Angels In America
The evidence that Don is an angel is compelling, provided you're inclined to believe it in the first place: his date of "birth" is September 11; he appeared when I needed him, and withdrew (to New Jersey) when it seemed I could continue alone; and his name is Don. "Father." "Paterfamilias"; "protector." "Teacher," if you like. Or perhaps he is properly a Donald, a name which means "ruler of the world" — or, according to several sites I consulted, "brown stranger." Not very diplomatic, but not inaccurate either.
Diana Vreeland once said that magic doesn't come to those who don't expect it, and I have a similar belief about ghosts: if you don't believe in them, you won't see them (or become one). And I don't believe in angels, really — didn't then, don't now. As metaphors, yes; as beings that interact with us on earth, no. Everyone has stories from that day about timing: they decided for whatever reason to drop off dry-cleaning and it put them behind, they missed the train although that never happens, they called in sick when they'd ordinarily suck it up with a cold that mild. My story from that day about timing is Don, an actual flesh-and-blood non-wingéd guy with opinions about reality TV and Thai food, and I don't know the substance of those opinions, but he must have them, because he must be a mortal being, and he must be a mortal being because, in the end, I just don't know what in the hell an angel is doing escorting me up the FDR Drive with everything else going on.
I will stipulate that God works in mysterious ways, but assigning me an angel when it is an all-hands heavenly-creatures emergency five blocks away is straight-up bad management. I mean…why? Why. Makes no sense. I appreciate the assist, mind you, if that's what happened. I just don't get it. Angels carry briefcases now?
On the other hand, he's never turned up again. No "why" to that either.
The "why" remains, always. We know why, and yet we don't. It's like the time my bag got stolen; I knew why. But I wanted to find the thief anyway, not just in the hopes that s/he still had my bag and maybe a few of the things in it, but to ask why. Why didn't you just ask me for the money? Why couldn't you just take my Filofax, pick it for a credit card and the cash, and then dump it — why did you need all my addresses and my phone? My phone calls people I know; what do you need it for?
My mother had a friend whose daughter worked at Tiffany, and Tiffany had a line of solid silver key fobs with enamel coatings that looked like vegetables, so my mom got to special-order one for me, a tomato key fob from Tiffany. When it arrived, Ma found that Tiffany had sent a pumpkin instead, and even though her friend's daughter had done Ma a favor and Ma didn't want to make it into a whole thing, and even though my tomato tattoo does look like a pumpkin when my arm is at certain angles, Ma chewed her lip and took a breath and called her friend back and said, "I know it's a favor you're doing me, but…it has to be a tomato and this is actually a pumpkin," and I mean to tell you that these various transactions took months, and when the correct beautiful Tiff-mato finally arrived, I got it for Christmas instead of for my birthday in March, and you don't care about any of that, you probably think it's stupid and what kind of tweehole has a tomato key chain anyway, but it meant something to me. It had a little ding in the side where it always clonked on the doorframe when I unlocked the deadbolt. It had a story. My mother went to a lot of trouble with that thing and got it exactly right, and then you took it, and for what? They don't make them anymore and it DIDN'T BELONG TO YOU SO WHY DID YOU DO THAT. I needed that thing that MY MOM GOT ME, you son of a bitch.
I know why. Thieves take things, it's what they do, that's the why. It's never good enough.
Looking at the light columns downtown, it's the same feeling, the same question. I love the lights, the way they look blocky and rectangular at the bottom, like buildings, and then as your eye goes up, they become fuzzier beams cutting through the clouds, but really, I want the buildings back — the actual buildings, with the people in them. I know that will never happen, and I know why, but the buildings and the people in them were stolen from all of us. That skyline belonged to us! Those people were ours. They weren't yours to take. Why did you do that? How could you steal them from us? WE NEEDED THEM.
I believe in ghosts; the idea of ghosts is necessary. Ghosts haunt the living for the living, because we need them to, but what we always really want is the person, the spirit in the body with the body, the spirit not disappearing into the clouds. If Don is a real man who is groaning at a terrible pun on a birthday card right now or staring out his office window, knowing that butter-cream frosting awaits him come dinnertime, that means that one day, maybe, I can get an answer. One answer.
Happy birthday, my friend.
Tags: city living friends September 11th