Ah, hope. Graceful and charming, hope will grab, pirouette and dip you in one fluid gesture. Hope is a skilful dance partner, a sun-soaked wall, a last slice of vanilla cheesecake offered generously only to you.
Oh yes, hope gets around, while tricking you into thinking you’ve got a premium on it. Irrepressible and sometimes downright annoying, springing eternally like Cato in the Pink Panther: hope, hope, stupid hope.
Rosie and I have seen Ben twice now. I ask myself why I haven’t written about these two visits, and all I get back is a bit of grey noise. Our first visit – the first time I saw Ben since we’d left for Canada, so the first time in almost two months – was tense. We were civil to one another. Ben was abrupt and uninterested. He focused on Rosie. He ignored me. I’m not sure it bothered me.
But then, when we took a walk in the driving rain (yes, Rosie and I braved a two-hour journey through dreadful cold and rain to see him), things somehow relaxed. All it took was a hug. From me.
Our next meeting was last Saturday afternoon. We’d agreed to meet at a central tube station at exactly 2.30. Rosie and I flew up the escalators, imagining Ben waiting for us at the top. We stepped off and looked around, ready to shout out a hello.
He wasn’t there. I wondered whether I’d got the time wrong, or the location. I took Rosie and checked outside, to see whether he was smoking out there. No Ben. We went downstairs to the turnstiles, thinking he might be there instead. No Ben. We went back to our original meeting spot and paced.
‘Where is he, mummy?’ asked Rosie. ‘I don’t know, darling’, I replied, panicking all the while inside. My stomach fell to my knees. My heart did that awful dance it does when things go wrong. And when a man came running towards us, white-faced and apologetic, I didn’t recognise him.
It was Ben. He’d arrived, sober and full of a bad cold.
‘I was panicking, you know,’ I said, ‘You know that, right?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Next time I’ll leave even earlier.’
And that was it. No anger or irritation, I just let it go. Within moments, all the anxiety and distress was forgotten.
We went to the British Museum and looked at the horses exhibition until Rosie decided she wanted to go to the Africa galleries instead. Later, we went to a playground nearby, a usual haunt for Rosie and me whenever we visit the museum. For dinner, we decided on a Malaysian place in Chinatown, and when we arrived, the streets were strung with paper lanterns in celebration of the Moon festival.
It was calm, enjoyable even. Ben, Rosie and I had a pleasant family afternoon out – our first in ages. And this is when the ‘h’ word began to rear its elastic head. Finally, here was proof that we could be a proper family, provided Ben stays sober. This is what it could actually be like, flashed intermittently through my mind, and I found myself imagining a future full of country walks, bike rides, family meals and chilling out on the sofa.
But then, I kept reminding myself, there is the other side of it: the fact that he can’t and won’t give me the assurances I need to maintain my sanity, or the assurances Rosie needs to maintain her equanimity.
So, yes, it could be better, but it could be bad, too. It could be fine for a day, a week, a month, 10 years. But at some point, it could go very very wrong. This is how I militate against stupid hope. I look reality in the face and ask myself whether I can live with that again, whether I’m ready to face the possibility of going back there.
And depending on whether hope is in a dancing mood (or is snoozing in a corner somewhere), my reply can go either way, really.
Stupid, stupid hope…