Song: “Breathe” by Murdoch, Alexi from Time Without Consequence
(Picture from http://istock.com)
“Then breathe. This is important, make sure you breathe at this point. You may breathe before or after, that’s fine. But at this point, specifically, you must breathe.”
This is how the instructions concluded. Cole and Evelyn held them, his left hand gripping the left side of the paper, her right pointer finger and thumb gingerly clasping the right side. They read them to themselves while seated next to one another but upon reaching the end both glanced at one another and briefly squinted at one another. Sure, the mutual confused scowl seemed to say, breathing is important. Essential, come to it. But at that moment especially? What was the deal there? And what would happen if you didn’t? What possible consequences could await such a contrary choice?
Evelyn was naturally intrigued by this, unsurprisingly. She was consistently absorbed by the question of “what if’s” when it came to not following the rules. What if you did just steal that candy bar? What if you did drink the milk after its expiration date? What if you just threw out the Ikea pictographs and just put the damn desk together by intuition?
She’d ponder these scenarios, taking them out to the Nth degree, to the logical and illogical extremes, trying to find every possible path. Caught stealing or not? Milk still good or has it turned? Turns out you have a good sense of how to put together a puzzle desk or you are as clueless as Ikea imagines you to be?
For her, it was like Choose Your Own Adventures writ large. Real life as a children’s book series. Though she rarely, if ever, would violate the rules, the expectations, the laws, she enjoyed the flights of fancy. They were a sort of creative outlet for a woman who sat at a desk crunching numbers all day.
For Cole, however, contemplation of violating norms was an exercise in terror. As a child, he couldn’t seem to get anything right. At least, that’s how he remembered his childhood. Thus, he had developed an obsession with sticking to the rules. For him, rules were a tether to reality and a ladder to happiness. If he could just follow the rules, he could find and hold on to happiness. If he followed the rules, surely the rest of his life would make sense.
He was less than successful, often dragged off the path by impulse and distraction. Chaos ensued. He survived and things were quickly set back in place, but for however long the chaos lasted, Cole was a quivering mess of jangled nerves and ceaseless self blame.
She loved him for his impulsiveness and embraced the art of vicarious living through his numerous mistakes.
He loved her for her stability and saw her as the woman who could hold him on the island of health choices.
They were both using each other for what each secretly viewed as their shortcomings and, in this way, they were the perfect couple. Healthy because of just how nakedly unhealthy they allowed themselves to be with each other.
And so they re-read the instructions once more and fell into the black hole “Then breathe” was.
She glanced at him, he glanced at her.
“Please god, don’t let me screw up.”
“Ooo, ignored that last step! It’ll be fun.”
The words echoed in their heads but they remained silent.
Then, after a moment, Evelyn smiled sweetly and grabbed his free hand in hers.
“Ready?” she whispered.
And so they began. And it went almost exactly as you’d expect.