My Angel

March 16, 2008
By Karin Zander, Palo Alto, CA

They all acted like it was a time of great joy, as if they were having the time of their life. As if each and every moment was the most superb moment of their sad and sorry little existence. Luckily, Kim and Lauren weren’t like that. The five different colors on the sparkling strings of lights overwhelmed the both of them with an awing force, and I’m proud to say that neither of them tried to deny their exhaustion. It's refreshing to see my baby so unashamed to express raw emotion.

The Christmas trees they passed by were bogged down to the drooping point with an over usage of classic non-controversial ornaments. These decorations were chosen to give off an illusion of universal celebration, but I don’t buy it and I don’t care what anyone says about political correctness or the like, until little pine trees are brought into malls and decorated with bright lights year round, I will remain convinced that they are, and have always been intended to be, Christmas trees. It makes me sick! Perfectly presentable business men and women sinking down to exploiting the supposed birth of Christ for their own benefit! Yeah, I know, it makes sense for business: the Christmas Spirit and all that, but back in my day it wasn’t like this. No, no, no. We were respectable. Or more respectable, at least. We never went to the extreme of bringing out the tinsel and Christmas tunes in mid November, and that, I think, is proof enough that the world is making a gradual decent towards hell; I only hope my Kimmy can make it through.

I can still hear her voice if I try hard enough. It’s hard, now that I’m officially an Outsider and there’s much more misery to hear. I don’t want to block out any of it, and I don’t want to ignore people’s woes, but I must if I’m going to concentrate on Kimmy. She’s so beautiful, my little angel. It’s amazing how close you can be to someone without them ever looking around and realizing that they’re not alone and they’ve never been alone, I’ve always been here to watch her.

“Auntie?” Kim asked with casual curiosity, breaking a silence that she probably hadn’t even noticed. I think we are all glad that Kim has crossed safely through her awkward pre-teen years when she would voice everything, and never care about any of it.

Lauren looked over at her niece to display her show of attention. This non-verbal act of communication looked completely necessary; she didn’t appear to have the strength to flamboyantly throw around words, although to her benefit, she was still walking upright and her feet only occasionally dragged on the ground. Kim saw the look –it was one tainted with worry and curiosity– and knew her aunt was listening. “Why doesn’t my mom ever want to do things with me anymore?”

Lauren cleared her expression rather quickly and while I’m sure she thought she did an excellent job of it, in reality it much resembled the extreme of a child’s big, wet, kiss sloppily planted on her face. “Is that what you call it when all the adults you know quarrel over who gets to spend time with you?”

“Cut it out! I hate it when you don’t take me seriously.” She did, in fact, look like she meant it: her pout was firmly in place as were her arms, carefully laced across her chest. All in all she looked like a highly spoiled child about to throw a tantrum; I bet she learned it from her mother.

“I am taking you seriously, but like I already said, your mother can’t take you out because we all whisk you away too quickly.” Then Lauren made a mistake: she shifted all of her shopping bags to her left arm and sprung her right out to tickle her grumbling niece. I knew she meant for the best, I knew it was an attempt to cheer up Kim, but it was ill planned and almost immediately Kim shrieked: “Don’t touch me!” I watched as my daughter shriveled back and grabbed her sides in what seemed to be an attempt to hold herself together. Several Passers-Byers halted and turned to gape at the two women –mouths hanging wide open– each wondering if they should do something: assist the child, perhaps. None did. Instead they all sent encouraging smiles to Lauren, assuming she was the misfortunate mother of the obnoxiously loud teenager.

“I love you Kim, but please don’t embarrass me.”

“I just want to know why my own mom doesn’t even have time for me. She’s always out, and when she is home, she never wants to be with me. In normal families the mom and the dad come home from work and the dad watches TV or helps his daughter with her homework while the mom makes a proper dinner. Well I haven’t got a dad and my mom doesn’t come home and cook, she comes home and cries. Every night she locks herself in the bathroom, or her bedroom, or wherever, and she sits herself down for a nice long cry. Hours! Sometimes she says things, too. Sometimes she says: ‘It’s all my fault, it’s all my fault.’” Hearing Kim reiterate Janie’s words made me nearly tearful myself; how could I have caused so much pain for my family? I never meant it to be like this, my death was supposed to save Kim, not hurt her.

Kim paused for a moment than continued on, “She won’t even look at me, did you know that? Like it’s too painful for her. And you all take me around to give her a break.”

“No, no. Kimmy, no. Please, never think that; it’s not like that at all.”

“Ah, it’s okay, Lauren, you don’t have to lie to me; if I were her, I’d want a break from me too.” After a moment of silence, a moment too short for Lauren to compose a functioning sentence of comfort, Kim continued: “It must be me, then. I must be dreadful to make her cry so bad.”

“Whoa!” Realization made Lauren halt in her tracks and she held up her hand for Kim to stop. Kim, who had kept walking in the misguided belief that her aunt was still keeping pace with her, looked around baffled, and asked, “What?” with more impatience than strictly necessary.

“You really think that’s why Janie is so unhappy all the time? Oh, Janie thinks she’s so clever, so shielding, sneaking around and crying all over the place. I bet she thinks you don’t notice.”

“Well I do and I hate it.” Kim pauses briefly for air and a think, when she comes back up it’s with a different voice, a sad one. “What am I doing wrong? Why aren’t I good enough to make her happy?”

“Kim, I told you, it isn’t you. You need to believe me. Your mom would want you to believe me.”

“But it must be me making her unhappy, we have plenty of money.”

“Do you know why you and your mother have so much money? Surely you don’t think it’s all from Janie’s job as a waitress?” Kim didn’t answer. Weak splutters of laughter momentarily flew from Lauren’s crumpled face. “Of course your mom has always been attractive, but all that from tips? Didn’t Janie ever tell you about the money your dad made?”

Kim’s face went blank, guarded. “We don’t talk about dad, he’s dead to her. All she’s ever said was that he left her right after they found out about me. I guess it was too much.” Like a bullet to my temple, this completely shattered me. It’s true that they never speak of me, I listen for it all the time, and I’m okay with that: they both know Janie would cry and neither of them want that, but dead to her? I never thought it’d matter how dead I got as long as she still loved me.

I looked back down to see Lauren furiously utter out, though admittedly it was through gritted teeth, “That’s all she’s said, is it?”

Kim nodded. “I spoiled everything for her . . They were in love! They were in love and then he finds out I’m coming along, and he splits. No wonder she cries every night and doesn’t want to look at me, I ruined her life!”

Devastated, Lauren moaned out a plea for Kim to believe her, but I couldn’t quite catch what she said. I wish I could have told Kim myself, explain to her that her mother cries because of me, because I short-cutted my way out, not because of anything Kimmy did wrong, and I wish I could explain to her that Janie won’t look at her face because every time she does, she only sees me. Unfortunately, my departure was never explained properly, I didn’t even leave the customary note. I don’t think it was hard for Janie to figure out, there were plenty of warning signs and she was always worried I’d do it eventually, but I wish I could have been there to help her get through it. Ultimately, Kimmy was right: I did leave because of her.

“I haven’t even met him yet. Mom keeps me away, she says I wouldn’t like it with him. Too hot.” Lauren wrapped her arms around Kim’s crying form and quietly, too quietly for Kim to hear, Lauren whispered ‘Bastard.’ Kim didn’t hear it, but I did. I’ve heard it every damn day.

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