Stupid hope

Gene Kelly, credit unknown

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…


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14 thoughts on “Stupid hope

  1. There is always hope, true. But think about this: is it truly hopeful when your mind constantly flits back to the fact that everything hinges on him remaining sober and he cannot give you any assurances that he can even do this once he’s out of rehab? Wouldn’t it be better to have an occasional lovely family day with peace and calmness for you and Rosie the rest of the time, rather than walking on eggshells all the time if Ben returns home because you never know if today is the day he slips off the wagon?

    But you don’t have to make such decisions today, do you? And really, even if you did go one way or the other right now, decisions can always be revisited when circumstances change, so very few of them are absolutely permanent.

    Take care!

    • pinklea, you’re absolutely right. Call it hope or wishful thinking (both of which amount to the same thing). Whatever we want to call it, the most important thing to remember is that decisions don’t have to be permanent. How right you are. Thank you!

  2. As I read your beautiful, poignant post, I wanted to scream, “Don’t. Don’t hope. Please, don’t do it.” I, too, have been filled with hope. We grasp onto it for dear life. You seem to have a healthy perspective on how dangerous hope can be.

    • Weeping Oak, I was thinking of you, too, when I wrote this post. When I read your poem yesterday, the hairs on my arms stood up. I thought, this is where I am. Then I convinced myself that somehow, my situation must be different. Except that it isn’t, is it? The thing we hang hope on is so tenuous.

  3. Hope is a dangerous thing. I’ve been living with hope for the last 7 months, a hope that from where I’m sitting right now, doesn’t look to be going anywhere close to what I’d like it to be. But we can’t control it, can we? We can’t just stop hoping because it’s something that happens whether we want it to or not. I wish I could say that having hope is a good thing, but I don’t know that it is. Because the trouble with hope is that life has a way of letting us down when we wish with all our hearts that it wouldn’t. Still, I wish you and Rosie the best.

    • Yes, this is it. Hope is dangerous, but it is what drives us forward. It’s a survival mechanism. Without hope, there is only despair, and that is no way to live. I guess the trick about hope is to judge when it’s delusion and when it has some basis in reality. I admit, I’m probably capering on the edge of delusion right now. I hope your situation improves. I think, one day, you will move on from where you are. I think you probably already are. It’s a gradual process. You’ll get there in the end. And so will I.

  4. It’s wonderful to feel ‘hopeful’! We all love the feeling. It’s a great feeling, but it unfortunately, it just makes us so vulnerable. As long as we realize that it’s like a floating balloon, that can deflate and sink to the ground or pop apart at any moment, hope is fine. It’s just that we can sometimes be so caught up in the hopefulness that we can forget that it can end. It sounds like you are aware that your hopefulness is fragile and is so wrapped up in Ben’s ability to not drink…it’s scary, when things are so out of our control. I continue to think of you and Rosie ( and Ben). Sending my prayers to you all. Take care.

    • Thank you, Shelley. Yes, it’s amazing how we can trick ourselves into subsisting on something so fragile. I guess as long as we don’t let ourselves get sucked in by it, as long as we maintain perspective, we can draw some strength from hope, too.

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