“Wear these, Mami.” He took his position on the other side of the room. We didn’t speak for hours.
We’d always been a little shy with each other, Angel and I. Unless he was talking about Puerto Rico with that ardor reserved for lost loves, he was quiet. A clean plate spoke his gratitude for my attempt at arroz con gandules. Once after I attempted a conversation on my latest cleanse, the evils of gluten and the powers of gut bacteria, he offered a memorable compliment, “You look OK. You not too fat.”
He didn’t swing with abandon like I did, but just looked for a vulnerability and within seconds dislodged a slab of plaster. And like the limiting narratives of perfect daughters, real men, resurrections and grief, the plaster shattered.
People like to say, “There are no words” when an unexpected death happens. But the trouble with the death of an addict is that so many of the words to describe your feelings sound the same: sad and mad; grief and relief; guilt and guilt.
Addiction had ended Gretchen’s life a long time ago; death just ended the addiction. Years earlier one of our brothers had died the same way. I remember worrying that each of my parents would die of a broken heart. I remember my father saying, “It’s finally over.”
Angel never made an offering with words, a tendency of the overconfident. He just kept company. And in that room, the wild thing of grief went untamed by touch, unwalled by words, but with a witness who let it have its way. And its way was quiet.
My ladder never moved, but Angel cleared yards of wall. Its dust coated his hands that had climbed up coconut trees, shielded his twinkling eyes from the overloving sun and caught the force of a waterfall. And with each blow I felt the cold inside me begin to melt into something blue. Blue, not like sadness, but like sky and ocean and eternity. Something like peace.
Amy Doyle is a writer, teacher and mother living in Auburn, N.Y.