My First Breath

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I am a teenage girl. But I am not an average teenage girl; I do not participate in the sleepovers where we paint each other’s nails, talk about boys, and watch Legally Blond, I do not go to the mall hoping to find those fabulous shoes on sale, and I do not get manicures. I am still repulsed to this day by the color pink and I shiver at the idea of a classic ‘girls night out.’ I want to sit by the river and discuss whether there is meaning to life or if we create our own meaning. I want to lie on the grass in a T-shirt and shorts, dig my toes into the grass, and play “New Slang” on my Acoustic Trans Blue Ibanez. I want to put a basketball in my hands, scrimmage with a friend, and make layup after layup. I want to curl up on the couch in front of a blazing fire, wrap myself in a fleece blanket and lose myself in the world of dragons, Harry Potter, or Richard Feynman.

After the long walks and the crackling of fires, enter Math and Science, stage left. There’s nothing like knowing that 300 trillion neutrinos are passing through us every second to get you going in the morning. Who needs coffee when you have the perfect quadratic equation to factor or the mass of our solar system to calculate?

I was raised to live and fight in a household where annihilation was a daily possibility. I entered the family picture as an uh-oh baby, at least six years behind my other six siblings. Throughout my entire childhood, food was hard to come by, with half a dozen ravenous teenagers constantly tipping the refrigerator upside-down to find the last scrap, devouring the stuffing and yams before it even reached me, and either stuffing all of the cake down their throats or into each other’s faces. But with the clothes of my sisters and brothers on my back, I grew older and stronger. As a twelve-year-old and a legitimate middle schooler, the last of my siblings filtered out of the house and forged ahead in her life. The house grew cold and barren when it wasn’t filled to the brim with hormonal teenagers and babies. A year later, the house ached with sorrow when it grew emptier still with the departure of my dad. A couple of judges, courtrooms, divorce decrees, and years later, my mom and I trekked up to Idaho for my sophomore year. New friends, new faces, new opportunities.

I was brought to life in the middle of my junior year. This was the point when I became self-aware for the very first time. It is as if everything before that was a blur, an empty space, and a blank canvas. I do not remember most of my childhood, including the long, thin, and mysterious scar seared on my stomach or the warm embrace of my parents. I remember my pink, stucco house, the bunk bed in my room, my ever-rotating pack of family dogs, my siblings continually filtering in and out of the house, and the constant lack of food in the kitchen, but I don’t remember breathing. I don’t remember taking that one satisfying breath that testified to the fact that I am alive. I didn’t take my first breath until I was sixteen.
I was notified one day after school that my friend had tried to kill herself; I would never look at a bottle of Tylenol the same way ever again. I didn’t understand the severity of that act. I didn’t visualize my friend grasping the bottle and emptying it into her stomach. I didn’t feel the pain and loneliness one must feel in order to commit such a desperate act. I didn’t think of her swallowing the pills one by one. Then… I did. I did understand; I did visualize it; I did feel the pain. Halfway through a layup (literally), I stopped and shattered. The weight of my parents’ divorce slammed into me with full force. My mind slowly started to retreat and crawl into ‘the cave.’ That dark, moist cavern that became my home where I hid from the world, and myself. My trust, my soul, and my existence were painfully destroyed and I was left to rebuild the rubble. A warm, welcoming, and forgiving hand rested on my shoulder and helped me pick up the small pieces that were my essence. One by one, I pinched the small pebbles with my thumb and forefinger, carefully laid them back in place and continued the slow, necessary process. Months passed and the constricting snake, wrapped tightly around my chest, loosened with reluctance.

I remember the feeling, that incredible sensation of the first breath because I now experience it everyday. The snake shed its skin, ate its fill, unwound itself from my body, slithered down my leg and kept gliding down the path. The pressure released from my lungs and oxygen flooded my system. Now, I repeat the practice with control and patience. I close my eyes and the rich, plentiful, and beautifully clean air slowly and steadily fills my lungs, filling every rib’s crack and organ’s crevice until I can take no more. I inhale until a fire is raging in my lungs and my body rejects even a molecule more of air. Then I hold it in. I keep the sensational air inside me, refusing to release this miracle; a miracle that is taking place inside my very soul. The air rushes into my blood stream and creates life. Those rejuvenating air molecules mix with my red blood cells and reenact the Big Bang. It takes two to tango, and the duo’s performance is inspirational. The oxygen and the blood embrace and guide the way. I am powerless to resist their lead. Then, after letting the energy sink into all of my bones, my skin, my toes, my fingernails and lastly, my heart, I relinquish the air. It steadily drifts from my body. I am alive. And every day, after repeating that magical ritual between brushing my teeth and washing my face, I am reminded of that. Life is good with a guitar in my hands and a fresh supply of air.





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