If you put one hand on your stomach and another on your chest and breathe, which hand moves? asks the doctor. I hadn’t prepared for a quiz, move my hands to stomach and chest respectively, try to remember how I breathe. I hazard: both?
He asks, do you sigh a lot? – yes, I say, I do, I think. I wonder what ‘a lot’ is, what the average daily quota of sighs is and how I can know for sure.
How about yawning? – I don’t know, I say – but yes, I think I do. And I stifle a yawn, summoned by its mention.
He explains: your chest shouldn’t move when you breathe. You’re breathing too shallowly. Your body is trying to get more oxygen. I nod, think of those click bait articles: ‘You’ve been breathing wrong this whole time.’
I focus. I am breathing inandout and inandout. Just enough to get by, get on, get through. I slow it down. I straighten my back. I fill my lungs. In and out. In and out and in and out and in
When did I forget how to breathe? It seems like the simplest thing, but maybe I’ve lost the knack. Like handstands – so easy and thoughtless in childhood, just another way to move. I wouldn’t risk them now.
I imagine a bird inside my rib cage, the part of me that flutters and beats its small wings in panic. I think of canaries in coal mines. It would be dark there, and hot, as they struggled for breath, as the air ran out. Small limp bodies, impossibly light. Would they revive, if their cage was carried out to daylight and breeze? Would small eyes reopen?
Open the cage. Let the sunshine in.