It’s four am and the memory of Sam has awakened the black hole in my chest. I don’t know how to go close to it in words or perhaps I am just resisting going near the fire.
It’s physical. It’s not a story to tell or a picture to present. It’s the bleeding of a soul.
The first time I hyperventilated was on the school ski trip to Mount Washington in Grade 7. Sam had fallen so much that he had given himself a concussion. The drama of his medical care had interfered with my breathing and caused a fuss to the point that my reaction cost our French class the airfare of another chaperone for our trip to Quebec.
In my twenties, I did several silent 10 day Vipassana meditation retreats based on watching your breath and observing your sensations. The first retreat was a misery of knots up the spine and muscles rebelling at being told to sit still for 11 hours a day. The other ones were back-to-back panic attacks. As my eyes would close, the choking would begin.
It starts with a moderate strangling in the neck and chains around my rib cage are cinched tighter and tighter. The heart burns, throbs, and bleeds. My stomach bubbles nerves and nausea runs up my spine to tickle the gag reflex in the back of my throat. Breath becomes shallow and fast and once I’m in it, my body holds me captive in core-breaking devastation and existential terror.
As I age, I am less tempted by the story my mind tells me to distract from or wallow in the pain. On most days, I no longer believe that God killed Sam to punish me.
When my sister had recently become a Christian, she invited Sam and I to a youth singing event at a church downtown. In the car along the way, Sam said,
– My Dad told me not to sign anything.
One of the last memories I have of Sam is walking out of self-directed math class with him and Amber, driving to China Beach in Sooke and heating up a tin of beans on the camping stove he used to bring to school to make lunch.
Wise people tell me to be grateful that it happened rather than sad that it ended.
Sam’s death not only led to my expulsion from high school but it has made intimacy painful. Love feels like our past experience of it and the proximity of real love near my heart triggers grief. Loving means losing and that makes it hard for me to breathe.