Let me tell you a story about waking up under water. No, not literally waking up under water, but that very same feeling. It's also a story about oxygen. Have any of you ever thought about oxygen, how important it is? Oh, sure, you've held your breath for sixty seconds, felt that surge of pleasant panic. Pleasant because all it takes is to open your mouth and let that sweet, sweet oxygen come back in. Except have you ever thought about what would happen if at that very instant, when you've held your breath for as long as you could someone would come along and dunk you head-first into water? You would suddenly realize you have no power in your limbs to fight; your grandmother could drown you then. If you draw in breath, you will die, but you have to draw in breath. You have to or you will die. No-one really wants to think any further than that, lest they really do start choking.
Maybe you imagined this situation right now. See how fine it is to be breathing, steady, big gulps of air, making its way around your body, your brain. Your brain can survive a minute, tops, without air. Well now, imagine this. Instead of just sitting still on your comfortable chair, holding your breath as a dare, you'd be running. Running, as you know, consumes oxygen like there's no tomorrow. You're out of breath, tired, your muscles aching. Every breath you take fills your lungs completely and then empties them, coming fast, fast. Ever try holding your breath when exhausted? I'll give you five seconds before you'll go pfaaaaaahhhh! in a great exhalation. There's really nothing you can do about it when push comes to shove, your body will knock you unconscious and force you to breathe rather than let you hold your breath against it.
Now, I'm sure you imagined yourself having a nice little jog, wearing perhaps your running shorts, shoes and a t-shirt, on a nice sunny afternoon (or morning, whatever rocks your boat). Now, add about, say, 30 kilos of equipment (that's about 66 lbs). This was about the average, light load I had to carry. This included the gun, of course, damned contraption. Now run in that. You'll find yourself uncommonly tired, much sooner than usual. It's uncomfortable, your boots aren't meant for running, you feel the need for oxygen more than ever before. You sweat through three layers of clothing AND your flak vest. The mere idea of not being able to fill your lungs with every step makes you dizzy. Breathe, breathe. Thunk thunk thunk run you maggots run, says the lieutenant, in just his uniform.
Gas! He shouts then, and everyone drops, breathing heavily, filling their lungs one last time with that fresh, life-giving air. Gas dammit! Fumble, like Owen's soldiers, on your knees, following the drilled procedure. You got ten seconds! His voice muffles as he effortlessly pulls on his own gas mask, placing his hat back on top of the terrible pig-face. Soon, your world disappears behind the smudgy lenses as well.
Ever felt your heart beat in your ears? I'm sure you have. Now listen to your breath, filtering through the activated charcoal. Precious trickles of clean oxygen, going in and out. The mask is tight against your head, since that's the way it's supposed to be, the straps hidden under your helmet, which is also tightly strapped under your rubbery chin. You put on the rest of your plastic NBC gear as the seconds tick down. By the time you're ready, you are ordered to get up and go. Run, run, run.
Sometimes, when you've run, you've felt like throwing up. Something about the way the running motion makes your stomach roil, you can feel it pushing up your throat. Except, of course, if you're wearing a gas mask, it'll just choke you. Choke those last slivers of oxygen from you. Your body's defences would kick in, you'd fall down, unconscious. Except you can't breathe. Die like a drunk passed out, inside your own gas mask. So what do you do, as you're running, the weapon's straps all over your arms and metal banging against your legs, the taste of acid on your tongue?
You pull at your mask, opening up the tight, black rubber at your throat. A breath of fresh air has never felt so amazing, so good, so pure and so fantastic. For the first time in your life you realize exactly how important oxygen is. Where you were faltering a second before you now have new strength, as fresh oxygen courses through your blood. The acids are pushed down your throat, replaced with air. You gasp and eat the air, it literally keeps you going. You sound like Darth Vader, dying, but you're not, you're alive!
And then you run into the tent, and the flap falls over the opening, and you're sitting there in a circle, breathing heavily. Again, you realize the difference between rest and movement, oxygen, sweet oxygen. The breaths you take seem to fill you entirely, spread into every limb, revitalizing them. Oh if you could take off your mask, and sit here and just breathe for a whole day, a week, a year. Then the lieutenant comes in. The flap closes. He's still wearing his gas mask. In his hand he holds a canister.
And now you get to test and see if you've put your gas masks on correctly You can hear the smile in his muffled voice. He pulls the pin, places the canister in the middle of the tent. Tear gas. He says. You realize that the reason your gas mask is so tightly fastened is because if you loosen it to breath, it is no longer air tight. Grey smoke begins hissing out of the canister, replacing the sweet, sweet oxygen. This is what it is like, waking up under water.