Air

I hold my breath.

I am used to this practice, a habit of sorts now, as he rolls onto me, eyes wide with wanting.

He doesn’t like that part of me, the in and out, rhythmic, life-giving and life-releasing inhale and exhale. So I hold in the stale air, wet with morning dew and the building humidity of night.

I don’t remember when I learned to hold my breath…probably in infant swimming class. My mother drove me to the university pool, which in my mind still seems like this monstrous body of water, all-encompassing like the ocean, only without waves and salt. The ceiling hung over us like a forest canopy, so high we could never reach the top, with windows and light I wouldn’t be able to count for at least two more years. The experience now only lives in my mind as stories my mother has told me.

The instructor asked our parents to blow in our faces and then stick us in the water.

I try to picture my mother, not from the vantage point of being in her fragile arms, but like an outside narrator observing mother and child, blowing and holding, breathing and kicking. I try to see us bonding together, but the picture blurs as if I am the one under the water. My eyes sting from the chlorine.

I’ve been watching and unwatching myself since then. At times, a clear picture emerges, and I am there, seeing and breathing and smelling and feeling and tasting. More often, I am that child in the water, forced not to breathe, not by my own choice but by instinct.

I want to learn to exhale.