4,7,8

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Sunset by Lydia Miller for 4,7,8 by Ary Hammerman

The biggest risk I ever took was a breath. That’s all, a breath. Inhale 4 seconds, hold 7, exhale 8, and move on. I had never taken a breath before, never paused in this infinite threshold between life and death, never made the distinct choice to survive. I often tell myself I’m not meant to be in this world, after all, isn’t one twin always a mistake? Isn’t a girl who can never quite say the right thing, who can never be strong enough to deserve existence, who seems to be scared of everything, always a mistake? But I breathed, and then I wailed, and then I fought for life in the hospital, and then I returned home, 28 days old and trying fruitlessly to convince myself this life was worth it.

Four years later, I once again was faced with the need to breathe. I sat sobbing at my fourth birthday, experiencing the helplessness of my first panic attack. I couldn’t understand why my skin was crawling and why everyone was staring at me and why I wanted to punch everyone who asked if I was okay. I knew by then that these melodramatic meltdowns must not have been normal, that I must not have been normal. I sprinted as fast as my abnormally short legs could take me and tried to outrun the swamp of emotion. I ran until I couldn’t breathe, and only then could I breathe. Even at four, I breathed; not because it came naturally, but because I knew it was the only thing that could keep me natural.

Again at 12 I breathed. My whole family had covid and my mother could barely breathe and I knew I must take in as much air as possible, so that maybe I could share some with her. When her lungs were full again, we breathed together. A breath of relief this time, a reminder that I must fight to survive even when I would rather not. For two years, I breathed through lockdowns and panics and why wasn’t I invited to the Zoom?’s. I even breathed in disease, and most importantly, breathed out fear.

I breathe again tonight. I hope each time my eyes fall shut that I will live to breathe again, regardless of the terror of life. I breathe in the risk of vulnerability, of wishful thinking that one day I will be more than a breath. This pattern of inhale and exhale and hold and repeat will perhaps one day be the smallest risk I have taken. But for right now, I risk it one last time. I breathe.

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