Ms keogh
Ms Keogh

112. Breathe

Breathing was living in the moment. Ms Keogh and I strived for living in the moment and we were good at it. The preciousness of time, this we understood. Ms Keogh, my cherished companion, had chronic renal failure her entire adult life. When she died, I wanted to be with her in the past or dead in the future, just not alive in the moment. I ceased to breathe.

I stopped breathing, but the medulla persisted with instructions to the lungs. I had nothing to do with it. I didnít care about breathing. I would have gratefully welcomed the medulla abandoning the chore. I was unwilling to pay it any attention. If I did, I hated it for its stubbornness.

How long was it before I could breathe again? Take a breath, Mr Bentzman. Breathe deeply. Listen to the air being drawn through the nostrils. Feel the lungs expanding, slow and deep. Comfortably. Then exhale. Completely. Donít be in a hurry. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Then listen to your surroundings, Mr Bentzman. What can you hear? What is it you can smell? This is where you are, right here! This is when you are, right now!

It used to be I could watch Ms Keogh cooking, painting, occupied with a mystery book or television program, and this was everything I could want. When she smiled at me, it was all that could be achieved. I saw her sleeping, the tides of her breathing, the pulse in her neck. I could lean into the nape of her neck and take up the scent of her existence. This is the purpose for which I evolved, the alignment of neurons programmed for relationships, to comfort and communicate with her as she with me. We are social creatures. This was the most happiness I could expect from the mystery of existence.

How long was it after she died before I could breathe again? There hasnít been a day I havenít wept missing her. There are episodes when my guard is down and I sob to the point of gasping. Never in company. Then I will quash it. There is no purpose in causing others to feel uncomfortable and helpless. It is permitted only when I am alone. There must be some need for it that explains why the whole body succumbs.

Again, I ask, how long was it before I could breathe again? My shoddy memory thinks it was months, or at least weeks, before I could smile for any reason. I remember wrong.

It was on a city bus. I donít remember why, but I think I was riding it to Albany Road. Despite the lush vitality of the city all about, my soul was in solitary confinement and knew only that it was alone. It was untouched by what mattered in life and convinced it must now remain that way. Nothing could help me, or so I believed. But the little girl in the seat in front of me proved this wrong.

This little girl insisted on kneeling backward on her seat in the bus and peering at me over the seatís back, grinning. I masked my sorrow with a fake smile. She wouldnít let up, doe-eyed and verging on a laugh. It pierced my grief. It beckoned to something still inside me, breaching my solitude. Here was a child, most of her life still to come, thousands of dramas and pleasures yet unrealized, and she innocently contradicted my disposition. This cherub in dark bangs would not relinquish her cheerfulness, insisting on having me re-engage with living. I began to breathe, my smile becoming genuine. I could not defy her.

I took out my flip phone and snapped a couple of pictures, a cheap phone producing lousy photographs. Moments ago, I was astonished when examining those photographs again, to see it was neither months, nor weeks, after Ms Keoghís death. They were dated the day after. Could it really have been that soon? It was not the end of my grieving, to be sure. That has yet to end. There is not enough time to heal. Still, it was a glimpse that there was yet purpose in me and reason to keep breathing.

Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions,
he would be pleased to hear from you. 

You can find his several books at Enshrined Inside Me, his second collection of essays, is now available to purchase.