March 1, 2016

Fear

 

By Jennifer Legate

Fear. That crisp, black moment when everything falls away but the pounding heart, blood rushing in the ears, and adrenaline so powerful the sour scent oozes from the pores.  The body tenses, ready to flee or put up a fight.  Every sound becomes sharper, every detail brighter.  Every moment ticks by like an eternity.  We whisper.

The Russian and Afghan soldiers are just outside, and I feel their crushing presence, choking my breath off.  I stifle an irrational, irrepressible urge to cough.

I think back to the beginning of the coup, just two days after our school made the trip from Islamabad to Kabul for a convention.  It was almost exciting.  I did not worry because I knew, at age 17 in 1978, that I was indestructible.  I knew this was just one more experience in my unique, weird life, and I accepted it.  I set aside emotion as the other side of the city of Kabul was bombed.  I watched, detached, as if I were enchanted.

That spell was broken when bullets struck the garage next to where I stood.  Fear grabbed my heart and threw it into my throat.  I saw nothing but the bleached white wall surrounding the heavy wooden door I had to get through.  I heard nothing but the blood gushing through my body as I ran.

It is cold with the windows blown out.  The icy air, wrapping itself around my fingers and toes, forcing its way into my lungs, reinforces the realization that I am frail.  My body can be broken.  My life is not forever.  It can be snuffed out like a candle flame.

I analyze that.  Am I afraid of the pain of being mortally wounded, or afraid of the possibility that I might die?  I am afraid of the pain of a gunshot wound.  I am afraid of being taken and tortured.  I am afraid of watching my school friends suffer in agony.  I am afraid of the failure of a life not fully lived.  I want to think more about this, but first I must stay alive.

One of my friends whimpers in the night.  Have I been whimpering too?  I don’t want to fall apart.  My younger friends look to me to show them how to be brave.  They depend on me for my detachment.  They need to know we will survive this.

Afghan soldiers continue to march past the house, crunching gravel, smashing flower beds.  We have our shoes on and our backpacks loaded with supplies in case we have to run.  Tanks grind their way past us, and we hear the dull thud of bombs landing in the distance.

At first the fear was a palpable emotion.  I could taste it, hear it, feel it snatch my body at a whim and toss it into flight.  Now, it has subsided.  It is still there, but I can think again.  I still taste fear at the back of my throat and with the burning of my eyes.  I am on the verge of panic.  Adrenaline still courses through my veins, pumping anxiety to every extremity.  What will happen next?

* * *

Jennifer Legate was born in Libya and raised throughout Africa and Asia.  As a child, she lived with her parents and two sisters in Libya, Nigeria, Zaire, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the Washington DC area.  As an adult, she has lived in Alaska, England, Idaho, and most recently in Washington. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and works as a paralegal in Seattle. Her printed work includes several articles published in Alaska Business Monthly Magazine and the Coeur d’Alene Magazine, as well as a poem in a book published by Idaho Writer’s League, Kaleidoscope, to benefit a children’s charity in North Idaho. Currently, she is working on a memoir of life as a Diplobrat, growing up globally.

 

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