A Kind of Breathing

Tonight the stars, the way they are in the mountains. Where the sky’s so black it’s gray with layers of stars, a haze of stars. You have to blink in case the haze is in your eyes. If you stare long enough, the stars drift down to meet you as you fall upward, released from gravity. You could tumble through those layers end over end forever.

My dad and I are wading knee-deep in darkness with our flashlights off, naming constellations. Orion, the Pleiades, Cassiopeia. When I was small, Dad would hold me in the crook of one arm, pointing with his other. Giving me story problems. If we traveled in a spaceship at the speed of light, how long would it take to reach Andromeda? At what point would time start moving backwards? How fast would we have to travel, and how far?

After I got too big to hold, we traveled that far from each other. That far, for that long. Only to be here together tonight, naming stars.

I have to remind myself that these stars, in such impossible numbers, are present all the time. Just rendered invisible by the sun. Needing the darkest night to be revealed.

Like the sound that’s in your ears all the time, but that you hear only at night when it’s the only sound. The sound of infinite expansion, or infinite contraction. A kind of breathing.

Today by the large white stupa, the strings of prayer flags snapping. Between gusts, that expansive silence coming in. Light revealing the close, snowy bodies of mountains, the ones that are now unseeable. Dad, dizzy with thin air, pressing his chest like it pained him. Probably a blood clot, he said. No big deal, he said. Just can’t quite breathe right.

In the forest by the dirt road where we stand opening eyes minds hearts lungs to the dark, if that snapping branch means bear eyes, coyote eyes, among the piñons. Multitudes of gleaming eyes, needing the darkness to fully open. As loneliness does. Or certain kinds of love.

Back in our rented cabin, past midnight. I sit in a circle of light. In Dad’s bedroom, an oxygen compressor breathes him.

All the ways we breathe. Sun, stars. Living, dying. Words, no words. Dad’s love, the extension of a hand that I’m always a little afraid to reach for and hold. In case he pulls it away.

When he says Yes to me, it requires more hypervigilance than when he says No. Yes can mean a lot of things. No is clear.

The shape of the things he never said to you. About why he disappeared for eighteen years. The words you waited for until you realized that waiting was the problem, not the lack of words.

One day, the space a father takes up in this world will be an absence. A silence shaped like that father but larger than him, too. A silence shaped like the things you wanted to say but didn’t. In case it would all go terribly wrong. A loss you could fall into, end over end, forever.

But for now, the breathing.  

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