I’m wallowing in nostalgia again this week, so I’d like to publish a paean to my late wife. Please bear with me as I remember Betty.
I know exactly when the act of inhaling and exhaling became something more than simply breathing… when it became breathsong.
Subconsciously, I accepted the concept long ago, but understanding it as song became clear to me as my wife lay dying in an ICU, her lungs tortured by pneumonia, her breathing measured by machines. Betty had a long history with the illness. She suffered a serious case decades ago. In later years, she acquired “walking pneumonia” five times in one twelve-month period, something that required medical attention but not hospitalization.
She had an even longer association with tobacco. She took up smoking at age sixteen and continued unabated until her admission to the ICU unit at UNM Hospital. Betty had routinely smoked two packs a day in the fifty-five years I’d known her. When I questioned her about verified data proving the use of tobacco could be deadly, she responded that those were statistics. “I’m an individual with my own set of genes and stamina and ways of dealing with health issues.” In years hence, I’ve wondered if that intelligent woman realized how dumb she sounded at that moment.
Betty’s gone now, of course, but I often think of her breathsong. A language all its own, it beat to a unique rhythm that changed with the stimulus of the moment… tempest, squall, tornado, sea breeze, gentle caress, mountain calm. Full-throated when she drew on Doral filter tips—a muted inhale followed by a satisfied whoosh, signifying pleasure. Slow and languid when cuddling one of our sons as he slept in her arms. Sharp and irritated when the other child grew mischievous.
Her breath signaled anything she wished to express: excitement, fatigue, love, displeasure…and especially the passing of an emotional storm. Her breathing bespoke of love at times of personal intimacy, awe when viewing such marvels as the Valles Caldera, surprise at an anniversary present, apprehension when confronting one of life’s unexpected challenges. It projected her anger or displeasure (usually with me) as distinctly as it expressed forgiveness and struck a chord of clear warning when someone earned her displeasure.
I remember the day that song died.
Oh, how I miss her breathsong.
Thanks for indulging me in this moment of weakness. Betty was a red-headed gal with a temperament to match. I was lucky to have known her.
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