An excerpt from
The Old Man In The Rain
When God whispers a secret in my ear, He uses my voice.
If you’ve ever heard a recording of your voice—you know it’s you, but it sounds like someone else—you know what this sounds like. It’s probably how a schizophrenic would describe the voice in her head, only my voice tells the truth. But it’s not that I hear Him; He’s like the voice in my head sounding out words when I read a book.
I hate the rain. I want it to be sunny and sixty-eight degrees all year round, but any place with weather like that always has earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or tsunamis. These DC winters aren’t unbearable; they remind me a lot of Philly winters.
I walk up 25th Street on my way to Trader Joe’s. The wind blows the rain down at an angle, and I tilt my umbrella over my eyes to keep dry. I watch the sidewalk to avoid walking into someone.
Three bony fingers tap my right hand like they’re rapping on a table. I don’t see them; I can barely feel them. My South Philly survival instinct tells me to whip around and slap this guy in his nuts to buy me enough time to dig out my pepper spray. But then He whispers in my ear. He needs your help.
The words come, not as sounds and not as images, just as knowledge. A radio transmission from outer space with layers of coded messages buried in the static. Electric blips. Random bits of cryptic information.
The frail fingers belong to an old man.
He was feeling around to keep from walking into people.
He can’t see.
He dropped his glasses in the rain, and the woman behind him stepped on them. In his mind, he heard Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone say, “It’s not fair.”
His world has become a dripping blur. His heart pounds. He has no idea if he’s walking in the right direction anymore. He won’t ask for help. If he admits he can’t see, some punk will mug him and leave him on the sidewalk.
He couldn’t find his umbrella before he left the house. Roberta had always known where his things were. Now he’ll probably catch pneumonia and die. This is how it is at his age. You fall down and die. You catch pneumonia and die. You have a heart attack and die. You get cancer and die. It’s fine, really. He misses Roberta, and his kids and grandkids don’t make time for him anymore.
Aw, this is someone’s pop-pop.
I turn around and pull back my umbrella to see the old man. Rain gushes into my face like I’m standing under a frigging gutter. He’s moving so slowly he’s barely an inch past where he was when he touched me. He sways like a newspaper sailboat.
I glide up beside him and slide my arm around his waist. He gasps, but then my touch calms him. He’s got such a tiny frame. I would kill to have a waist like his. His whole body weighs as much as one of my fat thighs.
“I can help you get home, Frank. I’m a friend. What’s your address?” My voice in his ear is probably like God’s voice in mine. I can see his street and his front door in my mind, but I don’t know where it is.
“Thank you.” He grips my arm, tells me his address.
When we turn right on L Street, he asks if I know his son, Michael.
“No. I’m just here to help.”
“What’s your name?” His breath smells like hot tea with honey.
At his front door, he offers me twenty dollars.
“I’m good, Frank. Get inside and get warm, buddy.”
He smiles with crinkly eyes, his hand patting my cheek. I miss my pop-pop, which makes me miss my dad, a feeling I haven’t allowed myself to have in years.
“You’re my angel.”
I smile. “Not even close. But thanks.” I back down the steps as he shakes his keys out of his coat pocket. “Your spare glasses are in the drawer under the microwave.”
Frank nods in disbelief, giggling. “Definitely an angel.”
Life as a psychic is like walking through a museum tour, listening to a guide through headphones—except no one around you has those headphones. Every new place is vaguely familiar. Every person I meet seems like someone I saw in a picture a long time ago. Maybe in the night, my mind dreams of everything that will happen the next day, and when it happens, I’m living it and remembering it simultaneously.
I walk away from Frank’s house with a rare sense of relief. I thank God for that little gift of being able to help him so I could feel happy. So much of my work involves death and violence that any happy ending is a welcome change. God, thank you for this stupid smile. I’ve missed the sensation.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. I’m completely fulfilled in life. So few people can say that. I’ve saved lives, rescued children, brought closure to grieving families so they could move on. But I spend my days up to my forehead in other people’s pain. I haven’t forgotten why I do what I do, but there’s no joy anymore. It’s pure obligation now.
I need a vacation from my damn vocation.