Ultimately, Hope’s story shows how small, daily steps towards confidence propel us forward, even beyond our darkest hours, to a place of more joy, more purpose, more fulfillment. Written in heart-pounding flashbacks and encouraging looks forward, Counting Hope is an epic journey of liberation, empowerment, and eventual success.
Ping. The elevator doors slide open. An aseptic scent bounces off gleaming white walls. My fiancé, Tom, holds my hand, and I cling to his. I am girding for a nightmare.
Mom must have heard the elevator. She is the first person I see. Her eyes. Her eyes. What is she saying? Why does she look like that?
“Hi, Mom,” I muffle into her shoulder as she surrounds me, holds me, squeezes tight. I can feel the tension in her back, the tightness of her breath. “Where is Olivia?”
Tom waits by my side. “Hi, Hope,” he says. Now it’s his turn to be embraced so radically. Olivia joins us. We hug.
She starts to cry.
“Ashlei, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I did everything I could.”
“Olivia . . . where is Dad? Are you okay? Where is he?
I look at Mom. “Can I see him?”
“Yes, of course.” Mom’s moves are jerky. She is twisted up and forcing herself to breathe.
Olivia’s fifteen-year-old face is puffy, and looks aged.
Her eyes hold a deeper despair than Mom’s. She takes my hand. “I’ll go with you. Don’t leave me, Ashlei.”
“Okay, baby, okay.” I glance back at Tom. He gives me an encouraging a nod.
I let Olivia lead me. She pushes the big button on the wall, and one heavy double door swings inward to the critical care unit. Mom is trailing us. Watching.
Beeps. Whooshes. More beeps. Tapping of fingers on keyboards. The clean scent is stronger here. It is a scene from a movie. Is this real? A tall, capable-looking nurse in blue scrubs approaches us.
“Hi,” she smiles. The smile does not reach her eyes. Her eyes have the same haunted look. What? What is it? Why does everyone look like that?
Mom had told me it was bad, that Olivia was right, that I had to come. Now I have seen three people with this stare.
What? What does it mean? I can handle it, I swear.
When Olivia called, she was hysterical and said the paramedics had taken Dad in an ambulance. She was left at a stranger’s house and didn’t know where she was. She was out of her mind. I couldn’t calm her down or understand what she was saying. Her sucking sobs garbled her words.
She couldn’t tell me who was with her. Her hiccupping wails xii
pierced through the phone. I tried to calm her down. I told her to breathe. I asked her if she had called mom yet. A tiny
‘no’ emerged through the broadband. I convinced her to call mom, even though she was worried mom would be mad at dad. She had to call mom. Mom would know what to do.
Mom would to tell me if I needed to worry.
Mom was three hours away when she got Olivia’s cal . She took the next exit and headed south toward Bloomington.
Someone needed to figure out what had happened. It was bad. Mom told me I had to come.
After the call from mom, I stood frozen, staring at my closet. I couldn’t decide. What do I take? What should I wear?
What if there is a funeral? I packed everything. Maybe all the stuff could hold me to the ground. Maybe the clothes could keep me on earth.
Now Olivia is leading me to Dad’s room. But the nurse.
The nurse’s eyes look like Mom’s. Olivia’s are worse. Filled with more . . . more what? More something. An emotion? A truth I don’t understand? I have never seen this look before, a mixture of sadness, empathy, and knowing. It is the knowing that scares me.
“You must be Ashlei.” The nurse knows me. Knows my name.
I bob my head with a plastic smile. My face is stone. We are suspended. There is no time. Everything is moving slow xiii
and sounds are dulled. The beeping is quieter. My stomach is roiling.
“You are here to see your dad,” the nurse says. Olivia is crushing my hand so hard it aches and starts to pierce the fog in my brain.
“Yes. Can I see him?”
“Of course. You will need to put these on.” She hands me a yellow smock and a blue facemask. Olivia reaches for her own.
We turn to our right, and he is there. A million tubes. A million bags. Dad is motionless except his chest rising and falling from the air pushing through a hose snaking down his throat. I slide my eyes across five monitors. The closest one to me has ten flat lines marching across it.
Tears flood my eyes. I go to his side and take his hand.
His hand is warm. I sit on a stool. Olivia stands behind me, quietly crying. She has someone to share her grief with; I’m here. Her sister.
“Daddy, Daddy, please wake up.” I put my head to his hand and plead. Beg.
I feel Olivia’s body shaking behind me, and I turn around and sob into her waist, into her belly.
I spin back and whimper into Dad’s warm hand.
Mouthing the words on his skin. “Daddy, please . . . please wake up.”
We are like that forever, for no time, for always. Maybe xiv
we are still there. The pain does not stop. We are a well of despair. The dark, cold water threatens to consume. To bury.
Where is my dad? Did he fall into this wel ? Is he here too?
“Daddy, you have to wake up. You have to wake up.
Please, Daddy, please . . .”