Young at Heart

A sweet compliment directed towards a sixty-five-year-old woman, mother of five, and grandmother of eighteen—was meant to land on my ears and deliver with it joy during a moment typically filled with sorrow. There I was sitting in my wheelchair at the hospital after undergoing my daily round of radiation treatment for the breast cancer that had so rudely entered my body. Unbeknownst to me, a young nurse had been watching me as I went from room to room—changing my clothes in one, receiving radiation treatment in another, and being examined by my doctor in the last. Afterwards, she came up to me, smiled, and said, “You look young at heart.” Surprised by her words, I smiled and replied, “Why thank you.”

When I arrived home from the hospital, I thought more about the kind words spoken by the young nurse, who at that time I would have considered a stranger. What she cleverly discerned after being only minutes in my presence was something that had roots in events which had occurred fifty-three years prior in my life. She of course knew nothing of my story, save the ten to fifteen minutes she had seen me in the hospital. What she was skillfully able to recognize was an unaltered part of me that had stayed intact since I was twelve-years-old. The years of giving birth, raising children, working, managing a home, retiring from a career, losing loved ones, and now fighting breast cancer had not altered that one thing.

It transports me back in time to that one Halloween in Martinsburg, West Virginia when I was only twelve-years-old. It was to be my last Halloween dressing up—as my mother thought I was getting way too old to dress up and go door-to-door for candy. My costume was a pair of grey wool pants, a grey wool sweater, and my father’s grey wool hat. I was so looking forward to the sock hop that was to follow once the trick-or-treating was done. When I finished trick-or-treating with my friends, we all scooted over to the sock hop that was being held at the Masonic Hall located on The Hill. While there, I recall leaning back on a chair, acting silly while others danced to the latest songs.

Looking back on that fateful night, things were put into motion that would eventually transform a care-free girl who was full of dreams into a burdened down eighteen-year-old, unmarried, mother of five. I had been so confident in my ability to steady myself on the chair that Halloween night, yet an evil more powerful than me took over. There I was a child, being forced to raise five boys on my own. What happened? How did my life change so quickly? My new life was not at all what I expected. I found myself basically growing up with my boys. Age-wise, I could have been their big sister, but there was no mistaken—I was their mother.

My own mother died when I was seventeen and my grandmother when I was eighteen. The only adults left were my father and older siblings. I had always longed for the love and affection of my father, but I was never allocated a piece of his heart. Even sitting by his side while he laid on his death bed, he never whispered to me those three magic words, “I love you.” There would be many boyfriends that came after eighteen, but none would be husband material. They loved the bottle and other women more than they loved me and my five boys. Some even had the audacity of choosing one or two boys over the others. My dream of a loving husband to take care of me and our family would be like the last kid who nobody wanted for the pickup game.

So here I am at sixty-five, still seeking that one thing. That one thing that had flooded my dreams up until I was twelve—the love and affection of a man. Not just any man, but my husband. Yes, my body has grown over the years and time has taken its toll on my physical attributes, but it has not aged the love in my heart for that one dream. In fact, it seems to have frozen it in time. Hence, it was what the young nurse had caught a glimpse of when she said to me, “You look young at heart.” She saw on the outside something that originated from within me. My grown sons have a hard time believing that I carry this dream with me so many years later, but I cannot help but to shed a tear for my one thing.

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