Breathe

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Slightly lighter posting the past couple of days as I try and get my lungs to work. A friend pointed out to me once that an unhealthy number of metaphors I used in my book, "Love Undetectable" were related to breathing. I had no conscious idea. But when I thought about it, the whole oxygen thing has been part of the way I look at the world for as long as I can remember. The novel of Orwell's I had a particular fondness for as a teen was "Coming Up For Air." The word I tended to use for most relationships gone awry in the past was "suffocating." When I first came up with some kind of analogy for the coming out experience, the most accurate I could find was "lung-filling." Yep, it's all about the lungs.

I've had asthma for as long as I can remember. As a small child, I was incapacitated for stretches at a time. They gave you this little machine to suck powder out of, and I'd rattle away through the nights, hoping to be able to breathe confidently enough to fall asleep, scraping the encrusted white goo off the roof of my mouth every twenty minutes or so. It's a scary thing as a kid to think that if you went to sleep, you might stop breathing. If I didn't really make an effort, I was afraid I'd be headed to Jesus a little ahead of schedule. I'd panic some times, as asthmatic kids do, which only makes it worse. My dad would have to pick me up, and rub my head till I calmed down and could inhale again. In the last few years, of course, I discovered I was actually failing to breathe while I was asleep, but now my CPAP machine pumps the air in nightly.

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The only big drawback to living on a wharf right next to the water is that the air is beyond damp a lot of the time. The towels are rarely bone-dry. Some nights and mornings, you can see the sea-mist almost settling in over the sofa. And so my asthma kicks in pretty badly. If I get some kind of cold or Cape Cod Crud,  my pathetic pulmonary system seizes up, the asthma swoops in, and I'm screwed for a couple of weeks. You learn to be patient then, to live with say, 60, 70 percent lung-capacity, to slow down and accept that a deep breath will only mean a spasm that won't quit. When I got HIV, the only consolation was that I'd be out of here pretty quickly once pneumonia set in. It would be a swift departure, which is how I want it. But now that fate is far off, and boring old bronchitis just crouches on my chest like a massive toad of irritation. As I get better, and it's coming slowly, I'm often test-coughing a little, just to see if we're clear again. Not yet. But the feeling when you finally make it back to fully oxygenated life is unlike anything. It's a cliche, as all the New Agers will tell you. But a simple breath, all the way in and all the way out, with no rattle or complication, is one of life's deepest pleasures. You don't know it till you don't have it.

(Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty.)