“I got a pain in my chest, and I can’t breathe” – George Lopez

Before Stefanie died, she liked the comedian George Lopez who, in a thick Latin accent said “I got a pain n my chess and I can’t breaf”.

Stefanie and Ian used to cackle at her imitation of his accent and she said it so much that still today I can hear her saying it in my head.  Many times since she died, I’ve  thought about that phrase especially when my anxiety is high and that’s exactly what I am feeling.

I think at some point in this blog, I wrote about the anxiety I struggled with so desperately when separated from the other children, and how I had to work very hard at keeping my composure if for some reason they were a few minutes late, or something unexpected occurred.

I have been patting myself on the back at my ability to conquer this deep-seated anxiety but then on Friday, when the school bus was over an hour late and dispatch had not heard from the driver, my smug veneer started to crack around the edges.

We had asked our nanny to grab the boys off the bus until we got there, as James and I were headed out to pick up Grace at her school in the north end of the city – a few minutes to reconnect before finishing a sentence would prove impossible.

In the meantime, Ian arrived home begging to come with me instead of James to practice his driving, to which we agreed.

Just as I was to enter Grace’s school, approximately half-an-hour from home, (at least  when Ian drives), I got a phone call that the bus had yet to arrive and all the parents were still at the corner waiting for their children.

Much to my relief, James was at home getting dinner started and I could call him to start making phone calls and get to the bus stop .

At first, I wasn’t overly concerned, but when James called to tell me that dispatch thought the bus was already back in the yard,  I started to panic.  Compound that with a parent saying the news was reporting a dead body close to the school and an accident with a person stuck under a car, the images in my mind became increasingly worrisome.

I am willing to accept that part of my slow to trust view of the world has been formed by my choice in career, but the physical manifestations of deep chest pains and trouble breathing, have stemmed from the PTSD brought on by the violence surrounding Stefanie’s death.  The subconscious mind takes a lot longer to heal than we might expect.  If you’ve ever tried to rationalize yourself out of emotions that stem from there and have been successful, let me know, because I have yet to find a way.

One way of coping with this pain when the elephant that lived on my chest for so long returns is I recall Stefanie’s “I got a pain in my chest, and I can’t breathe”, then her infectious giggle and most times it’s enough to make me smile.

Friday however, I imagined the worst.  I told myself I was being silly and ridiculous, knowing full well I was overreacting (only using my inside voice as not to worry Ian) and yet, where fear exists, sometimes logic does not.

When the bus finally arrived, the explanation was that the new driver had turned down a wrong street and somehow the bus became stuck and couldn’t reverse out.  I guess he failed to call into dispatch to let them know (perhaps he was too embarrassed) and, of course, all the children were fine.

Eric admitted to being nervous and Patrick was crying wanting nothing more to get off the bus.  This compounded Eric’s concern and increased the burden of responsibility he always feels for his little brother.   Eric spent the entire hour wondering if he could remember the way home on foot, if he and Patrick got off the bus.

After the girls went to bed, we all snuggled on the sofa in the basement and watched a movie.  James was sitting down, my head resting on a pillow on his lap, Eric was lying in front of me and Patrick on top.   One would think that by this point, that pain in my chest would have lessened.

Unfortunately it’s still there today but I know by experience that in a few days it will go away on its own and for that I will just have to be patient with myself.  In the meantime,  I choose to believe that the reason I can still hear Stefanie giggling and saying “I got a pain in my chest and I can’t breathe”, is her way of helping me laugh at myself, even from beyond the grave.  If anyone could do it, she could.


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