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    Number 14: That Time I Met a Real Live Angel


    "You've been so kind and generous 
    I don't know how you keep on giving 
    for your kindness I'm in debt to you"
    Natalie Merchant, Kind and Generous 




    I met an angel once.


    I'll give a little context here. When I was in 7th grade I was selected to join the Wadleigh Scholars Program, a program that since the 60’s has been sending kids from the hood to boarding schools. As one can imagine, there is a bit of academic rigor that needs to be reinforced to ensure the success of the participants of the program. This means that for the better part of 2 years, in addition to regular school and the things around that, I went to additional English and math classes in preparation for the SSAT and life after junior high school. I will go into greater detail here in a different entry, so I’ll skip ahead to just a few weeks before school started.

    One of the last activities prior to joining the brave new world of boarding school was an orientation. A Better Chance, Inc.,  gathered all of the students from the city and surrounding areas and brought us all to the Sheraton at 53rd and 6th Avenue in midtown. Me and my mans were the only ones from our class that made it that year so it was cool to have someone to be there with. That said, this is when it really all hit me. This was real. This was happening, it was all happening.

    At this point in life, I hadn’t perfected the poker face or Zen like approach to life. I was nervous. And anxious. I got the theory of going away to school and how my life would change, but this made it all real. I had visited a few of the schools to which I applied which helped to for my decision on which school to attend so I even knew what life would look and smell like. As the day passed, my anxiety grew. There were seminars presented by current and former teachers and students. The ever popular 80’s day in the life sketch even made an appearance. The more that I accepted that I was just a few weeks ago from living away from home with people that I didn’t know the worse the anxiety grew. For the first time, I started to question the decision. I didn’t know if I could go through with it. Could I succeed there? Would I like anyone? Be liked by anyone? Would my mother be okay back at home? How would my siblings and niece adjust to life without me? How would I adjust to life without them? By the end of lunch, I had convinced myself that this was a bad idea and that I could not go forward this. I’d gotten accepted to Stuyvesant which is a great school. My future would be secure if I went there and stayed home right? That’s what I would do. I’d finish the day here and talk to my mother about it when I got home. No need to come back tomorrow since I would have to catch up on what it was going to take to go to a local school. Then the post lunch session started.

    I saw something on Facebook recently that brought this back to my mind. I found myself staring at the picture and thought about that scene from Mad Men where Don Draper is pitching the Carousel to Kodak and he talks about nostalgia. Images are powerful and it’s amazing how seemingly dissimilar or unrelated things can be connected. A few random clicks on Facebook while waiting for a delayed flight took me back to one of the most important moments of my life.

    Back to the Sheraton in 1989. After me and my mans ate lunch, by ourselves in true anti-social fashion, we went to yet another conference room for what I thought would be more evidence of this horrible decision that I had made. I turned into the room and there were 2 seats in the back corner and that when I got the first glimpse of her. This really cute Puerto Rican girl was sitting alone (well, maybe, I really only just saw her. Big Bird and Snuffy could have been sitting next to her and I would not have known.) and I took the chair next to her and son took the one in the corner. I guess I should also mention now, that for those of you that didn’t know me then, I wasn’t exactly a lady killer. And by not exactly a lady killer I mean paralyzingly terrified of talking to girls. Or more accurately paralyzingly terrified of rejection. The talking to girls part was less a big deal if I wasn’t interested. But if I was, man was it a production of epic proportions. I never thought that she would realize that I was even there let alone care, besides, I had to formulate how I was going to break the news to my mother that I didn’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t have the time to think about how I was going to not talk to her; there were more pressing issues at hand.

    Then everything changed. The presenter requested that we partner up and work through some questions that were presented and before I could turn and talk to my dude about this, this angel turned her head (in slow motion, long brown hair following in a whisk like trail and with a halo of light around her) toward me and started talking. I admittedly still can’t recall her first few words because I was just way too shocked that this was happening. My heart almost jumped out of my chest and my pulse raced. I had to fight back the sweat on my brow and my hands had puddles in them. Thank God for the desk so that I could wipe my hands dry on my pants without anyone noticing. Until I stood up that was, but again, much more pressing things here. This angel was talking to me and smiling. Her smile is burned in my mind indelibly. It was a big toothy smile that was full of warmth. The more she smiled, the better I felt. I was less anxious about school now. Nevermind that all of the kids here seemed so much surer and more prepared than I and nevermind that life would be so drastically different than it had been. That would all be okay now.  

    I somehow summoned the energy and courage to get through the exercise at hand and managed to make her laugh. The tried and true method of making a joke of everything going on served me well on this day. In addition to being incredibly cute, and smart and funny in her own right, this angel was totally digging my sense of humor. As each joke landed, I stressed less and less. My hands dried without the help of my pants and while my boy was working his own angles, I had certainly made a new friend.

    As life would happen, we would connect during the high school years but lose touch after college started. I’m not sure I ever fully communicated to her how much a simple smile meant to me and the trajectory of my life. She’s a kind soul who was just being her kind self, but she completely made the day of a really nervous and uncertain kid. And that day changed the course of what was sure to be an uncomfortable conversation with my mother. I thank her for being herself and helping me to dig deep into myself to press onto my own journey of finding myself. I am fortunate to have crossed paths with her and to have been her friend.


    (one day, I might tell the story of how I made her a mixtape, another 80's staple and it was actually a tape, with this song at the begining and end!)

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