Opening Letters

COLUMN: Finding Your Footing

the world is a lot less scary when you have someone there to help guide the way

Sarah Jayne Johnson, illustrated by Daniel Reich |

I peel myself up off the bathroom floor, steadying shaky legs and a thumping heart in an attempt to trick my mind and body into getting along. I pull each leg into a pair of my husband’s sweatpants and fumble to pull socks on. 

“I think I just need to go for a walk,” I tell him in that snotty, pathetic voice you only really get when you’re crying the same way you did when you were eight years old and mocked on the playground. The real, reckless tears that would drench even the most trusted of sweatshirt sleeves. I had been sitting there, letting my mind circle the drain like a penny in those funnels by the Kmart cart corral. They start out in big swirls, easy thoughts, passing like waves until the penny speeds up and waves crash and foam until finally the penny drops and you’re nowhere near the shoreline. You’re flailing arms swallowing the sea, desperate for any sign of a life saver.

My husband extends his hands to pull me up off the floor. We put on our boots, and step out into the cold, prematurely dark winter night. Our streets and sidewalks coated in pure ice, victims of the vicious wintry mix that has wreaked havoc since the start of the year. We scuttle along, carefully scooting our feet, filling our chests with the pure, unfiltered January air. The stillness swells around us as we inch down the road, my arm firmly entwined in his to ensure that if I slip, he’ll steady me.

The stillness swells around us as we inch down the road, my arm firmly entwined in his to ensure that if
I slip, he’ll steady me.

sarah jayne johnson

“Do you think I’ll always be like this?” I say, breaking the silence but still watching every slow step intently. My mind felt fuzzier lately – my clarity seemingly a casualty of three years spent slowly dimming in the confines of my home. I had been feeling like I lost part of who I was in the panic of a pandemic. An innate ability to adapt and endure now dulled the way color fades in the sun. The more I tried to resolve this relentless weight of unwelcome change, the heavier I felt. Tethered to a tired tendency to remain anxious.

 “You won’t always be like this,” he said, steadying my arm linked in his, so sure of his answer. I then looked down and realized that he was not, in fact, wearing snow boots, but rather the slippers he kept by the door. I quietly smiled, eternally grateful that amongst the waves desperate to drag me away, my slippers-wearing life raft would always pull me in before I got too far out.

It’s easier for me to sail away in the snow than it is to think of the incoming green. The melody and markets of Phoenix Park seem stagnant in the sharp silence of the season. Memories of mine spent shuffling around campus or sweating near the rush of the river blur as I beg for the painfully slow days to free me from a mind entirely and unequivocally lost at sea.

There’s no definitive way for me to forge ahead without fumbling, and I know that. I know that my mind, while slightly tattered from the tumultuous last few years, is still my own. I know that at inopportune times, my attempts to batten down the hatches will come undone when I need them most, but that, with the help of the hands extended to me, I can weather the storm. 

We turned the corner to our street, a bit colder and more content than when we started our excursion.

“Aren’t you afraid you’re going to fall?” I asked my husband, finally feeling the clouds in my mind clear.

“No,” he said in response. “I’ve got a good footing.”