• June 2009
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What I Really Fear

Almost six months ago a casual acquaintance of mine disappeared.  Vanished into thin air.

For four days no one could find her.  The mutual friend we have in common had planned on hanging out with her and noted that she had not called a day or so before to confirm that they were getting together later in the week.  At first she rationalized that her friend of several years was just busy.  She had been in the final stages of defending her dissertation, for goodness sake. It stood to reason that she just could not find five free minutes to check in and see if they were still having drinks and a snack.  A little voice  in the back of her head grew louder, though.  Something is amiss, the voice demanded. Check on Paula.  

A few phone calls to friends and dozens of phone calls to Manhattan hospitals later, Paula was discovered.  Four days prior to the search for her, Paula had taken a nasty fall in the train station.  She cracked her head open and was rushed to the nearest hospital.  She couldn’t call her friends to reschedule appointments because she had been unconscious.

Paula is unmarried, unpartnered and several large bodies of water away from home and family.  

Paula is me.

Although I have worked vigorously to overcome it, I am a woman who is ruled by fear.  I am a self-proclaimed punk ass.  I cover my eyes at not only horror flicks, but action flicks with too many things blowing up at once.  I horde money in my savings account because of the vague possibility that I can end up unemployed and destitute at any given moment.  Upon seeing a mouse, I not only yell at the top of my lungs, but I also have been known to run into my bedroom, shut the door and call a friend who lives in Brooklyn, begging him to travel cross-borough and “rid my home of the rodent.”

Paula’s disappearance represents one of my greatest fears.  The fear that finds me lying on the floor of my apartment after having fallen from a ladder because I innocently wanted to change the light bulb in my bathroom.  No one comes to my house daily but me.  While I do have friends to whom I speak and with whom I socialize on a fairly regular basis, it is not unusual for me to go a week without hearing from those friends.  While we normally count those brief absences from each other’s lives as a case of “she’s busy,” what happens when that is not the case?

When Paula’s story was relayed at a group outing, I excused myself to go to the restroom. (I do this also when some movie decides to blow off some person’s head amid exploding cars or have a particularly brutal act committed on a child.)  I had a very visceral reaction to Paula’s accident and the fact that she could have lied in that hospital bed for another four days had our mutual friend not thought to listen to (and heed) the Universe’s whisper.

In the months that have passed, I have questioned why her story shook  me so.  Aside from the obvious concern that I could die if I had an accident and no one was around to come to my immediate aid, Paula’s story reiterated what smart single women, happy or otherwise, have always known.  A woman can definitely live this life without a man.  She can not live it alone, though.

For that was what unsettled me so when I heard Paula’s story.  She could have died because she was alone.  She, like so many of us, roamed Manhattan in this fog of “When something bad happens…” and that is where the statement ends.  Those who are partnered have a built in completion to that statement.  “….someone will call my husband/live-in boyfriend.”  The challenge presented to single gals is to find a completion to that statement so you are not a ghost for four days.  To do the extra work of connecting with people whom you love and who love you and making sure neither of you is attempting to walk the minefield that is modern-day life alone.

And that is what I fear the most.  Not never marrying.  But, living this life alone.  Before Paula’s story, I just thought it seemed terribly boring.  But, Paula has taught me that it is also incredibly dangerous.  If we kick ass, take over the world women are going to go forth solo, we need to create the systems that are automatic advantages of being married.  Someone who is responsible for you.  Someone who can be called within a moment’s notice for emergencies both large and small.  Someone who the many people on the periphery of your life knows is your “keeper.”  

I wonder if women who fret over STILL BEING SINGLE, really bemoan the lack of a husband mainly because husbands make stories like Paula’s less fearful.  More certain.  The laws of romantic love and legal matrimony by default give you a “keeper.”  Perhaps marriage creates less work in this sense.  I fall.  Crack my head.  Husband comes.  I do not die alone.

It has become clearer to me over the years that in fact, no woman is an island; nor should she be.  While there is no replacement for a mate in a woman’s life, she can arm herself with a companion, a person who is bound to her.  Such a bind needs to exist in a single gal’s life.

2 Responses

  1. So very true! I’m not consumed by the fear of dying alone, but I am very careful around my apt when doing “home improvements” cause I think if I fall, I’m gonna have to drag myself to the phone (assuming I’m not knocked out). I am in touch with friends and family pretty regularly, so I pray four days wouldn’t go by…

    I’m enjoying my single life, I needed this time to myself, but I know I’ll end up living with a family again.

  2. I think we tell ourselves that family/spouse will prevent the kind of “end up alone” horror stories like the one you relayed, but often this is not the case. Think about that woman who died in the emergency room at that hospital seizing to death..alone. She had an entire family. Think about the people with alzeimers who wander off only to be found by kindly police officers with no I.D. Ok, these may sound like extreme cases. But ultimately we are all at risk of being alone somewhere when risk/accident finds us. No one is an island, community and connectedness are what MAKE us into the human beings we are, but despite our best intentions and efforts, we are vulnerable to exposure, to being overlooked or forgotten, to disappearing and being lost for the time it takes for us to be found

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