Just then a moth flew into the living room, fussing about something. It fluttered in and out of our conversation, in a jagged line that peaked and plummeted like a lie detector.
This date was planned in advance. Angela texts a couples of days before she wants to meet. I text and suggest a day weeks after that. She texts to ask what day we decided before she writes it on her calendar. She texts the day before we meet. She texts the day of.
Angela’s favorite TV show is Monk. It’s about a detective with OCD, which is not what she has. She has a learning disability, which I always remind everyone, to remind myself. At her apartment, she leaves post-it notes all over so she won’t forget anything. At family gatherings, she keeps asking whose cup is whose.
When we’re together, I have to talk light – check my verbal baggage of metaphors, references, AP vocabulary – gaze as they slide and slip through rubber flaps, console myself that later they’ll come out on the carousel, going ’round and ’round, and I’ll pick them up again.
The moth landed as Angela watched. “When I’m running, I’m not in the run,” she said. “When I’m swimming, I’m not in the swim.” And she was not in the story.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“Thinking,” she said. “The same thoughts. Over and over. The same thoughts.”
Through Angela’s eyes I saw the thoughts, long, thick, dark covers, thrown over the world, everything draped with them, shaped by them, covered and collecting dust.
“About whom?” I asked.
She gave the names of her boyfriends. Just two of them. There have only been two. They were fine and nice and good and other adjectives that don’t modify anything. The first one was named Jones. He was 25 years older than her. We did not call him Mr. Jones.
I mean, they were better than the boyfriends in Lifetime movies, who begin as sweet and charming, but become jealous and controlling. Actually, I don’t think that transition would bother Angela, or us. We would all give him control, as long as he wasn’t too crazy and didn’t make her cry. Someone to watch over her.
“I wonder where they are, what they’re doing, when they’ll call,” she said. “But they’re not my boyfriends anymore. I know, I know that, but I wonder, I wonder,” she looked at the floor without looking at it.
“Why don’t I stop,” She said.
I started thinking about the men seeking men, flashing their portraits, lining the blank corridors of craigslist. How I would step towards and back from each one, asking can I like this? and selecting several, sending the e-mails, selecting one, meeting somewhere, not really liking them but really wanting them to like me. And later, wondering what it was for.
“Whose cup is this?” Angela asked, her hands hovering over them, like a magician.
“I don’t know,” I said.
Leaving the cups untouched, she laid hands on the armrests.
“Do you pray?” I asked.
“Of course I pray,” she retorted, in a rush of Catholic adrenaline.
“I’m not talking about waving your hands around and saying the same words over and over,” I said, looking at her.
She looked at me. Like she’d stolen something and now the owner was asking for it back, but asking nicely. Her eyes filled up.
“I stopped praying when the grandparents died, and Jones – ” she paused. “Now I pray to the grandparents.”
“Why do you pray to them?” I asked.
“Because they’re real,” she said. “I mean, I know God is real, but He isn’t real. To me.”
“You’re real to him,” I said. “He made you. He loves you. He likes you,” I paused. “Try talking to Him like you talk to them. Ask Him to be more real.”
The moth was flitting around a lamp now, and I wondered what compelled it: the light, or the cloth shade.
“But tell me,” Angela said. “Should I stop praying to the grandparents?”
It’s a good thing you’d never be attracted to me because it reminds me that I shouldn’t have a crush on you. I love your blog and everything that has ever come out of your mouth or typed with your hands is worth publishing.
Can I just say I love reading your blog – your stories remind me so much of Flannery O’Connor, and the everydayness of Christian spirituality… thank you!
Your ability to delineate a complex character in a relatively short space is an inspiration, and the character here feels fully formed. Congratulations on another perceptive profile.
Oh my gosh, what a beautifully simple answer. “Because they’re real.” I’m kind of astounded… Ushwin’s mother prays to a woman that was her guide/guru/mother figure back in their temple in India. I could never understand why and she never explained it in a way that made sense to me. But that must be it: because to her, she is real.
Angela is possibly the most loyal person I’ve ever known. I hope she gets to be with someone who deserves her dedication, but more than that, I hope she realizes how loyal God has been to her through it all. I wish I knew how to tell her that.