The fear I thought I’d banished came roaring back after my husband went on a test drive with a salesman with his mask hanging below his nose.
It’s that precarious – my bravado.
Yesterday, around dinnertime, I scrolled through my phone to see a post from a friend – “Nooooo. RBG.” And I asked “What?” but I knew what. Then I wailed, again and again, until my husband came racing down the stairs to see if one of our kids had died.
Then I made a fish chowder from the cod that was left over from the night before. I made a roux with butter and flour and then added whole milk until it was nice and thick, then some onions, and then boiled potatoes and corn scraped from two old ears that had been languishing in our refrigerator seemingly for weeks, and then some shrimp broth from boiled shrimp a few nights ago and I stirred all this standing in the kitchen because I couldn’t stand being too close to the TV where they were talking about Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the past tense.
I leaned on the kitchen counter in front of my sink and cried. I put my hands over my face and cried.
I don’t know why. I’m not ordinarily a crier. But her dying just broke my heart.
It made me feel like the 19-year old on the bus back to my college campus after getting the world’s most amateurish illegal abortion. Stupid and defenseless.
But I am hardly either of those things. Certainly not stupid with all my degrees and experience. And not defenseless with my health and wherewithal, the armaments of money and position and marriage. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaving the earth made me feel like I had become once again fair game for whatever men decided was best for me, or for them, which was always the point.
This morning I woke to wanting to tell the world what her death meant to me. Then I realized: No one wants to hear your stories of how it used to be, Jan, so don’t waste time telling them. How you felt on the bus is your own kernel of shame and fear and there are no words you can muster that will describe it so people who have lived in an entirely different world will understand. You might as well be a Druid in a Unitarian church. Tell them that you went through the stones, that you are a time traveler.
I am. That is what I am.
And now I am afraid again after working so long to shed my fear and learning to live in a world where disease is left on door handles and in people’s breathing.
When my husband came back after his test drive, I questioned him. I wanted to know how far the salesman’s breath might have traveled. Was the window open? Did he look away when he was speaking or lean in? I felt my fear coming up my arms like the long white gloves we used to wear when I was a teenager, the gloves that made us look exotic and all-knowing.
I kept them in a drawer, folded and wrapped in tissue paper.