Hope in June 1999

This is a work of creative fiction.

Francie could feel the clocks rolling back. Suddenly, it was once again the summer of 1979, only now, she was the terrified mother in the armchair with a disapproving stare. She stared at the woman—the girl—with her arms folded across her chest, trying to hide the fact that she was shaking.

That was a visual. Francie’s arms had grown thick and strong over twenty years. Years she spent carrying her little girl because she was so tired and didn’t think she could take another step. Years she spent making desserts from scratch just to see her little girl’s face light up after dinner on a Saturday night. Years she spent making her little girl’s bed, driving her little girl to school, bringing in the groceries all on her own so she might keep her little girl fed. Francie’s arms were mighty and tired.

And her chest, long used to keep her little girl warm and alive… didn’t she know that Francie was still wide open to her? Why had she turned away from that embrace—the one that so craved her every moment of everyday? Her little girl had all but disappeared from her, and Francie, despite the cold, calculating look on her face, was fighting like a clichéd hell to keep her.

“Are you sure?” Francie finally asked.

Her little girl dipped her head and nodded, solemn. Francie could feel her heart break. It wasn’t that she was disappointed in the future. Life was always a blessing. Twenty years ago, she had learned that lesson. It was that she knew that her little girl saw it—saw her own body—as a curse. She could feel it. It sat in the room, biting them until they couldn’t feel the pain anymore. Francie’s heart broke because she wanted so much for her little girl to lead a different life. She wanted her to lead a life that looked nothing like hers. She had always wanted more for her little girl.

That was why, on the day she was born, Francie had looked at her little girl and her beloved, trembling husband at her side with misty brown eyes and said, “Hi, Hope. It’s lovely to finally meet you in person.”

Her husband had given her a little bit of hell for that, at least in the first few days after they brought Hope home. It was very on the nose, Adam said. It didn’t seem like something for someone who called herself a poet to do. But Francie didn’t care about the way it looked. When she saw her little girl, it was the only thing she saw. Hope. It was bright, glittery, and beautiful. It almost blinded Francie right there in the delivery room. No other name could possibly do this child—this blessing­—the justice that she deserved. She threw her poetics aside and listened to the grace that flowed through her changed blood. This was Hope. This was she. Francie could see it. She knew that in spite of his teasing, Adam could see it, too. Hope was the only one who could never see herself for who she was.

By the time Hope had entered college, Francie had given up on her belief that she had done something wrong in bringing up Hope. She had done nothing but adore the little girl. Even when Hope had misbehaved as a child, she was still her biggest fan. She believed that Hope could feel that she was so loved by her parents and so many others who crossed her brilliant path. Yet, she never could feel it, and before Francie’s crying eyes, the radiant Hope Ginsburg disappeared.

She had met him in Philadelphia. Adam knew they shouldn’t have let her go that far. It wasn’t a tough town, he said. She’d lose her spunk up there in “Ann Arbor Lite.” But Francie told him that they couldn’t tell an eighteen-year-old where to go to school, and Hope had to be allowed to make her own decisions. As she sat before her on that couch, Francie wished she had listened to her husband.

When Hope still felt some love and affection for her parents, she brought that boy home when she returned home for Chanukah that winter. That boy was cloying. Adam hated it when men gave too many compliments. After being at his side since late high school, Francie learned that she agreed. They sat Hope down and told her how they felt about this young man who walked into Adam’s shed and called the rocking chair he was building for the next-door neighbors “a rustic masterpiece.” It had been their fatal mistake. Their criticism of the boy only drove Hope into his arms and away from her parents.

The spring term ended in the middle of April, and Francie and Adam had seen not one flicker of Hope until this day in late June. Now, Hope sat there, telling Francie that she was going to be a mother herself. Francie’s eyes were red and tired from squeezing back tears. This was not she. This was not Hope. Hope was never meant to come home at the age of nineteen and tell her mother that she was going to have a baby. That was not Hope. That was not Hope at all.

Hope was gone. Francie was sure. She hated the words, but she knew she could not refute them. There was no way to pull oneself out of a death like the death of Hope.

“Does he know about the baby?” Francie asked in a hoarse whisper.

Hope shook her head, and Francie’s heart beat again.

“No,” Hope said. “You’re the only one I’ve told, Mom.”

And for the first time in far too long, Francie saw her little girl for who she was. She wanted to outstretch her tired, strong arms and tell her that no matter the problem or the cost, she and Daddy would always be there to help. But she didn’t. She believed that if Hope had paid any attention to them in her life, she would simply understand that Mom and Daddy were right there, immovable at either side of their little girl.

Francie was wrong. And as the two women (Women? She still couldn't believe it.) sat there in the once and future family room that early evening in the summer of 1999, her stern stare did not remind Hope of where she came from. Francie should have known.

“Well,” Francie said gruffly. “Perhaps you should keep it that way.”

Hope didn’t tell him about the baby, but she hadn’t listened to Francie, either. Instead, Hope had taken her mother’s words as the proof that she was a mistake. That she didn’t know how to make the right choices anymore. That she was no longer full of Hope—that maybe she never was.

In one year, Hope was gone, but Francie was left with the last traces.

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