Name one angel who isn’t strange, and a stranger. A stranger came to Mary and introduced her to her own body, announced what it was bound to do. From then on, angels wouldn’t give her a moment’s peace. There’s no getting away from that dark-alley snowflake of an angel. No two alike. Yours is, after all, all yours. It’s a surprise every time you need saving—so much saving, to offset the hubris and jockeying. So much human still underneath the wings. In high school, my sweetest, dearest friend—I’ll call her Cindy—was the first person I knew who believed in angels. Long before mass-produced Hallmark angels decorated our lives every day, all year, Cindy said she felt her guardian angel watching over her all the time.
But there was not room for nearly enough angels, balancing side by side on the head of a pin. Or a nail. Or a railroad spike. Each angel would have to be a black-eyed nonconformist. Flawed and failing. Look around and know that angels are fallible, culpable. Each one envying the other’s trumpet. That maligned Angel of Death, will we know him when we see him? Perhaps he is no he after all, but your next-door neighbor, and you don’t recognize her coming to the back door with a slice of pound cake or an empty cup. No matter how good or kind or hapless or charmed we might be, some people, like Cindy, believe an angel is guarding you. A rough kind of guarding, like jostling in basketball, aggravating the air around you. Or invisible as static, the tinnitus you hear inside your head. Who might hover over our shoulders while we’re typing an email or scrolling through Facebook, looking for friends? It seems to me that Cindy and I—most of the young women we knew—were driven by a curious, rarefied agitation to know that life after girlhood would be an improvement. We wanted to hurry and be grown up, not recognizing how vulnerable we really were, weak and fraught with the need for possibility. Now years go by and eclipse and alter us. Through wormholes of memory, we marvel that we were ever safe.