Can I be afraid and still be free?
I am afraid; what will become of me?
Mask on, hand sanitizer clipped to the inside of my purse, it’s been over a year since I’ve left the house without being afraid. Afraid of getting sick. Of getting someone else sick. Of a friend or family member getting sick. Of my husband lying in a hospital bed. Of not being able to say goodbye. Afraid of a slight cough. Afraid to die.
I wrote “Afraid” pre-covid. And before the world became ravaged by a pandemic once dangerously deemed “no worse than a cold,” my brother-in-law Josh fell ill with a rare form of cancer. In 2016, two years after his diagnosis, I watched as he took his last breath of air. He was just shy of 30 years old.
Before Josh’s diagnosis, fear of death could be kept at arm’s length, sometimes more. Some days a tree’s length, an airplane, a river, a sea. Afterwards, the fear became more emboldened. A piano key’s length. A thimble. A glare. In 2020, the fear became a blanket, a fog, a dagger. A whisper of infection, illness, death, political unrest, forest fires, hurricanes, hate crimes, gun violence, broken systems, silence as complicity.
But I believe that emotions are travelers. They don’t want to take up residence in one place for very long. So I try and let my fear visit me, feel it quicken my pulse, shorten my breath, drain blood to my limbs. I play it out on the piano. I sing it. I talk about it. To my husband, to my therapist, to my family and close friends. I try to send it on its way before it takes up more space in my body, before it joins hands with anxiety and stress and becomes too powerful to control. Some days are better than others.
I mask up. I dispense the hand sanitizer clipped to the inside of my purse. I step outside my apartment acutely aware of the germs that transferred from the doorknob to my palm and fingers. I wait in line for my first vaccine dose. I sweat as the gaps between individuals neglectfully shrink from six feet to two, my fear closing in along with them. It is just an arm’s length away. But yesterday it was a piano key.