When I began to get bad headaches about 10 years I resisted the idea that they might be migraines because I'd heard that people who had migraines "saw things." Alas, I discovered that is it possible to have very ordinary and painful migraines without "seeing things" at all. (These are known as common rather than classic migraines.)
Then one day in the gym I sat up from doing crunches and noticed that what I had taken for an afterimage of the ceiling tiles was still in front of my left eye. It was a series of small boxes, composed of boxes within boxes within boxes, like an optical illusion, that made an arc across my vision. It just hung there, shaking and shimmering, transparent, and yet not, and I didn't know what to think until I remembered that I'd seen a similar picture in a book about migraines. Oh my, I thought, so this is a migraine aura. I guess I was a little excited: even as I made my way out of the gym I couldn't help telling people I met about it. Just as I was wondering how I was going to drive home, the boxes began to fade.
That was three years ago. Last week it happened again. It started as a little blurry spot in the middle of my vision, which made it somewhat hard to read a computer screen. I ignored it. The spot became a series of little intersecting lines, like a Cubist painting, and then bloomed into a set of jagged teeth, bent double upon itself. There was nothing to do but sit and wait for it to pass, which it did after about 10 minutes. Interestingly enough, neither this time nor the last time did I get a real full-blown migraine, just a slight headache-y feeling.
A lot of books and articles have been written about migraine aura, many of which speculate that people in the past who claimed to have visions were actually experiencing aura instead. I can accept this in some cases, I suppose, but it's also kind of disappointing. As I understand it, when I see aura, there's something going on my brain: a message is being sent. But the message is inscrutable and random. Why boxes and lines?
By the way, an update on that postcard from WWII. I found one of George A. Paris' daughters (on Facebook, naturally) and sent it to her. She wrote back saying:
"My mother is still alive and doing quite well at 87 years old. We had a perfect childhood any person would want, there was plenty of love and laughter. The family is still very close all because of the bond they built for us."