I’ve been like this all my life. You know that. Jason, Isabel and Mallory used to make a game of it. So much for sibling love. They’d play on my anxieties and take me to the edge of exasperation. Sometimes I’d faint, and others I’d just have troubles breathing. I don’t know which was worse because when I’d faint, things would stabilize while I was away. When I’d come round, sometimes the room would be unchanged; sometimes I was alone, sometimes your face or some other would be looming over me. Other times I’d be in a different room altogether, but at least I didn’t have to struggle through the blackness.
The breathing thing would usually overtake me when I was alone. I wouldn’t have the luxury of passing out and I’d be left with my thoughts folding in on themselves ‘til my breath was a wisp and my lungs would verge on seizure. I would want nothing more at those times than for you to be there with me, but of course you couldn’t be. And when you’d hear about it, you’d usually scold me and put me down. I didn’t know it then but that was really just you dealing with your own fear. I had to get it from somewhere.
They say 97 percent of all fears are not founded in anything real, that they’re figments of irrational concern, and that shortness of breath is really just a failure to exhale. That’s what Dr. Cavell said when you took me for the tests. When you’re not exhaling it doesn’t take long before there’s no more room to inhale. And there you have it, a failure to breathe. Thoughts folding in, inhalations exceeding exhalations, the irrational anxieties giving way to the very real fear of suffocation. There’s no way to rethread your way back through the labyrinth because reason masquerades as irrationality and you can’t trust anyone or anything to lead you home.
What are you thinking as you lie there? Anything? Do you know I’m here? If you opened your eyes now, would you see me looming over you? Would I flood you with the same relief I felt when I came round?
As a young girl, I don’t remember how old, maybe five or six, I discovered a trick. When my breathing became short, I learned that if I sang, my breathing would regulate to the phrasing of the song. Not every song worked. Some were too breathy, or filled with emotions that were either too vexing – those were the songs of my yearning years – or too absent of anything to beguile me out of my spiral.
Your stuttering breaths are playing on me now. I’m clearing my throat as though it might clear yours for you, but of course it won’t. And there it is: the cycle is welling up. Could something please lift the pressure from you and from me? Could health and vitality blow through this room, this antiseptic and stentorian box? What do I need to do in my life that will keep me from suffering as you are now? Is my diet winding the clock on some visceral time bomb? What plague is hatching in me right now, sowing the seeds of my collapse?
Goodnight you moonlight ladies
Rock-a-bye sweet baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won’t you let me go down in my dreams