depression.