Fear lived in the basement, in the deep freeze. He’d come out when I was alone, touch me, chill me, turn me to ice.
“You know no one’s home, right? They’re all dead. Gone. Poof.” He leaned against the stove, turned on a burner, let the ice melt off his fingers, gather into a puddle on the floor.
He laughed, a sound like dry thunder on the horizon. “Don’t worry about the puddle. She’s not coming home. You’re all mine.”
“And my father?” I croaked.
“Oh he’s long gone, honey. You’ll never see him again.” Fear grinned, so cold and sharp I took a deep breath and couldn’t let it out for many many years.
Yes he died. Yes I never saw my father again. Yes I froze, so small, so open, so in love with this big man in the three piece suits and the grey fedora hat.
“See?” fear says now when my husband goes off to hike. “See? See that? He’s leaving. He’s never coming back.”
I follow Richard out to the car. “Text me when you know where you’re going. Do you have water is your phone charged can I pack you some snacks?”
Sometimes I stand there holding him back, my hand on the bumper, and I burst into tears.
“It happened before,” fear says. “It can always happen again. In fact, it probably will happen again. Some day. No. This day. Today.”
“Today the phone will ring and a police-y voice will say ‘Is this Nancy London?’ and you’ll hang up and run into the closet, throw up behind the shoes and eat the candy you’ve hidden. Oh, right. That’s what you did when you were twelve.”
“Now you’ll say ‘Who’s asking?’ and a police-y guy will say “Ma’am this is the Santa Fe police and we’ve got some bad news for you’ and you say ‘she’s not here.’ You’ll hang up and throw up then sit very still because if you can sit still then it didn’t happen.”
“You and me, kid,” fear says. “Just like old times. Remember the years we hung out together? The trouble we got into? Everyone thought you were such a bad kid but I knew the truth. You were running from fear hahaha big joke because I was your ride into the city. I was the bartender serving Black Russians to a thirteen year old I was everyone who loved how available how open how pleasing you were. But it was all me, fear come to lick your toes and make it all better because if for one moment you felt how close we were, if you knew from the first moment your daddy didn’t come home what kind of hell you’d be burning in without him, shit girl, you ought to thank me for numbing you up real good and taking you for a ride.”
“Say thank you” fear says chucking me under the chin with an icicle finger.
“Fuck off,” I say. “Richard will come home. He’s not going to die today. This is different. I can’t stand here in the driveway weeping for a death that hasn’t even happened.”
“Are you sure?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
“No. Not sure.”
So then I do all the everythings I’ve learned to do when I’m paralyzed by fear. Four breaths in. Hold. Four breaths out. Hold. Repeat until my heart stops stampeding across my chest looking to break out of the corral.
Dance. Sweat my prayers. Sweat out fear like it’s a toxin, which it is.
Stop before I eat the entire carton of chocolate ice cream, always so friendly, always willing to numb me back to the stone age.
Make soup. Re-pot my geraniums. Let my hands linger in dirt, in life.
Light candles on my altar. Pray that when the time comes to answer that phone call, I’ll have settled my score with fear. I’ll be battered and torn apart, surrendered to the holy fire of grief where fear and doubt sizzle and burn. I’ll be barefoot, walking through the radiant flame of love that never dies.