As a child, lying propped-up uncomfortably, wheezing and drawing air, waiting for the albuterol to kick in, still clutching the little plastic mask to my face like an adolescent, asthmatic version of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. Waiting for the little fist-grips on my lungs to release, waiting for the air to stop feeling like a bucket of Nickelodeon slime or the dust in couch cracks as it goes in. Finding somewhere to hide within the films and television I watch, falling in through the pane—smudged or rosy, frail images, film stills, back of mind warped like a cracked lens. The sharp blows on my chest fall away. My imagination making the pieces of the people I see my own. I separate, and suddenly I’m one of the lucky kids in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory or strapped into a proton-pack as one of the Ghostbusters. My voice speaks to me as if it is coming from someone else.
Grab that chair right there. Listen to this story. Your lungs don’t have asthma, it’s your mind. Your breath doesn’t feel full of sand, it is someone else’s bad body. Alright, don’t break your other arm. Are you afraid of getting old? I am, I say to it as we fade into the ether. We look each other in the eyes and it’s no use, the voice says, wavering as if across cave walls. If he’s coming down with asthma, I don’t want him out in the rain–that’s the last thing my voice says.
Fading like the opening credit soundtrack. Letting myself slip into the projection of solids upon a plane surface, into the tides of moving pictures. Trying to will myself into the flickering television screen, into the crackle of old VHS tape. Align my heartbeat to the rhythm of maladjusted tracking lines. Find a flick that doesn’t feel sick.
On a note lost to the wind I wrote that I was beginning to feel the symptoms of an asthma attack. Chopped pieces out of the note, like a paper snowflake and let it fly from an open bedroom window.
Alright, close your eyes. What do you see? Rub ’em. Can you see the stars?
Can you feel the film? Blurring the separation between body and movie. The inside of my thigh, edge of my collar bone. The light on the screen, flicker of mouthed words. The parts of my body that are changed by the scene, finding some real center on which to base the pain or erogenous textures. Finding the film that makes me forget that my own body doesn’t always do what I tell it to. Change me, cinema. Make me feel someone else’s faults. Find the words on someone else’s tongue, lose them, feel the vibration of their larynx when my own only makes pitiful bleats. Find the strength to move in a body on screen, or find a place to focus, to forget about the tightness of my own bronchioles and the way gravity is heavier only on top of my chest.
Like reading Coetzee’s Age of Iron, feeling the sickness working its way through my insides along with Mrs. Curren, hollowing muscles and bone. Feeling it so much it’s almost impossible to continue reading. Feeling it seep through cracks my healthy body. Feeling the cancer welling up inside, the way ink or juice soaks into a napkin, spreading tendrils and blooming. The look I’ve seen in the eyes of friends and family consumed by it. Slow, silent. No flames or smoke. But the charred flesh is there, just underneath. The same putrid smell. The same queasy unease I feel, looking them in the face, making myself smile, hold back tears. Trying to grasp some language, even just a few words, to break the silence in the room. The cold sweat starts at my palms, works its way across my back and between any parts of my skin which touch. Trying to think of something to say, anything. Comment on the meal Dad just made us. Say something about the Chuck Norris movie on the television. Let loose a wild one and ask Grandpa about his time in Vietnam. Anything to fill this ringing quiet gulf.
Strange to think of the films that stuck with me only in one or two scenes, these scenes left imprints on parts of my own anatomy. One that comes to mind is Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. I can picture the cabin in the woods, the gray sky, the dull colors of the forest, and little else. But my groin still tenses in ghost sympathy, nausea rising from this area and shivering up through my stomach toward my chest. The instinctive way my hands move toward it, to protect from some unseen assailant. I don’t even remember much of what happens, but my body does. A tinge of recognition in my penis, not quite pain, but nothing sexual. At least I don’t think so. The way I wince, the way I tense, seems in fear rather than arousal. This isn’t a pleasant flutter running across my skin, a fire I feel between where the muscle and bone meet, across my shoulder blades, up the back of my neck. It is a quick reaction, a jump cut. It is a coolness, an electricity, water on the verge of freezing pumping through my veins, my chest. Everything feels heavy, less-responsive. Not pain, but uncomfortable. A lingering anxiety. Some little sliver of the images stuck in my psyche like the piece of pencil lead in my index finger that has been there since high school. Something in the film I can no longer recall the source of—I’ve lost everything but the tactile outer shell of the movie. The leftover emotionality lingers in my lower-torso, in my legs and sex, even with the film’s reels long-since out-of-print in my memory, among the countless other bodies on screens, other traumas, other pieces with which mine sympathize.
Kyle Wright is a Chicago-based writer, musician, and visual artist. His work has appeared in Subterranean Blue Poetry, antinarrative journal, and Bleached Butterfly, and as part of Really Serious Literature’s Disappearing Chapbook Series. He has surfed couches across Europe, lived on a mountain in Colorado, worked as a wedding DJ, and played blues music at old folks’ homes. Currently, he shelves library books and sometimes tries to write them.