The doctor stared at her shoes. They were a faded blue with black laces, sensible, for a woman who had to be a tree swaying all day, who had to tell her patients you get more time, you don’t get more time, a doctor who had no training on Quantum Physics or what time really means. Her lab coat was frayed at the seams, and when she finally spoke I’m certain she took a big, deep breath for me, because I couldn’t, because my lungs were sad sacs waiting for her to speak, they were resting, waiting for her diagnosis –my lungs were the reason I was here -and when she breathed in the test results, she looked at me briefly, then back down at her shoes.

The other woman in the room – much younger, a doctor in training to become the person who learns to look at her shoes, was fidgeting with her stethoscope, not making it all the way down to her shoes yet. My knees, she was looking at my knees. The doctor finally spoke and said I wasn’t a candidate for a heart-lung transplant.

Underwater now, following the octopus, watching all the gills take in what drowns us, me swimming, me not opening my eyes, holding breath underwater. Feeling gills begin to form on my neck. All the pressure of being at the bottom, too far down to see the surface. It was like she telling a small child there was no Santa Claus, or tooth fairy, not because the angels weren’t there, waiting to delight her, the angels had passed by this room in a hospital in a city on an island in a world that forgotten how to breathe.

The whole world had forgotten how to breathe. The lungs of the world were collapsing. I was trying to breathe for the world.

When had my lungs fully stopped accepting air, stopped talking with my heart? If I could trace it back, it might be the first time my parents lowered me into a bathtub of ice to bring my fever down.

Breathe, Laura, they said, holding me down, a fish of a daughter on ice.

And I asked the doctor if I would see my granddaughter born, and after I asked that question, my lungs said we aren’t breathing until we see what you believe. We can’t take in air if you don’t see the air.

And I asked the doctor to look at me when she spoke to me, and my whole hope was on her tongue, waiting to come back to me, and when she lifted her face to look at me there was Venus in her eyes, the planet of love, forgetting it was the planet of love, because love without hope and you might as well be Mars.

Dusty. Red. Barren.

The Mars of her said to me, I don’t know if you will see her born, how far along is your daughter?

And there it was, at last. The prognosis of time. I stood up. I could leave the room now. I went outside and passed the coffee shop where a man with one gold tooth was laughing, pouring in cream. I sat on a cold concrete bench that imprinted and indented my thighs. I waited for the shuttle to go to Honolulu airport.

My lungs began to slowly fill to let me cry, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, quick rapid, short – the small sad sacs filled just enough so I could cry, The diaphragm lifted so I could cry, the corpuscles ran through my veins so I could cry, To cry one has to breathe.

To sing, one has to breathe.

The tears ran down my chin and would have taken mascara and run it down my face if I even wore it anymore, and there, on that too large cold bench in the summer Oahu summer, an angel appeared, holding a stack of brown utility napkins, and she offered them to me with outstretched hands. I clutched those napkins and looked up at her.  She was small, Japanese, old, I could tell she had learned how to breathe a long ago, and I pressed those napkins to my face and I began to breathe again, filling all of me, breathing for my toes, for my mother and my father who had forgotten how to breathe, for the small baby who was still forming inside my daughter, swimming, blind, gill-less – her lungs like pennies underneath the hard and soft of my daughter.

My granddaughter was forming, I was forming, we are all forming. I got onto the shuttle bus. Someone was playing a ukulele,

I felt my lungs say sing, sing out loud. LIVE, they said.

I began to sing.


Excerpt:  Song of Myself by Walt Whitman

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.
The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the distillation, it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
The smoke of my own breath,
Echoes, ripples,
whispers, love

root, silk

thread, crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and dark

rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the
words of my voice
to the eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill

The feeling of health, the full

noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.

An invitation to write: Using your lungs to write a story

  • Write a story of a time in your life when you had to relearn how to breathe -through joy, grief or song, any emotion.
  • Write about a how singing a song saved your life and taught your lungs how. Use the melody and/or lyrics in your writing.

For a deeper memoir exploration, take a workshop with Literati Academy or order a book for memoir writers –  STORYquest, the Writer, the Hero, the Journey.