9 Years: The Anatomy of Fear

September 17th, 2015 § 0 comments

Lying in bed, restlessly sleeping beside an unfamiliar form, through the open window and into the quiet darkness of the early AM hours in Queens, gunshots rang out. No shouts or scuffle followed the cracking sound that reverberated like echoes, sending waves anxiety and terror shooting through my body. By the time sirens could be heard they were distant and far away. Fear, that emotion we can’t control any more than love, longing and grief, has defined a certain part of my year since I last wrote. I hated playing what if games as a child, a pointless and speculative exercise, and yet this type of thinking has come to define too many of my decisions.

The weather over the last week has turned predictably cool. It’s fall, and as usual, I miss you. Another breakup, another loss, the lingering sense of loneness and that overwhelming desire to talk to you make it undeniably September. Understanding, I sometimes think, died with you, and if I am feeling particularly childish and romantic, as I rarely am these days, I wonder if you can feel the cool, exciting wind of fall, if you can remember me, if you know how much joy you gave in such a short period of time. It’s been a long while, Jon, since I knew belonging, understanding and innocence. I can remember with sharp detail the aspirations of the childish girl who loved you, and yet a friend of mine said recently, “I have seen changes in you, but somehow they seemed part of the maturing process, under it all you were still there. Now I am reassessing.”


Is it a sure sign of age that the passing of time becomes more and more shocking? I counted the years several times before writing out the word nine, and even checked it against last year’s posting. Nine years, Jon, how has it been nine years? How is it possible that we grow old without noticing, while living in such constant fear of dying? When I catch glimpses of them, your nieces are little girls now, and they look so much like Suzanna did when I first met her. I have my own niece now, and it’s a pity you’re not here to bring a dark humor to so much cuteness. You’re still so pivotal and the person I lovingly blame for the aimless state of my life. Your piercing gaze haunts me, and I think of you when I struggle. I know I am not alone in wishing that I could talk to you, hear your voice, revel in the sound of your laugh, and roll my eyes in the face of your irreverent humor.

How did you die? I read though our letters this summer, marveling at my distant terror while admiring your apparent calmness. I’d check in with a remote desperation, aware but unaware, concerned but unable to escape from the life I was living. You would respond with quiet assurances, even as your life was becoming tougher and tougher, slipping slowly away from you. You once wrote to me that where we were in our lives made sense, me going off to live in France and you at home dealing with your illness, and I can’t imagine less truthful words have ever been spoken. You must have been scared, terrified, but you never let me see. The fear that fills me now is so lonely and so complete I almost can’t stand it. How did you die with so little fear? I’m not dying, just deteriorating, and yet I understand the terror and the urgency of knowing you’re losing time, and it fills me with a violent anger compelling me to self-destruct. Where was your anger?


I stumbled across an article on PML last fall, and while I know the risks of pharmaceuticals and the deaths that occurred during clinical trials, I was horrified to discover people die from waking up and taking the very same pills I do. There is a human psychological defect my ex-boyfriend used to tell me about, that allows us to assume the good things that happen in life are the result of our own doing, and the bad things are caused by factors beyond our control. I’ve never known fear like the fear I experienced reading and realizing that I too could die from trying to make myself better. The shock and weightlessness of that moment reminded me of the phone calls I received telling me of your illness and of your death. If fear is the anticipation of loss, I’ve no comprehension of how you faced the loss of your life.

You were, however, yourself somehow, until the end. I remember the slow fade and the moments when your eyes would shine and I’d know, for a split second, that you loved me, that you were there behind the wall of medication and deterioration. I might forget the sound of your voice and the pitch of your laugh, but longer I live the more I want to discuss. Let’s talk about fear and love and loss and age. I might not be able to remember every mundane moment we spent together on a theater set or sitting outside beneath the stars on the hot concrete, all those silly days at Denny’s or every time we jumped into your grandmother’s pool, but my desire to strike up a conversation is unquenchable. You, despite all my fears, were fearless.


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