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Finally, I Learned How To Listen

If you want your life to change, you have to change your life

Some people might claim they’ve had an angel on their shoulder. In 2007 I had one planting thoughts in my head.

“If you want your life to change, you have to change your life.”

I heard that every time I lit a cigarette that summer. And I ignored it—just as I ignored the other voices in my head that year—the ones that said, “open a third bottle of wine” or “throw yourself in front of that F train.” Not that I wasn’t tempted, so far it had been a rotten year: job worries, health issues, yet another short-lived liaison with an unavailable man, unexpected residual emotions from a long-awaited divorce...and my 18½-year-old cat put to sleep.

But this day, the voice was out of context, as I was not puffing on a Nat Sherman, but in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, kneeling in front of an angel statue while being harassed by a man who’d obviously overindulged in a “liquid” breakfast.

The irony was, on that day I, too, was an angel—a cast member of “Angels & Accordions”—a then-annual event where fifty dancers, actors and musicians created different tableaux: movement, singing or posing among the tombs and statues as part of a guided tour. It might sound creepy, but it was the total opposite—a beautiful, unique performance that drew huge crowds each year.

It was near the end of the show. I was just about to leave my pose with the aforementioned statue when a straggler wobbled next to me and slurred to his companion, “Hey Gloria, wanna bet I can make this angel mooooove!”

He wiggled his hands near my face; then clapped them behind my head. Our many rehearsals had prepared us to remain still while the audience passed and to be impervious to distraction, but nothing could have prepared me for this. I hoped he’d get bored and leave—but through my peripheral vision could see “Gloria” abandon him and an empty path—the cast and audience had all moved on to the finale. Suddenly I was afraid. “What am I supposed to do?” I screamed inside, “What am I supposed to do?” as if the weathered, whitewashed statue could give intercession.

What was I looking for? Permission: to curse, spit; release the year’s built-up anger and self-pity. But instead, I heard the same still, small voice that came every time I smoked. Only this time, I felt it, rather than heard it.

“If you want your life to change, you have to change your life.”

And there was more…

“Quit smoking. Write your book. It will all come to you.”

My answer was, “Yeah, right.” I hadn’t ever thought of writing a book, even though I’d once told stories at the MOTH—and been good at it. Good enough to win a couple of StorySlams. Good enough for people to say, “I love your stories, when are you going to write a book?” But that had all been a while ago. I hadn’t done anything creative at all lately, besides be an angel…

I looked at the statue again. She had all the time in the world. Did I?

The man stuck out his tongue beside my cheek. It stank.

I gave in. “Okay…get him out of here…and I’ll do it.”

I have no explanation for what happened next. I only know that it did. I closed my eyes. When I opened them, the man had disappeared. I ran to the finale, but had missed it. When I told the director and cast what happened, no one had seen the man…or his companion.

We Angels parted for the year. On the way home, I lit a cigarette, first expecting, then daring the voice to start again. It didn’t. The cigarette somehow didn’t taste the same, but I finished it anyway. That evening I called a friend who had put together a writing group and asked if I could join. On December 30th, 2007 I smoked my last cigarette. In April 2008, I finished my book proposal. In July, I found my agent. In February 2009, Citadel Press acquired me and on August 10th, 2010, Fish Out Of Agua: My life on neither side of the (subway) tracks, was published. And along the way, two new males came into my life: one feline, one human.

I still don’t know if it was God, dog, lunacy or El Señor who was behind the voice of my angel. I’m just grateful I listened.


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