“Will I ever go back to my old self?” My client asks me this question. I wonder if he notices my face grow soft. My eyes, mostly. He watches closely.
“Yes,” I say. “And also no.”
I guess that’s what hope is, he says. I nod. It feels more like a bow, the way my chin touches my chest.
* * *
I stay later than usual in the office to watch the sky turn orange and pink. I think about his question. I think about the things I want him to know.
That we are still ourselves. Even when in pain and scared. That we can feel angry and disappointed at the world, the doctors, at the very cells of our bodies. In these moments, nothing will feel the same as before.
That we will ask big questions and mundane questions in the same breath: What did the latest blood tests show and what will I eat for lunch?
We will stop for the crosswalk, dry dishes, daydream, remember what life used to be like. We will remember ourselves slowly or suddenly—a flash of a memory—and so we begin to write a story different than the one planned.
That there will be moments of happiness, joy even. On good days, perhaps peace. There will be milestones you never imagined for yourself. Good ones, boring ones, seemingly miraculous ones.
The story will be far messier and unpredictable.
It will feature love in many, many forms.
There will be new celebrations. Birthdays, remission anniversaries, strange and funny daily rituals and sometimes homemade signs you will leave up for weeks or months that read, “Welcome Home” or “We Missed You.”
My dear client, I know you miss yourself.
One day, you may pause and wonder how it all happened, this becoming more hopeful than the week before or the year before. You may wonder how you kept moving and trying and didn’t give up.
You may wonder how you didn’t vanish, the way you told me you wanted.
It’s getting late. The sky is barely pink and orange now. I write a quick note to myself: “I guess this is what hope is.” I tuck the note in my jeans pocket.
It’s time to go home.