The Art of Breathing

I am trying to learn how to breathe. I am taking in the air through my nose like they said. I am trying to visualize it. I'm trying to picture it flowing down into my stomach. But I don't know if it's actually working, 'cause I can flex my stomach without breathing. Remember how we used to do that? Blow out our stomachs and pretend there was a baby inside pushing at the walls. So I don't know if that's what I'm doing or if it's the breathing that's making my belly get bigger, I don't know if I'm doing it right at all. They say you usually don't get it right the first time, that you have to keep trying. And so I do, I keep trying.

I watch Matty breathe now, the air just gets caught up in his chest, like a slow, painful hiccup. And it's weird because he used to look so calm all the time. And big. Do you remember how big he seemed? Like that first time you guys went out and he came to pick you up and he just seemed to take up the whole doorway. He doesn't seem so big anymore, not at all. He seems like one of those stuffed animals we used to rip the cottony filling out of. He sits on the floor, propped against the radiator and he seems just like one.

You know he sat just like that with the letter on his lap for three days after you left. I watched him run his fingertips over the words, rub the edges of it, and I kept thinking that you should've used stronger paper. I mean he keeps it in his back pocket now most of the time, and takes it out to read it at least on the hour, maybe more, and you should've known he would, you should have used better paper.

I went to that Yoga place, the one on Main, past Perk's. You know the place I bet you would close in six? Well, it didn't - turns out there's a business in breathing. So you won the bet, because it's been over six months and they're still packing them in, all leotards and naked feet. And you know how I feel about feet, but I went in anyway to sign up for a class.

The woman at the Yoga counter used to serve at Perk's, the same one who kept trying to push the green tea on us when we were undecided about a latte or a mochachino. Anyway, when I went in there ready to sign up, she must not have believed me because she kept trying to sell me on it, just like the tea. She kept talking about the stretching and toning, how much younger I would look. She kept talking even though I told her, "I'm just here for the breathing."

Matty started tearing through things after those first three days. He would look at something, examine it, it's stitching and seams, the color, the material, he would inspect it to see if it was somehow the culprit. I'm not sure whether he thought it was or wasn't when he tossed it out the window, but one after the other, his shirts and jackets and pants, flew out onto the lawn. At first I brought the things home and hung them in my closets. It was smart of you to tell me to get this apartment, even though I protested that I didn't need all the room. You were smart about the space I'd need. But the closets filled up fast, and I had to use the boxes you stored in my spare bedroom. I labeled them in seasons like you would've done and stacked them neatly in the garage that you convinced me I needed even though I didn't have a car. I did the same with his books and magazines and pictures which I found in the morning soaked in the dew. I took some things away so he wouldn't have to. I took your wedding dress, and your mom's pearls. I took the picture of all of us from your second anniversary party. He stopped after the furniture - maybe because there was nothing left to throw, nothing left to blame, nothing left but the faucets and doors and walls, nothing left but me.

He sits on the floor most of the time by the big bay window, and with no lights left, you can only locate him at night by the ember of his cigarette. When he talks he mostly says that he can't figure out what you meant by "had enough," he can't figure out what you had "enough" of. He looks around at the empty space and says he can't figure it out.

I try to tell him about the breathing, how it's supposed to help, but he just says that he remembers the way you breathed, that you breathed perfectly, silently, you took in just the right amount of air. I don't remember your breathing, not really, but I believe him. I believe this about your breathing. I listen to all the things he says he remembers about you, all the assorted facts, and I try to catch hold of them, because my memory feels like a moth eaten sweater, like a scratched CD, my memory doesn't feel complete.

I try to remember things like if you used your hands at all when you spoke. I try to remember if you had any gray hairs yet. I try to remember if you pronounced idea with an "r" at the end, but the only thing I can really remember completely is what you looked like that day, the one I wasn't there for.

I go there sometimes, to that broken down bridge. I don't go near the edge. It's now too scary to lean over those rusted beams and look down into the water. Maybe it's because I think I'll see you, maybe it's because I know I won't. It's just too scary, that's all. When I'm there, I try to remember other things, like how tall we were when we first discovered this place, how we wore our hair back then, whether I ever won when we played Jacks. I close my eyes to remember, but I can only see you parking and getting out of your car, leaving that envelope in the precise spot on the dash so it could be seen through the windshield. I see you turning off your phone and putting it into the armrest. I see you climbing onto the ledge and looking over calmly. I see you smoothing down your skirt and taking that last perfect breath before you pushed off. This is what I see.

Matty finally asked me why you did it. I don't think he really wanted an answer, because right after he asked me he turned away. And so I didn't answer him. But I thought about how Harper Lee stopped writing after To Kill a Mockingbird, and how Paul Morphy stopped playing chess after that last match with Mongredien, and I didn't tell Matty this, but I think maybe that's why you did it. I think that maybe you were just so good at breathing that it wasn't interesting to you anymore.

As originally published in Eclipse.