Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Angel

I told this story to Erin and Matt last night, and it begged to be told again. I found this version written in an old book from my first writing group. All my writing is about "Clare". It is always easier to cast your story off on somebody else.
This, about our first outing without Charlotte: July 14, 2003, 2 months and 1 day after her birth, to a Woodie Guthrie tribute concert on his birthday at the Academy of Music:

Angels arrive when you least expect them to. In the months since Clare had lost her only child, people had hovered and swarmed, trying in vain to sweeten the world around her. All of them were struggling mortals like she was, lost in the swirling confusion, blindly swinging in the darkness that death leaves behind. They were grasping at nothing to try to restore order. And Clare sat, as if weighted in her chair, mesmerised by the depth of her loss, ignorant of the chaos that continued in her midst as people tried to save her. But Clare didn't need to be saved.
Her sitting time was long, that was true. For sixty-two days her house was her temple, surrounding her with the quietness and gentleness that her world could not guarantee. Certainly there were days where she emerged, braving the torrential rains of that spring to shop for groceries at the tiny corner store or to walk the trail by the river where she had carried Charlotte last. But never once in those sixty-two days had she chosen to go somewhere with so many people all at once. And yet she knew she had to go.
The prospect of venturing forward was terrifying to Clare, yet something, someone, must have told her it would be alright. Perhaps the angel was already beckoning to her. She chose the event because there would be singing, and if anything could prossibly dip into the black inkwell of her sadness and draw forth honey, it would be all those people singing. So on that night, only one day past the two-month anniversary of Charlotte's death, Clare and Charlie drove in their car like any couple, and as if walking in a dream, bought their tickets, and walked into the old theater.
They weren't completely lost in the crowd, because their closest friend and greatest supporter was already there. Gina hugged them and held their hands and showed them to the seats she had saved for them. Soon the singing began and maybe the angel was already there, watching, but Clare didn't know it. She sang loudly and for Charlotte, her voice blending with hundreds of others, and she could feel pink tendrils of joy peeking into her peripheral vision as she sang. Finally the intermission came and Clare sank deeply into her chair, overwhelmed by the depth of feeling surrounding her: satisfaction in having emerged, stark pain in the emptiness of her arms, and warmth and lightness from the singing. She was beginning to feel safe. And then the baby arrived.
Clare was sitting two seats in when the woman with the baby stopped and greeted Gina.
"Hello, B---," said Gina, and Clare had heard of this baby. The baby had been adopted by the woman holding her, then lost for some time to a custody battle, and then returned, and Clare knows more details which she wants to remember right then but all she could see were the fat cheeks, the downy hair, and the woman's arms so gloriously around the baby. Clare tried not to look, but the blackness was filling her brain and suddenly she was crying, hard, and she started to feel hot and prickly all over and all she could think was, somebody gave that baby up. Somebody gave birth to that little girl and didn't keep her. Then that woman, now her mother, that woman lost that baby and got her back. She could feel the walls of panic closing in on her. She could not get away, she was the third seat in, with Gina and the woman and her baby between her and safety.
The angel could have saved her then, but he didn't. Not yet. He let the panic come, let Clare scramble over the seats and stumble up the aisle, blinded by hot tears, oblivious of the people flashing before her eyes. She made it to the lobby and it was crowded, there seemed no escape. Clare turned to enter a little lounge on the right but a woman was sitting, arms curled around her nursing baby, and Clare turned in haste, crying for real by now. Her eyes flickered to the wide staircase, maybe she could sit there and blend into the wall, but even that escape route was blocked, this time by a woman holding twins, one on each hip. Defeated, Clare turned to face the wall by the refreshment stand, leaning into her sadness, sobbing without reserve.
Suddenly Charlie is there, and Gina too, and the man behind the refreshment stand is handing her a glass of water. They're holding her, and she's crying hard, and there are people everywhere and Clare doesn't care. She can hardly draw a breath through her pain, and eyes turn to her as the lobby starts to empty, and that's when the angel appears.
He wasn't tall, or particularly handsome.He was a relatively short man with a round belly, non-descript clothes, and unkempt grey hair. His glasses looked old, but his face was kind. He beckoned to Gina, and pulled her aside. Clare is crying so hard she doesn't even notice.
"Is she grieving?" he asks Gina. She nods yes.
"Who is she grieving for?" says the man, the angel.
"Her daughter," says Gina. "She lost her baby girl."
The man pushes through and hands Clare some Kleenex. She looks up, surprised, and meets the angel's eyes.
"Thank you," she tells him, and he takes her hand.
"Let it out," he tells her, "you have to let it out. There is nothing logical about it, is there? You just have to feel it".
And on cue, Clare sobs harder, she buries her head in Charlie's chest and is unable to catch her breath. The pain is so deep, so thorough.
"That's the way," the angel says, and then, "I'm not minding my own business, here."
Clare looks up, alarmed. "No," she says, "I really appreciate it. Thank you."
And she means it.

This man, this stranger, this unfamiliar face, has recognized that only Clare can save herself and that this is how she will do it.

She cries into the Kleenex he has given her for a minute longer, but when she looks up again, he is gone. Neither Gina nor Charlie has seen him leave.
She kept right on crying, but stumbled back down the aisle, latched onto Charlie's arm. She sang through her tears, and at the end of the night when they sang the birthday song, Clare sang loudly and cried harder and sang happy birthday to Charlotte, and she thought about the words of the angel, and she knew she would be okay.
Clare looked for the man everywhere from that day on, but he never appeared again.


I just couldn't rework it to make the part about the angel in the past tense. It tells itself better in the present. It's just how it works.
Now I feel hot and heavy and sad. Liam is awake and sitting on my lap and reading the words he knows off the screen. "I see 'too'! There's 'yes'?" He is so clever and I am so proud. The second guardian angel in my life.
Why that man seemed so angelic I'll never know. Something about his mysterious coming and going (Gina and Greg never saw where he came from and they never saw him leave) and the fact that he didn't try to make me feel better.
And how did he know I was grieving?

1 comment:

Birdie said...

I am crying...and tears a streaming down my cheeks. I can feel so much in your writing, and I can imagine it all so clearly as it all happened.

I love this story, I love it so much.

I can't wait to have my very own little guardian angel sitting upon my lap.

I love you and your family so very much....I just wanted you to know that. Your so special to both me and Matt, so special.