For some reason, my late wife has been on my mind lately. As a result, I’d like to post something that came to me during one of these moments.
I know exactly when the act of inhaling and exhaling became something more than simply breathing. I remember when it became breathsong.
Subconsciously, I had accepted the concept long ago, but understanding it as song came clear as my wife lay in an ICU, her lungs tortured by pneumonia, her breathing measured by machines. Betty had a long history with the illness. She’d contracted it once many years back. In later years, she had “walking pneumonia” five times in one twelve-month period, something that required medical attention but not hospitalization.
Unfortunately, she had an even longer history with tobacco. She began smoking at age sixteen and continued unabated until her arrival at the ICU unit at University Hospital. She routinely smoked two packs a day in the fifty-five years I’d known her. As a matter of fact, before we married, Betty made me promise not to try to make her stop smoking.
When I heard her discussing smoking with a friend one day, I asked if they weren’t bothered by recorded data that showed the use of tobacco could be deadly? I recall their almost identical responses. “Those are statistics. We’re individuals with our own set of genes and stamina and ways of dealing with health issues.” In years hence, I’ve wondered if those two intelligent women realized how dumb they sounded at that moment.
Betty’s gone now, of course, but I often think about her breathsong. It was a language all its own set to a rhythm, a beat that changed according to the stimulus of the moment. It was full-throated when she drew on her Doral filter-tips. A muted inhale followed by a satisfied whoosh, signifying pleasure.
It was slow and languid when cuddling one of our sons as he slept in her arms. Sharp and irritated when the other grew mischievous. Her breath could speak of anger or displeasure (usually with me) as distinctly as it could express forgiveness. It was a clear warning to the boys when they had earned her displeasure.
It could signal anything: excitement, fatigue, love, displeasure…and especially the passing of an emotional storm. Her breath bespoke of love at times of personal intimacy, awe when first laying eyes on the Valles Caldera, surprise at a birthday or an anniversary.
And I remember arriving at the hospital the day the song died.
Oh, how I miss that breathsong.
Thanks for letting me get that out of my system. I hope the concept of breath as a song, as a language struck a cord with you.
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