When I was little, my Nana used to play a game with me whenever I got hurt. I couldn’t have been much older than four the first time I remember sitting on my bed with my knees all skinned up and Nana by my side. She had half the medicine cabinet out, all set to put things right, and of course I was protesting. The ripped-open skin with all my insides escaping was quite traumatic when I was four.
But Nana had it all under control. She calmly put the Bactine, and the gauze, and the tape, and the Neosporin, and the awful, dreaded scissors down on the bed, behind me where I couldn’t see them. “Now,” she said. “Show me where it hurts.”
“Nana-aaa,” I whimpered. She could plainly see I was bleeding to death from my knees.
“I see some tears here,” she said, poking gently at my cheek. “Does it hurt here?”
“No, Nana,” I complained. “It hurts here!”
“Your nose is running,” she said, poking at that. “Does it hurt here?”
She tickled my ribs. “Does it hurt here?”
And so the game went on, until when at last she poked the tender area next to my skinned knees, I had giggled away my apprehension.
“Yes. That’s where it hurts.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed in surprise. “Let’s see if we can fix it then.”
I get migraines. I don’t get them as often anymore, but I got them a lot between the ages of nine and thirteen and then fairly frequently all throughout school. For those of you who don’t get them, “migraine headache” is a misnomer. It’s not a headache. It’s more like your brain was involved in a near-fatal accident. The emergency crew has arrived, and they are prying open your head with the Jaws of Life so your brain can be extracted and air-lifted to the nearest hospital.
Nothing makes migraines go away. But somehow, when Nana was around, she could make them better with Does It Hurt Here. It didn’t matter that we’d played the game so many times, I would say, “No, you’re supposed to poke here first.” Something about knowing Nana’s silly game could make it better always did make it better.
I was nineteen when Nana died, in my sophomore year more than six hundred miles away. When Mama called me to give me the news, I was in shock. Nana was only sixty-seven. We didn’t even know she was sick, but it turned out she’d been sick a long time. She died of cancer. It was the first time in my life I imagined there might be pain worse than a migraine.
I wept angrily. It was impossible to be angry at Nana, so I was just angry. She’d spent years living with the pain and never said a word. I understood that she and Mama were never close, but she could have told me. She should have told me. Instead, the pain of her cancer was probably unbearable at times, and she bore it alone. I would have given anything for the chance to sit next to her on her bed, poke her cheek, and ask her, “Does it hurt here?”
© 2012 Anne Schilde