Can't Breathe (Colorado Springs)
29 May 2017
Colorado Springs is at an elevation of 6,035 ft.
My lips peeled off and my nose continues to have scabs blow out onto my Kleenex because of the altitude.
And when I am running on the trails behind my house, I fight with my lungs to get enough air in them to move forward.
Sometimes on the weekends when I am riding my mountain bike down Tejon Street to find my seat at Rico’s, order my Salted Carmel Latte, and I breathe in – it’s like my lungs have given up. Both sit in my chest half filled waiting for the other half of the oxygen to come from somewhere else.
Except for yesterday.
I was walking fast and forgot I had to breathe. I didn’t know where I was walking to or where I was going – I was simply following cement. Just blindly following slabs of squares that make up the sidewalks around downtown. The setting sun was in my eyes making me squint until the sun disappeared behind 1880s Victorian houses that lined Cascade. Then suddenly I felt the chill when the sun was half covered by the mountain range in the West.
I tried to catch my breath. I tried to think. I tried to gain control of my thoughts. But the only thing I could think of is, “I don’t need her. Who does she think she is?”
And then I was torn, “I hope she is okay.”
Then I flipped, “I don’t care.”
And just then I unexpectedly bumped into a guy wearing ragged hiking clothes and a much used backpack tied with up with plastic bags. He was leaning over rolling his joint. I hadn’t seen him when I made the turn down Bijou Street. “Sorry man.”
He looked up and looked hurt but then smiled with brown teeth, “Not a problem.” And then he went back to sprinkling bits and pieces of marijuana into his cigarette paper.
Then I thought about the Perk Downtown and she looked strange when I brought up my prison time. But she didn’t ask for me to continue and she quickly changed the subject.
Later she told me when we were driving into our parking spot at Old Colorado City for Territory Days. “You embarrassed me when everyone in the coffee shop heard you say you were in prison.”
“But I was.”
“You don’t have to talk about it all the time.”
“I don’t. It’s over. But I haven’t had anyone to talk to about it – who used to know me in Hong Kong – for a long time.”
Ximena took a beat to answer. “I don’t want you to talk about it anymore.”
I laughed. Looked at her and she was serious. I smiled and politely said, “Understood.”
We were quiet when we peeled ourselves out of my SUV and disappeared into the throngs that pushed through Old Colorado City.
Now here I was, turning the corner around St. Mary’s Catholic Church and I heard a group of people talking in Tagalog and saw a family of Filipinos gathering bags about them and smiling – and locking up the side entrance to the church.
And I listened – remembering when I was in the sticky heat of Manila in the back of a jeepney – and watching a beauty pageant contestant enter beautifully done with makeup and pageant dress – nervously reading her cue cards of potential questions and answers to the panel she was about to meet. Her gay attendants came up beside her – wiping the sweat from her brow and talking quickly, laughing and excited about the upcoming contest. And it was surreal to see a woman so beautiful, young with her whole life pivoting if she wins a contest that compares her body and her mental aptitude with dozens of other beautiful young women who also want the chance to escape the province.
That’s when I heard the rolling of plastic wheels.
I looked forward and saw Ximena looking toward me. She was in a half run pushing her luggage across Kiowa Street. She was near sighted so she didn’t see it was me walking towards her. And she moved quickly across the street.
I stopped and stood there. I finally caught my breath.
She had gone to my apartment, thrown together her things in her suitcase, and she physically ran to the Antler’s Hotel that was three or four blocks from my place to escape from me.
I then wondered if I was dangerous.
Because I opened the doors for her whenever she went somewhere – even in the rain, in the hailstorm that had happened the day before, I complimented her on her body that she was obviously not happy with, and I listened as she told me that Colorado seemed boring and not a place she would consider ever living. I also sat through multiple times where she had bragged about knowing something I didn’t and going so far as to try to educate me that the Thai restaurant Tuk Tuk was not on Hollywood Road but on Lyndhurst Terrace.
We were sitting at the Jose Muldoons with margaritas and after the server had walked away, she leaned over to me, “The service in this city sucks.”
I contradicted her. “We just got here and it’s Memorial Day. They are super swamped.”
She smiled but then it turned to a grimace. “You don’t have to defend lazy people.”
I grinned and bore it.
“Why do you say everyone is your friend?” she asked.
“Because they are until they prove otherwise. Everyone deserves a chance.” I said.
“I think that’s being very naïve. I have very few friends.”
I took a sip of my margarita and then pulled the glass up to my tongue and licked at the salt. “Well my very close friends I call family.”
She shook her head. “No, family is family. You should never confuse the two. Strangers are strangers. Friends are friends but they have to earn it. And family is blood.”
“I have to disagree. There are those who have shown they share my blood – especially when I was in prison.”
She exhaled. “Oh my god. There you go again!”
I stopped, “What?”
“I asked you not to bring it up again. You act like it just happened.”
“You are hung up on it.”
“No, you are thinking your life is so hard. Because you work for a major airline manufacturer that has crazy deadlines and you are getting your Masters Degree. And you think you are not beautiful because you gained a couple of pounds. Stop comparing yourself to others. And most especially, stop comparing yourself to your old self. A woman's body changes. But I say you don’t realize how amazing you are and your life is."
I waited before continuing, “I realized that when I went through what I did. Life is too precious to be negative. To hate everyone before they prove themselves.”
She scoffed. “You will never have anything.”
“I believe I have everything.”
“You are wasting your energy.”
That’s when I felt the danger. I felt my pulse racing and the thoughts coming. And I tried to catch myself, hold my tongue, and keep it back. But it was too late: “Why did you fucking come here? Just to gloat about your perfect life? If you don’t want to be here, if I am not a friend, if you don’t like me, don’t be here.”
She seemed shocked.
“I am wasting my energy.” And I threw my napkin at her and walked away.
As I was making my way out, I stopped by the bathroom to see if I could gain composure. But I peed angry.
I washed my hands and couldn’t see my reflection.
I walked back out and went to her table. I pulled my key off my key chain and put it on the table. “I don’t want you to be stranded.” She seemed embarrassed. “And I want it to be very clear – you are not a friend.”
And I walked outside to blindly follow the sidewalk.
Going forward, I will never write about or talk about prison in Hong Kong again. I won’t breathe a word.