(I want to acknowledge Tanya Shirley, a Jamaican poet, whose “A Chant Against Fear” inspired part of this.)
Backsliding – should I be afraid of it or look forward to it? Mainstream culture says backsliding is bad. We must always be moving forward. Like sharks, if we don’t keep moving (forward, of course), we die. If we take one step forward and two steps back, that’s a tragedy. What if there’s a time for backsliding.
Jack died. Did I tell you that? I’m supposed to be moving forward, finding closure, healing. But I’m not backsliding into grief. Grief is beside the point.
We met when we were 21, married at 22. We were children. I know, some of you may be 21 or 22 and think you’re adults. We thought we were adults, thought we knew who we were and what we were doing.
We were lucky, together for the next 52 years. At the beginning, I was a shy, reserved person afraid to speak up because I knew no one would listen to me. I’ve becomw confident, outspoken, standing up in front of classes, sometimes crowds, like this, becoming a boss, hiring and firing, traveling to many countries with strange languages. Women’s liberation had a lot to do with this transformation, but Jack supported it, too. Without him, I’m afraid I’m backsliding to that earlier me.
When we met, I was on my own and supporting myself, but I was still unformed, malleable. Going from family to roommates, I’d only ever lived alone for two weeks of my life. The first time I was completely on my own, in my own place, I sat on my sofa/bed and cried, for half an hour. I retreated home, to my parents. Then I was afraid, of the silence (no radio), no one to talk to (on the pay phone out in the hall).
Fear of loneliness.
Fear of not knowing who I was.
A few months after Jack died, fear came roaring back. Now I was home, and my fears were different:
Fear of losing the person I’d become via loving Jack and he loving me.
Fear of being old as a single person, as a single woman, as a woman who’s 75.
Fear of forgetting Jack if I’m successful in learning to live without him.
Fear of the open-endedness of freedom, with no one to share it with.
Fear that having a daily plan will constrain me, but
Fear that having no plan will leave me unmoored.
Fear of dying.
Fear of being a person who is afraid of dying.
The fear ebbs, but never disappears. I remember what the great Negro Leagues xpitcher Satchel Paige said, “Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.” But if I look back, if I backslide into that fear, perhaps I’ll learn something I need to know.
I read this at the July 24 Big Words series, which had the theme word "Backslide."