Angie’s Gray

Who could possibly understand what it was like for her to lose her brother?

Angie’s Gray

6:00 A.M.—Angie sat in the dark room, memorizing smells, colors, and how each trophy seemed to dominate the one next to it. Everything is just the way Mike left it, she thought.

She had come to her brother’s room often in the two months since his death—hit by a car while biking with his friends. He died doing what he loved, her dad had said at the funeral, as if the thought of biking to heaven was supposed to make it all right. She knew her dad was trying to find his own comfort, but it made her angry anyway. The whole family made her angry. How could they just accept it and go on with life? Well, she couldn’t. She buried her head in the pillow and felt the familiar gray feeling swallow her up.

6:15 A.M.—She glanced at the clock, time to get ready for school. She’d better wake Carrie up, too. She rolled off the bed and into the room she shared with her five-year-old sister. Carrie could sleep through, and on, anything, Angie thought, as she emptied a stack of books from Carrie’s bed.

“Quite a pile for someone who’s still trying to figure out how the letter A sounds. Time to get up.”

Carrie flopped over on a magazine. “Read this one to me,” she yawned, pointing to a book.

Angie pretended not to hear the sleepy voice.

“Read to me,” Carrie repeated, nuzzling and wiggling into Angie’s lap.

Angie just couldn’t get into their reading ritual lately. They’d been reading to each other for two years. Rather, she’d read while Carrie invented. At some point, Angie had begun inventing, too. Their additions had lived again each time they read their favorites. But not anymore. Somehow, when Mike had died, the old stories had disappeared.

Okay, just one, Angie thought. She let the New Testament picture book fall open to Christ feeding the multitude.

This’ll do, Angie decided. I can handle bread and fish—just no details.

She absently read the black and white print. Something about John the Baptist. He was dead, beheaded, and friends were trying to tell Christ.

Dead, dead, dead, the word echoed in her mind.

Don’t think, Angie. Read, but don’t think, she warned herself.

“Jesus wanted to be alone. He went to a place above the Sea of Galilee to think about John.”

Carrie grabbed the book and pulled it closer. “He looks sad. Was John one of Jesus’ friends?”

Angie looked at the picture of Christ sitting away from the crowds, his head bowed, his face grief-drawn. “John was Jesus’ cousin,” she said softly.

Carrie’s finger slowly circled the picture. “He feels like us, doesn’t he?” Like us—He feels like us. The thought invaded her gray feeling and echoed in the giant hole her heart had become.

Without waiting for an answer, Carrie rearranged herself—a signal for Angie to go on reading.

“Jesus turned to the people and left the place where he was alone.” She hesitated.

He felt then as you do now, something whispered to her heart.

It wasn’t a question anymore, but an affirmation. And this time the words weren’t from a child. Waves of understanding and warmth broke over her, challenging the deep gray sorrow.

Again it came—He felt then as you do now. Uncontrollable tears welled up in her eyes.

“He teaches and feeds them …” she mumbled, fighting to keep her voice steady, but it was no use.

“Can I finish later?” she asked, running to the bathroom. She locked herself in and let go of the tears. Clutching at the book, she heard her sister banging on the door.

“Hey, how come you didn’t finish?”

“I have to get ready for school, Carrie. Later …” she covered her mouth to keep the sobs from escaping.

“You’re such a meany,” Carrie said with five-year-old frustration and marched back to their room.

Tears splattered on the child’s drawing of Christ. His pain had been so much like her own. Once more it came—I have felt as you—and love enfolded her.

8:15 A.M.—Angie walked to school, torn-out pages from the book tucked inside her coat. I’ll buy a new book, she told herself. These pages are mine.

1:15 P.M.—In algebra, Angie ignored Mr. Bott’s explanation on quadratic equations and laid the two pages across her desk. Angie looked at the red and blue drawings of Christ surrounded with people.

“Shall we send them away?” his disciples questioned.

Christ said no.

The next picture was of Christ teaching, feeding 5,000 individuals long into the night.

Was John forgotten? No.

The assurance, the strength, swept her from the room full of quadratics and out into the hall. “You’ll need a hall pass,” Mr. Bott said.

“Yeah,” she managed, running to the nearest bathroom.

Alone in the bathroom, she let her finger trace the outlines of his face as Carrie had done earlier. New tears of gratitude and understanding wet the pages. Christ had felt the same grief for John that she felt for Mike, but he had continued teaching, loving—and living. She would too, she promised. Peace surrounded her and this time the soul-filling love sank in and completely pushed the gray out.

3:45 P.M.—Angie walked home carrying a detention slip for skipping out of algebra. She came up the back porch and grabbed an apple on the way in the door.

“Carrie—you home?” she yelled, then took a bite of the apple. It tasted good. She took another bite and wandered through the house. She found Carrie playing with a doll.

“Hey, want to read a story?” she asked.

Carrie’s eyes looked up from the doll she was rocking.

“Come on,” Angie coaxed, reaching out a hand. “I have this great story.”

She pulled out the crumpled pictures and sat down next to her sister. “It all started when Jesus’ friends came to him with some news, sad news.”

[photos] Photography by Melanie Shumway