Ready or Not
3:00 am, when the worst things often happen, and right now there are two cops in face masks knocking at my front door. "Are you all right?" My husband, also in a mask, talks to them through a small window in the heavy oak door. "We're fine, officers. My wife wasn't feeling well when I called 9-1-1, but she's fine now." And in fact I'm all right, peering out the window, clutching the neck of my terrycloth robe, just angry at my husband for calling 9-1-1. The cops shuffle their feet, spotlighted under the porch light. The night is very dark, the neighborhood very quiet. I give them a carefree wave through the window. It's happened to me before, a fainting spell in the middle of the night. Suddenly I'm drenched in sweat and so dizzy I know I'm about to fall. I drop to my knees. Once, when I passed out completely, my head bounced off the tile floor of the bathroom. Once I passed out at the kitchen table and my husband thought I was dead. I've spent hours in the ER getting my heart and everything else checked and it's always been fine. But imagine the ignominy of dying of something else in the middle of the night during a pandemic. I'm not ready to die at all, and the older I get, the more quickly time seems to pass, the more tightly I hold onto life. So much is unfinished, but what exactly that means isn't clear. Is anyone's life ever finished? I've just begun to enjoy early retirement. I published an important essay this summer, and have two more I still need to place. I have work I need to rewrite. Is there anything I still need to say? Since the California governor announced the shelter-in-place restrictions last spring I've barely been writing, just binge reading and staring out the window. Once I thought that writing was a form of immortality, at least a staving off of loss, but now I look at the shelves of literary journals where I've published, the box of chapbooks I haven't sold yet, and I know it will all be tossed out when I die, no more important than the shelves of notes for classes I've taught, the shelves of books I've read, the closets and drawers full of clothes I once wore. Even now I cling to the belief that I am exempt from the devastation around me. But part of me knows better. Some night, I don't know when, two policemen in white masks and dark blue uniforms and heavy black boots will knock at the door again, dystopian dream figures populating a new, unwelcome reality, and ready or not, I'll have to open the door.
has recent creative nonfiction in Fourth Genre, matchbook, Atticus Review
and Passages North
. Her flash chapbook The Missing Girl is available from Black Lawrence Press. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found at her home page (linked) or on Twitter at @doylejacq