Breath is one of the little things that reminds me we’re alive—that we’re all human. When I started my new job, I realized that this is the first time that I’ve worked in a place where personal space bubbles are small. I’m not sure if it’s a womanly interplay thing or what, but when working in a group of women, people stand closer together than they would if it was a true gender split or a heavy male presence. For a Queer man who has always been comfortable as “one of the girls,” it’s a wonderfully easy atmosphere to keep up, as it’s my natural state. It has, however, led me to two places.
One is a place where I’m terrified of my own breath. I have the mental stamp of my mother’s coffee and cigarette breath in my sinuses in moments of squirrely confidence, and since there are few things I love more than coffee and cigarettes, I’m terrified the women I have to work with are faced with an onslaught from me twice a day—once in the morning and once after lunch. This has driven me to seriously consider quitting smoking for something other than financial reasons for the first time in my life.
The second is a place where I’ve become acutely aware of the breath of my colleagues. It doesn’t happen a lot—but when it does, for some reason it’s an intense moment for me. With a single breath, or a small string of words—someone’s breath can paint the portrait of a day and a personality. There are people who view onions and garlic as food, and then there are those who consider them a home food. Something that they’ll only eat around loved ones in the privacy of their own homes, so they can be as stinky-assed as they want to be without a hanging sword of self-consciousness swinging perilously overhead.
In addition to food, occasionally you can catch an air of lip chap, or gloss. Sometimes you catch moustache wax, other times it’s smoky. Sometimes you can smell drugs or the drink, but occasionally, you get the neutral breath of a long day. Within that neutral breath, you can find romance. When there’s nothing to colour my mind and I’m faced with nothing but air from the lips—I can’t help but think about getting close.
My love for my wife can be measured in the breaths I take of her. When we kiss, I try to steal the essence of her person from deep within; I bite her lips, trying to squeeze the sweet nectar from her garden. She exhales the ashes of fires past and inhales my desire in it’s place. It mixes, and it burns. It transforms from what it is into what it needs to be, the bittersweet familiarity of years gone by. The fights, the sex, the words and the touches of every day we’ve spent together fly by in a flash of light, leaving spots of the future sparkling in our eyes. In our breath, we truly become one.
I can’t help but imagine what the stranger standing in front of me would turn into if we were to mix our breath. It’s only for a second unless I let it in, but usually I don’t get the chance. No one sits around at intimate distances just talking unless their courting—out in the world, breath is lost to the wind.
Breath is one of the little things that makes me glad to be alive and want to stay alive.
Writer, performer, producer and musician from Alberta.