When my mother tried to breathe and talk at the same time her airway became a muddy pentatonic scale. Each breath was a belabored blues. The obstruction in her airway was marked by the breaks between notes and the lilt in her voice. Better than any Billie Holiday, my mother’s polyrhythmic register taught me what suffering sounded like.
I hated my mother’s doctor no less than I hated the Ku Klux Klan. After four years of diagnostic tests, biopsies, MRIs, CT scans, Dulera, Symbicort, Albuterol, nebulizers, and steroids, the doctors finally conceded. They could not diagnose my mother so my mistrust for biomedicine and inept white men in white coats turned into disdain.
Biomedicine is a shameless Cartesian purgatory committed to betraying Black bodies the way it betrayed my mother. After four years of misprescribed treatment, my mother’s condition worsened — a true testament to the myopia of biomedicine (and white men). After she parted ways with her doctors, my mother took matters into her own hands. A few days after our final visit to the lung specialist, my mother purchased an air purifier — her first act of transgression.
The small air purifier, a rotund and cosmic structure, carried the weight of my terror. Every evening, I dislodged the belly of beast and emptied the water so my mother could start anew. By the end of each night, the wellspring took flight from the planetary figure leaving it lined with film. It was a crude brown that made a mockery of my mother’s lungs.