When you have an asthma attack, it feels like you're trying to breathe soup. Like the chicken broth my mom has the cook make when I'm not feeling well. It tastes fine, but you can't breathe in it. Well, unless you were a carrot, maybe. Carrots are in chicken soup all the time.
Mom tells me I'm her little carrot because of my hair being bright orange. Her hair is the same, so she's my big carrot, I guess. I can't breathe in chicken broth, though. It hurts too much. Like a million pins and needles sticking into your chest all at once. I know, because I have asthma attacks all the time, and sometimes they're really bad.
Sometimes it's just a quick one, though. I can't catch my breath and I'll wheeze and cough a little bit. Those are the easy ones. I have an inhaler for those. I have them all the time, like if the house hasn't been cleaned very well or if I get really excited about something. When I turned eight a few weeks ago, I got a chemistry set. I'd wanted one forever, so when I finally got it, I got too excited and couldn't breathe very well. Sometimes the easy ones can get worse, but Mom and Pam were really good about it, so it wasn't a big deal. Dad can get a little worked up over it, but he wasn't there, he had business in Japan, so it didn't get very bad.
The bad ones are really awful, though. I hate those. The last time I had a really bad one was in the spring. Spring is mom's favorite time of year, she says it's like the world is waking up from a really long nap. She says all the greens are vibrant and the flowers are all new and bright. It's true, the world is waking up and everything is really beautiful, but it's not a fun time of year for me.
I wanted to go outside with my mom and see the world the way she sees it. She described everything so beautifully and I begged her to take me outside. So she bundled me up, it was a cool day and she didn't want me to catch a chill, and we went out into the garden. Everything was just as she described it: the greens were like no green I'd seen before, and the flowers were bright and alive. It was so wonderful; I wanted it to stay like that forever, just me and her in the garden forever. Sometimes I like to pretend that I'm going to wake up and that all the asthma attacks and colds were just a nightmare, and I'll be new and beautiful and be able to run and play and scrape up my knees like other kids. Maybe then my dad would pay more attention to me.
I started sneezing and coughing, though. And I started to get really scared when I couldn't find my inhaler. I thought I'd put it in my pocket before I came outside, but I was frightened and I couldn't make my hands to work right. It felt like I was trying to breathe in chicken broth, and the pins and needles were really terrible. My eyes were watering and I wanted to scream, but I couldn't get anything past the lump in my throat. My mom was trying to help me, but I wouldn't let her touch me. Even that hurt too much. I started to see black spots and there was a ringing in my ears that sounded like dad's telephone when he was expecting an important call and I had to be really quiet and not disturb him.
That's the last thing I remember before waking up in a room with blue walls. There was a really strange-looking bear holding five brightly colored balloons painted on the wall across from me. He was a little creepy. I was alone at first, and there was something shoved up my nose and my arm itched from where there was a needle with a tube stuck in it. Then mom and Pam were there, and they both looked really scared. I was confused at first, but when I remembered what had happened, I started to cry. Mom started crying too, and she said that she was sorry and that it was all her fault that I got sick and had to go to the hospital. I didn't blame her, though. I love my big carrot too much. It's not her fault I can't breathe in soup.
That was the last time I had a really bad asthma attack, but I'm afraid I'm going to have one right now. My dad has business today involving a corn factory of some kind, and wanted to take me along with him. Mom agreed because she says I should spend more time with my father. I really didn't want to go, but now I'm stuck in the helicopter with my dad. Most kids would be happy to fly in a helicopter, but I'm afraid of heights. Whenever I look out the window and see the fields of corn whizzing below us, I want to puke and I have trouble breathing. My dad is saying something about destiny and fear, but all I can really hear is the ringing in my ears and the engine noise.
I can imagine what it would be like for us to crash. There would be a sudden jolt, like when you first notice you can't breathe during an asthma attack and then - just nothing. Free fall. The endless sea of green cornfields would spin up towards you and then you'd die in a giant crash with a big explosion and fire like in the movies I like to watch when I have to stay in bed. Mom would be sad.
I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing here with dad. Mom says that he loves me; he just has a different way of showing it than she does and that I need to give him a chance. She hugs me and tickles me and tells me funny stories and sings to me. Dad never does any of that stuff, he always talks to me about my future and how one day all he's built will be mine. That's really great and all, but I'd much prefer for him to play mad scientist with me with my new chemistry set. It would be fun, and he could even pretend to take over the world like he tries to do in his business.
We've landed now, and I'm really bored. Dad is talking with a couple of men and he's showing them some papers. We're at some kind of factory, but it doesn't look like any factory I've seen before. All of dad's factories are full of gleaming metal and concrete. This factory looks like an old barn that's falling in and it's in the middle of nowhere. There's just corn and crows and boredom out here.
I decide to play target practice with a fat crow that's sitting on a fence post by the cornfield. Maybe I could be a big league pitcher. I bet that would impress dad. I could be famous, with a thousand girlfriends if girls weren't so gross. Besides, it's not like there's anything better to do here. I pick up a rock and let it fly. I miss, but hit the post under the bird and it squawks and flies away. Dad gets angry at me because I distracted him. He uses that tone of voice with me that he uses with his secretary when she doesn't file something correctly. He turns back to the two men and uses a nicer voice.
I just wanted to play, but I know that dad gets angry if I disturb him too much, so I wander out into the cornfields. I've never seen corn actually growing before. I know it comes on a cob, but my dad says that only peasants eat it that way. Mom loves it on the cob, though. She says that sometimes you have to work for the best things and get a little messy along the way.
It's hot and muggy out in the cornfield, and I still feel a little weird from flying in the helicopter, so I use my inhaler and put it back in my pocket. The corn is like a maze, like one of those really awesome garden mazes that are sometimes in the stories mom tells me.
I start imagining what it would be like if I were looking for mom in the maze of corn when I hear rustling off to my right. It sounds like someone is hiding out there. I hear it again, this time on my other side. It sounded almost like someone was asking me for help. I start to get a little scared and I begin running though the rows. I'm starting to have trouble breathing, so I try to pull out my inhaler and I trip over something on the ground. I lay in the field for a few seconds before rolling over, slightly embarrassed and completely covered in dirt. Dad will be really happy about this.
I sit up and hear, "Hey kid, help me."
I look up and there's this skinny big kid tied up on what looks like a cross. He's in his underwear and has a big red S painted on his chest. He's way scarier than the bear painted on my hospital wall from last spring. I stand and slowly move away from him, suddenly wanting more than anything to be back with my dad at the corn factory. I begin to move away when a huge ball of fire streaks across the sky over my head.
My feet start running almost before my brain thinks about it. The ground shakes behind me and there's a huge explosion, I start running faster and wheezing and trying to use my inhaler all at once. Before I know it, the explosion swallows me up and I'm -
It's like breathing soup.
I can't breathe.
All I can think of is that mom will be sad.
There's a horrendous pain in my chest. It feels like one of those fat drag queens from a party I was at last week is sitting on my chest. But that can't be right, I haven't had an asthma attack since the meteor shower all those years ago.
I start coughing up river water and I open my eyes to bright light and a boy kneeling over me. He's soaking wet and can't be more that 15 or 16 years old. His terrified face is the last thing I remember before going over the side of the bridge. That's ridiculous. And completely impossible.
"I could have sworn... I hit you," I cough out.
The boy looks confused for a moment. "If you did," he pauses and looks behind him towards the mangled guardrail on the bridge, "I'd be... I'd be dead."
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