When I was 10 I thought that I was dying. My mom, brothers, and I were driving back to my mom’s sisters house after our cousin’s birthday party at Chuck E Cheese. I remember the music we were listening to, Sinead O’Conner- “Nothing Compares 2 U.” We were talking about cancer, but I don’t remember why.
I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like my throat was too small to let air get through or like something was blocking it. I was sitting in the way back of the car alone and I didn’t say anything to anyone in the car at first. I just kept swallowing. I swallowed and swallowed and swallowed until my mouth was so dry that my tongue became sandpaper. I thought I could swallow this feeling, could swallow enough air that my throat would expand.
I laid down in the back of the car, the seatbelt cutting across my stomach. I thought that any short staggered breath could be my last. I thought about riding in an ambulance. I thought about heartbeats. Each thought closed my throat a little bit more, my throat felt smaller and smaller until the only thing that could fit through it were the words:
“Mom, I can’t breathe.”
“Take deep breaths.”
I wonder what my brothers were thinking. Were they worried? Were they ignoring me? These are things I wish I could ask them, but I know they don’t remember this day.
I started to cry. Sinead’s voice echoed in my skull. “He said, girl you better try to have fun no matter what you do, but he’s a fool. Cause nothing compares, nothing compares 2 u.” My mom turned the music down. She told me to think about where it hurts and breathe there. “Inhale for 5 seconds, exhale for 3.”
When we made it back to my aunt’s house I told my mom that if I threw up I would feel better. I tried, but I didn’t. I laid down on a white couch facing the window in a room with a brown piano. I was still crying. I told my mom that “I need to go to a doctor.”
“I’ve never had a kid say they needed to go to a doctor before.” I heard Mom say to my aunt. The two found a number for a local pediatrician, but I never went.
I don’t know what finally made me feel better, but suddenly I did. I could breathe.
That wasn’t the last time I felt like that. When we left Wisconsin and got back home to Pittsburgh it happened again and again. My throat closed whenever it wanted to: talking about football, walking into the Panera in the Waterfront, driving to school. I think that my mom either got annoyed with me or thought I was faking, but she’s never said anything about it.
Eventually, my mom took me to my doctor. When I heard her say that nothing was wrong I could breathe. I thought that the only way for me to be safe was to live at the doctor’s office. Then I went to my first appointment with Dr. Krumm. I didn’t know what kind of doctor she was at the time, but now I know that she is a pediatric therapist.
Dr. Krumm told me that I had a butterfly living in my throat and whenever I got nervous or anxious it would flap his wings and block my throat, but that he wasn’t trying to hurt me. She asked me if I wanted to name him. I did.
I drew Dr. Krumm and my mom pictures of Gordon. He was big and blue with black spots and a smile on his small face.
When I was 10 years old, everything made me nervous, and I had a butterfly living in my throat named Gordon.