Hope wakes me up. Hope is what props me up in bed. Hope is what leads me to meet my mother in the kitchen for coffee, met only by the dim illumination above the stove. She uses the back of her hand to pass me the sugar bowl as the corner of her mouth conjures a partial smile. Her heart hurts because she knows mine does too. Delicate beads fall from my spoon and hit the plastic table covering as I transfer an overflowing spoonful to my cup. It’s the only sound you hear this early in the morning. She kisses my forehead and twists one of the curls on my head before she leaves the table and moves on with her day.
Hope is what leads me from the kitchen table. I roll my nylon stockings, one at a time and slide them over my calves, careful not to snag the thin, delicate material. My brown loafers are worn from so much walking. My shoulders feel heavy and my eyes are burning, but I close the door behind me.
Another day, another prayer, another quarter hits the bottom of the wood box as I light the match to meet the wick of a candle. I swear I am going to spend all of my earnings here. Here, I ask Him for protection. I ask Him for strength. I ask Him why he caused me this hardship. This heartache. This festering worry that seems to eat away at my heart and at my stomach. It doesn’t let me sleep. It doesn’t let me eat.
I tell Him I will adjust. I will sacrifice. I will go days, weeks, months, without happiness, without laughter, without comfort. I’ll even give up vanilla ice cream. Just give me hope.
That night, I wasn’t looking for anyone. I just wanted to dance. On Sunday nights after church and family dinner, my sisters and I used to go dancing. We stayed out late, and while it always makes the week feel longer to start it exhausted, I never missed a dance. Daddy used to wait up for us, reading the paper on the front porch, ready to hold his hand out with a gesture of thanks when a fella walked us home. A few months ago, it was my Martin. “Hold on to that one,” Daddy said.
My job is answering phones for Commonwealth Edison, an electric company on Adams Street in the south loop. I do this while he is away, but I always start my day with God. He’s barely an American citizen, and he is fighting for this country. I can’t clench my praying hands together tight enough.
The early morning sun peeks through the window to the left of my pew and alerts me that it’s time to leave. The warm, shining sun casts a baking light on my shoulders and a breeze off the river tugs at the ties of the ribbon on my blouse.
Today, I have hope.