Exceptional interventionists can take on an almost supernatural form for those blessed with chance proximity, fate, or even pure luck. I was more than fortunate to meet someone like that — one extraordinary woman. I loved her with every part of my being.
Her name to me was Elle and she had a mystic sensitivity and empathic prowess like no one I have ever met. She had a see-right-through-you, no-bull superpower. I had met my match but I played on. She let me.
Just to get the facts straight, Elle is not her real name, but for the respect of her family’s privacy, that is her “angel” name for this story.
I first saw her at a gig and was struck by her poise, her stunning beauty, and a stubborn ability not to look my way or give me one ounce of her energy. Ha! She told me later she thought, “Who is that guy so full of himself up there thinking he is all that?” — and she was right. It was the summer of 2013 I was living a double life as a puffed-up, well-employed, look-at-me-with-a-personal-trainer, big-house-in-the-right-neighborhood, import-auto-driving, self-obsessed P.O.S.
I was a massive, out-of-control alcoholic. The truth was that I hated myself.
Some head-slightly-cocked conversations led to a date at Jilly’s in downtown Akron. We clicked that night. The grasping of my hand in hers, a stolen kiss in her car… we both knew right away that we were about to start something that would change us, and there was no turning back.
At the time, I was still a highly skilled prevaricator about the “problem.” The first few months were full of highs and some lows, and they were quite difficult. We separated for what would be the first time. She sent back all the talismans and gifts I had given her in a neatly packaged box that basically said, “I don’t want your energy, I’m out.”
I’m leaving out a lot.
In February 2014, on a more-than-desperate, down-at-the-bottom morning, I found her number and called her. I was trying to detox after a bad stretch, and thankfully she answered, as she had deleted my number. I broke down and told her the truth about the “problem” and asked her to please help me. She came right over.
She lifted me up and got me out of my house, which was a big deal because I was a hermit by that time. She helped convince me that the chronic stress of the corporate lifestyle was the undoing of my true authentic self and that a writer, musician, and teacher was in there. I believed her. It was the first time in a long time that I believed in the hope of a new life.
I loved being loved. But it didn’t last. Again, I’m leaving out a lot.
In June, after another separation, there was another call from me. Again she knew I was really in trouble, and she came right over. I was in terrible shape. She sat me up and said that If I wanted to die from my disease, she would leave and let me, but if I wanted to live she would take me to detox. Apparently, I took several minutes to decide. I have very little memory of this, but she got me to Akron General, and there was a bed at St. Thomas.
She was like a spirit in a dream; I can still feel her lips on my forehead. I was going to get better.
I have written and spoken much about the angels on the ward on the seventh floor at that excellent hospital, but never about the day I was released. I took the elevator down to the bottom floor. You make a right turn when you get off, and as I did that day, I saw Elle. She was there to pick me up and take me home.
It had never dawned on me that someone could love me that much. I have never felt the same extraordinary feeling that I felt at that moment, and may never again.
I hate to keep mentioning this, but I am leaving out a lot.
In the end, the reality was that we were not meant to be partners or married. Not to live together, not to live happily ever after — no fairy tale. As I was learning to think again, a series of disagreements proved to be too much. There was a bad breakup, a sharp separation, and a long silence from her.
When she reached out to me 18 months later, it was for help. She said she needed my business training and insight for her start-up company. We became friends again. I was more than happy to have her in my life on any level.
We would text each other occasionally. She would call, I would call. One day she told me about the cancer, but would never again talk about it. She was always OK. Shiny, bright, cheerful, and happy, never negative in language or thought.
It’s funny about past lovers. You can never really stop loving them. It’s like that favorite sweater in the bottom dresser drawer. Often you take it out, try it on and wonder if you are ever going to wear it again, but you don’t. You only know you will never, ever throw it away.
Our conversations were open but not too personal. We talked about kids, my work in music, teaching and now writing, her business, and her new fella, and we were kind to each other. I would call her on my sobriety birthday and thank her. I never missed an opportunity to remind her that she was my angel in recovery.
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I would not be writing this today without her intervention, her love, and her toughness. But she would never take any credit. None.
I got the text she had passed on a Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago. I cleared my teaching schedule that day and just sat with a cup of tea in hand and made my shirt wet with tears. Like that day in the sacred St. Thomas chapel one week after my time in detox, when that sweet old woman tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a box of tissues and said, “Oh, you poor thing.”
I thought about calling her last Christmas but got busy and never got around to it. I will never again let that feeling pass.
Now, I will not speak to Elle the Angel again. I cannot thank her or hear her say, “I’m cheering for you, with my old-fashioned ‘70s pom-poms!”
A few years back, I finally wrote the song for her, for us. It’s on Spotify. The title is “Let it Go.” I probably won’t be listening to that one for a while: “Some love lasts a season; some love lasts for life. Some come for a reason like a candle in the night.”
I am sure that I will not be OK knowing that I did not say goodbye to Elle. But I know this: I am a better person because of her. I will remember her gift of kindness and love. And when another broken person or addict or alcoholic shows up in my path, I will try to pay forward the love she showed me.
I will be a voice of strength and compassion, like Elle the Angel, who somehow appeared at the right time so that I could be here today to tell you all this story. A story told with my eyes shut, remembering her smile. My favorite hoodie now wet from tears. The cherished one she gave me, rarely worn but stored safely from now on, in the bottom of a dresser drawer.