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For the most part, Dyspnea and I have good times together. I don’t mind the silence, not really. Sometimes we sit in the park and all I hear are the birds chirping, the leaves rustling, and the measured railing of Dyspnea’s breath. “Just don’t think about it,” I tell her. “I don’t and it just comes naturally.” And then she looks at me as if I too have betrayed her and she says, ”If. . .I . . . don’t . . .think . . . about . . .it . . .I’ll . . die.” Yes, of course, I think. And she would too. How quickly those of us who can breathe forget. When I take Dyspnea into my arms, I feel her resisting me, struggling with all her strength to push me away. I assume I have taken her breath away and leave it at that. But it’s more than that. She looks at me as if I were just another man trying to destroy her and begins to cry. I leave her apartment and when I hit the night air, suddenly, I too have trouble breathing. Sympathy breathing, I think. As I head into the subway my wheezing grows worse until I can no longer separate its sound from the sound of the train heading towards me. It all seems so helpless. Should I leap? I wonder, or just buy an inhaler. Why do anything rash? Why wait till things get worse? So many questions, I think. So many questions and so little air to answer them with.
If there was anything I always thought she resented about me, it was my callous indifference about my own inability to breath. That’s just the way it is, I told her, but nothing to her was the way it was. No one thinks about breathing unless they really have to, I tried to explain. ”That’s just what’s wrong with the world,” she’d say.” And if you really loved me . . . then you’d think about it,” she added breathlessly. “Dyspnea,” I said to her. “Yes?” she asked. “What if I told you . . . that at this very moment . . . I too. . . couldn’t breath?” “Please . . . don’t . . . mock me,” she said. What did I have to do to convince her? Hook myself up to a respirator? Yes, I think. Perhaps one day, when we’re very old, in the final act of love, Dyspnea and I can unhook our respirators together.
Then again, maybe she was right. Maybe I stopped breathing just to get laid. I wouldn’t put it past me. Not the way I felt about Dyspnea. With each woman there was always a different approach. A woman called me a pig once because I wouldn’t go out with her cousin who I said was a dog. I lost my head, that’s all. But no, she kept insisting I meant what I said. Believe me more than once I have looked at myself like women must look at me and I have turned away in disgust. But still I have tried and Dyspnea knows that.