REMEMBERING AUNT BECKY

Dear Aunt Becky,

Mom and I are both writing letters to you. Mom thinks it might help us. I hope so.

I want to say how grateful I am for all those times you took me to practice for basketball, volleyball, and ice hockey when mom wasn’t able to. Too busy she says now, inching her way up that corporate ladder. She’s sorry she bailed on you last time for lunch. Stupid, useless meeting, she said. It will probably be in her letter.

I’m thinking back Auntie Becky to when I was five years old and at soccer. Do you remember that?  You drove me to practice that day and I got kicked in the face by a soccer ball.  I tried so hard not to cry.  But I did cry. Blake’s mom called me a baby not just once, but over and over again. She said:  You shouldn’t play if you can’t handle getting hurt. 

Aunt Becky, you heard her. I know you did, even though you always denied it. I saw you walk away and left me standing there by myself as Blake’s mom rubbed her eyes, whined like a baby would, and stuck her lower lip out. I was so mad at you at the time because you abandoned me like that. Then a soccer ball thundered across the field from the sidelines and crashed into her glasses. Her spectacles became slanted on her face.

Blake’s mom looked around, not sure where the ball came from. You strode across the grass, arms swinging by your side, nose elevated and said: Sorry about that. I was just checking the balls to make sure they weren’t too low. We have to make sure they’re inflated enough for the team.

Blake’s mom was angry with and you and screamed, you did that on purpose! And you said, who me? Don’t be so paranoid. But I guess you shouldn’t come out to cheer your kid on if you can’t handle a little punch in the face by a stray soccer ball.

Blake’s mom scowled at you.

We went for ice cream afterwards.

I always knew you were there for me. That’s why a couple of years ago I called you when the first guy I ever liked Eric, brought me to my the Spring dance and dumped me there. Eric was all nice and sweet at our house buying me a corsage, pinning it to me, and then us chatting together when we were in the backseat of his mom’s car. But when we got there he wanted to dance the first song with Felicity. He asked if it was alright with me. I wanted to be a “cool” girlfriend and thought it’s only one song, so I said, sure. Felicity was taller than me, with bigger breasts, and juicier lips. They kissed during that song. I ran out of the gym in tears and called you.

I didn’t call mom and dad. Because you were my best friend and the one I could always depend on. When you got there, you said that you were going to go onto the dance floor and pull Eric out by his ear. I begged you not to. Instead, we went shopping. You bought me a new pair of jeans and a shirt that I could wear that night. Then we had dinner and saw a movie.  After dinner you said, I need a cigarette.

I shouldn’t have bothered you about smoking. I just wanted you to stay forever.

Aunt Becky, I’m furious for a lot of reasons. One reason is because you drove me to basketball practice on Tuesday night, stayed, drove me home, and that I forgot my bag in your car.

I’m also angry that the last thing you said to me was: I’ll see you on Saturday. Well, I saw you on that Saturday. But you weren’t you.

Someone decided that your hair should be curled; your face was white-white with red blush marks streaked across your cheeks that made you look like a clown. There was red lipstick on your lips.  Your eyes were closed and your fingers were weaved together. They sat on top of your chest.

It wasn’t you.

Why did they do that? Why didn’t they put you in that black cocktail dress that you loved so much? You know the one. It was the one you wore to every occasion. And they should have used your light bronze gloss instead. You hated red lipstick.

I’m sorry Aunt Becky I didn’t get too close to you the last time I saw you. I couldn’t.

After you dropped me off on Tuesday you should have gone home and had a glass of red wine from Australia with Uncle Pat. Then you probably would have had another cigarette in the garage. Uncle Pat always disliked your silly habit. He banned you from smoking inside for his health and the health of others.

You should know that Uncle Pat insisted that he help with the wooden box. His wife, he said. He looked like he was being crushed by the weight of the coffin; shoulders were hunched forward, and his eyes were red-rimmed.  Uncle Pat looked as if he prematurely aged ten years that day.

Not that you were heavy. I remember the way Uncle Pat picked you up, twirled you around, and threw you over his shoulder. Auntie, your head bobbed up and down and you snorted with laughter and said: I’m not your cavewoman! Uncle Pat always said: caveman-meet-feminist-smoking-hot-woman. Caveman-win-woman-with-caveman-charm.  

I forgot my bag in your car. I had a report that was due the next day.

When I called you on your cell phone, you turned your car around.

I told Mom, it’s my fault. Stupid bag. Stupid report.

Mom says it’s not my fault: That man was drunk. He ran that light. It was poor judgement on his part. The rest of it: Becky being at that intersection, at that time – just bad luck.

I dreamt last night that we were laughing and walking on a beach in Australia, (Remember? You said you would take me when I turned 18?) sun setting, salty waves crashing on the beach lulling me into a sense of blissful peace. For no reason, you stopped all of a sudden, smiled at me, and gently kissed me on both cheeks and walked away towards the ocean.

I started to scream and cry: Aunt Becky, where are you going? You can’t leave me here by myself! You brought me thousands of miles away from home, and I have no idea how to get back! I stomped my feet in the sand and asked you: How could you do this to me?

You turned around and said: Call your mom and dad, or Uncle Pat. I would love to stay, but I can’t.

You gave me one last wave and a smile. Then I watched you wade into the water. I watched right until your head disappeared over the waves.

I waited on the shoreline for a little while longer, hoping you would come back.

When I finally turned around and looked behind me, mom was there. I ran towards mom crying so hard while screaming something towards her; but I slurped on my words and they were a jumbled mess of: Becky, not here, ocean. I made absolutely no sense. Mom immediately took off in a sprint towards me. As we got closer, I could see that Mom was crying just like me, and her arms were outstretched. When we reached each other, she didn’t even hesitate – she wrapped her arms around me tightly.

It’s been a few months and mom and I are closer now. But, I still miss you. I felt bad telling mom that, but I did. And she said: Of course you do. Great people are missed.

We’re both writing letters to you and burning them. Not because we’re trying to purge the thought of you. That will never happen. But this gives us a chance to say the things we didn’t. Mom also thinks that if we burn the pages they will float to heaven and it will be as if we’ve mailed our letters to you. I don’t know if it’s true, but the thought makes me smile.

Love Always,

Cassie

Losing It All

When things begin to deteriorate it sometimes strikes swiftly and with a fierceness of a single white dazzling electric thunderstorm bolt. But sometimes it also moves like red lava that slowly seeps down from the mountain, creeping towards everything you love devouring grass and trees in its path until it swallows your home.  And there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Miles away with hands clasped over your mouth, and tears in your eyes, you watch as everything that belonged to you is swallowed up by the lava.

The Better Man

“How many times did she ask you that?” Brett asks while his fingers tug on the Budweiser label. It shreds a little more and another part of the label falls to the counter.

“Man, it was only a couple of times. But it was like she didn’t believe a word I said: like I was building a different life behind her back while she was at home making mac n’ cheese for Brianna and David.” My fingers slide down the cold Labatt Blue bottle as I shake my head. Tina Turner’s, What’s Love Got To Do With It, plays in the background of Jackson’s.

This bar, Jackson’s, is a dingy joint with dark lighting. The women here walk by us with dresses too short, and wear pants and shirts that are too tight.  My eyes casually pass over a blonde woman as she walks past us wearing a black dress and stilettos.

My thumb pokes at the label of the bottle. I’ve been fighting this fight for a decade. I’m sick of it.

“Maybe you should buy her some flowers, or something? Make sure she feels appreciated for the stuff she does. Puts up with your belly-aching and all?” Brett says as he throws his head back and takes another slug of his beer hiding his smile.

“Who are you, Dr. Phil?” I snicker at Brett. I swivel around on my bar stool adding in, “and, who’s side are you on anyways?” I ask as I peer over at my best friend. I’ve known him since eighth grade when we went to school together and played hockey. We lost contact for a couple of years when he went off to College. But now he’s back. Brett was also the best man at my wedding. I’ve had lots of good times with him. I can tell him almost anything.

My phone buzzes. I flip it over from the bar counter.

The text reads:

Kaitlyn: Where are you?

“Look,” I say while shaking my head. “I can’t even go out for a drink with a friend before the warden’s checking in on me.”

Brett’s eyes quickly pass over the text message. He half nods in my direction when he finishes reading the message.

“Well,” he says standing up, “I’ve got to get home. Jessica needs me home by 8:30 to watch the kids. It’s her book club night.”

I snort at him saying, “What the hell, man? Who’s in charge of your relationship?” My mouth twitches into a half smile.

He looks past me, smiles, and says, “Make no mistake. It’s her.”

“Fine,” I say as I pull out two twenty bills and shout at Mike, “hey, is that enough?”

Mike moves towards us, flicks his eyes over the money, and says, “Yeah. That’s good. Want change?”

“Nope, we’re good.”

Brett and I walk out the door together and I pull out the package of cigarettes in the pocket of my jacket and light a smoke. While holding the cigarette between my lips I mumble, “Want one?”

“Nope,” Brett says with a wave of his hand. “I’m trying to quit.”

My phone buzzes again. “Who’s that now?” My cheeks twitch in response to the annoyance. I wave my hand at Brett that holds the cigarette and say, “Go ahead! It’s probably Kaitlyn again.”

Brett gives a laugh, nods and says, “Okay, we’ll see you later.” Then he turns and runs through the snow to his car.

My phone shows this:

457-892-3675: Are you coming over tonight?

I type: Yeah. Leaving Jackson’s now. Be there in 10 minutes.

My fingers punch at the keys. After I’ve sent the message I delete both of them. Then I take a slow drag on my cigarette.

 

 

 

Crossing the NY Finish Line

20180727_070411My feet hit the pavement in slow motion as a red-pink sunrise greets me. Each one of my foot strikes is slower than I want it to be. Like the sun rising above me, I take my time in getting started.

But that’s not always a bad thing. What other creature wakes up to a screeching alarm clock and hits the ground running right from the start? I know my brown, furry, four-legged friend begins each day like this: with his bum in the air and paws outstretched, he’ll effortlessly complete a perfect Downward-Facing dog pose. Then he yawns. No one can rush him.

Why can’t I be more like him?

I berate myself on a daily, if not an hourly basis. Why am I not a faster runner?  Why can’t I put the fork down? I probably wouldn’t need to hit the gym and the road nearly as often if I didn’t eat so much yesterday, the day before that, or on weekends.  Clearly, I have a problem with food.

Why don’t I dress better? Why don’t I learn how to speak French? Or, why not learn Italian? Why don’t I spend more time with my friends? Why don’t I share more with friends?  Why? Then with all the unrelenting questions spinning in my mind, I find myself hating me and running. Definitely – hating me running.   

Finally, I turn a bend. I’m being followed.  Who’s there?

Oh, it’s only you. Memories of what’s already happened: Dad’s death at sixty-three years old from lung cancer.  Damn it. I’ve been here before.  I know this road. I’m running down a dead end street with no other options to change direction.

I breathe hard. Here it comes: those terrible news clips that are replayed about losses that I’ve suffered. I hear myself hyperventilating.  Excellent.  Now, I can’t breathe. I stop to walk it out. In my brain I rationalize, I’m just having laboured breathing because of unknown allergens in the air. That’s it. Or, so I tell myself.  What’s that I feel on my face?  My eyes fill up with tears and burst along the sides of my cheeks like a waterfall. I feel my lower lip quiver. I can’t stop it from happening.

What will my neighbours think? Today, I have poorly chosen to run in my neighbourhood. It seemed like a good idea when I started.  If someone sees me that I know, they will think I’ve left my mind two blocks back. I pause for a moment and wonder:  maybe I should go back and get it? Nope, my inner voice reminds me.  I lost it a long time ago.

I rage against my history, fighting, to pick up the pace. With every footprint left on the road, I am dragged down by the quicksand in my mind. Here it comes: my brother’s accident. STOP IT. A random accident that could have turned out worse: but I can’t help but question, why not better?

I slow down, slithering back to my house, defeated. I am sobbing and hyperventilating. I hold my hand over my tummy clutching it in an effort to try to force myself to stay in an upright position.  Please, let me make it home.  Don’t let me end up lying in the fetal position at the side of the road, only to be found by a kind-hearted passerby who will immediately call 911 because they believe I am injured. The next day’s headlines would read:

LOCAL WOMAN FOUND IN DITCH UNHARMED:

SUFFERS MENTAL BREAKDOWN TWO BLOCKS FROM HOME

Why do I try to run?  Why don’t I just give up?

***

November 6th, 2011

The sun is breaking over the horizon in New York. The air is crisp and cold and it awakens my senses. But it’s not just the air that has my adrenaline pumping: it’s also because today is RACE DAY.

The sun rises a little more over the horizon, and my mind uses the light in front of me to review what I’ve done. Or maybe, dwells more on what I haven’t done.

SHIT. HILLS. How did I not realize there were hills in New York?  But there are no hills in New York. Right. They have bridges. A dedicated marathon friend of mine informed me just days before the NY Marathon. See, he prepares, and knows what to expect. I, on the other hand,  prepar-ish.   I think to myself, should I have done hill training?

Oh well, nothing can be done now. You did most of the work. Run. Ice bath. Physiotherapy. Massage. Repeat.  You’ve done the work. Just enjoy the race.

As our bus arrives at Staten Island the bus finally stops and we step outside. The air is brisk. But the weather forecast predicts a high of 21 degrees and that’s quite warm for New York in early November.  And it’s nice weather to run in. I’ll take it.

After more than four hours of waiting, walking, stretching, chatting, and sitting (oh and taking those last minute bathroom breaks!) we are finally in our corrals. The announcer enthusiastically states it is the largest New York City Marathon, with 47,000 runners. A little later, Frank Sinatra’s, “New York, New York” echoes everywhere. Sometime later, my corral is finally released and we set off on the marathon route.

I start to run, running, then, I’M FLYING.  Well, flying while taking intermittent walk breaks. I do things at my own pace.  But the advantage is by doing my run slowly, I get to take it all in. The crowds of people cheer, and clap, and line the streets waiting for us. Music rumbles through the roads. They encourage us, hand out food, and remind us that we’re one percent of the population that will ever complete a marathon. And they’re there, for us. Even the slow pokes like me. The back-of-the-packers who have the slimmest of hopes of finishing the five Burroughs run in less than six hours. When we enter Brooklyn, a big man, with a gruff Brooklyn accent says to us, “Welcome to Brooklyn!

WELCOME, INDEED.

Throngs of people line the streets through Manhattan and as we turn a bend we enter Central Park.  I secretly wonder, how long have these people been out here? Did the mayor of New York create a schedule for the people of New York instructing each person as to when they should appear to ensure there was always sufficient support along the marathon route?

No, it couldn’t be.  The enthusiasm was genuine. The energy given off by the crowds could not be scheduled or rehearsed. It was a five Burroughs block party.

As I pushed onwards towards the finish line, I went down that haunted road that follows me. It starts off innocently enough with me reminiscing about 2008. As luck would have it, 2008 would be the first year that I didn’t make it in to the New York City Marathon. See, if you’re slow like me, there’s only one way to gain entry and that’s by applying and hoping, to be randomly selected through the lottery system. Of course, if I applied three years in a row, I was guaranteed entrance in the fourth year. Who says perseverance doesn’t pay?

But other things happened in the fall of 2008.  It’s a trigger you see. The year matters. In the fall of 2008, my husband was laid off. Two weeks later doctors found the “shadow” on my father’s lung, and a couple of months later my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Of course, in Feb 2009 my father succumbed to pneumonia.

Then, I’m back in January 2010. Hubby and I are at a local pub called, D’Arcy McGee’s. It was a spontaneous suggestion on my part brought on by a wish for fish and chips. In between mouthfuls of deep fried haddock and French fries, I declare to my husband with utmost confidence, “I think I’m turning a corner.” The overwhelming, penetrating, grief of my father’s death was starting to lessen. Finally, I thought, I think I’ll be alright.

THIS IS A WELL DOCUMENTED RULE: NEVER ANNOUNCE SUCH THINGS TO THE UNIVERSE.  IT WILL CLUB YOU OVER THE HEAD.

The next day I was clubbed.  My mother called in the early morning on Saturday to say my brother had an accident and he had surgery overnight. He was recovering in the Intensive Care Unit of the Hospital.  He had an accident while working on a construction job that changed his life forever.

I snap myself back to the present day.  Am I hyperventilating a few hundred meters from the finish line?  Now, I’m walking.

No, this is not happening. Not here. Not now. I’ve worked too hard.

With new found determination I push forward, forcing back the memories with each footprint. Timing is everything. I know that. I wouldn’t have been ready in those three years. Stumbling, one foot in front of the other, in a sloth-mode-walk each day to work was challenging enough.

I feel my arms reach towards the sky as I cross the line where above me is written the word – FINISH.  A picture taken shortly after the race shows me proudly wearing my medal. My eyes glisten. I wear a smile so wide that on the right side of my forehead a blood vessel protrudes above my eyebrow.

Sometimes it’s best to let fate take its course. You can cry as much as you want about the unfairness of life, but life may have other plans for you. And sometimes, something you want so desperately isn’t meant to be, at least, not right now. So, you wait, for another day, when you have warm weather, sunny skies, and long lines of crowds cheering you on.

***

The Time It Takes

Four days, three hours and ten seconds was all the time I needed.

I bite my lower lip opening the crack. A red stream of blood runs along the lines of my swollen mouth mapping every part of it. Scarlet water drips down my chin in an attempt to escape its host: ME.

I’m unrecognizable. Five days earlier I was a different woman who was proud, strong, and fearless. I lean forward into the mirror and wonder, where’s that girl now? 

In The Rain

Water drips from my hair, my cheek, and the end of my nose. Where’s my umbrella?

“Why do you walk so far?” Marie asks. Then she blurts out, “Parking’s available closer to the office.”

Should I tell her? Or will it create a moment of: I can hear a paper clip hit the carpeting on the other side of the floor?

My friend slipped off a stool. It wasn’t a bungee jumping incident or skydiving accident. She’s short, and wanted to get oregano from the top shelf.

“It’s a good form of exercise,” I say.

Part III: If I Could Only Breathe

“Mom-mmy, Mommy, Mommm-mmm-y!”

Mom took me to my horseback riding lessons. After, we would go for soft serve chocolate ice cream. It’s our favorite.

“Mommy!!!!!”

Her smile is the last thing I see at night. She moves in close to me with the sweet smell of her perfume surrounding me. Then mom pulls the sheets tight around me, cocooning me in my duvet. Once I’m tightly wrapped, she tries to plant one hundred goodnight kisses on my cheek. I always stopped her at fifteen. When I was little, I always let her go to one hundred. But at some point, I didn’t. I was too cool to have my mom smother me with all those kisses, even though no one else was there.

I don’t know why I stopped her.

“Mommy!!!” I scream through blurry eyes. I’m too frightened to turn away from Momma’s pale white face for fear I’ll never see her again. But at the same time, I don’t want to see her like this anymore. I want to see her smile.

“Alvina, Alvina, Alvina….”

I blink at the man’s voice who knows my name. I don’t know who he is.

Now, he’s dragging me away by the hand from momma.

“Mommy!” I hiccup through my tears. Drool escapes from my lips. My nose drips onto the carpet where my wide-eyed mother lies.

“Alvina, baby,” the man’s voice cracks apart like soil does in summertime when it hasn’t rained for several weeks.  The man’s lower lip trembles. I feel his hand shake inside of my hand. Small streams of water fall from the corners of his eyes.

How did I not know who the man was?

“Daddy!”  I shout as fear and comfort collide together inside of me. I thought I was alone. But now that I know he’s here, I’m relieved and yet, even more frightened at the same time. Daddy’s arms wrap around me and he lifts me up. I drop my head onto his shoulder and bury my face into the space between his neck and shoulders.

I’m being carried away from mom.

“Do you know how long she’s been like this?” a man asks who wears a paramedic’s uniform.

I blink at him. When did he get here?

Daddy places me on the ground. I stand beside him not quite certain what else to do. He continues to hold my hand. It’s comforting. But it doesn’t feel quite right. We never hold hands. It’s mom’s job.

I know this is bad.

I’ve got nothing else to do, so I stare at dad’s face. Water drips from his nose and he wipes it away with his free hand. Dad’s eyes are red. I hear him say, “I don’t know. I found her like this. I was working late.”

“What’s your wife’s name?” a bald paramedic asks with dark brown eyes and bushy eyebrows.

“Be-Beth,” Dad says stuttering.

Dad never stutters. He owns his company, and he says: he’s the man in charge.

I take a deep breath in and summon all the strength I have inside of me. Daddy needs me to be brave now. I squeeze dad’s hand so he knows I’m still here. Nothing is worse than feeling like you’re all alone.

Dad’s eyes glance down at me. His face contorts in a twisted expression of emotion. Water pours from his eyes, over his lips, and out his nose all at the same time.  His breath is laboured as he sobs for a few seconds.

From where mom is I hear, “Beth, can you hear me?” a dark haired woman paramedic asks.

I notice that at some point the paramedics moved mom to a stretcher and they’ve placed an oxygen mask over her lips.  As they wheel her past me and dad, her eyes roll over to where we’re standing next to a policeman.

I don’t remember seeing the policeman. Where did the paramedic go? But he’s the bald guy with bushy eyebrows. He wasn’t a paramedic. He was always a policeman. How did I mix up their uniforms?

I can’t believe I was upset over a grade earlier today. Stupid history test.  One grade. I can’t believe a few hours ago, that’s all that mattered to me.

My lower lip begins to tremble. But when I look up at dad, I stop it.  I notice dad’s calm now too.

“Come on, Alvina. Let’s find out what hospital they’re taking your mother to,” Dad says as he fumbles for his keys in his pocket.

We walk behind mom with our hands clasped together. Dad’s focused on mom. My eyes flip over to the window. Outside, I see the twenty acres of woods my parents own. I search there for one second of peace in the leafy branches. Because when I’m upset, it’s where I always go.

Through the window panes, I see a faint outline of a woman. The woman has long dark hair, and wears a plaid shirt, and blue jeans.

There, Gudrun waits, for my return.

Part II: If I Could Only Breathe

Part II:

What a mess.

Beth was always a slob who never took her domestic responsibilities seriously. But then again, she never took anything seriously: not cleaning our home, not as my wife, or our wedding vows. Selfish. High-maintenance. Drama Queen. Those are the best words I can think of to describe my “beloved”.

“Beth?”

Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Gulliver’s Travels, Outlander, 50 Shades of Grey, The Alchemist. Her books are recklessly spread across the floor as if she’s had a temper tantrum and tossed them across the room.  That wouldn’t bother me if it were just her stuff. But my reading material is twisted together with her garbage: The Wealthy Barber, MONEY Master the Game by Tony Robbins, Losing my Virginity by Richard Branson to name a few.  I’ve never realized until now how different we are.  I’m made of the real stuff. I work hard to get things done. Beth is all about the fluff.

“Beth?” I say more impatiently. My wife dislikes me. But she normally at least shakes her head with annoyance in my direction when I say her name. Or for that matter, ask her any question.  I stop. Not one muscle flinches from her body. Not one hair moves on her head.

It’s quiet.

If there’s humming from the lights, I don’t hear it. If there’s a fly bumping along inside of a light fixture, I don’t hear that either.  My fists open and close. Trying to do what? Pump fuel to my heart?  I don’t know. Why am I panicking? I’m sure she’s fine.

“Beth, stop playing games!” I shriek at her uncontrollably. Her body is spread out on the multi-coloured Persian rug we purchased from Turkey a couple of years ago when things were still good between us.  There’s no response from her.

Weird.

My heart thumps like lightning does igniting fear in me.   I stumble over our books that impede my way as I scramble to Beth’s side.

“Beth!” I scream. My hands shake her limp body.

Wide-eyed, terrified eyes peer back at me. Beth’s skin is blanched like chalk. Her eyes remind me of a woman I pulled from a car at an accident a few months ago. It was the same night that Beth told me about her affair with Ross.

“Beth, hang on!” My voice shakes with terror as I fumble for my phone. It tumbles out of my hand and lands on The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. I grab my cell and punch at the keys mumbling, “Goddammit, it’s three numbers! How can dialing 911 be so difficult?”

“Momma!” Alvina screams as she enters through the wooden doors of the den.

No, no, no, no! Alvina, don’t see this! “Alvina, please stay back, honey!” I bellow to her.

Like mother, like daughter, she disregards what I’ve said. Now, she’s sobbing while holding Beth’s hand looking up at me with tears galloping down her round cheeks as her lower lip trembles whimpering, “mommy, mommy, mommy…”.  I could barely stand to see Beth’s wide, terrified eyes staring back at me. To see Alvina, my only daughter, like this –

“Police, fire, ambulance?” a controlled voice says through my cell phone.

“Ambulance!” I shriek.

If I Could Only Breathe

Part I:

Beads of sweat gather on my temples. I take a big gulp of air trying to fill my lungs. It’s absolutely useless. I’m no better off than I was before.  Desperately, I form a fist and place it over the left side of my chest. After a few minutes, I begin to pound at my breast with what I think is quite a bit of force. But as it turns out, it’s only a gentle thud.

Then my arm sweeps across the end table knocking it, and the books that were there, onto the hardwood floor.  My eyes are wide. I’m helpless. I can’t move. As I gasp for more air, my mouth is moving, but no words come from me.

I’m trying to prevent something from happening. But I have no idea what that something is.