One night, whilst hanging out in a mountain cantina, sempi called me an ox. Curious, given I do not have a bit of bovine in my biology. Okay, fine, I'm mammalian and vertebrate, but, beyond that, the similarities end. Of course, we were all drinking at the time.
Now, sempi might've been referencing my penchant for riding my bicycle, walkabouts, snowshoeing, rock scrabbles, and other things, which might get me accused of being athletic, despite a deeply ingrained loathing of the jock-types that hearkens back to those days of being brutalized for being an aberration, being too tall, too skinny, with eyes too big for the rest of my face. It could be he was lamenting his own loss of prowess in the physical realm. Once, he played football and had a sixpack, but those days were gone. These days, high in the mountains, he has difficulties breathing, partially from undiagnosed asthma and perhaps something else. I won't say he envies the shape I'm in, but he can remember being like that when he was younger.
When I was younger, it was a different story. I can vividly remember the allergies, even to the point of having to get shots one summer. My mother told the story of returning from a trip to North Carolina to see my father's family, and, upon my first breath of the drier Colorado air, I lapsed into an asthma attack. I was taken to a doctor, my mother cooing and comforting the whole time, as mothers are wont to do. The next attack of that severity happened when I was twelve.
I was awkward and uncoordinated. The si lai nan jen would call me wimpy and make fun of the fact I needed an inhaler, that I could not run very far or fast before I started to wheeze. I was sick a lot as whelp. Years later, my x wife, along with a few other girls of intimate acquaintance, would say I had poor health. One girl said she foresaw me dying by the time I was thirty-seven.
Three years later, and still drawing breath, validates that prophets do not know everything and oracles can be wrong. Aside from that, I really do not believe in fate, not throwing my lot to any god, spirit, loa, angel, demon, or any other Voodoo mask you want to place upon divinity. I go my own way.
My last severe asthma attack was the summer of my twenty-sixth year. I felt like I was drowning in the very atmosphere that sustained me. It was a terrifying couple of days, wondering if the next breath I drew would be the one that wouldn't help, that I'd finally asphyxiate.
Strangely, afterward, I started getting better all the time in a short of John and Paul kind of way. A year later, my inhaler ran out and I never refilled it. It got to the point I might take ill once a year, if that. Suddenly, that weak sickly kid was replaced by someone who bore a striking resemblance, but was possessed of incredible health.
"I'm stronger than I look," I told Sabina once. It may or may not have been the time I swept her off her feet-literally. Curiously, she once told me that was romantic. She does drink.
The last time I got sick was the day my mother told me she was terminal. Fucking perfect. I was better the next day. My mother was not so lucky.
I found myself once wondering if my roaring twenties, spent in books and scribbling upon pages in black India ink, whilst hanging out in coffeehouses, was when I was developing my mental facilities. Maybe my thirties was where I put aside my youthful frailties. Perhaps my forties is where I start to merge the two together, getting the aspects to work in concert, not conflict. I am all about balance.
There are still plenty of times I wheeze, when I exert myself. After all, I do live in the High Country. Even the healthiest of hominids can get winded here. These days, I do not require an inhaler. It's getting on half a decade since the last time I took sick, and, as amazed as I am by it, I don't always dwell on the fact. Sometimes, mentioning doing something to sempi, he shoots me one of those of course you do looks.
"You're Robbie Grey," he might say. "You run up the sides of mountains for fun."
Well, it is something to do...
I still remember that sickly wimpy kid I once was. Although I didn't necessarily want to be like the jock-type si lai nan jen who liked to fuck with me, I certainly wished I was stronger. Then again, perhaps my refusal to let them break me is where I began to cultivate a sense of strength. A different kind, but one that has suited me. It just took my body a few more years to catch up. What's come of that is something I still sometimes I struggle to find the shape of, but the monster I see in the mirror, however aberrant, is one I find I can live with.