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Sidewalk Angels

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The funeral was a curious one; since he’d been so young, so charming, and so popular, hundreds upon hundreds of people came, parading around the place in their best black suits and dresses, some even recycling their recently-used prom dresses, crying their eyes out before the service. Most of the guests were around my age, mid-high school level, and it could almost guarantee that half of them didn’t have a clue what had even happened to him; they’d come just to get out of school; to get the attention of supposedly knowing him. The older ones looked tired and worn; as if the death had suddenly affected them, as well.

The service was painful and numbing, the decrepit preacher’s words being drowned out by loud, sudden sobs, randomly across the sea of commemorators, stifled only by the occasional tissue, which even then couldn’t help very much.

The family began after the preacher, giving their eulogies, several friends, and one of his more recent ex-girlfriends. They called him loving and caring, devoted and sincere, joyful and courageous. Memories were shared, pristine images filling the heads of everyone who’d chosen to pack themselves into the old Baptist church with its musty air and stained-glass colors splaying down over the floor, making people think that they’d known that side of him, too.

While the last girl cried for him, trying to tell her stories through her tears, I stood up from my place, the last seat before standing room only, and left. There was no point in being in there anymore, honoring someone’s memory when we all had our own.

I walked outside, out of the chilled foyer, as if they wanted to make you feel stereotypically numb, stepping into pure sunshine. It was ironic that this kind of blinding light could even exist on a dark day like this, like some kind of grim, twisted fairytale, but all the same, the world didn’t stop for one.

It was cold outside, though not uncomfortably so, but I pulled my coat around me anyway and headed out across the battered parking lot to the park. In appearance, it was crowded with laughing children and gossiping parents, but if you walked a little further, past the last edge of the latest installment of sidewalk, on to the torn and trashed rubble that was only slightly similar to anything resembling a path, through the very edge of the towering lot of trees, it was absolutely quiet for almost a quarter-mile stretch.

Not many people knew about this section of the park, or at least came here often. It was overgrown and sheltered, with the more ancient of benches and run-down water fountains in sight. When people did come here, it was usually the skateboarders from the nearby middle school; the place where they could build ramps that weren’t constantly being torn down.

In all, it was like this part of the park was a separate solace.

It was only when I sat down on one of the crooked, warped benches that I could actually feel myself shaking. Blame it on the cold, blame it on sickness – anything; just not the fact that he was dead. That couldn’t possibly be it.

“I’m sorry,”

I inhaled, my breath catching softly. “No,”

“No?”

“No.”

I sat there for another minute, looking at the remarkably green grass, before turning to the bench beside me, hesitant to speak.

Tim sighed knowingly, anticipating my question. “No, Jen. You’re not crazy.”

I turned away again, before turning back once more. “But I haven’t cried.”

“You’re not supposed to. He’s in a better place, and you know it better than most.”

I shook my head, looking up at the sky, feeling outright disgusting. “My best friend.”

Tim nodded beside me. “You’re special, and he knew that better than you think.”

I closed my eyes.

By ‘special’, he meant ‘different’, and by ‘different’, people would say ‘troubled’. Most would consider my differentt as a kind of disease; one that “must have been caused at childhood”, and truly, it had been.

When I was six, I had this old dog named Snickel who loved to be walked… or run, rather. Rachel, my mom, had always let me be the one to run him around the turn-around circle that the neighborhood across the street turned into; a distance of only a fraction of a mile. Being an unusually smart six-year-old, I decided that, one day, instead of running along behind Snickel, I was going to use my brand new scooter to tag along.

The funny thing was that it had worked.

I went three-fourths of the way without problem. Snickel kept running and running, without stop as usual, until suddenly, he smelled something on the street.

He stopped abruptly.

Most people believe that time doesn’t seem as long as most books say it does when you have a hard choice to make, but I’ve experienced different. At that moment, with my manual scooter still flying after the halting Snickel, I had to choose: run over Snickel or make a sharp turn.

I’d always had a heart for animals.

My turn caused the scooter to spiral out of control, throwing me off as it crashed into the pavement.

I screamed.

From there is where everything gets a little more blurry around the edges.

I was blinded by the pain; it was all from my legs, the hurt, the red marks all over that road, gushing out of my kneecaps. I only screamed that once, just because of my six-year-old pride, but the blood was scaring me and I couldn’t walk close to at all.

That’s when I met them.

Two boys, both looking only a year older than me, rushed up to me, asking if I was okay and if I needed help. They stood me up as dirty tears raced down my cheeks, both of them noticing my knees and offering to help me home. I was coughing then, trying my best not to cry too much, and choked out a no.

They sat there and watched me as I stood my scooter up and started home, walking beside it, Snickel no longer pulling. Every few yards, I would have to stop and wipe my knees off in the grass; the blood was running furiously down my legs, actually embarrassing me more than anything.

When I’d reached my house, I looked back one time.

They were gone.

Over the years, I didn’t see them often; only one of them ever went out in the yard, it seemed, and usually he would just pick up a toy and stare at it for a while, talking to no one.

But four years later, on my tenth birthday, I’d opened the door to find both of the boys, still around my age, standing at the door, one of them smiling shyly, the other one with a sad look in his eyes, standing behind the first.
When Rachel could only see only the shy boy in front, John, I knew.
When my friends couldn’t see the other boy when he was standing right in front of their faces, the idea grew on me.
When I had to stop trying to see if people could see him so I wouldn’t get sent to a psychiatrist, I was certain.

I could see an angel.

Ever since that moment when he stepped foot in my door seven years ago, Tim had been with me when I needed him, serving as my guardian angel. He hung out in my room at night, singing softly, or sat in the passenger seat on the first day at a new high school, just kind of watching out for me, talking to me, and making sure that I knew he was there.

He didn’t have wings, or a halo, or even an inhumanly appearance; he was blonde and blue-eyed, preferred worn-out jeans and plain tee-shirts, and had a gruesome history behind his death that he never would tell me all of.

“You couldn’t have…?” I questioned sadly.

“I couldn’t.”

I nodded, swallowing a sob.

Tim sat silently beside me.

“Don’t you feel anything towards this?” I asked quietly.

He looked down at his hands. They looked so real, even to him, as he’d told me once. “Of course.”

“But you still stick to...”

“It’s not in my ability to control life and death.” He said soothingly.

“You can only help little girls when they fall off of their scooters.”

“Right.” Tim quirked a smile. “You were thinking about that, too?”

I nodded, and looked out again at the crumbling sidewalk. “Do you ever feel lonely?”

At that question, Tim didn’t respond for a while.

“Well?”

He sighed needlessly. “I don’t feel the kind of loneliness that you feel – it’s not any kind of human emotion; I feel the loneliness of desertion, of heartache, of deepest desolation, of…”

“Death. Yeah.”

Tim hummed a lullaby, looking off into space.

Often, I would sit there for hours and think about things in Tim’s point of view. Nothing he experienced was often humanly, and just the way he handled himself was something curious; he was always there, but not, with varying looks on his face, though none of them ever revealed what he was actually feeling.

“There’s not a word to describe any one emotion of my own,” he’d said once, when I’d asked him after my father had left. “Whereas you, here, are limited in your speech, while where I am, I can express beyond all of the limits that language enforces.”

Now, looking at my angel, I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He claimed not to think about things too much; just that he knew them, and the things he did have to think about were usually best left alone.

Suffice to say, we didn’t talk about his family or previous life very much.

“Jen,” he said softly, startling me. Usually it was me who started the conversations, “what did you think of him?”

“I thought…” I paused, trying to gather my thoughts. There were so many of them, jumbled up and tossed into my head, recklessly clashing into one another. “I thought that he was as close to an angel as anyone would ever meet. He was like you in a way, but more… touchable, almost. He would bend over backwards to make sure everything was okay, and most of all, he believed in angels more than anyone I knew.”

“Angels…” mused Tim. “How ironic.”

“Isn’t it? He used to talk about how he felt like he missed half of his own life after… well, you know better than I do… But he would say things about heaven and how he believed we were all being watched over by angels from heaven who could do anything; to who nothing was impossible.”

“Doing nothing is impossible.”

I rested my head in my hands. “So it seems.”

“So it is.”

I could feel Tim’s eyes probing me as I refused to meet them. His eyes were the kind that could see your soul; the kind that made you feel the answer before you spoke it, which made you consider everything before thinking anything.

The wind howled around us, rising through the trees.

“I still think I should cry.”

I felt Tim shrug next to me. “Crying is for those who mourn; you should know better.”

“But wouldn’t you cry, in my case?”

He was still, and what I said sank in.

“Sorry.” I said dully, glancing over at him.

“You forgot. It’s not a sin to forget.”

“I shouldn’t have.”

He laughed. “Forgotten that I’m not one of you? That I’ve never experienced ‘your case’? Relax, Jen, there’s no problem.”

He said that, and I got chills. Sometimes, the way he talked made him seem even more human, though at other times, he could seem more otherworldly because of the same words.

We sat there for a while.

Staring at the trees.

At the grass.

At the chunks of rock.

At countless, swooping birds.

And then I turned to him again.

“What about you?”

He looked at me, questioning.

“What did you think of him?”

I didn’t expect him to answer right away, and I was right in assuming. When he did answer, I could feel some of his soul in the words he chose, in the ways he expressed it.

“John was a believer in me, through hope and faith alone. He would’ve taken my place in a heartbeat had that car not swerved, and I think that he chose to see you again because he knew that you would be able to see me. That’s why you were his friend, Jen. Both of you could see me – through your eyes and his actions.”

I could actually feel the tears, my heart beating hard and slow. “So you miss him?”

“Of course.” He said sadly. “Anyone would miss their brother.”





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