G rowing up, I was often told by my parents that I have a guardian angel. The only proof needed was my harrowing birth.
In 1987, I arrived three months prematurely, weighing a terrifyingly small two pounds, six ounces. The small hospital where I was born did not have the equipment or facilities to adequately care for me, so within hours of my birth I was flown to a bigger hospital 170 miles away. I remained in neonatal intensive care for several weeks. At first, my tiny body needed a respirator and feeding tube, but gradually my strength increased. My lungs developed and I gained weight, until finally my parents were able to take me home. As the years passed, I grew into a healthy, happy little girl.
“It’s a miracle that you’re alive,” my mom would tell me.
“You are so special,” my dad would say. “You must have an angel up there taking careful notice of you.”
Grandma Auden believed my angel was her mother, Mabel, who had passed away nearly three decades before. She and her mother were extremely close, and when she died Auden sank into a deep depression. She cursed God. She had two babies to take care of, but could barely summon the energy to get out of bed. Then, one night she came downstairs and saw her mother sitting at the piano, smiling and serene, her fingers dancing across the keys, just as when she was alive. Immediately, Auden filled with joy. From that moment on, her faith in God never wavered. Although she missed her mother, Auden felt at peace, believing that her mother’s spirit was still with her, guiding her and keeping her safe. And when I was born, Auden prayed to God and asked her mother to keep me safe, too.
Auden’s mother, my Great-Grandmother Mabel, was my first guardian angel.
Suddenly, when I was in kindergarten, my beloved Grandma Auden passed away from a heart attack. She was only sixty and so vibrant and full of life; her death rocked our family. I missed her terribly. I began writing to her in my journal, keeping her updated on the details of my life. If I had a problem or felt alone, I asked for her help. Sometimes she visited me in my dreams, and we would hug and talk. And sometimes, during waking hours, I would sense an extra warmth in the room and know her presence was there with me. This would often happen when I visited my Gramps, who never remarried and still slept with Auden’s sweater under his pillow.
The years passed. I graduated high school, then college, and was accepted to a master’s degree program in creative writing. I moved halfway across the country, from my California hometown to the middle of Indiana—and ironically, I felt Auden’s presence even more acutely. She had grown up in a small Indiana town, and she and Gramps had met, married, and spent many years in the Midwest. Curiously, though, when I was in Indiana the presence I felt was not the grandmother I had known, but the young woman she had once been.
During my second year of graduate school, I fell in love with Thomas. He was kind and thoughtful, and our relationship progressed quickly. At Christmas, we got engaged. Gramps gave me Auden’s engagement ring, which he had carried in his wallet all these years. “I know she would want you to have it,” he told me, and I burst into tears. Looking at her sparkling diamond on my left hand made me feel closer to her than ever.
As the holiday season gave way to the new year, I began to feel unsettled. Anger began leaking out of Thomas like air out of a balloon, in fits and bursts that frightened me. Once while we were driving, he got so angry he slammed the steering wheel with his palm and the car swerved violently across the road. Another time he threw his shoe against the wall so hard it left a mark. He never hit me and would always calm down the next day and apologize. But doubt and fear began to expand inside me, coiling in my stomach and spider-webbing across my chest.
My loneliness dissipated as a voice whispered in my ear: You could never let us down. You deserve so much more than this.
One night in March, I felt unbearably alone. Thomas was upset about something, fuming and stomping around the living room, indifferent to my attempts to calm him down. I slipped away to the bedroom and curled up under the covers. I loved Thomas, but the man raging in the other room wasn’t the one with whom I had fallen in love. I couldn’t imagine living like this for the rest of my life, with anxiety and fear eating up my insides. But I also couldn’t imagine my life without Thomas. We shared many wonderful memories and had promised to love each other always. I had accepted Thomas’s proposal; I had accepted Auden’s ring. I closed my hand around it so the diamond dug into my palm.
I didn’t want to disappoint my family or Thomas’s family or our many shared friends. Moreover, I couldn’t bear to let down Gramps and Auden; they had entrusted me to carry on their love story with the gorgeous ring they had picked out together more than a half-century ago.
As these thoughts churned around in my head, suddenly I was cradled by a warm, calming presence. My loneliness dissipated as a voice whispered in my ear: You could never let us down. You deserve so much more than this. This is not okay, and it’s not going to get better.
I started crying. Auden was with me, my guardian angel. I told her that I loved her and missed her so much, and that I knew she was right. Marrying Thomas, as my churning gut kept telling me, would not honor Auden and Gramps—it would dishonor them.
The next day, I broke off my engagement. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I believe it was also the best decision I have ever made. My life opened up again. My anxiety melted away and I could breathe deeply.
I wore Auden’s engagement ring for a few more months, until I graduated and moved back to California. Whenever I felt scared or missed Thomas or worried about the future, I looked down at that small sparkling diamond—beautiful, yet strong—and it gave me courage. Apart from my premature birth, that was the darkest period of my life. But every day, I felt Auden with me, telling me and retelling me that I deserved a truly amazing love, filled with gentle kindness, with no room for doubt or fear.
I gave the ring back to Gramps for safekeeping until I find the real person I am meant to marry. I have faith that he is out there and I will find him. After all, I have two guardian angels—Auden and Mabel—looking out for me.
Watercolor by: Katarzyna Bruniewska-Gierczak, Osie, Poland