Updated: Jan 10, 2020
Obligate ram ventilator.
This is what I've become.
About two dozen species of sharks are known for breathing this way. It means they must stay in motion—keep swimming, keep moving forward—or they will asphyxiate and die. The constant push of movement forces water through their open mouths and over their gills.
I didn't know about these sharks until I heard Anderson Cooper mention it in a documentary while talking about the tragic loss of his brother, Carter. But I know about being an obligate ram ventilator, even if I wasn't aware of the word for it. I know the sensation of suffocation in the stillness of early morning hours, when my eyes are wide open and my ears strain to hear the breathing of everyone around me. I know the hum of a deep, deep down motor that churns relentlessly, driving me on toward the next action—the next distraction.
I know the quiet of death. And the noise of life.
I know I cannot afford to stand still. Stillness is a closed door and a cold back and a stiff arm. Stillness is my own scream reverberating through the eternal cavern of my soul. Stillness is the space where she was and the jar of ashes on my Eastlake table. It is the millions of things I might have done differently to end up anywhere, anywhere but here. It is a thousand tides of pain catching up with me on one shore.
Stillness is where the pain settles.
The pain cannot be allowed to settle, like blood, or it turns sour and septic, and starts eating you away from the inside.
Last week I dreamt I was given a small wild animal to care for whose heart and lungs were worn on the outside of its body. I cradled it like a baby as I went from person to person, begging for bandages to cover and protect the vulnerable, exposed organs that might fall away and be trampled underfoot at any moment.
I woke knowing I was the small, wild animal, without the protection of rules and ribs I'd once known. I am exposed. Nothing exists between me, the world, and my most vulnerable, most valuable parts. But bandages are not what I need. I need oxygen. I need to breathe. I need to feel the air moving over my insides as I turn them inside out or I will die of stillness. I will die of closure.
Closure is a stupid, nonsensical word. It is the lid of the casket. It is a bedtime story for grown ups who are afraid of their own shadows. It is bullshit. Fairies are more real than closure. And leprechauns. And fire-bellied dragons who live in castles made of clouds. And of course, unicorns.
There is no closure between me and my child. There is no closure between her soul and mine, between her birth and mine, between her death and mine. I'll get closure the day I finally stop swimming and drown in the stillness, and not a second before. Closure and asphyxiation are the same thing.
No. No closure for me.
I wear my heart in tatters like a breastplate, and lay it gently down upon the hard, unyielding bed of my sternum. I bathe it in oxygen. I parade it before you. There is nowhere for the wreckage of my heart to go but forward. There is nothing for me to do but keep moving.