Robyn Ashley Schleihauf
Hope is like an appendix
On a weekday afternoon late last spring, sitting at my desk with a fan pointed at my face moving the tepid air of my apartment about, I opened my email inbox and saw a message from a man I no longer remember having met. He tells me he likes my writing and he does that thing I’ve noticed men do, which is to compliment me by giving me explicit permission to do more of it. “Keep writing,” they say.
I wrack my brain for a memory of this man. I both flatter myself with the fact that I forget him, but not him me, and also feel ashamed at the forgetting. As I read, hope starts to fill in the rest of the story for me, which begins with interlaced fingers as we walk down to Salvatore’s to grab a pizza, and ends with coffee in the morning and an absent-minded kiss on the forehead before he makes himself comfortable on the bed beside me and snaps the newspaper open, which, by some miracle, we still receive in print.
Hope gleams on the surface of the story I start to tell myself like sun reflecting a rainbow off of a puddle of gasoline on the pavement. Hope is a chimera that allows me to try to ignore the suspicion he has a partner. I decide not to ask. He introduces the idea of his partner slowly. He intimates immediately that, while he certainly loves her, he is not totally satisfied.
I know that he wants to use me as a tool to stroke his ego with. He is not subtle as he tries to sleuth out whether there may be potential for an affair. I try not to be overly moralistic. I try to ignore the contemptible spectre of him holding on to what he has, all the while reaching for something else, but it makes him pathetic to me. If he wants someone else, he can to head out here with the rest of us and take his chances looking for it in the thistle covered forest, rather than getting to rest his weary head on a pillow beside the tender breath of the woman scorned.
Holding onto hope is like trying to grab and hold water in a clenched fist. Hope is like when I try to catch a housefly under a glass from my kitchen and bring it back outside. I am clumsy in my execution and once, accidentally, severed a limb from a fly I was trying to save. Perhaps I hold the glass too tightly, or bring it down too quickly.
The email came just before I spent the summer obnoxiously wounded, a small broken heart wrought not by the philandering emailer, but by someone else entirely. The heartbreak was a tiny crack in my foundation, but it found its way to the years of water damage, leading me to write melodramatic elegies to a love that never existed except for in my hopeful mind.
In my hopeful mind, I wrote a story about him too. Meanwhile, in the flesh and blood world, he showed me who he was and I worked quickly to promptly ignore it. The story I wrote in its place is one that included only the handpicked details I preferred. I polished these details and put them into a display case for my friends, taking out his redeeming qualities one at a time to show them. In the evenings I washed my dishes alone in my sunshine yellow kitchen, in water nearly too hot to stand, just like my mother, and Neko Case sang loudly through the speaker that sits in the cut-out window of the office nook. She belted out in her reckless, clear voice, “I only heard what I wanted,” in her song, “The Pharaohs” and I put a clean, dripping glass into the drying rack. “I want the Pharaohs,” Neko continues, “but there’s only men.”
There are not many stories about hope that resides in being alone, but there is hope in the mornings I wake before the dawn and quietly set the kettle to boil. As I look out the glass of my backdoor to see the sky has shifted from seamless dark to navy shadows, as the electric element of the stove clicks and heats the water, it is a simpler hope that the water boils quickly, that I remembered to take a blueberry muffin out of the freezer and can warm it gently in the oven so that when I cut it in half to butter it, steam rises from its pillowed centre. What else is there to do on this earth but spend time, hoping and making, setting the table and clearing it, bringing in the earth from outside and later washing it away.