The first breath is the hardest. On waking, it feels impossible to take in any air with my lungs still filled with the sea water of my dream. I’ve been sleeping, dreaming, floating beneath the surface for a long time.
I didn’t fly to another country; I traveled into the warm, deep green. At first I struggled, like the drowning body always does. I fought for air, for light, for the surface. I kicked and flailed, stupefied by the benthic pressure. I fought the dimming of the light. I held my breath until I was sure the blood pounding in my ears would burst through and turn the water red. The first breath was the hardest and, I was certain, the last. Resigned, drawing the thick strange atmosphere into my burning chest. I was where I was meant to be. Immersed in an alien landscape full of alien creatures who spoke in tongues I could not speak. The tinny sound and deep resonances of this other place. One day slid languorously into the next. Months did the same. Then years. The slow rhythm of endless sojourn.
I floated, numb in the soft, warm cocoon of the place. Unloved and unloving. No great pains and no great joys. The tepid miasma of time slid by. I told my stories in the safety of distance. I smoked my cigarettes, drank my coffee, lay in my broad Chinese bed and watched the rain make things grow and rot, and grow again. I dreamed away a decade.
The day I knew I loved you, I woke up. I rose to the surface like accusatory flotsam, buoyant, breaching into the harsh light and the raw air. Having forgotten I was never a native of the place I’d left, I almost forgot to inhale. And when I did – when I took the knowing of you into my lungs – it burned.
The first breath is the hardest.