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.

Gretchen & The Red Ford Mustang

Flickers of white light crackle all around her body. Then sunshine warms her face. The landscape before her reveals green meadows, and some distance away, are white cliffs carved along the shoreline. A bird soars above the water, hunting.

Darkness descends.

A porch light switches on revealing a woman with blonde hair. When she turns around, Monica knows her name. Twenty-one year old Gretchen brightly smiles at her with beer-laced breath. Peter wobbles to his red 1969 Ford Mustang and reaches for his door handle. Once the door is open, he throws himself into the driver’s seat.

I want to say something. It doesn’t feel right.  Maybe they should stay? Or maybe Gretchen should just stay? But who I am to argue? They’re both adults.

The Mustang screams to life with a thundering noise, and then the King’s, “Jailhouse Rock” engulfs the air. Headlights shine light on the trees, but they are merely shadows of what I can see in daylight. The tree shadows remind me of a graveyard scene. I don’t know why.

Gretchen bounces into the passenger seat. She rolls her window down, and I notice she’s re-applied her red lipstick for Peter.  Joyful and giddy, from the booze and her man, she beams at me. After years of trying to catch Peter’s eye, she’s finally leaving with him!

Why should I say anything? She’s an adult, capable of making her own decisions. Besides, I tried to talk to her, and she said Peter was fine.

I watch the car backup, go forward, and then it races into the darkness. Red tail lights flicker at me. They seem to be saying with each pulse of red glow: you need to stop, STOP, STOP THEM – NOW!!

Gretchen’s ivory hand is out the window flapping from the car. A back hand wave, she signals to me, a final farewell.

One Moment, Please

“I’m suffocating.” Her eyes are wide. Hands rest limply by her side. She’s taken on the “look” as if she’s nearly drowned and was saved by some heroic passerby.

The man seated across from her scribbles something into his notebook. One eyebrow arched, like he does, he asks, “Physically, or figuratively?”

“Both,” she answers swiftly. Her voice is thick like overgrown trees and shrubs that will slow a hiker down in the woods.

His eyebrows arch towards the ceiling. He asks, “What do you think is causing you to suffocate?”

“The pace. The rat race. Crushing responsibilities.”

“Responsibilities? Such as your job?”

“Yeah,” her voice wavers. Quietly, she ponders how much more to say.  Of course, he picked up on the job immediately.  But there are other things. Responsibilities don’t only lie in a job. It’s everything, and at the same time, nothing at all. Will he think her a selfish whiner? One of those petulant children stomping their feet, screaming, “GIVE ME THAT! I DESERVE IT!”

This is a safe place, where she can say anything, right? That’s what she’s been told by him, and by others. With a sigh, her words tumble out in a rush, “I worry about being late for work, my boss thinking I’m slacking off, my neighbours thinking I’m lazy because I don’t garden more.”

“Are you slacking off at work?” His voice is a rhythmic hum as small dots of dust float up in the air as if there has suddenly been a gust of wind knocking them off of the bookshelf, books, or the oak coffee table in front of her.  But the two of them are barely moving. They sit there, talking. The shared words may mean something, or nothing. They’re digging, trying to get to the root of the problem. The thought comes to her of things she’s read about London and Rome where construction workers begin to dig and find burial sites, or ancient Roman ruins.  Who wins? Does the past get to keep the space? Or does the future, knock over the past?

She snaps herself back to the now.  “No, I don’t think I’m slacking off. I mean, I have days when I could do better.” There’s a pause as she waits for the moment of judgement to pass. She’s certain that’s the case. Will it matter if she says one more thing? She decides, why not? Finally, she adds, “I’m just so tired sometimes.”

His eyebrows knit together. Index finger rises, and pushes his eyeglasses up to the bridge of his nose.  “I think we all have days we can do better. After all, we’re human.” He stops talking for a moment. It’s a tactic of his to force her to consider the words he said.  “So, you’re not slacking off at work. Is there anything else you can do differently in the morning?  Maybe, leave earlier so you’ll have more time to commute to work?”

“I try to leave earlier most days.” She bristles as her arms fold defensively in front of her.  “I could skip my Starbucks run, but I don’t want to.” Eyes suddenly fill with tears. She knows what he’ll say next. He won’t get it, and will try to reason with her. Explain to her that it’s the most rational decision.

“You go to Starbucks every day?” His voice seeps with an incredulous tone as his hand begins to swivel and swirl around as the pen he’s holding stops and starts, racing from left to right, jotting notes down in his notebook.

“Yes, even if I really don’t have the time, and I’m already running late.” Stopping herself, she breathes out and then adds, “because I want just 30 seconds, maybe a minute of relaxing.” Her words rush out in a flurry. She needs to explain herself before he stops her. Make him try to understand her position. “I do the mobile order every day. But it’s the 30 seconds of running in and I hear the old time music, and the baristas are SUPER busy, but they’ll still take a moment to acknowledge me with a smile, or a hello. Then, sometimes all these people are in the coffee shop who are having conversations, reading their books, or sitting and sipping their coffee. All I think, I would love that. That’s how life should be.”

“How life should be?” He peers at her through his spectacles as wisps of hair fall forward onto his forehead.

“Yes,” her voice is emphatic. Hands wave in the air making small circles, “life should be full with books to read, feeling the warmth of sunshine and heat on your face….You know – sipping beverages and chewing your food properly, and when you have an indulgent delicious dessert savouring the lemon, chocolate, or cinnamon taste in every bite.  Versus shoving food into your mouth in between stop lights, while eyeing other cars suspiciously as if they’ve all conspired together to leave at the exact time you did, because they want you to be late for work.”

“Do you believe that?” His pen pauses on the paper. He reclines back and uncrosses and then crosses his legs waiting for an answer.

Paranoid, she imagines him writing.

She throws her head back, laughing at the question.  “No,” she answers.  “But it feel like I’m in a race with everyone else, and I need to get as far as I can quickly, to give myself the best chance of making it to work on time.”

“Have you thought about going to Starbucks after work?”

She snaps, “I’ll never go.” More than ready for that question, she didn’t hesitate. He’s not the first one to ask her that.

Eyebrows furrowing together, he remembers back to another conversation they had, and asks, “Is that why you take short trips?  Because you think you’ll never have the time to take longer vacations?”

Nodding her head, voice rattling a bit, she answers, “I know I won’t.  So many people say: I can’t go now because I don’t have the time or money.  I’ll go later, when the time’s right and I can do a bigger trip.  But for a lot of people, it never happens. I’d prefer one minute at Starbucks if that’s all I could have. I would prefer two days in New York, if I can’t afford five days. And if I never have two weeks off to go to Australia, I’ll do one week. I don’t want to wait for the perfect time, because one day, I won’t have any time left.”