The Edge of Heaven
Fall 2016, Pismo Beach, California
I remember the look in my Dad’s eyes. He kept it hidden the best he could but if you saw him from a distance sitting in the yard alone, it was there, a mere flicker before he noticed you, a ray of stinging truth that he adroitly concealed with a pleasant smile. In his seventies then, diabetes had robbed him of his functional eyesight and he couldn’t work any longer. He was the best man I’ve ever known, ten times the man I’ll ever be, part of America’s Greatest Generation. Resolute and kind, he earnestly loved his wife and his children, all seven of them. Yet there he was, a thoroughly good man, needing only a few more years of work to get out of debt but it was denied him. He didn’t need it handed to him. He had never had anything handed to him.
His dream of being financially in the black loomed just over the horizon like a tall ship slowly drifting away. I didn’t understand the weight of the burdens he carried then but I do now. That look of profound resignation trimmed with alien bitterness framed the eyes and face of a determinedly jovial God-fearing man. He was nearly helpless, kicked to the curb and there wasn’t a thing he could do. To a man of his generation, his worth and identity had been stripped away. To him and to men and women like him, utility defines them. Despite all his prayers, his situation was fixed, stamped and sealed, a new tragic normal.
That’s the look I carried quite recently. Though still in the ring futilely swinging away, my optimism and its inherent grace had been progressively and successfully beaten out of me. No matter how many times you push the ball up the hill it always rolls back down but you keep pushing. It’s what you do.
Seeing Mike Conley is so reminiscent for me. Young, full of testosterone and dreams he’s the very embodiment of manly youth. Ruggedly handsome and chivalrous to a fault, his life was rolled out before him like a limitless red carpet. All he had to do was step ahead. Sadly, he wouldn’t recognize the man he would become, the man with his accompanying faraway stare.
Shall we begin then? Not at the precise beginning but further along, closer to his first step into the gauntlet. We’ll avoid the lazy, sun-filled summers and cool autumns framed with football and pretty girls but for your information, suffice it to say the man we’re about to meet has led an almost charmed life. Yes he’s suffered the skinned knees, broken hearts and random disappointments of youth but his hero’s demeanor has endeared him to virtually everyone he’s ever met. Lest you misunderstand, he is as humble as a man could be who is that handsome and that athletic and that engaging. The hero within him simply won’t quit, no mountain ever too high and no problem ever too big. To trot out the old cliché, guys want to be him, and women want to be with him.
It didn’t take me long to love him too, to do my very best for him and I knew intimately how, since I had also been down the road he was travelling many times. That was not too long ago. Alas, I can only do so much.
“So how’d you like church?” Mike grinned, taking her warm, bare shoulders softly and placing a passionate kiss on the curve of her delicious neck.
“It was OK I guess…” she responded, pleasantly flinching to the touch of his tickling tongue. She turned and faced him, a wide smile and a rush of warm breath eagerly meeting his lips, using one hand to skin off her thong and the other to caress him below. “My turn!” she happily exclaimed before running over to the bed.
He was soon at her feet kissing his way steadily up her near perfect cat-like body to their mutual delight. Close to her pleasure zone he dutifully paused for a brief benediction. “Lord, thanks for the goodness for which I am about to receive. Amen and Amen…” he said.
“And Amen,” she giggled, arching up to meet his talented tongue.
I didn’t linger. I took a seat in the den and watched the game wandering why they had sent me in. Her guardian wasn’t to be found. New to the job, she spent far too much time everywhere she wasn’t supposed to be. I’d been on scene almost a month and everything so far has seemed remarkably serene.
“Damn that was good,” she gushed, a sheen of perspiration coating her happy face.
He kissed her sweetly and lay back, propped on his elbow, twirling a strand of her sleek, black hair between his fingers. “I love you Monica,” he smiled. He rarely used her formal name and she grasped his depth of feeling.
Point of information for you, Leigh is Monica’s middle name and what everyone close calls her except her Dad when she’s in trouble or Mike when he’s quite serious. It was supposed to be spelled differently but a mistake at the clerk’s office was allowed to stand. Her Dad, Lee Turner, is retired Navy and her Mom is Chinese American. She was their later in life surprise baby, the youngest of four girls. Now that that is clarified we’ll get back to it.
“I do believe I’m the luckiest girl in the world,” she grinned, her brown eyes glistening, then pulled him closer for the beginning of round two.
I peeked back again while they were making love and smiled. I stayed until my time was almost up, purposefully saving an hour for after dark.
I returned just shy of three in the morning. I walked in from the south side, approaching from a varying time and angle a rule of mine. It was a pleasant night with just a touch of fall as a mild breeze blew in from the northwest. I spied a few from the opposing team half a dozen houses away. They tried to keep hidden which was their nature unless they had the numbers to be more brazen. If they did they could be extremely annoying. There is no respect between us, not much professional courtesy if you will. We have our rules and limits and they were etched in blood that neither side could violate. They hate me and I hate them.
I entered Mike and Leigh’s through the attic. I always check the attic first at night. It was clear so I went downstairs and all through the house. Attics, crawlspaces, basements and closets are preferred hiding places for the opposition. My counterpart was sleeping on the kitchen counter. I whistled in her ear. She immediately sprang to and made herself busy. I rolled my eyes and gave her a look before I went into their bedroom and sat in the corner.
He was curled into a ball snoring softly. She lay on her back with her left arm across the top of his head. She was having a nightmare stemming from a suspenseful movie they’d watched before bed. There was no outside manipulation so I didn’t interfere…really wasn’t supposed to on her behalf but I bent every rule I could for my humans. He was dreaming, the movie not bothering him at all. She was smarter than him and with that came a much more vivid imagination. He was more concrete, more visceral. He never seemed to be upset about fictional or imaginary things. Injustice and abuse pushed all his buttons.
I closed my eyes and leisurely replayed my past lives, all twenty of them. A chemist in nineteenth century London and a peasant farmer in eighth century France are in the top three. My favorite was my most recent one here in America. I’ve only been buried six months this last time but that life was grand. It was wonderful though I do wish I had helped my Dad much more.
I know you’re curious so here’s the deal. Humans don’t get changed into angels but it has happened the other way ‘round. That’s my story. Guardians like me have been around since the beginning of time. Almost two thousand years ago, after the Son’s Sacrifice, it was decided to let a few hundred guardians be born as humans without their angelic power just to absorb the human experience and then to train guardians. Please don’t confuse or compare this with what Jesus did. What we’re doing is just a training exercise not saving the world from sin.
I’m a hybrid of sorts. I’ve gone below more than anyone. I’m Level Five. I answer to my archangel. I get leeway that other guardians don’t and can clear out a whole street full of the opposition if I need to. That’s enough to fill your bowl for now.
Well I have to be getting back upstairs. I touched Mike’s forehead. He sighed and totally relaxed. Just for kicks I brushed against her. Her nightmare ended immediately. She woke with a start and sat up. I whispered in her ear and she fell back blissfully asleep. I could be written up for that. Outside now, I checked the hedge. All good.
“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;” Psalm 91:11