I can tell you about my breath.
When I awake tonight, only two hours after first falling asleep, my body is tight, tense in every muscle. As I float to the surface I become aware of my mind. A few more minutes pass and I become aware of my body. My thoughts drift here and there and I recognize I am wandering too far into the future. I bring myself back to right now.
In. Ouuuut. Innnnn. Ouuuut. I force myself to breathe deeply. It is a struggle, but I know that it is the only thing.
Almost as soon as I begin to focus on right now and that breath, my mind is moving ahead again. I pull it back but it wants desperately, and it despises at the same time, to think about the hospital waiting room, the ticking of the clock, the hours between the rolling of the gurney into the OR and the arrival of the doctor to tell us he’s out of surgery.
I force my lungs to open wide, pulling in air, through my nostrils, slowly slowly. My belly opens up, air filling it to capacity. I can feel my shoulders, tight and strained. I try to let the air into them as well. Relax. Relax.
As soon as I breathe in, the thoughts of the hospital dissipate. But almost as soon as the exhale is done, in those last seconds of exhale, the thoughts come back, like the tide, like a wave, like a freight train.
Ben in surgery. Ben in pain. The waiting room. His bedside. Tubes. The color of his skin. The feel of the vinyl seats in the hospital room. The sound of the curtain being pulled across his bedside. The sound of other children moaning from their beds nearby.
Again, I tell myself. Breathe again. Innnn. Ouuuut.
I can tell you this is not easy. I have been here before, and yet, I truly do not remember feeling exactly like this. Perhaps it’s like the amnesia you have of pain. Perhaps that explains why this feels foreign and yet familiar.
Seventeen days before surgery and I cannot sleep. It makes perfect sense to me. But how, I ask my brain, will I survive seventeen nights like this? How will I function for those seventeen days?
I come back to my body. My skin is prickly. My nerves are on high alert. I bring myself back to my breath. Breathe innnnnn.
I feel pain in my groin. I feel pain in my feet. My eyes burn, though they are closed, tight shut. They are dry.
I bring myself back to now. Breathe. Innnnnnn.
Mark snores peacefully next to me. I have taken to sleeping with earplugs and an eye mask. It was working until about a week ago. My sleep improving after years of fitful, fruitless, interrupted nights.
Tonight, though, I can feel the little orange sponges in my ear canals, I can hear Mark’s snores through them and feel his dispassion. Well, I imagine his dispassion. I know he’d try to help, if I’d let him.
Again I breathe. I am forcing myself to breathe. Thank god my body knows to breathe, however shallowly, without my conscious effort, because if it didn’t I wouldn’t make it. That’s for sure. I wouldn’t make it. My mind is clearly not on survival, my breath is so shallow in the in-between moments.
And I should tell you, I’m not panicking, but I’m not not panicking, if you know what I mean. This is just where I am. It is unpleasant. It is not helpful. I can talk myself out of it, but again that’s just my brain distracting me from—
What will I do in those waiting hours? Knit, crossword puzzles, check Facebook three million times, read a book? My attention span is getting so short these days I can barely get through a paragraph. Who will I talk to? Who will, what will distract me from the endless, murderous waiting?
I drag my mind back. Now. Right now. There is no point in this line of thought. There is only right now.
The air flows in, filling up my belly again. I hold it, allowing myself to relax, focused on that one action, and then I release.
If I can only stay here, return here, to this breath, I will get through somehow. It is the key, held ever so vulnerably in my core, to survival.