Backward Steps

By Gary Fincke

November 14, 2022

Backward Steps

In our kitchen, some nights, my wife walks backwards, but mostly she does her retreats in the living room, where there is room for additional steps. She says this exercise postpones the arrival of unsteadiness, mustering a smile when she manages back and back again with grace. Mobility is vital now that we are in our mid-seventies. A friend’s hip-breaking fall is already stored on our anxiety’s flash-drive.

Smiling, I’ve cited “Giant Steps,” that childhood game where, very often, as the players neared the finish line, whoever was “It” repeated “baby steps” or “backward steps” to keep things tense and extend the game. My wife says she’s never played.

What she knows is that I fill my mornings with fitness room exercise to relieve my spells of foreboding. What she doesn’t know is how often I pedal my digital pulse into the age-calibrated red zone before backing off, thrilled and terrified, momentarily, to escape my age.

But lately there are evenings when her walking has called me from my chair, joining her to count backward steps together without feeling behind ourselves for the bookcase or the wall we devote to art. We do this simple line dance to the rhythm of apprehension, hearing time’s chorus hummed into our ears, the one so familiar we automatically mouth the lyrics. And yet, walking backwards to its music, we waltz in a tempo so comfortable we barely sense the tiny increments of change, and balance seems enough for joy.

Gary Fincke's latest collection of essays The Darkness Call won the Robert C. Jones Prize (Pleiades Press, 2018). His full-length essay "After the Three-Moon Era" was selected to be reprinted in Best American Essays 2020.

Image by Jeppe Hove Jensen courtesy of Unsplash

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