Like someone thought she was. Special

By Christopher Wink | Feb. 13, 2008

She grew up in Kensington Irish Catholic, like so many subjects of stories like this. Too many kids. Too tiny a house, standing side by side with others that fell ill with the same afflictions.

When she was young, she was like a Philly soft pretzel, she told me. Skinny and narrow and twisted and salty. She smiled at that.

She got her braces off 34 days before her 19th birthday. She met a boy 59 days before she graduated from Archbishop Ryan. He would go home with her, the 50 to the 3, 67 days before she chose for him.

Even then, when things were good enough, she’d sneak to Saint Mike’s. Sit in the back. Maybe light a candle. Something about it made her feel like someone was listening to only her. Like someone thought she was. Special. He could do that for her, too, then, she said. But not like those morning in Saint Mike’s, when the world stopped, aside from a girl in Kensington with no braces and a tight grip on the smooth, rolled edge of that pew.

She had thought about community, she told me. Get the grades, go to Temple, even. He wanted to strike out on his own, with her. Get a job. She chose for him, 138 days before she learned she was pregnant, 16 days before he did.

They had the kid. And another. One more, too. Too many kids. Too tiny a house, standing side by side with others that fell ill with the same afflictions. The neighborhood was different, problems seemed more daunting, but it wasn’t anything that hadn’t been said before.

It was sometime around then – the young one couldn’t have been more than two – when he learned he had Hodgkin’s disease, the same day she did. Aggressive. Inevitable. She couldn’t remember much of it. It took more than three years. Seems a lot longer when you say it then when you live it, even less when you remember it. He died in pain. She still lived it.

She stopped going to Saint Mike’s. Someone else could sit in the back. Light a candle. Clutch the pew in control of the wooden and stable. She got mad. And spent a lot of wasted years being mad with kids trying to learn to live in a world that she couldn’t recognize anymore.

The kids got older, though, as kids do, and she got so used to the pain and frustration that unlived dreams became childish fantasies. She was better for having avoided them.

She went to bible study a few weeks ago, she told me. You’re bound to rediscover what once meant something to you. Maybe we have everything at the start and are meant to spend the rest of it finding it again.

It was not long after that first return that she opened the book to find a verse to discuss and came, at random, to Isaiah, “defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Widows and orphans, and, like that, something about it made her feel like someone was listening to only her. Like someone thought she was. Special.