Monday, November 7, 2011

The Bone Crusher's Christmas

She was their own Christmas miracle, born on December 23rd, so premature that they said they could see her blood flowing through her little blue veins. The doctor thought she might not last the night. But she continued to breathe through one night and another, until early on Christmas morning the doctor declared her the Christmas miracle.

They named her Maria Josefina Angelita O’Rourke but they just called her Angel. She was a perfectly formed, perfectly beautiful infant—a little rosebud mouth, flawless white skin, black curly hair, shining black eyes, and tiny delicate hands—like a replica of her big sister’s Snow White doll. People stopped breathing for a second when they saw her.

And like the child who was born nearly 2000 years before her, Angel grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. She was a delight to her family. By the time she was one year old, she had caught up with biggest babies her age. By the time she was entering kindergarten, she had surpassed her older sister in both height and weight and she was nearly as big as her diminutive grandmother. By the time she was in sixth grade, she was bigger than most of the high school boys, even bigger than some of the football players. Her grandmother had to disassemble three extra-large school uniforms to have enough fabric to sew one uniform for Angel. Yet she was still stunningly beautiful—like a giant Snow White statue. People stopped breathing for a second when they saw her.

We all know people can be cruel in the presence of an unusual person like Angel O’Rourke. Children pointed and laughed, often played tricks on her. One day in the cafeteria, Joseph Ruppert stuck out his leg and tripped Angel while she was carrying her food-laden tray. She lost her balance, sending the spaghetti, meatballs, Jello, and chocolate milk over half her sixth-grade classmates. And she twirled around as she hit the floor, her fall broken by the scrawny body of Joseph Ruppert. He was face-down on the tile floor, covered with food debris and that mountain of childhood Angel O’Rourke. Joseph Ruppert was soon to learn that his shoulder was dislocated and three ribs were broken. It was a brief moment in time that Angel would never live down. Henceforth she was called the Bone Crusher.

In the weeks before her 13th birthday, Angel’s family suggested they plan a big celebration, inviting all of her friends from her class.

“But, Mama,” she said, “I have no friends in my class. Have I ever been invited to one of their birthday parties? You know I haven’t.”

Her grandmother pleaded with her, “Angelita, you need to be a friend to make a friend. Invite them. We’ll have a nice party and they will see you smile and they will know you. Just do it for me and you will see.”

“I don’t know about this,” said her sister Linda. “This has disaster written all over it.”

Angel paced the floor and broke out in a sweat. She looked down at her grandmother, her hands clasped at her chest as if in prayer, and she agreed to have the party. She immediately regretted it but she couldn’t back down.

On the day of the party, she begged her parents and her grandmother to disappear into the background before the guests arrived. They reluctantly agreed. The house was decorated with Christmas lights and a nativity scene and purple and yellow streamers. A big banner announced “HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANGEL” at the front door.

Angel was wearing a pink sequined top and a red taffeta skirt. Linda was dressed all in black. The other guest, wearing her best yellow party dress, was their 10-year-old cousin Rosie. The three girls sat in the living room, Christmas music blaring on the stereo. For over an hour they kept replaying the same three records over and over. Andy Williams was singing—again—“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” when Angel walked over to the stereo and pulled the plug out of the wall.

“How can he say that?” she cried. “For me it’s the most terrible time of the year. I hate my birthday. I hate Christmas. They all hate me and I hate my life.”

Her sister left, her cousin left, and Angel sat alone in the living room watching the lights blink on the Christmas tree. She noticed the heart-shaped ornament on the tree, an ornament on which her grandmother had lovingly embroidered “Angel 1948” the year she was born. And she wondered how her grandmother had controlled her own enthusiasm over the birthday party. Angel had fully expected her grandmother to sneak in to meet her “friends” but she never appeared.

Angel sang happy birthday to herself, cut a piece of cake, and put the cake on a poinsettia paper plate to bring to her grandmother. The old woman was not in her room. She wasn’t in the basement folding laundry. Angel called out to her, but her grandmother did not answer. She went into the garage and saw her grandmother on the floor under large metal storage shelves that had fallen on her. Angel dropped the cake and, as if she was only lifting a paper bag, lifted the shelves off of her grandmother.

“Angelita,” said her grandmother. “I knew you’d come for me. It’s another miracle!”

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