Monday, August 30, 2010
She Taught Me to Breathe
As a child, I suffered with asthma. The strangest things would set off an attack: overheating, anxiety, exhaustion, among other things. Since I was also a teeny tiny thing, all of the Aunts in my family basically just referred to me as sickly, so I tended to stick close to Momma because she was the only one who knew how to help me through my attacks.
And if I have not mentioned it before, we were really poor, so Momma very rarely had an inhaler to offer, so she tended to try to prevent attacks by forcing me to avoid the causes. All the other kids would be running, jumping, playing, fighting, and I'd be sitting right at my Momma's feet; listening to her and the neighbor ladies gossip. But I was hard-heated, and a natural-born tom boy, so there were plenty of times when I'd slip away right after I heard the signal, "Oooooooooooooh, chile, you ain't gonna believe this." That meant something juicy was about to come out, and Momma didn't want me to be in ear shot anyway.
As soon as the speaker took that first deep breath, I would be gone.. . running, jumping, fighting, falling, and the most predictable. . crying. And plenty of times, I can remember that right in the middle of my spurt of running wild, I'd have an asthma attack. It would come on all of a sudden.. not really. I would start wheezing and coughing maybe a full 30 min's to an hour . I could feel my chest tighten up.. but when you're a kid, you kinda have to lose a limb to slow down.
I don't know how she knew it, but right at the moment when I'd find myself falling into a bush gasping for air, there would come Momma. She'd grab me up like a rag doll, and hold me in her arms. She'd look down at me with those calm eyes, and very softly, she'd whisper, "Breathe, Tesha." Then, she would inhale and exhale so deeply my body would rise and fall with the ebb and flow of her chest's movement.
Yeah, it's that easy, right? Well, no.
I'd start crying because I knew that I was taking in my last breath. . my chest would be hurting.. and my face would be tightening up. . I could hear her praying. . I didn't want to scare her.. I just wanted this whole predicament to be over, so I'd always try.. but nothing would come out.
She'd push down on my chest, which hurt like hell - I wonder if she knew that - and much louder, she'd say, "Deeply, deeply breathe. You don't have to be scared."
Well, I was, but this is the woman who NEVER let me down, never gave up, and always pulled me through so I knew that if she was saying that it was as easy as breathing there was something to this thing..
I don't know how it would happen. Somewhere in between her grabbing the rosary out of her bosom, saying a Hail Mary, pounding my chest, steadying her breathing.. somehow my breath would come back.. My chest would still hurt.. and my breathing would not steady for hours. . and the wheezing would last all night long.. but air would seep into my chest at least to the point to where I did not die.
I truly think that in those moments of panic, when I'd be laying there watching my short life flash before my eyes while watching Momma regulate her own breath, she was literally teaching me how to breathe. . which in those moments, was a Herculean task. She taught me over and over again, that even when it hurt, I had to keep on breathing. Even when I thought the last breath was indeed the last breath, I had to keep on breathing. When noone cared that I was over there dying in the bush but her, I had to keep on breathing. When I knew that even if I started breathing, at some point, I'd find myself helpless again, I still had to breathe.
My last asthma attack occurred the day my Momma died, November 6, 2007. I received a phone call with the news, and literally stopped breathing. I don't know if it was an attack, or while I was trying to cope with the news, I just lost the will that she worked so hard to inspire. But as I laid there on the floor, gasping for air - almost wanting it not to return - I felt the ebb and flow of her chest against me. I heard her demanding me to breathe.
And here I am. The daughter of Elizabeth Francois Scott, still breathing.