While I was visiting Ohio last week, I overheard my sister, Cassi, and my dad’s lovely wife, Janet, discussing heirlooms. I was sitting on the couch in another room – staring out the window and silently sobbing – while they were talking about china and knick-knacks and other things deemed inheritable, when my sister brought up the hope chest she had during high school. For half a second, I stopped crying and smiled at the thought of dreaming of a future. Collecting things to make your life all that you could possibly dream of. Or, better stated, cultivating hope.
My sister’s high school years took place in the late 70’s when hope chests were all the rage. Seventeen magazine featured advertisements from Lane furniture showing a young woman adoringly gazing at her hope chest, longing to fill it with the belongings she would feature in her future home: the silver she would use to host her first family gathering; the linens she would smooth each day as she made her bed; the picture frames she would display photographs of her wedding and, eventually, her newborn. My sister had one of these and she actually worked hard to earn her prized collection. Cassi was (and still is) a very organized person. She color codes her clothes and hangs them according to length, which is how she always knew when I “borrowed” something without asking first, because that type of order makes absolutely no sense to me. Inevitably, I would always put the “borrowed” item back in the wrong place. I love how aesthetically pleasing her closet is, but I do not possess these same traits. In fact, the chair beside my bed is the best I can do as far as organizing my clothes. I hate laundry. I’m pretty confident this is how it will always be.
So, when Cassi and Janet rounded the corner to see my desolation, the halt of their bodies was synonymous with a needle making its deafening scratch across a record.
“Are you okay, sweetie?” Janet queried, knowing the answer before asking it. Janet is intimately acquainted with pediatric cancer in a manner completely separate from her inherited grandson. In a bizarre twist of events, the hell Janet faced with rhabdomyosarcoma – a pediatric cancer defined as a soft tissue cancer – took the life of her adult husband. He’d never had cancer as a child, so to have her husband pass away after a brief battle against a cancer that typically strikes children, was undoubtedly tragic.
Sometimes I feel guilty for reintroducing her to this world despite knowing she has nothing but love and compassion for our situation.
My sister sat down next to me and held me while I claimed my temporary insanity. Muttering about losing my Ben. Weeping in despair. Frightened about the unknown road before us. Again. She mentioned the word “HOPE,” which sometimes sounds so foreign to me. At least it did to me then. I want to have hope. I really do. But my hope chest was non-existent.
I never collected for the future. When I got engaged (at the age of 27) my mom took me to Williams-Sonoma and bought me some high-end kitchen items – all of which have lasted longer than either of my marriages. I don’t have a hope chest. I have a memory box. It holds the past: delicious love letters, jewelry from dead relatives, and tidbits that – at one point or another – have made me happy. But nothing for the future.
Why is this?
Was this a foreshadowing of my inability to have hope? The silver I would eventually pack up and move out of my home; the linens I would permanently strip from a marital bed; the picture frames that temporarily housed the smiles of a fleeting love. The facts are undeniable that I’ve struggled to make good choices when it comes to men. But this is different. This is my child. My son. My heart.
So, I’ve decided to amend my ability to have hope. As I leave the room that holds my son as he battles a physical demon, I have hope that this new treatment is torturing every bad cell as much as those cells have tortured my beautiful son over the past 10 years. Despite my inability to touch his radioactive body, my love attacks the radiation that keeps me at arms length. I know Ben feels it. Hopefully, it’s bringing him comfort during this current storm.
Hopefully. Hopeful. Hope.
I rip the paper gown from my body and strip myself of the rubber gloves that protects me from the radiation, depositing them into the contaminated waste receptacle by the heavy, lead-lined door. I smile at the fantasy of having a drawer full of disposable clothes as I step over the threshold, leaving my brave son to continue his war on his own. No chore on earth could prepare my son for adulthood like this one can. And while it hurts beyond belief, I have to have hope that he will use this experience in his adult years to teach the world a thing or two.
And I decide that it’s okay that I’ve never had a hope chest. Besides, all the hope I hold now could not fit comfortably in a single chest.
It’s simply overflowing.