Her name was Hope. What a cool name, fitting for such a child as her. I can’t recall the ailment she carried, but it kept her from growing. Or perhaps it was the one that made her grow too fast. Not in height or mental acuity, but things became brittle faster. And the pain that comes with that sort of thing. I remember such pain.
But I also remember her smile and her coke-bottle glasses. How they kept sliding down her nose so she kept pushing them up. And her hands that were impossibly tiny. Yet they gripped the Magic Marker with confidence when she set down her drawings of trees and swing sets and houses with a picture window downstairs and two smaller bedroom windows on the second story. The smoke curing out of the chimney and dancing in the light blue clouds.
Her and the rest of the third grade class I taught on Wednesday evenings made me a card while I was away having surgery. When I returned to my class a week later, my innards held tight by a big elastic band that made me already look thinner, they presented it to me. Poster board folded in two and decorated and signed in their third grade, barely legible penmanship.
“Get well soon, Mr. Thomas.”
“I’m praying for you.”
“Don’t eat too much!”
“I love you.”
Pithy sentiments, sincerity in big bubble letters outlined in darker hues.
I thanked them and we boarded a bus to visit a local park full of swings hung from plastic coated chains that squeaked and landing spots made of foam, surrounded by wood chips. She didn’t feel up to the slides or climbing castles, with all the jostling and elbows. So I volunteered to give her gentle pushes. Back and forth, legs in a bent little V and then sticking straight out, reaching for the sky. Her head tilted back, her smile toothy.
“Don’t hurt yourself, Mr. T.”
Having moved too far south to make the weekly trip, we left that church within a year or so. No fanfare or parting potluck. Just sort of eased out the glass vestibule doors and never went back. Back before Facebook, contact was lost easily and the days passed.
Then through the grapevine, the news came that she’d passed away. It had been over a year, and the news struck hard. My son, always smaller than the other kids and possessor of a tender heart, who had been her boon companion, took it hard. I remember him needing some time alone to walk the streets of our tiny town and process the loss.
It hurt. Not knowing. I guess I would have expected to hear something like that. We could have been there. For her family. For my family. For me. I know the suddenness of it all precluded contacting everyone. We were simply overlooked. But I would be putting it softly if I said I felt a bit of anger. Betrayal. At myself, mostly, for putting so much unintentional distance between me and those we left behind. There were no hard feelings, no bridges too badly burned, but no effort either. Not with everyone, anyway. Should I have spent more time making calls? Scheduling time for coffee or a quick lunch? Moments to reminisce and catch up on the latest scuttlebutt?
We all are so busy, it seems.
I recently friended Hope’s mother. We never saw eye to eye on much. Just the pleasantries and chin juts we exchange with those who, for whatever reason, never go past the acquaintance list. Then the Chick-fil-A thing hit and I called her on some stuff. Wondered aloud how someone who had once parented such a beautiful and forgiving child could be so hurtful. I thought our one tender connection would hold and we could discuss things like homosexuality and chicken sandwiches calmly. She ended up blocking me and hasn’t responded to my apologies.
For bringing up Hope.
She won’t even tell me where she’s buried. So I can visit her. Give to her what she gave to me when I needed it most.
Hope . . .