I cannot breathe. Try to inhale–
breath doesn’t come. My chest won’t rise.
My throat is tight. Swollen. Shut.
Although I try, I just can’t breathe.

I cannot breathe. He’s standing there.
Standing, staring. What will he do?
I hold my breath. The fear is real.
He’s standing there. I dare not breathe.

I cannot breathe. I hold my breath.
He’s coming now. What will he steal?
Can’t form a thought. Can’t form a cry.
Can’t take a breath. I dare not breathe.

I cannot breathe. He’s here. But why?
He steals the breath that is not his.
He does not care. My words, unheard.
My sad heart breaks, and I can’t breathe.

I cannot breathe. My fear is real.
Although I beg, he doesn’t hear.
My words to use are ripped away.
And he makes sure I cannot breathe.

I cannot breathe. The sheet, pulled taut
across my chest, it holds my breath.
The air can’t come, the air can’t leave.
I hold on tight, but I can’t breathe.

I cannot speak. I want to say,
Just go away and leave me here!
He silences, and holds me down.
I cannot speak when I can’t breathe.

I cannot breathe. I want to run.
But where to go? He’d follow-chase.
I wouldn’t win. No air is there
to give me life so I can run.

Can’t get away. I do not try.
And if I did, the door has locks.
The key is gone. Escape? No hope.
So, here I stay and do not breathe.

I cannot breathe. I want to scream.
But who would hear me? No one there
to come and help. My scream, no sound.
My voice is gone, for I can’t breathe.

I cannot breathe. My fear is real.
I’m trapped. Can’t move. Afraid to try.
My chest won’t rise. I cannot run.
I cannot hide, and I can’t breathe.

I cannot breathe. I fear more harm,
and so I freeze. I need no air
to stay alive. My frozen heart.
I must not move. I must not breathe.

He walks away and leaves me here.
What should I do? Still, fear is real.
And should I move and make a sound
he will come back, so do not breathe.

Hours pass without a breath.
I wait for time to soothe my fear,
to bring my need for safety close.
I wait. I wait, and do not breathe.

I do not breathe. Others come
and fill the space he held with me.
I’m not alone, but am I safe?
Although I can, I do not breathe.

I hold my breath to keep it in.
I hold my secret to myself.
I dare not share for fear of blame.
My heart is heavy. I don’t breathe.

I do not breathe. I cannot speak.
I have to bear the weight of harm.
The price of hurt, betrayal real.
My voice long gone,

but I must breathe.

In safety, women hold me close.
As I inhale, I feel their eyes.
They see my hurt and sit with me.
I take a breath and tell my tale.
I take a breath and try to find
that girl whose voice and trust are gone.
My chest now rises, feels, and fills
the breath of life. I take it in.

I take a breath and trust again.
And then I don’t, and then I do.
I’m learning how–that I am safe.
That others see, so I can breathe.

I try the air. Comfort near.
Recall the fear I felt that day.
I look for Jesus. Filtered light.
I feel Him near and hear His breath.
To breathe again, I find the hope
my Savior brings. He sits with me
to stroke my hair, and sigh my name,
to meet my eyes so I can breathe.

Take a breath, He says to me.
I was there. You weren’t alone.
I’ve waited here ’til you could see,
and breathe with breath I bring to you.

Take a breath, sweet child, He says.
I have you now. Just breathe with me.
I take a breath, and breathe Him in.
Hope fills my chest. Again, I breathe.

What sweet embrace. He’s here with me!
I rest my head. He holds my face
and speaks my name. You’re safe, He says.
And I believe.

Now, I can breathe.

Wendy Lipham lives on the Alabama Gulf Coast where she has taught interview and communication skills for over twenty years. Having heard God’s call to work with young women who have experienced sexual violence and abuse, she is further inspired by the growth of her “Beautifully Broken” story group. She enjoys writing, drawing, and needlepoint. Most of all, she loves living life beside her husband and hearing the laughter of their seven grandchildren.