The 4-7-8

Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.

We lived on the fourth floor, where heat travelled upwards. The air was always heavy with wafts of saccharine body wash, the burnt smell of the broiler, lemon ginger tea. Our hallway kept in what my mother would call the scent of humans. In the fall, my first term, I reveled in this musk of constant motion. Most days I kept my door open to let it all in. In bed, I breathed in the fresh air that came in through my window, ending and starting each day anew.

In the winter the hallway windows were locked shut. People moved slowly and kept inside, intensifying the scent of us, souring the air. A growing pile of unwashed cookie sheets, bowls, and sticky spoons left in the common room sink had the acridity of a drunk’s breath. The clamor of life that had excited me before now disturbed me. We kept our doors closed and locked, fermenting in our problems privately. We could smell the stress on each other, but not wanting to burden or embrace others’ burdens, we stifled ourselves. In bed, I breathed in the cold that came in through my window, rushes of air that made me cough but could not fumigate the madness inside.

With spring, sunlight returned. Not with the wan yellow pallor of the winter sun, but something sharper. We cleaned up some messes, brawled less, and dealt with some of the rot in the kitchen. There was comfort now, the warmth had returned, but the novelty in the atmosphere had long settled. In bed, I breathed in the exhaustive scents of my hallway that could not be pushed out by the air from the outside. There was no circulation. The window I had kept open since pre-orientation remained open, but I never swallowed the freshness of the first fall again. 

Hold your breath for a count of seven.

To the Dartmouth community:
It is with great sadness that I write to inform you of the death of a student

And another student, and another faculty member

To the Dartmouth community:
It is with great sadness that I write to inform you that the bubble has burst.

Your grandmother, she has not been feeling well.

Your mother, she is losing her vision

You, you worry you will lose your mind in a year.

“I just spaced out for a few minutes thinking about how callous it
is to keep on going, but I don't know what to do about it." 

Do you ever worry that you’ll fall asleep and never wake up again?

“Seriously. I don't understand how everyone can just go and fucking drink and not even care what they are doing with their lives when this is happening”

I am terrified.

Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.

“Levin looked about him and hardly recognized the place, everything was so changed. The immense stretch of meadow had been mown and was sparkling with a peculiar fresh brilliance, with its lines of already sweet-smelling grass in the slanting rays of the evening sun. And the bushes about the river had been cut down, and the river itself, not visible before, now gleaming like steel in its bends, and the moving, ascending, peasants, and the sharp wall of grass of the unmown part of the meadow, and the hawks hovering over the stripped meadow—all was perfectly new. Raising himself, Levin began considering how much had been cut and how much more could still be done that day.” (Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy)

The field is hot. I imagine being able to see water rising from the ground in thin swirls. They furl around me with the smell of warm dirt, live matter. I move the hoe back and forth, slicing off weeds clinging to the crust of the earth. Beads of sweat drip from my chin and onto the ground, darkening the soil just for a moment. As I continue to work, the hoe begins to clink back and forth as if on its own. It moves itself along the path between the carrots and the onions, pulling and pushing my arms in and away from my shoulder. The tomatoes are pungent, though they are still yellow-green. They are heirlooms, ripening with time. Though their tops are cracked and though they are more stitched together slivers than perfect spheres, they are sweet and a little sour and juicy and melt away at a bite. They are beautiful. I kneel down next to the tomato trellis to pick beetle larvae off the potato leaves. My knees sink through the dirt. It works its way into the creases of my skin and around the scar on my left knee. Here I do not kneel for salvation. Here I am on my knees for a chance to grow. Here I am free.

“When someone I’m sure will understand me doesn’t, I go running for a little longer than usual. By running longer it’s like I can physically exhaust that portion of my discontent. It also makes me realize again how weak I am, how limited my abilities are… If I’m angry, I direct that anger toward myself. If I have a frustrating experience, I use that to improve myself. That’s the way I’ve always lived. I quietly absorb the things I’m able to, releasing them later, and in as changed a form as possible, as part of the story line in a novel” (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running Haruki Murakami)

I begin crying again at the bridge. I imagine the drivers at the stoplight on route 10A looking out from their tiny moving boxes, bored, watching me run. They won’t be able to tell I’m crying, because I am forced to breathe fully when I run, the gasps I let out in addition to my tears and snot leaving me with too little air for me legs, and when I wipe my face off with my shirt, it will look like I’m wicking away sweat. Contract the diaphragm, move it downward, increase chest capacity and inhale. I exhale quickly, eager to get to the next breath. When I reach the hill and have to slow my pace, I am not moving quickly enough to drive my feet down angrily, and the frustration builds up again, pooling on my lower eyelids. I cannot see the path but instead of wiping my eyes with my shirt, I continue running uphill until all I can see is green. That is when I reach the top, where I sit down and wail. I stay there on the ground, the edges in the gravel digging into me, yelling and shouting and trying to breath until I hear something move behind me. I wipe my face quickly, push myself up and get back on the path through the meadow. When I am surrounded by tall grass, I stop again to continue crying and tip my head back to yell again but my breath loosens softly into the clear blue space above me. I look back down, see the dark blue points of other hills breaking on the horizon, and shakily inhale, exhale. I am quiet, can hear the buzz of the insects that sometimes slam into my legs and arms, and turn back. On the way home, I am too tired to cry. Instead I run to breathe the upset out of my body, to breathe in something better. I run to breathe for myself.