old (2010), Uncategorized

what I feared

What scares me as an adult: the unknown, the things you can’t see coming, the things that can befall the family you love. It’s the red light pulsing on an answering machine on a Saturday in March that you know means Uncle George has died, that is your mother’s voice telling you to call in the same calm, broken voice she once used to describe suffering on the other side of the world. It’s standing in front of your classroom aware of nothing but how fragile life is, watching your students who are not so much younger than you are, nothing their movements — a pencil scratching, sneaker tapping — proof that they are all still alive. It’s the call at midnight on a Monday that is your sister saying she needs help, she’s throwing up fifteen, twenty times a day. Or on a Wednesday afternoon, just when you are finally beginning to feel like a grown-up goddamnit, when your parents tell you, “We’ve been having some problems” and suddenly all those years of cautious silence come rushing into the light. It is no longer one sad thing, it is many sad things; it is the possibility of sad things. You long for records and haunted houses, fears breakable into little parts. But you are not a child anymore; even if the fear is out of sight, you know it’s there.

(Excerpt from “What I Feared,” by Elise Juska, in
The Subway Chronicles: Scenes from Life in New York
)
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