False Hope

by Heather Payne

She comes, jarringly, out of sleep each morning but doesn't open her eyes. Before she opens there there's hope, a hope that today it will return. She knows that's unlikely; five years have passed without it. Let today be different. I know the odds, but there's a faraway voice that I can just barely hear. It says wait; wait one more day. Don't give up hope. So she doesn't. She never does, despite the increasingly disappointed tears she sheds when she finally does open her eyes to a swirling, nauseating world. It's dizziness she fears, that absence of balance that haunts her all day and adds weight to every task.

There are moments, however, that inspire the voice in the far depths of her mind that tells her to hope and to keep going. The moments which create her hope are teasing, taunting, but oh so elating. It happens every so often that she stands, ever so still and in just the perfect position, that she feels an echo of the secure balance she used to know. It's a glimmer, just a moment, but it's enough to keep her in limbo. She doesn't need to accept an imbalanced future when there's that tiniest chance of its merciful return.

She realizes this is unhealthy, as her friend Susie gently reminds her, to recall these moments as often as she does. But before sleep or anytime she feels alone, she closes her eyes and imagines it. It isn't as stable, this remembered balance, but it absolutely reassures. The memory of balance is sweet. It isn't until she opens her eyes to a tilting world that it sours.

Susie listens, tries to understand, and attempts to comfort. This is a nice balm for her discomfort, but it's certainly unsatisfying. How she appreciates an ear for her thoughts! Susie has known her since before her balance was lost, and she knows, secondhand, most of the experience. She can certainly attempt sympathy, but it is never really reached. She with the fickle balance finds almost as much relief in this as in her fantasy balancing. She cannot resent her friend her real balance.

Unbelievable is the tension, the tension that never lets up. The emotional length she goes every day, from hope to disappointment, builds and builds and never empties. She adds to the pile each and every day. It's a state of exertion that she lives in. Sleep, the time between reliving balance after waking up to a merciless hope and another day of its absence, is the exhaustion she sinks into nightly. She prefers consciousness because that is where her balance may, unannounced, choose to inhabit her again. How horrid to be asleep should it come and go.

One afternoon she sits, perched on the edge of the examination table, at the doctor's office. A truth must be heard and fully accepted today. It has become brutally painful, her constant stepping between hope and the crash of continued emptiness. She braves the doctor and a test which will place her permanently on one side. Either there is a reason to hope and someday her evasive balance will find her again or there plain is not. She has decided that if she hasn't the courage to face the latter, she will just find it. Somewhere.

The doctor, in his faceless scrubs, enters and shuts the door quietly behind him. He turns to her and consults his clipboard. She watches him anxiously and a little hopefully, she'll admit, but more hesitantly than usual. He regards her posture before stepping over to stool and dropping onto it.

"I'm sorry to have to give you this unfortunate prognosis. The results of your test are negative. We knew it was a long shot, after five years without balance, of finding a chance of its return. The amount of damage is just too great. I'm very sorry," he said. He did look sorry, too, his eyes squinty and slow to blink. She lowered hers to look at her clasped hands on her lap, and fervently wished the doctor would leave the room.

Finally she knew. He really wasn't coming back.

Alone is what she needed to be, wanted more than anything to be. When she didn't look up or respond the doctor left. She made it home and into her bed, numbed. Gone was the ride she used to take, the one which comforted as it wounded. She fell into nothing, and nothing was somehow much more terrifying. Acceptance, now,, was reality. She did accept life without balance and eventually numbness receded. She supposed that the relatively gentle life she now led was better than her emotional extremes. It was certainly less exhausting, yet every so often she actually craved that exhaustion she'd triumphantly emerged from. Rationalization and logic almost drove away that urge.

One morning, a few months later, her phone rang. It was Susie who couldn't get out of bed, will she come help her? It seemed that Susie's world was spinning, was nauseating, terrified her. She rushed to Susie's side, concerned for her fear and brokenness. It was a long day of worrying. Susie cried, vomited, and could barely carry on her usual activities. She supported her trips to the kitchen, the bathroom, but she mostly just listened. Susie, who'd done so much for her, needed her now. She knew the debilitating uncertainty which clutched her friend, and she would never feed her false hope but would support her honestly.

The two talked, smoked cigarettes, walked slowly and cried a lot. The day ended sadly as it had begun. When she awoke again it was to thoughts of Susie, because she no longer began her days with false hope. She scurried around preparing her body for the day, taking only a moment to steady her unbalanced legs, and headed to see Susie. Susie greeted her with a bright smile and unhidden enthusiasm.

"I woke up and it was back. I don't know how or why, but it is. I've never been so grateful to be balanced. I can't even believe how excruciating yesterday was. I didn't know anything for sure. It was so uncertain, so stressfully uncertain, and I thought I might not make it. But I did, and it's returned to me," Susie gushed expectantly.

She managed a few words of congratulations and happiness before becoming restless. Her smile attempted genuine joy but fell quite short. Oh, how badly she wished to be happy for her friends luck!

"Oh my God, is this what it's been like? For you? All these years? I had no idea. I felt tortured. I don't want to presume an understanding of what you've felt, but I have a better idea now. I'd never want to feel that way again," Susie continued. No, she thought, you wouldn't; I'd give anything never to feel that way again.

Susie's glimpse of imbalance trailed her for a week, perhaps two. Her life was back to normal. Jared had returned to her and she was perfectly balanced once again. Balance wasn't so generous to others, however. She of fickle balance, of lost and false hope, continued on her dizzy way. Now she cultivated hatred for herself for her resentment of Susie. She'd fought it, day after day, and prayed for it to disolve, but still it persisted. How unfair she was, to resent her friend's hope that hadn't lied. Maybe someday she could celebrate Susie's returning balance with her, but not today. Today it pointed too directly at her own lack; the gap between one day and five years danced through her mind, throbbing.

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