The First Attack

Mr. Hazzard called for us to move to the next set. I was glad he got distracted for a moment before calling us to move because I had to break attention to figure out where that was. I located my number spray-painted into the grass a yard line over and straightened up again with my arms stretched in front of me as if to hold a magnifying glass in front of my face.

I had stopped noticing the sweat sliding down my neck, back, and legs by that point. So far, September was just as hot and humid as July and August had been. There had already been two days in the three weeks we'd been back in school that the district had been forced to cancel all outdoor after-school activities because the temperature had reached 107⁰F. The kids forced outside for three hours on a Monday afternoon for the marching band agreed that 105⁰ wasn't any cooler.

The metronome was set, the drum major demanded our attention, and eight beats later we were in an entirely different formation. We halted in attention and were instructed to remain as such until our section leaders could verify that we had hit the exact spot we were supposed to.

As I stood with my back straight, feet together, arms stiff, and my head up, I tried to get the deep breath I'd been lacking for the past hour or so. We'd only been marching for fifteen minutes, but I'd had soccer class before that. It didn't help that the student trainers had forgotten about the JV girls on the back field out of sight from the rest of the school when they were taking the giant water jugs out to all of the sports teams.

The drum major told us we could relax, but our relief was short-lived. Thirty seconds later, we were called to march back to the spot we'd just come from. Where was that again? And where was my brain? I decided to just follow Ashley. She'd been standing next to me in the previous set, and I didn't want to be reprimanded for turning my head to search for my spot.

We finally had a water break and I downed my Styrofoam cup's contents in one gulp, determined that whatever was blocking my windpipe could be washed away. It felt like syrup was coating my throat and I couldn’t swallow it. We were called back onto the field before I could get a second drink.

We found new spots, yelled the counts, marched, fixed formations, spray-painted our numbers. It all meshed into one giant blur for me. Why couldn't I just breathe? We halted in attention plenty of times, which was usually enough for me to recover, but I just couldn't. It was like someone had stuffed cotton balls down my esophagus and said, "Okay, now run a mile and sing opera."

I coughed several times, trying to clear my system. I usually had breathing problems in late October, or when it was really windy and cold outside, and I vividly remembered the cases of croup I'd had as a child, but none of that compared with what was happening.

After another water break, Britny gave me her water bottle, and I took it out onto the field with me. We weren't allowed to, but for once, I didn't care. I needed to breathe, but there was no way I was going to sit out on the sidelines with the fat tuba player and the clarinetist with the rolled ankle. I thought I was better than that. Mr. Hazzard called me the best freshman marcher he’d ever seen. Heat and sweat were no strangers; I'd been living in Texas almost my entire life. I really thought I could handle anything.

But as I blindly tried to follow the motions of the people around me, unable to focus on straight lines, barely hearing the meaningless whirr of the metronome behind me, I started to panic. I was making a weird sound. Was that called wheezing? Britny asked again if I was okay, but I didn't want to lie to her, so I didn't say anything back. A couple other people around me started to notice my struggles, and eventually, Becca, my section leader, noticed, too.

She broke out of line, took two steps forward, and asked me, "Krista, what's wrong? Do you need to go sit down?"

That was too much for Mr. Hazzard. Screaming at the top of his lungs like he so thoroughly enjoyed to do, he pointed his finger at me and drew everyone's attention to the best freshman marcher—no, this time I was the insubordinate little freshman—and said, "Why are YOU so special that you get to have your water on the field? THE REST OF US ARE TIRED, TOO! SUCK IT UP!"

Mr. Hazzard, the man that praised me every other day, the man I very much always wanted to please, had picked me out in front of a hundred and fifty other people and it definitely wasn't for a good reason. I had never been so humiliated—so terrified—in my entire life. I burst into tears as I clung to Britny's half-empty water bottle.

I'd never hyperventilated before, but I knew that was what was happening as soon as it started. First, my lips went numb, and then the tips of my fingers. My impossibly fast, desperate breathing was the only thing in my ears. There was only one spot in my vision I could see, and even that spot was like looking out a car window on a stormy night.

I wasn't scared of Mr. Hazzard anymore. I was scared for my life. I had no control over my air intake. My arms and chest were tingling and I was starting to lose the feeling in my toes. I dropped the water bottle just as everyone started to move, and I leaned over to put my hands on my knees. It didn't help my breathing, but it helped the dizziness that had started. I looked over to my right, searching for a long, black braid that was Patty, or for Britny's bright purple shorts.

I found out Britny was behind me as she yelled to the assistant band director on the sideline. Her voice was joined by Becca's and Patty's, and seconds later, Mr. Moon's sweaty, bald head was right in front of me.

"Krista, what's wrong?"

"I—can't—breathe," I choked.

"Come over to the sideline," he said. He grabbed my arm and I let him take me off the field. "Okay, now, I need you to calm down," he said, standing in front of me with his hands on my shoulders.

I sobbed a little and tried to tell him I'd been trying to, but he told me to stop talking and focus on taking one breath at a time. He put my hands on top of my head and held my eye contact. Mr. Moon started coaching me on when to breathe in, when to breathe out. In, out. In, out. He got slower and slower. I knew it was several minutes, but eventually it started to work. I never did quite get a lungful, but I wasn’t about to pass out anymore.

After he'd made me drink a couple of bottles full of cold water, Mr. Moon sat down next to me in the grass. My hands were splotchy and felt like they’d been asleep. I avoided looking at the people still on the band field as much as I could. I didn't want to see them looking at me, pitying me.

I never imagined that what he was going to ask me next was going to unleash a whole new world of breathing treatments, doctor appointments, and even a couple of emergency room visits. At the time, I couldn’t imagine that I could be like one of those kids I'd rolled my eyes at in middle school as they excused themselves from running to use their inhaler.

Marching band was the one thing I thought I could genuinely do well in and this new hurdle was taller than the fence around the field.

"Krista," Mr. Moon said, "do you have asthma?"