Hello my wonderful readers:)
Today we explore the human condition of being hurt by a loved one, and how it is so much more painful than experiencing it from a stranger.
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It was a chest that brought about instant curiosity, over two hundred years of history, holding the innermost personal stories of nine generations of women. Many of its features symbolized the innocence it stood for, including its color of purity white and its two vertical rows of pearls on either side of its front. Some even saw chaste in its motif, certain perspectives seeing the image of a nun, her arms outstretched to her sides, the keyhole, the window to her soul, her veil spreading out as the design leading to those precious, priceless pearls.
The chest had seen better days, better generations for that matter. For the past sixteen years it had sat in a basement, the struggles and tribulations of a single mother and her daughter pouring down through the wooden floorboards over the years and coating it in dust.
In truth, Denise couldn’t stand the sight of the old chest, although it had not always been that way. She had been the last inheritor of it, receiving the heirloom on her sixteenth birthday in a special ceremony that involved her mother and grandmother. A tradition that had been passed down for two centuries, with origins going all the way back to the family’s motherland of Italy.
Like those who had come before her, Denise cherished the chest that would help her prepare for her future, the three generations of women filling it with things she would need once she started her own family. At the foot of her bed was where the keepsake sat, loyally waiting while Denise went out into the world to find herself and her future husband.
As if written in the stars it didn’t take long for her dream to come to fruition, the man she saw herself spending the rest of her life with finding her on a cool fall day atop Central Park’s famous Bow Bridge.
Before long the couple were expecting, and how delighted Denise was when she learned that she would be having a girl. So overjoyed in fact that the child would not only receive the chest, but its name as well.
And so Hope was born.
From the moment Hope entered the world both mother and father were head-over-heels in love, Daddy setting out right away to fulfil his job as restorer of the chest. You see, the mothers and daughters in this timeless ritual weren’t the only ones who had a role, the fathers expected to take it upon themselves to learn enough carpentry basics to restore the chest before it was to be bequeathed to their daughter.
Hope’s father had taken it quite a bit further, signing up for woodwork classes at a local community college and taking a whole semester to immerse himself in the craft. Such dedication took a toll on his schedule, as he would commute to the city via subway to his job at The World Trade Center, then divide his evenings between his family and wood classes. Taking everything into consideration, he had decided he needed a change, preferring life with his wife and daughter over the nine-to-five skyscraper hustle and bustle. He would trade in suits and briefcases for diapers and baby bottles, high-rise meetings for becoming an artist of wood.
His last day at the office would be on September 11, 2001.
The same day that the world would change forever, the life he envisioned as a stay-at-home daddy dissipating along with the twin towers of the iconic New York skyline.
And just like that Denise had lost her husband, her best friend, her soul mate, left alone to care for a newborn. Well, not totally alone, for there were family from both sides, there with their unconditional helping hands. But despite the love showered upon her, the many shoulders to cry on, she still felt abandoned and lost. And as far as that chest, just thinking about it sent her bursting into tears, not daring to actually lay eyes on it. It was the first thing Denise had requested when taking the family up on their offer to help in any way. To get the chest out, away, her poor hubby’s work never to be completed.
As the years passed life became a little easier for Denise to cope with, the growing of her dear daughter Hope keeping her strong enough to face each day as it came along. But life as a single parent is hardly ever easy, constantly performing the juggling act of breadwinning and child-rearing.
What helped was the saying her and husband used to use when facing any obstacle: us against the world, the us now being her and Hope.
What didn’t help was the dark side of Hope that began to show itself at the tender age of seven. At times it was like the little girl would change entirely, becoming very hurtful when not getting what she wanted. Denise would try to rationalize the situation, attributing it to the absence of a father figure, but she had friends who were single mothers, and none of their children acted out as Hope did.
The more time passed, the more it felt like ‘me against the world.’
By thirteen Hope was sneaking out of the house to meet with friends, Denise finding it impossible to keep an eye on her while at the same time providing for the two of them. She tried to create a good environment, attempting to steer Hope in the direction of good kids, of those who actually respected their parents and understood boundaries, but such efforts would always end in the same result: Hope quickly losing interest and finding her way back to the bad influencers.
Denise would imagine the worst when not being able to contact Hope, tormenting thoughts of her daughter out there doing who knows what with who knows who, with discussions on daytime TV talk shows of how the new up and coming generation was becoming more sexually advanced than those who had ever came before them sending her to her wits end.
What if Hope had already given up her innocence? Carelessly throwing away the one thing she could never get back?
Then the thought of the chest would come up, the pain of the past colliding with the pain of the present, making it so overwhelming that at times Denise just wanted to end it all. But was it her husband’s spirit that would embrace during these most darkest of hours, there to let her know that all would be alright if she just persevered?
Whatever the reassuring energy was it would get Denise back to the place of hope, of the possibility that her and Hope still had a chance to have a real mother/daughter relationship. With such aspiration came the realization that she would have to face her sorrowful past if she were to move on to a better future. And so she began to tell Hope about her father.
The new revelations appeared to have some effect on the teen, at least to begin with, Hope even insisting that the two go down to the basement to have a look at the chest. Until then the young one hadn’t really understood anything about her mother, but when she saw what became of the woman who raised her when standing before that chest, her perspective shifted a bit, a seed of empathy being planted as her mother broke down in tears and shared her story, shared their story.
It was the closest the two had been since Hope was a little girl, holding each other in tears, us against the world once again becoming a possibility.
“I haven’t done anything yet, mom.”
“My innocence… I still have it.”
Such relief, such happiness, with promises of taking over for daddy to prepare for Hope’s sweet sixteen. After all, it was just over two years away, and what better project for the two to reconnect?
But then came reality. The reality of any relationship. Parent/child, brother/sister, husband/wife. That sooner or later one would let the other down.
In Hope’s case, it came about a lot sooner than Denise would have liked, the barrier that had appeared to have been broken down between the two reappearing within a week, and growing taller, stronger, wider the more time passed.
Before she knew it Denise was looking into the matured face of her dear daughter, Hope just days away from celebrating her sweet sixteen.
“I’m not asking you to do anything for me. If not for yourself, if not for your grandmother, do it for Great Mama. You know how old she’s getting. This could very well be her last year.”
Even Hope couldn’t deny this. Her great grandmother had lived a very full life. Daughter to those who had brought the family over to America, she had witnessed the world change many times over, the old woman nearly at total peace with the fact that she would be closing her eyes for the last time very soon. Nearly, the only thing left to be anxious about being the inheritance of the chest, making it a point to call at least a few times a week to inquire on the matter.
How sweet Grand Mama had always been to Hope, never visiting without a present to give, always offering a mint or piece of gum from her purse. These fond memories is what finally got the problem child to show a little focus for the upcoming ceremony, at least enough to sit down and listen a bit more about their history, along with going dress shopping for the occasion.
All seemed set for the sweet sixteen, the uncles having lugged the old chest up from the basement, the fine linen having been laid out, mother and daughter having negotiated the schedule for the special day. Hope would have the whole afternoon to hang out with her friends, needing to be home by 5:00 to prepare for the rite.
Despite Hope having promised just that, Denise was apprehensive all day, checking the time every few minutes while her mom and grandmother talked about the good ol’ days.
By 4:30 she had begun to send text messages.
Ur on ur way home, right? Rmbr, u nd to b here at *5*, not being on ur way at 5.
5 mins til. Why aren’t u replying?!
Dammit Hope, u knw how important ths s to ur grandparents! Wher r u?!
30 mins past. I swear Hope, f u don’t walk thru that door n next 5 mins…!
With all her messages being ignored, Denise did something she swore she would never do. She marched upstairs, burst into her daughter’s room, and began looking through things.
Under the mattress was a pamphlet on birth control pills. Her heart sank…
From the bedroom to her laptop Denise logged on to their cellular provider’s website, quickly striking in her password and changing the settings on their account, to where she could bring up the phone log and text messages of her daughter’s number.
From a sinking heart to one pounding throughout her whole body, Denise read the latest dozen or so texts to have been sent and received. Her baby girl had been planning the ultimate betrayal, promising her new boyfriend the sweetness to her sweet sixteen.
He would be finished with football practice at 5:00, home by 6:00, where the two would meet up and have the place to themselves for three hours, until his parents got home from work.
Denise was now wiping away tears as she quickly dialled Hope’s best friend.
“Alexis, it’s Denise, Hope’s mom. Do you know where she is?
‘So she left your house at five?
“Where did she go?
“Alexis, I know about Jeff. I know they’re planning to meet. You wanna know how I know? Just about every cell company has the option to not only track all numbers linked to the main account, but to read text messages too. What do you think will happen when I tell your parents about this feature, and how you helped Hope lie to her mother?!
“You need to tell me where this boy lives, now!”
As if Mother Nature could feel the fury emanating from Denise, a thunderstorm began to take shape just as she rushed for the front door.
“Everything alright?” Denise’s mother asked.
Be right back. Going to get Hope.”
5:50. Fifteen minutes away from Maple Drive. Despite the rain coming down harder, Denise stepped on the gas.
She got there at 6:00 sharp, but there was already a car in the drive way and a light on upstairs. She rang the doorbell…
Dialed Hope’s cell…
The front door was locked.
Denise could see a shadow behind the curtain upstairs, her motherly instinct telling her they were both up there, looking down in silence and waiting for her to go away.
She looked under the flower pots…
No spare key.
Picturing what her baby girl was about to do, the panic caused her to pick up one of the flower pots and send it crashing through the living room window.
Although she could only see the very bottom of the stairs, Denise could now hear commotion charging down, planting her feet firmly into place now that she had their undivided attention.
Jeff was shirtless, speechless for a moment as he processed the damage, then found the words to speak up.
“What the hell, lady?!”
Hope was right behind him, pulling down her blouse before looking up at her mom through the shattered window.
“Get your ass in the car, now!” Denise demanded.
Hope just stood there, refusing to move.
“My parents are gonna kill me…” was all Jeff could say now.
Denise picked up another flower pot, raised it up…
“Get in the car, Hope, or I’ll bust out every damn window in this house!”
Jeff didn’t wait a second longer, grabbing Hope and pushing her her mother’s way. “You gotta get out of here, now!”
Hope was shocked at such a betrayal from her boyfriend, Denise seeing it written all over her face.
“And you were going to give it away to this guy…” Denise said as her daughter headed for the front door.
It was now pouring rain, hurtful words being thrown in full force as soon as the car doors were slammed shut.
“How could you? He’s never gonna talk to me again. And what about school?! They’re all gonna be talking about this! You’ve ruined my life!”
Denise tried to calm herself as she pulled away from Jeff’s house and into the storm, above all, thankful that she had got to her daughter in time. “In time… In time, you’ll understand.”
“Understand what?! What a crazy bitch I have for a mother?! That’s what they’re gonna be calling you, you know! The whole school! The whole town!”
Calm. Stay calm. We’ll deal with everything when we get home.
“I hate you!” Hope shouted.
Why me? Have I not suffered enough? I give her everything, absolutely everything…
“I’ve never been able to understand why you can’t stop yourself from doing the wrong thing,” Denise said, doing her best to keep her composure, “while hardly ever being able to do the right thing.”
“Maybe because I was raised by the wrong parent!” Hope yelled back. “You should have died instead of dad! You’ve always been an awful mother! Why do you think I didn’t show up tonight? I could care less about your stupid chest!”
Denise fought to see through her tears, the pounding rain, the oncoming headlights…
No time to swerve, to hit the brakes, her only reaction, her natural reaction, to shoot an arm out in front of her daughter, to try and shield her before…
Don’t miss the sequel to this powerful story,
The Flash Fiction Ponder:)