breathing for the first time is an expiration. breathing for the last time is an inspiration.
dying for the first time is an aspiration. dying for the last time is a desperation.
four pm on a saturday the ambiguous hue of purgatory clotting frantically from the top down. you're in the back room of your mother's basement suite, your bedroom. you think you might be a retreating glacier of breath, or better yet a shrivelling lung, pressed and starched like a rare flower. in the yellow saucer beside you, motifed with carnations and dying birds plunging like brocade hailstones, a joint you just finished relents a last suggestion of smoke and dies against a backdrop of pure life and motion. the shape of it, ashen and bent almost respectfully in two, resembles the foetal position in which you've spelled your limbs and torso by the grace of muscle memory.
you're underneath both a heated blanket and a throw the thickness of a uterine wall. instead of a mattress, your weight is distributed unevenly over the doubled-over jersey comforter spread on cold flooring, reminding you of the heathered shirts and sweatpants you haven't worn for over 17 years. above you, you've left the basement-level window open just a tooth, enough to let in bites of a dying february. this is the closest you'll come to getting some air, as your mother has decades since stopped reminding you to do. today you'll get your fix of oxygen only by managing the occasional gulp or two, rocking back and forth like a robin's egg wavering on the edge of a table over certain fragmentation.
the occasional negative pressure the influx of wind creates forces your bedroom door to unfan from it's frame and expand in a 90-degree arc, reminding you of the unfailing rubber mechanism in an artificial lung. it hesistates in a kind of asthmatic flutter before inevitably slamming back into the waiting inevitability of doorframe. this creates a greyish slamming sound that cuts inconsistently through the lukewarm bath of mid-noonlight, obscured outside the window by the house next door, but always frustratingly finding a way in to the 4' x 6' room. every time the door swings open or shut with that pensioner's finality of breath, you feel a familiar surge of, what? desperation? hope? in the right side your chest, as though one of your lungs were caught in the throes of some palliative sympathy pain.
please, let this be the last exhale. I'll quit my breath to, like an old lover whose hand only knows the feel of love in a collapsed lung.
it's not unreasonable to think that the wind might just stop for good, the door would summarily collapse shut from exertion. the room itself would flatline, and you would know sleep in the failed rectangle of a prefab cadaver.
please let this be the last breath.
let the wind die too, let its face be contorted in blue and red, retreating with the last violence of sun in tow.
you smile a bit too widely as you realize that this would be like a child in a mid-supermarket tantrum holding his breath for a breakfast cereal with more marshmallows, ultimately crumbling to the aisle's linoleum floors in an asterisk and surely, if not immediately, coming to and sputtering for air in a sour, embarrassed defeatedness. so you fold your hands under the covers and actually pray for the sound of the door's effort for air, the resulting sonic boom of it colliding against what must can only be a chest's interstitial lining, to all stop. you pray for the last dignity of knowing breathlessness, for the grace of everything that is futile and compelled to life by something as transparent and weightless as air.
but the breathing continues.
the mother of three upstairs thuds across the ceiling with a staccato of matter-of-factness that you're surprised translates cleanly from the language of slipper on carpet, composite wood and drywall;
get out of bed. don't think. just do. just breathe.
or, in fact - don't even worry about breathing at all,
a mother knows about the possibility of life in a perpetually suspended catch of breath,
as if life could still expand and collapse without the basic decency of breathing.
thump. each footfall a snap of imperative sentences unleashed like the tongue of a rubberband, hitting your trembling body like the crack of a bullwhip. each footfall another gutteral skip that makes your breathing constrict and accelerate when it collides against the softest, deepest part of your inner ear, reverberating through your skull, down your spine, through the veinwork of your legs and quitting in the sacrum of your tensed feet.
the shaking in your flesh is an aftertremor that shows signs of abating. then crash. the door shuts again with the brief satiety of another chill lungfull of air, tugging you by the sleeve back to the torture of the room's laboured respiration. you pull the covers up and over your head, being careful to arrange them so that zero light is visible on the other side of the textile. the blackness you find yourself in reminds you of the interior of a smoker's left lung.
feeling yourself counterintuitively grow colder in the amniotic warmth, you imagine that this is what a lung must feel like just before it fills for the very last time, the alveoli lining it resembling a configuration of newly hatched swallows vying for air and nourishing sick in the vague light of a throat.
you think that maybe your fingers are alveoli too in the haphazard incubation chamber you've erected over yourself. you think that maybe the sarcophagus they erected over the chernobyl reactor is the same tincture of black on the inside as the one into which the nodes of cancer in the villager's lungs metastisized before snuffing them out for good.
as the oxygen in the air under the covers slowly replaces itself with carbon dioxide, your breathing becomes shallower still. you feel for your neck. for proof of a neck. but there's only a dry, hollow stock growing in one of the roadside wetlands down the street.
holding your neck like a brace, your pulse skips with the same maternal cadence of feet still chiding the floor above you, and you tighten your grip; you can't help but dare to think that asphyxiation, apart from the exit it offered, might just sedate your heartbeat along with any consciousness at all.
all muscles and organs need air to function, right? hearts, lungs, the fine tissue of muscle trembling on the brink of full episode, fingers around the windpipe, ten alveoli around the neck like a hangman's noose and crash.
another waver of fluttering of door meets it's logical conclusion.
the shiver that erupts down you is whiter than the door smacking shut with that heaving taunt. your hands tighten intuitively in reaction, and you feel the last possibility of air, of a life breathing air and breathing nothing back out but air, struggle loose from under your fingers.
even though it's dark under the covers, you feel the characteristic dimming before unconsciousness. as you climb into the negative space behind your eyes, curled amniotically in the viscous fluid where breathing is done with an umbilical lifeline implying no ambitions of onus of breath from you, the idea of air becomes as bizarre to you as a flat earth or twentieth-century eugenics. but crash. and again you feel the rush of air filling you on the supermarket floor, box of lucky charms red and alive against the blueness of retreating blood, oxygenless in your hands.
crash. and you really thought you could escape breath this time, this room.
crash and you are a microcosm of this room, or vice versa. the worried mother beats a rhyhm into your lungs. a pale fingerwidth of door pumps life desperately into the negative space until all wind finally abates.
and the breathing continues.
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