noun, verb, hoped, hop·ing.  the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best; to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence; to believe, desire, or trust; to feel that something desired may happen.

Hope  is telling your heart that you’ll see her again as you watch her familiar figure recede into the bustling milieu and blur from the tears forming behind your eyes; the calming breath that quells a racing, troubled heart; the fresh day that dawns on a fitful night and reminds you that light replaces dark given enough time.  It’s the melting of despair’s frosty layer on the spirit; the flapping of wings and not shivering of shoulders, the flutter felt in your stomach that says “maybe, just maybe” and the smile worn during a daydream.

The Letter You’ll Never Read

“I found a place so safe, not a single tear/ The first time in my life and now it’s so clear/I feel calm, I belong, I’m so happy here.” –Avril Lavigne

I start in my goodbye letter by saying how tragic a loss it is for the ones you left behind: the evidence was clear in the packed funeral home and the street choked with cars parked on either side. A lot of people loved and cared about you, it was easy to see.

I progress to verbalize the sentiment of the lamenting tears cried by so many as you were eulogized at the youthful age of 21; a collective air of untimely loss hung as heavy as water vapor in the humid summer air. But alas, here the divergence between the goodbye letter I wish I could write and the missive that needs to be written emerges.

I wish I could tell people how you overcame obstacles like losing your parents in infancy and fought down the demons of your addictions to make something great of yourself. But instead I’m relegated to the truth: you died because you injected more drugs into your body than it could handle.

Remembering the sweet, shy girl with gorgeous eyes I knew from middle school, it’s my delight to recount the cute quirk of fate or small-town coincidence that would have your Sunday school teacher later become your DARE officer. A story-book ending woulde that his continuing counsel with you turned your life around. In its place, I have to say that in spite of acknowledging how many people cared for you and recognizing how much they wanted to help, you continued do abuse drugs and run ‘til the end.

In earnest I can say that there is a lasting and profound legacy you have left in me. While I would be remiss to omit
the butterflies I remember having when around you and the times I fantasized about us being close, I would be doing a disservice to the truth to exclude the broken heart, shattered self-confidence and cynicism you caused by abruptly picking drugs and crime over me.

No matter how much the disparity between what I desire to say and what my conscience tells me to include, it is perfect truth to say that I will always remember you and cherish the moments I had you in my life. I copiously proclaim the unfairness of the world for taking you too early, but take solace in the fact that your own brand of suffering is over.  Regretfully I append that your death was a penalty for a lifestyle those of us left behind know you didn’t need to live.

"Black star/Forever will you be/A shining star" --Avril Lavigne

In this goodbye letter you’ll never read I nonetheless offer you my heart that was filled with empathy too late, a hug of forgiveness that can never be given, a sigh of lamentation that now serves no purpose, and the wondering that will never cease: I wonder if I could have been the person to save you.

See, Papa?

"We are shaped and fashioned by what we love." --Johann Wolfgang Von Goeth

Visions of driving an old Jeep through the muddy trails of Western New York and being able to then wheel her back onto the road and drive home was the stuff that keeps a 12 year old country boy awake at night. And so to start making my dream a reality, I put a bug in the ear of Papa, my grandfather, to keep his eyes peeled for an old fixer-upper. Now Papa was a lifelong gear head who seemed to know every male within a 30 mile radius of his small town and what old iron might be laying around. Such being the case, it took only a moment of consulting his mental rolodex to tell me of a potential candidate located  just up the road from him.

As Papa guided my dad to the right house, the seat belt was the only thing keeping me from bouncing up and down with anticipation. After stopping to state our business and getting the go ahead from the owner, we continued to drive, now on a private trail, until we found the ragged tarp-draped Willy’s Jeep sitting amidst stalks of golden rod. The rusting relic hadn’t moved or been tended to in the slightest for years, ever since its old Dauntless V6 puked water where the oil should have been.

Now, looking back lo these nine years since that day, I’m convinced that had Papa realized the shabby condition of this Jeep, he would have never led us to it. For, in spite of the fact that the floorboards had rusted out from not having a roof’s protection and even though the seats had rotted through to the springs, I was in love. The driver’s side front fender was more than half missing from rust deterioration, and we all watched the back bumper bend up and disappear beneath the body when the old owner’s tractor started to push the Jeep onto Papa’s trailer. Still, I was in love. And with a price of 150 dollars, it was a love I could buy.

After unloading the Jeep at my house, my dad quickly set about separating the body from the frame as preparation for the coming refurbishing. As for my own self-assigned duties, afraid of being sliced to ribbons by sharp rusty edges protruding from even the most unexpected locations, I was busy supervising my dad’s work, asking questions, and thumbing through off-roading magazines. I picked out what seats I wanted to use, which mud gripping tires  would look best, and what color I liked the most–all the most important considerations.

However, for more reasons than just my naiveté at biting off more than I could chew, work soon halted; I was busy with school, low on funds, my dad started working on our house, et cetera. The moral is that life and maturity set in and despite the vigorous start out of the gate, interest and motivation quickly petered out and soon the chipped and rusted Jeep was put out to pasture in our own back yard.

The dream of so many Saturday mornings in my youth was to have this jeep to drive when I came of age. But I blew out my 16 candles and still it sat. Papa died, and still it sat. I turned 17, 18, 19, 20 and still it sat.  It sat neglected until six months ago when I created a new vision that utilized the parts that were still salvageable. With the optimism of the 12 year old boy who had counted his money down to the penny now buttressed with the strength and level head of an adult, I cut apart the dilapidated rear half of my sleeping beauty and dragged the front half in to work on.

“There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that lost by not trying.” -- Francis Bacon, Sr.

After plugging away at re-making a new rear half of the Jeep that met my new concept, I learned for the first time that in the periphery of my eagerness the day we brought her home, Papa smirked and shook his head looking at my mom in am I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this sort of way. Hearing this even though I now have the abilities to do the work I imagined doing back then, the story stung.  Perhaps because I had come to that same belief all the years I passed by the tarped lump out behind our garage; perhaps because I was embarrassed at how much larger my heart was than my head all those years ago; perhaps because it seemed to go against his habitual inquiry of “do anything to that Jeep yet?” until the same, invariable answer became implied with everything else I was doing.

Regardless of why, the fact that Papa hadn’t completely believed in my vision lit a fire under me to keep working. See, Papa? I thought. I knew I’d work on it some day. I loved him deeply and still wished him here to offer advice, but I was also hurt. That is, until I looked around my workspace late one Saturday. I saw the stainless steel weld-

ing clamps I had been using and remembered that they had come from his garage. I looked over at the red Lincoln MIG welder in the corner and knew that it had been his too. Then I got up and saw an old radiator

“The beginning and the end reach out their hands to each other.” --Chinese Proverb

he had given my dad to use for the project at its start, and at the motor mounts my dad had made  with instructions from Papa. I sat down on the cement floor in the center of my still-floorless Jeep and looked around it. Yes, the metal for the body’s substructure had come from Papa’s as well.  The hurt 12 year old child in me faded away when I realized that, although he may not have believed that I would ever finish the jeep, he knew that I believed it. And with his tools, parts, and materials, I am now constantly reminded of a love I can never buy. The love of a grandparent.

Born to Fight: The Story of a Lyme Warrior

“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else. ” -Emmerson

I remember standing in front of my bedroom mirror, looking, imagining. Standing up straight in my US Army uniform, I blocked out the reflection of my white sock feet and instead admired the government-issue fabric that ensconced my adolescent body. Over time, my uniform was supplemented with authentic battle gear: a suspendered belt with pouches to hold clips of ammunition and a poncho tied on across the back. I hunted down a one-man first aid pouch and clipped it upside down to the left suspender for easy grasp just like I saw in real life.  But even as I came closer and closer to being a perfect imitation of the soldier I aspired to be, the day of reckoning was flanking my youthful vigor.

For many years I was a soldier for Halloween; getting to show adults a all-inclusive preview of what I expected to be was a rare highlight. Occasionally I’d wear my uniform to the grocery store but on those outings the dummy hand grenades and authentic Kevlar helmet I eventually accrued always had to be left home. Yet however much or little of my GI ensemble I was allowed to wear, while I was in it I embodied the persona of a skilled warrior and left my weak, pain-prone, Lyme Disease riddled body as transient features of the enemies I eliminated in countless bedroom firefights.

Spent NATO 5.56 bullet casings used by US forces.

However, like all battles in every war, the fighting eventually subsided and it came time to formulate the casualty report. In moments of clarity that betrayed my increasing maturity, my faithful, imaginary M-16 was stowed in the armory of my mind and I realized that the obstinate belief of being a frontline defender of freedom had been long-filed under the heading Killed in Action.  At this realization I became a soldier of misfortune, a prisoner of a war I would never fight.

Gazing loathingly at my thin arms lacking muscle, glaring at my chest stretched tightly across my ribs, and staring at my slumping bony shoulders in the mirror I wondered what it was I would be, what I could be, what Lyme disease would let me be. After years of being held in continual custody by an enemy power—my own mind, not the foreign government of a real soldier—I realized that the warrior mentality needn’t die in the absence of a battlefield.

From birth my body has been ravaged by a microscopic enemy: borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochete that causes Lyme Disease. And since age two I have been on antibiotic treatment with the hopes of eradicating the infection.  So while I was prevented from ever being a soldier in the ranks, I now look back on all the hardship that I’ve endured over the course of my affliction and say with certainty that I have always been an army of one.

Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria

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