Anne Frank Keeps Me Going

I exaggerate. Sometimes, imagining being hugely pregnant or the mother of a new baby keeps me going because I am neither. And when I was, I was nervous, terrified of then untestable genetic abnormalities and SIDS. Later, vaccinations (though all my kids received them). Mental illness, behavior issues and challenges, broken hearts, autism, schizophrenia, joblessness, and apathy worries followed in lockstep once we all made it through their childhoods.

Sometimes I imagine being in a war-torn country, huddled in a makeshift tent in an unplumbed refugee camp, pissing in a pot and probably drinking from it, too.

Sometimes I imagine living in an eight-story building in a densely-populated urban center, crammed cheek-to-jowl with my neighbors, all of us one second away from lemming mode. Outside, the flood of ill humanity flows by in a viral fog, busyness pulling us forward. I’m forced to breathe in close, hot elevator air. I can feel people’s body heat and smell their clothes.

When the above scenarios fail to stop my self-pity, I think of Anne Frank and her family, hiding in concealed rooms behind a bookcase. I imagine their forced exclusion from the world, the house surrounding them like a barnacle. Unable to take care of themselves and their needs, they relied on others to bring them food and drinks and news. Two short/long years go by, and despite all their efforts, they are ripped out of their secret annex and sent to the camps, all but father Otto dying.

Puts things in perspective.

What would Anne say about this? I ask myself as I cringe-walk down my street with my two dogs, caroming as people pop up on my side of the street, my sidewalk.

Damn them, I hiss-whisper to my dogs, yanking their leashes as we cross.

What would Anne say about my refrigerator, full as it is with vegetables I would have never picked myself from the bins, but vegetables that someone else delivers to my house?

What would Anne say about Netflix and chocolate bars and Zoom? Think about that.

What would Anne say when I told her of my worries for the world?

She’d put her hands on her slender hips, arms akimbo.

People wanted to kill me. Almost all of them wanted me dead. I was forced to hide in my own town. I was not allowed to see the sky. I was not allowed to go to school or learn. I was only kissed by one boy and then I died.

The virus wants to kill me, I might say in my own defense. I’d hitch up my big-girl panties. We have a crazy leader.

She would shoot me a dark look. Really?

There is no cure, I’d whine.

There will be a vaccine, she would tell me. There weren’t many during her time, and certainly not for the typhus that killed her.

But not yet, I’d argue.

Get over yourself, she might hiss-whisper and then cross the road, leaving me behind.

Suffering is relative, I might have said.

So is life.

What would Anne Frank say to the fact that I wake up every morning, still not sick. I look to my right, there, my husband, still snoring. After breakfast, my dogs pull me along the wide, empty, open streets, birdsong filling the air. Robins, song sparrows, jays, ravens. Always the ravens.

At the creek, herons, kingfishers, and sometimes, a Great Horned owl.

Anne isn’t listening. She doesn’t have time. She’s left already, half-way down the street, her back to me, her hair bobbing. Her shoulders are thin, her sweater threadbare. Her knees are knobby, her hem uneven. One shoe buckle beats against the asphalt. She carries a diary.

Don’t go, I cry out.

Nothing good will come of her leaving. The horrible thing out there grabs her up, despite her efforts.

But good came, didn’t it?

Later when I have actually forgotten about Anne Frank for the 35th or the thousandth time, I cry, frustrated by all my spring losses and miseries. The grandchild, the retirement parties, the birthdays. The visit to my best friend. The happy hours with new friends. The book readings in quiet independent stores. The drinks afterward. My elderly mother trapped in her assisted living facility, her mind unraveling like Anne’s right sweater cuff. My virtual, digital teaching. My husband and two sons out of work. My friends separated from loved ones. The economy a memory.

I sniff, missing the simple act of going to the grocery store to buy one solitary and essential ingredient for the splendid meal I will make for my whole family. My younger son will drive my mother to our house. We will sit under the bright dining room light and raise a glass.

Unlike Anne Frank and her family, we still might do all this.

Anne Frank keeps me going.

Jessica Barksdale’s fifteenth novel, The Play’s the Thing, is forthcoming from TouchPoint Press in 2020. Her poetry collection When We Almost Drowned was published in March 2019 by Finishing Line Press. A Pushcart Prize and Best-of-the-Net nominee, her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in the Waccamaw Journal, Salt Hill Journal, Tahoma Review, and So to Speak. She is a Professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches novel writing online for UCLA Extension and in the online MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University.