Friday, December 17, 2021

I’ll Never Breathe Again

Short Story

I’ll Never Breathe Again

(Originally published in The Ramblings of a Condemned Man, NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT, 2018)

What do I think of, knowing I’ll never breathe again?

Many years ago, the mere implications of this phrase forged inquietude far beyond the dull senses analogous to humans. The first time I faced the possibility that “I’ll never breathe again,” my body was in an environment my mind found unfamiliar and unexplored. The burning array of color defining the atoll was unmatched by anything I had ever witnessed on land. Once I was 110 feet to the sand, even those primary images lost their impact. How many shades are there on the spectrum? Colors in the sea looked like turtles had carried bright hues from the shore, growing in complexity each time they were passed off, first to the rays, then the garden eels, until finally the squid painted each vibrant splash along the coral reef.

I was lost in their splendor until somehow one of my new friends told me, “It’s time to go.” This was not my world, my visit limited by the gear carried on my back. It was a reminder of where I belong. But I was not yet ready to break away, to return to the ceiling of this magnificent existence. So, I stayed; I stayed until the electroception of every critter yelled, “No! You must go now.” I bid their world farewell, promising to return when mine again became too much of a bore.

My extended visit was folly, for I carried with me neither the resources nor the companionship required. During my return to the surface, my supply was exhausted. In an instant, there were millions of pounds of water separating me from atmosphere. White turned to gray. Blue to brown. Soon, everything threatened to become black as my eyes begged my new friends for guidance. My ears felt them mocking, in one united chorus, the foolishness of decisions made. “Our home will not tolerate your intrusion. You are our guest for only as long as you are welcome. Nothing more.”

“I’ll never breathe again!” was my only thought. The krill pushed against my body, trying to reject me from their world and back to mine.

“We can’t do this alone, my friend. It’s up to you to fight and kick. If you want to live, kick.”

I fought. To the surface I kicked, where I relished filling my lungs once again. I’ll forever carry the scars of my first brush, respectfully returning to their world countless times since the day I swore, “I’ll never breathe again.”

That was the day I learned my idiocy will drive the day I never breathe again.

The second time I faced the possibility, my body was in an environment my mind considered exotic and unexplored. My throat was exhausted by the struggle to gasp. Nothing was there. I no longer screamed, for there was no more air with which I could make a sound.

She did that to me. My adolescence paled in comparison to her allure. I was her junior in years, her subordinate in passion. She held the prepotent title in both our public and private moments, teaching me all I would need, all I would want…

Breath was no longer an indulgence, a luxury to call for at will. When she was near, I boxed savagely for each gasp of air, for I was melted by thoughts of the consequence if she were to prevail. She struggled to take with as much passion as she fought to give. It was as if I wrestled not to claim victory, but simply to survive and enjoy the fruits of another day with my love. But she held the advantage in our first encounter, and every time after. When her lust overcame my puerility, and she claimed her prize, my mind momentarily screamed, “I’ll never breathe again.” Naturally, this did not happen.

I tried to separate my desires from fear, but that was not possible. I discovered passion is my fear. When it finally takes leave, will I never want to breathe again?

With my question answered countless times over, I realized love captures my heart with an array of enticing weapons; it holds me with the sharpest blades, yet its inevitable loss is but the tiniest of punctures. If my heart does bleed, it is healed in a wink. Loss, pain, misfortune—these are but a few of the terms you may use to describe the calamities of my life. Their damage is limited to my body and the physical world it occupies. The impact of adversity on my heart and mind is like the minuscule suffering caused by the strike of a single grain of sand blown across a beach.

As days turned to weeks and weeks to years, the sandy winds blew, capturing my legs. As the dune pushed higher and immobilized my body, I was no longer free to choose a different course. Every loss returned to remind me of my fallibility; when combined, the collective tiniest of punctures will shred a heart to pieces. Every grain of sand aspires to become a mountain. And when the agony of my recollections became too much to bear, I lifted my lumbered arms. With a pistol under my chin, I inhaled a goblet of life and, for the third time, whispered, “I’ll never breathe again.” If those words were to be true, I would control their course, not the fucking sand.

But the winds continued to swirl, taking with them several grains. Loved ones returned and aided strangers, their blades now used to dig my body free. Everything will change. I learned two lessons that day: everything will change, and I will breathe again.

I relished the understanding that I alone determine my fate. Since that day, every breath I’ve elected to take has been more wondrous than the last. They were no longer a struggle to maintain, were not a burden to endure, they were my…

They were my sovereignty—until your grasp took hold. So many questions flood my mind.

“Why did you pick me?”

“How long did you know?”

“What will you tell her?”

So, you ask me what do I think of, knowing I’ll never breathe again?

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