Gasp. The smoke burns my throat worse with each puff. I cough repeatedly, opening the window, trying to restore my equilibrium. And it comes to me, clear as the image on a brand new television set. I hold onto the issues because I want to. I retain my pain because I know it well, not because I need it to survive. And, in as quick a flash as the previous one, I know I can let it all go just as easily. If only I could breathe . . . .

Gasp. Homecoming is easy. These just-met friends have incredible stories, and are as good at telling them as they are at listening to my own. Acceptance flows as freely as the bubbles in my Guinness submerge, circle, then rise through the center to restart their journey, hoping one day to escape into the Nirvana of Belgian lace. The balance beam scale has been perturbed, and is oscillating up and down in an unpredictable manner. Yet, now, I feel more stable than when it was perfectly level.

Gasp. His hair smells wonderful, scents of spice and vanilla mixed with the raw essence of masculinity. I pull myself closer to him, running my fingers through the short kinks and resting my cheek on his chest. So what if I slightly intimidate this wonderful soul? He slightly intimidates me. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But sleep doesn’t come, and I continue to toss and turn, desperately wanting to begin my next step.

Gasp. I belt out the song, unashamed, rendering every trill, slide, and crescendo as best as I can. Each note makes me grin wider, until even a passerby, walking the opposite direction from me, exclaims “Beautiful smile!” and pauses a moment before continuing on his way. For an instant, I ponder what he has seen: a woman, strangely possessed, singing with enough projection to be heard all the way down the block, energized by her song. I smile wider and continue my journey.

Gasp. I gulp in the cold air, hoping it will soothe my sore vocal chords. People step back from me on the street. I look into their eyes, and see the impression I’ve left on them: quiet wonder, respect, and a tint of admiration. Through my worn, haloed vision, I gradually notice each individual peeling off, heading their separate ways, until I am alone, gently rocked back and forth by the subway car.

Gasp. This time, the lump in my throat clears, leaving my body confused that there’s nothing left to worry about.

Aren’t we aging well, you and I?