Breathe.

The simple act of pulling the world in and swallowing. When I was a kid, I used to hold my breath underwater for 74 seconds. I remember that number clearly because it was the neighborhood record. It was a feat to balloon my chest and deprive my body of the very thing it needs most.

Breathe.

When I had my daughters, they had to put me to sleep. It was predetermined that I would have a cesarean, I don’t remember being asked or offered an alternative. The epidural didn’t work. The nurse tapped something against my spine, and I jumped. He did it again, I jumped. Twice they tried. Then, they laid me on my back and slid a mask over my face. Breathe deep, a voice said. The lights were stars; the doctors were magicians. I was so passive. I so easily turned my body over to strangers. I didn’t even know what agency meant. But I knew how to fill my chest with air.

Breathe.

There are nights when I wake up breathless. I have somehow pushed the air from my lungs, extricated the oxygen from my body. In my dreams, there are kids- six, seven, eight years old. The same age as my twin girls. There is a gunman. They don’t know that he’s coming, but they know that something is sour. There are people screaming. Then, a door opens.

There is a space here-a pause.

Between the moment of knowing and the moment of dying. I sometimes imagine this space as a breath. A long, 74-second breath like the one I treasured as a child of their same age. I wake gasping for something. I want to suspend these children in that breath, and I cannot. The air runs low. My daughter falling down the stairs when she was three years old. That scream. The one that woke me from a daydream. The one that cut through the air like a siren. I imagine a classroom full of those screams. How the walls must’ve ached with their echo. The air runs lower. The swallows in my chest fade, collapse, die.

Breathe.

The shooting happened on a Friday. My daughters were six. One was home sick. The walls could not contain my grief. I pressed my spine against the molding of our kitchen door and sobbed. The building could not hold me. The world could not hold me. Not tight enough. I wished for a jar to pour my heartache into and seal away. There was no shelf wide enough. My breath tasted like vinegar-it foreign in my mouth. I mourned the obvious-lives cut short, parents devastated, and the collective heartbreak of a community. But I obsessed over the terror in that pause. That 74-second exhale of air. The swell of life leaving their lungs. That’s when the swallows moved into my chest. They’ve never left.

 

Photo Credit: Bianca Dagheti Flickr via Compfight cc


Amye Archer

Amye Archer holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Her memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny, was named runner-up for the Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award, and has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She has two poetry collections: BANGS and A Shotgun Life, both published by Big Table Publishing. Amye’s work has appeared in Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, Hippocampus, Mothers Always Write, Nailed Magazine, PMS: Poem Memoir Story, PANK, and Provincetown Arts. She is the creator of The Fat Girl Blog.

One thought on “Breathe

  1. Susan P. BlevinsSusan P. Blevins Reply

    So poignant Amye, and so beautifully written. ” That’s when the swallows moved into my chest.” Thank you.
    Susan x

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