There are many ways to breathe: a scream, a laugh, a sob, a kiss, a voice… The opposite of breath is silence. There are many ways to be alive: a scream, a laugh, a sob, a kiss, a voice… The opposite of life is silence. There are many ways to feel pain: a scream, a laugh, a sob, a kiss, a voice… The opposite of pain is silence.
He knew he would die the moment he screamed or sobbed. The moment he took a breath and let the pain in would be the end of him – the one she called back home, and cried over, and laughed with, and kissed. There are many ways to die: a scream, a laugh, a sob, a kiss, a voice… The opposite of death is silence.
And so he neither screamed nor sobbed, when Helo wept the morbid news into the phone, urging him back from Colonial One; when Doc. Cottle gruffed rusty condolences; when he stood by her tiny shrouded form on the mortuary table, unable to comprehend how that could possibly be, unwilling to recognize the glow and warmth, and vibrant strength of her in the inert impassionate stillness, unwittingly craving to embrace the ancient myth of her people while venturing a tentative touch, if only to will his horror less real by connection; when a sad old drunk vaguely disguised as his father stumbled amidst his grief and shooed him away by a lament too loud for his own silence to bear.
He neither screamed nor sobbed afterwards. There were words and tears, barely registered by mind and body. But there was no breathing. He couldn't afford to breathe now on – to leak out what she had inhaled him with this one last day and ever since the world ended the second time with two rounds in his father's chest, if he were honest. Now that he had the benefit of retrospect, it was all ruefully obvious: he'd taken breathing for granted since. He'd wasted breath on rage, frustration, anger, obsession, self-loathing, desperation, denial, guilt, delusion, arrogance, depression, idealism. He'd come to rely on the oxygen feed she'd infallibly provided him with, even when she left, despite she left. An air-line to make him rise up to himself, to keep him anchored, to bring him home, to help him reclaim his war time and again. He'd have to make do without, henceforth. He'd have to bottle up what precious little heritage of light and hope she left and store, and save, and ration for the bleak times to come. He's well aware it won't last any remotest approximation of a lifetime, but a lifetime is not something to look forward to when running on bingo air, is it? It has to last him making sure they are a civilization still on the far end of despair. It has to last him securing the gears that "keep humanity going" – her testament and his vow - for future is the itinerary as much as destination. And then he could exhale. And thus now he won't scream nor sob. The opposite of breath is silence.