But I’m Not Dead Yet

The musings of an unmarried, childless Generation Xer on life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Long before the coronavirus pandemic, my mortality had been on my mind. I know I am going to die–one day. I always thought it would be later rather than sooner. But believe me when I tell you that there’s nothing like a highly infectious disease running rampant around the country with no cure in sight to really put your life in perspective for you.

I am 43-years-old. Sometimes, I have to stop and think how old I actually am. I stopped paying attention to my age after I hit 40. I am not sure if I did that on purpose or subconsciously, but it happened, and on more than several occasions, I’ve had to correct myself on the rare instances I have to disclose my age–the operative word being rare.

But yes–today I am 43-years-old–of that I am sure. I am a 43-year-old Black woman. I am a 43-year-old unmarried Black woman. I am a 43-year-old unmarried and childless Black woman. I am an unmarried and childless Black 43-year-old lesbian woman. That’s me.

I used to think I dodged a bullet by not having children. But maybe the joke is on me. 

I have had many opportunities to be a mother and chose not to. I had my reasons. Besides my mother being mentally ill and not wanting to replicate her brand of motherhood, I also grew up seeing the struggle of many Black unwed teenage mothers. They were my friends. I saw how through their babies, Section 8, food stamps, and welfare checks on the 1st and the 15th gave them a home but also severely limited their opportunities in life. Most were uneducated and dropped out of school either in junior high or high school when the first child came. I wanted to do more than watch stories and Jerry Springer every day.

But still, they had something I didn’t have. Security. Baby daddy or no baby daddy, they knew that no matter what, through the Section 8 and welfare programs, they were going to be alright. And they were. Today those same friends are barely out of their thirties and are grandmothers.

Two years ago, I had to undergo a hysterectomy. I had fibroids, and they were kicking my ass and sucking the life out of me. It wasn’t until I was lying in my hospital bed after the surgery that the gravity of what had just happened hit me. Until that moment, I had chosen not to have children, and now I couldn’t have children. That bothered me in a way that I didn’t see coming. I would never have the opportunity to have a child that could then take care of me in my old age. 

I mean, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to go? Your kids return the favor and take care of you when you can no longer take care of yourself. True, that in my family, it skipped a generation when it came to my grandma–us grandkids had to step in where our parents failed. In my family, the verdict is still out on who is taking care of who when it comes to at least one of my parents. Yet, when I look at all of my friends in my age group today–most of them are caring for one, or both of their parents or, as one of my friends puts it–shackled with golden handcuffs.

Even though I knew it wasn’t guaranteed, now, guilting my child into taking care of me is not even an option for me. At this point, Auntie Jasmyne is just hoping that all of the work she put in and birthdays she remembered with her friend’s kids pays off, and one of them takes pity on her.

And I say all of this acknowledging the sad, sad reality that I will probably still be “singleish” when I am old because I really don’t see myself getting married. In 43 years, I have not yet met the great love of my life. And frankly, the older I get, the less interested I am in the search. I am not entirely there yet, but if it doesn’t happen before I hit 65, it ain’t happening.

But until that time, barring I stay coronavirus free, I still have to take care of myself because there’s no one else to do it for me. I have to be able to provide for myself after I retire and when I begin to decline, or else I am going to be stuck in some government run Shady Pines–if we even still have them. The coronavirus really put a spotlight on what America thinks of its old. Forty years from now, involuntary euthanasia could be legal.

If I survive this pandemic, I won’t be coming out of it the same way I went into it.

After spending over a year watching dear friends die and being inundated with the deaths of others, stuff that mattered to me before doesn’t matter to me today. I thought I knew what was important to me, and it turns out that those things just don’t matter when faced with death.

What mattered was that I learned how to cook, wear a bathing suit at the beach, live in an urban environment for at least one year of my life, be more fearless, said goodbye to toxic people, finish my scripts, and work on my various personal projects. During this pandemic, I have given away or sold more than half of my belongings to scale it down, including dropping some of the “bags” I’ve been carrying for years (shout out to Erykah Badu). I have become laser-focused on myself for once. 

And keeping it real, I have also taken steps to make sure someone knows my passwords, has a set of my keys, and knows what I want should the worst happen. After all, I am a 43-year-old childless, unmarried Black woman living in the coronavirus pandemic epicenter in America–Los Angeles.

As for everything else, at this point, all I can do is wear my mask, hope I last until it’s my turn to get vaccinated, pray that I live a long healthy life and can hustle up enough money to keep me off the streets and out of Shady Pines until it’s my time to go.

Jasmyne Cannick is a 43-year-old unmarried, childless Black lesbian woman who lives in America’s coronavirus pandemic epicenter, otherwise known as Los Angeles. More at IAmJasmyne.com.