Tears of Angels
We stared at each other across the patio. Idalese slumped in her chair like a wilted daisy. Her usually bright and bubbly personality was flat, barely discernable under the weight of the oppressive August heat. Even her platinum tresses had lost their gleam. In place of them was a ragged mop of dull, dripping strands, clinging like tentacles to her bare neck and shoulders. She exhaled a heavy sigh, shifted in her seat, and let her arms flop from the arm rests to dangle limply on either side of the chair.
I picked up a page of the newspaper I had only minutes before set aside, waving it in an attempt to create a breeze. All I accomplished were small bursts of sun-fried oxygen spattering my face and singeing my eyes. I could feel the stickiness of cosmetics slipping and sliding on the oil slick that was my complexion. Somewhere in the distance a lawn mower growled in harmony to the barking of a neighbor’s dog.
The sizzling hell that had become summer was finally getting the best of me. This wasn’t just a heat wave. It was an eruption, giving little warning before spewing forth its fiery tempest. The first week hadn’t bothered me. Whenever the soaring temperatures became too much to withstand, I’d simply gone into the bedroom and let the little window air-conditioner blast me with its icy currents.
Then yesterday disaster had struck. I turned the switch to max and the machine stuttered and shuddered to a complete halt. No amount of pleading, crying, stomping of feet, or cussing like a sailor would cajole it into operation. Smacking it, shaking it, flipping the dial back and forth proved to be no better of a solution. I blubbered all the way to my cold shower.
Idalese let loose another long drawn out sigh. “Tell me again why you quit your job?” she said, punctuating the command with a question mark.
She was a great sister, and I loved having her spend her summer break with me, but day to day living with a college student could become tedious. I admired her zest for life, her tenacity and determination once she decided to go after her dreams. I simply didn’t care for her constant nagging and questioning about my jobless state. For all her intellectual brilliance, she was as thick as the mud on the Mississippi River banks when it came to understanding my need for a retreat from the sorrow of my failed marriage.
“You know why.”
I pretended to peruse the printed sheet in my hand, hoping against hope that she would let the matter drop. Jack had been old-fashioned. He’d wanted the mother of his children to be home to care for them, instead of farming them out to strangers 60 hours a week. He’d wanted to provide for his family as his father before had done. He’d wanted to rebuild the family business.
Times had been tough all over the country. Our little town of 6,000 hadn’t fared so well as the bigger cities. Keeping a family grocery store going in the face of a recession was tough enough; doing so while contending with chains like Wal-mart was near impossible. I was afraid to turn my back on a solid paycheck in favor of what I felt were Jack’s misguided aspirations. I understood his desire to be his own boss, to follow in the family tradition, but asking me to sacrifice financial security while starting a family of our own was too much.
At first, he’d agreed to me working for a year to put some money away for emergencies, but that year had turned to two, then three, and before I had realized it, seven years had passed. I liked my job as a restaurant manager. It was exciting and chaotic, sometimes exasperating, but always it had been rewarding. I liked meeting new people, turning them into loyal customers who became old friends over time. I was good at my job, and in no time I was supervising the entire operation with the promise of a district manager’s position and salary soon to come.
Additional responsibility brought additional hours on the job. It wasn’t long before Jack and I were like ships passing in the night. I was too caught up in my own success to notice that Jack was spending more and more time at the local VFW, wandering home in the wee hours of the morning. By the time I realized what was happening to our marriage, Jack had stopped coming home altogether.
“You’re wasting your life, Katie. You can’t bring him back.” Idalese could be brutal in her candor.
Her words were like fingernails on a chalkboard, screeching against the raw emotions suffocating me more than the wet air I was struggling to breath. A white hot pain sliced through my heart, searing the tender core of my being. I couldn’t expose my true thoughts to her. She wouldn’t understand. She couldn’t comprehend my shame. Her youth separated her from my reality. She had yet to experience her great love, while I had thrown mine away.
I pretended to ignore her comment, not letting her see my heartache on this day of all days. A year seemed like an eternity, and yet, I couldn’t make peace with myself. I had gone to him, furious that he had simply left without a backward glance at me. In my pain, I had flung accusations of infidelity at him, blamed him for my choice to continue working, and heaped mountains of guilt on him for his failure to support me in my dreams, too. I refused to give in to the urge to throw myself sobbing into his arms, beseeching his forgiveness. My terror was stronger than my need to beg for his return home. Instead, I stomped off in a rage, disregarding the anguish contorting his features.
It had been a Saturday; one as scalding as this day. Weather reports promising a much needed rain storm were broadcast throughout the day, but by day’s end, the earth was as parched as it had been for the previous three weeks. I was sitting under the twilight sky, contemplating how good the rain would feel against my skin, and enjoying the rare weekend off from my restaurant duties. I had mixed feelings about rainstorms now that Jack was gone from my life.
When I met Jack, it had been raining. The water was coming down in torrents, bouncing off the pavement like gymnasts on a trampoline. We had suffered several call-offs that night, and I was covering for a much needed bartender. Jack sloshed in the door, trailing puddles with every step he took toward the bar. Four months later we were married in a tiny little one room church, madly in love and looking forward to a lifetime of wedded bliss.
Sitting under the darkening sky, sipping a glass of white zinfandel, I’d wondered if I would feel the urge to play in the rain the way Jack and I had. Jack had insisted that rain was really the tears shed by the angels over the beauty of our love. Our most memorable times were created during rainstorms. Making love in the cooling drizzle of a summer evening had been our favorite. We had laughed and played like school children, splashing in puddles, dancing slowly to the tune of our favorite song, Always and Forever, in an afternoon shower that hadn’t quite put out the sun. Afterward, we would sit on the porch and wait for the inevitable rainbow, snuggling together to ward off the damp chill of our soggy clothing.
As that hot and muggy Saturday had drawn to a close, slow dragging footsteps could be heard coming around to the back of the house. I’d looked up to find my brother-in-law. He took a hesitant step toward me, faltered, and then stopped altogether.
I barely heard his whispered, “Jack’s dead.”
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The trill of Idalese’s cell phone brought me back to my excruciating agony. I turned my head, hoping to blink away the evidence of my disgrace. I was tired, too tired to go on anymore. I needed peace, but didn’t know how to find it. I had waited too long, believing I would always have another day to say all the things I should have said. I waited too long to ask the most important question, one I so desperately needed to have answered.
“I’m meeting friends for a drink.” Idalese sprang from her chair forgetting the lethargy engulfing her mere seconds before. “I can’t take another minute of this heat. Wanna come along?”
I shook my head, careful not to let her see my eyes. My fingers played nervously with the gold chain around my throat, and I knew I was giving myself away, in spite of my best efforts.
My sister hunkered down in front of me, looking up into my face with an expression of such love and concern I couldn’t swallow around the lump forming in my throat. “Today’s a good day to say goodbye, Katie,” she said softly. “It’s time to let go.”
I watched her disappear around the side of the house, heard the car pull away from the curb. Dusk was coming on, and still there was no hint of the sweltering humidity letting up. I watched the sun as it sank lower in the sky, wondering how much longer I could hang on, waiting for peace to find me. My thoughts returned to the question I refused ever to voice. He could never answer me now, but it didn’t matter. I already knew the answer as sure as I knew my own name.
One year ago today my hopes of reconciliation had been shattered, the glittering shards of my dreams twinkling like stars mocking me in the darkest recesses of my heart. I hugged myself, squeezing my arms against my belly, trying to squelch the rising hysteria clawing its way out. I swallowed desperately against the expanding pain, pulsing ever outward and upward from deep inside of me, pulverizing and crushing the last bit of joy left to me through my memories.
“Why? Why? Why?” I slid from the chair to my knees, covering my face with my hands, hiding myself away from the beauty of the sun melting into gathering clouds. “Why didn’t you love me enough to stay?” My rage was building; daring me to defy the despair and desolation I had called my only friend for the last year. I wasn’t sure who I was raging at, Jack or the Great Benevolent Being of the Almighty. It didn’t matter. I needed an answer. I needed to be heard. “Answer me, damn you!” my heart screamed, “Why? Did you ever love me at all?”
I rocked back and forth in my misery, waiting for the answer I was sure would not come. I knew I didn’t deserve to be comforted. I had taken Jack’s love and trampled it, broken the blossom from its vine, and left it to wither in the dust of my selfishness. It was too late. He was gone.
The first cooling drops landed softly on my hair and neck like butterfly kisses. I turned my face skyward, holding my breath, scarcely able to believe what was happening. Another drop landed on my cheek, to be followed by another and another, until a steady drizzle was caressing my face and body with the touch of a lover, soft and gentle. I spread my arms out to catch more of the angels’ tears while my own flowed freely.
I stood up and twirled slowly in the rain, feeling Jack’s presence all around me. Somewhere in the distance, a neighbor’s radio music wafted through the night air, playing our song. Today of all days, Jack had come home one last time. My prayers had been answered. My constant companions were leaving me, to be replaced with new ones of joy and contentment. Peace had finally found me. It was a good day to say goodbye and hello.
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