Angle to Key West: Breathe (1/10)

Muddy Foot

Spit of Land in West Bay, Panama City, Florida – January 10, 2012

I don’t feel anything until I breathe, until my lungs lift out and press against my ribs, then pain, sharp pain, pain like someone is scrapping a blade across open nerves.

I can’t gasp down more than a mouthful of air at a time. I can barely exhale. It feels like I’m breathing the same used-up breath over and over, like I can’t squeeze any more oxygen from it, like I’m slowly choking.

I don’t know what happened. There wasn’t a moment, a blow, a knock, anything. It started dull, a twinge as I paddled, like a small rip, like the hundreds of small rips on a trip like this. I’m always a bit damaged, beaten-up and used. I thought this would go away like all the other nicks and cuts, sore joints and bruised muscles.

But now I can’t breathe.

I hate being mortal. I hate that I’m breakable. I hate that at any moment this trip could be over, that a single bone, ligament or tendon could end it. I try to forget how thin the lines holding me together are, but sometimes I can’t, sometimes I lie in the darkness trying not to move my ribs, trying not to scream every time I gasp for air to fill my lungs, trying not to hear dolphins breathing in the still night.

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