Close To Home

She laid in a casket looking as beautiful as ever, which seemed wrong. Dead people aren't supposed to be pretty.

Somebody once told me the secret to life was learning how to breathe. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but he was a doctor, you’d think he knew something.

He said people don’t breath deeply or slowly enough. And that, over time, this causes them to—scientfically speaking—feel like hell.

It hit close to home. As a child, my mother had acute asthma. I can’t recall anything more frightening than seeing her gasp. She had an old metal respiratory machine that weighed a hundred pounds and had tubes on it—a predecessor to the inhaler.

I’d lug it onto her bed, and watch her breathe into it. Sometimes it helped. Other times it didn’t.

My close friend’s mother also had asthma. I remember her well; outgoing, loud, laughed a lot. My father took me to her funeral. She laid in a casket looking as beautiful as ever, which seemed wrong. Dead people aren’t supposed to be pretty.

After service, my father and I ate fried chicken on the hood of his truck. We loosened our neckties and watched the bright red sky that follows sundown. I started crying.

Perhaps it was because I was thinking of Mama. Or: I was afraid of what ultimately happens to people I love. Or maybe it was just uncertainty—which can be a lot worse than fear. I had a lot of questions. Daddy had no answers. Either way, he did the right thing. Sitting on the hood can sometimes answer plenty of questions.

So can fried chicken.

Once, I passed out. It was from the heat. This is the South, and not long ago it was well over a seven hundred degrees outside. I fell in the dirt and cut my lip. When I awoke, drenched in sweat, my wife held me.

Through my blurry vision, it looked like she was ten miles away. I couldn’t hear her voice, just the sound of my own breathing. And though I can’t tell you why, my breath was the most marvelous thing I’d ever heard. I laid there listening to it, feeling glad not to be holding a harp.

Anyhow, right now my dogs are sleeping beneath my desk. I can hear them inhaling and exhaling. My window is open, the sky is blue. The cicadas are humming, trees are moving in the breeze. The whole world is alive, and so are you. I guess what I mean to say is: this is as good as it gets. Quit looking for something better.

Nobody gives a damn about your bank account.

Breathe.

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