This Hope was Dying
“It’s alright, Mona, I’ll get outta here,” Sam’s Dad leaned over the table to grab his wife’s hand, but she swiftly pulled it away. The tears had not ceased to run down his wife’s weary face from the moment that she saw him.
“Baby, I promise,” he lowered his head into the palms of his hands and sighed with the weight of the world, almost visibly causing stress to the table. “Somehow, please believe me,” was the final muffled plea. Far worse than being locked up in prison was the idea that his wife might leave him. Every Saturday they met would remind him of what kind of a thin line his marriage was on.
Sam folded his arms and focused on his feet as he sat uneasily in the plastic orange chair next to his mom. His face was warm with frustration and his own tears threatened to surface. Not today, he told himself and contained them as best he could.
Visitation rooms were the worst. The guard seemed unimpressed with the awkward reunion that involved no hugging, or walking outside, or a game of catch. They just starred in each other’s direction at conference style tables until the time was up with weather talk escalating to the gross injustice that had swallowed their family whole. The guard folded his arms stiffly without any hint of softening, keeping a watch on the clock as if there was something for Sam’s Dad to get back to doing. Sam sighed to mimic his Dad. He wanted this nightmare to end, and hear that this had all been a big mistake.
Twelve year olds were suppose to hope, hope for the impossible, before the world inevitably crowded out the wonder, but this hope was dying. It died in the tears of his mother, it died in the hardened eyes of the guard, it died as he witnessed the weight his father carried. It died as weekend after weekend they did the same thing, and said the same things, at the same time on Saturday, with no end in sight. The hope that his Dad was coming home was a bleak line of light in a landscape where the sun had long past set. Would their shattered lives ever mend? All he felt was uncomfortable sitting there in his orange plastic seat, the kind of uncomfortable that leaves a permanent knot in your stomach. The kind of uncomfortable that had no words to describe it.
“Time to go, Tony,” the guard's announcement invaded the solemnity. His name was Criston, but he ended up with that nickname in High School. Sam’s family attributed it to his love for pizza. Every chance Sam’s Dad got, he was at Uno’s on Ohio street as a kid. The family never had much money to spare, but Grandpa had a good job working as a History Teacher in Bronzeville. He served in WW2 before that and then he and Nana raised their kids in a relatively prosperous life, though redlined in the Southside of Chicago. In all the conversations the family had at Thanksgiving or Christmas these were the best of times.
Sam would learn about and fall in love with Chicago, hearing the stories of his family, their friends, and the black community of Bronzeville, when it thrived. Papa retired when he and Nana could no longer take the conditions they were forced to deal with. They saw discouragement and aimlessness take over in the Southside and Papa's teacher's heart broke when he saw the paths his students chose. They left Chicago before Sam was born, but Sam’s Dad stayed believing things would get better. So much for that.
“We gotta go,” Mona stood up swiftly and grabbed Sam’s arm in the shuffle.
“Will I see you soon?” Criston’s eyes pleaded with her louder than his words.
Mona looked blankly in his direction in a way which startled both Sam’s Dad and Sam. Without saying a word, she and Sam left.