In school they taught us how to breathe differently. There were other lessons but this was considered the most important one. We had to learn a new way of breathing. Techniques, exercises: what to do, what not to do. They showed us videos. The videos seemed to go on forever. Sometimes I couldn’t handle that forever feeling, my hands and feet shook and my head would start throbbing, so I’d look out the window, see the dust swirling, turn back to the video, forever droning on, me wanting to puke, out the window, the world of dust … We can’t breathe the way we used to, our teachers instructed in a unified voice, an audio blanket of solidarity. To live in a world of dust we had to become new to ourselves. Could we find new differences to help us move on? What did we know about metaphor and parable? Could we forego the fictitious past entirely? Could we? I looked out the window often.
One of our teachers, a man with a thick reddish beard and delicate looking ears (that’s all I remember, the beard and ears), taught us that the day was coming when we, and by we we knew that he meant us now, and us later, and us later than later, we would grow gills and learn how to breathe underwater. Right now we breathe dust but later we will breathe water. The teacher seemed excessively proud when stating this, as if he had invented dust. Or water. Or breathing. All three. We are rewatchable to ourselves, the teacher’s lecture went on, and we exist as the mothers and fathers and gods of our future amphibious selves. So, the teacher reasoned, your capacity to breathe underwater is already latent within you. It takes a long time, the teacher concluded (yes, even the forever speeches of teachers must reach some sort of conclusion), it takes a long long time to meet all our selves that incarnate on a soul’s migrant journey. That teacher was fired. For using the term—soul’s migrant journey. He had, in the consensus opinion of the Board, gone too far. To say soul—and migrant—and journey—to combine them into a single phrase, to conceptualize them as a unified notion … the teacher had overstepped his boundaries. It is fiction (according to the Board). The dust is not fiction. It is metaphor and parable. Not fiction. Yet what that teacher said had stayed with me, grown roots, and in the bathtub at night I would stay underwater for longer and longer spells trying to expedite the blossoming of my gills. I wanted to give my future self a head start.
Image by Heather Ross