The day before, a blip. The next day, nothing.
One year ago today, Matt went to work, participated in meetings, and, presumably, gave presentations without even a trace of another blip. He was fine and it became even easier to believe that the episode from the day before had truly been nothing but an isolated incident. A hiccup on the road to healing.
When a friend texted me to ask how Matt was feeling, I wrote: Good!!
Two exclamation points. I was exuberant. A blip free day. When days ago a blip free day had been the norm, now suddenly a blip free day was a victory over the cancer. A blip free day was meaningful and evidence of more light on the horizon.
Looking back, I think the way we were nudged into new normals, into believing yesterday’s average was today’s victory, is how I lost Matt, and how Matt lost himself, without realizing it. Because after we hit a low, all that mattered was that we came back up. We were so elated that we’d come back up, we didn’t realize we were still a millimeter shy of where the previous high had been. What’s a millimeter?
But, millimeters add up, as do seconds and minutes and blips.
A year ago today, I visited a sleepaway camp with a friend who was looking at options for her son. I’d wanted to go to keep my friend company, but I was also interested in seeing a sleepaway camp and getting a frame of reference for our (now only my) future search.
On the way home, I remember getting choked up as my friend eased onto the exit ramp that would take us off Rte. 80. Nothing in specific had struck me, but somehow the question of “what if” slipped into my mind. Specifically, what if, in two years, while G was at sleepaway camp, something happened to Matt? Another new tumor? How could we even contemplate sending her away when the ground beneath our feet was so very fragile? Inlaid with hope, of course, which made that ground beautiful and ethereal. But beautiful and ethereal isn’t actually supportive and sturdy. Only a clear MRI could make the ground less fragile.
Most days, I purposefully kept “what if” away from my thoughts. But I dipped into that question three times during the last months of our year of hope. Once, a year ago today, once on a quiet August evening, and once in November. Three times. And each time, the overall feeling that accompanied that short dip into “what if” was guilt. Even wondering “what if” felt like a shameful betrayal.
A betrayal, because asking “what if” almost felt like surrendering hope, like admitting I’d let statistics stain my confidence in Matt and Duke and the poliovirus. In retrospect, even my traitorous “what if” questions were filled with hope. Because a year ago today, the worst future I could imagine was one in which two years had passed and we were still walking on fragile ground.
A year ago today, the question was never what if the ground gave way completely. That simply wasn’t an option.
Here’s what I’m realizing about hope. Hope may not be a supportive and sturdy ground on which to walk. Hope may be only beautiful and ethereal. But sometimes beautiful and ethereal things have wings. And sometimes, when you have wings, you don’t need to walk when it’s too hard. You can find a way to fly.
And we did.
When the fragile ground gave way, when we couldn’t walk anymore, we flew. We kept going on wings of hope long after the chance of a clear MRI disappeared. Maybe, for a while, we’d even managed to soar.