Every time she tells the story, some small details change. It’s become a thing uncertain in my mind (and maybe a thing uncertain in her mind, too). Like when I wrote that—upside-down—I suddenly thought no. It wasn’t upside-down. It was right side up.
But it still got airborne. According to her, the car was picked up from the road and deposited in a parking lot.
She shouldn’t have been driving, anyway. Nobody knew what the storm would do (it was 1979 in Connecticut and nobody would have guessed—tornado) but they knew it was a bad one.
This was before I was born. My brothers were five and six or six and seven, something like that. My mom worked at a restaurant near the Hartford airport. The boys were probably at my grandmothers.
(I had a dream, three nights ago, about my grandmother dying. But that’s for another time.)
My mom wanted to pick up the boys. She left the restaurant. People told her not to. She assured them she’d be fine.
She described the color of the sky as the sickest, brightest grey she had ever seen. That’s how she knew something was really wrong, because she had never seen the sky that color and she would never see it that color again.
The car crushed inward when it landed. She was trapped on the floor, between the gas pedal and the seat. The door handle wouldn’t open, or maybe she couldn’t even reach it.
She was there for hours, or ten minutes, or half a day, or a decade. She doesn’t know.
Then he came. Whenever she says he, her voice gets a little hushed. In her mind maybe she makes the sign of the cross, but the action never reaches her hands. My guardian angel, she says.
She has met him twice. The first time, he was an older, gruff African American. The second time he was younger, still African American, better dressed and smaller and (she said) much more talkative.
She believes this wholeheartedly. She believes in angels and signs and she loves to tell the story of my other grandmother, the one who died when I was three, who was visited by Christ three times on her deathbed.
My mother isn’t particularly religious, but she believes in this rule of threes.
The first time she met her guardian angel, he pulled her out of her crushed car. He set her on her feet in the parking lot. He disappeared before her eyes (maybe, maybe).
The second time she met her guardian angel, he approached her in a quiet room. A group of people talked about private things, introducing themselves to hushed applause. I don’t think I need to come back here again, the guardian angel said. He touched my mother on the arm, maybe. He told her she saved him, maybe. She tried to find him afterward and he had disappeared.
The rule of threes. I know she’s waiting for their final encounter. And though I don’t believe in any of it, sometimes it feels like I’m waiting for him too.
photographs taken at the Griffith Observatory a few nights ago.