As told by Ted McGuire
I felt a gentle breeze caress my naked body as the sound of the window shade, flapping against the window pane, drew me painfully back to consciousness. I hate window shades. I hate my life. I'm going to rip that shade down and tear it to shreds.
I took a deep breath of the breeze wafting through the room. It smelled of spring, all fresh, new, and wonderful. Oh, God, I feel like crap. My lover dumped me in front of our friends last night; it was horrible. I’m heartbroken. I don't know why they call it heartbreak, it feels like every part of my body, mind, and soul is broken, not just my heart.
I’ll miss the sex, but I agree with Lord Chesterfield – sex is highly overrated – the pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the emotional expense is … oh, God, I need someone to hold me and comfort me in my misery. God, if you're not doing anything today, how about it? If you're not available, an angel will do. A soft, white, fluffy angel. I thought of the angel who came to help George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. And Donna Reed, what a beautiful woman. I love beautiful women, I wish my life was beautiful. The prospects of that happening seemed dim to never-gonna-happen, dude. Life sucks.
Stumbling into the bathroom, I took a peek in the mirror to see if I looked as horrible as I felt. Hum. A shave, shower, coffee, food, and I’d be good to go again – maybe. Perhaps there was life after love after all. I remembered, with chagrin, how I had misbehaved.
After Roberta, my ex, declared we were through, I wanted to throw myself into a river, or leap from a tall building but none were available. So I walked home alone, kicked a few cans, and bawled like a baby most of the way. God, how much more pathetic could I have gotten? Well, the day was young. No doubt I would have ample opportunities to improve on that aspect of my beleaguered life.
I got dressed and focused on going to work. At least I had somewhere to go, and something to do. On the other hand, hiding in my apartment seemed a much more sensible idea. I could avoid running into people who had witnessed my performance last night. I was so looking forward to that happening.
I left my apartment on Briar Place and walked towards the "L", which ran menacingly a few blocks away. I climbed the elevated station stairs, paid my fare, walked to the edge of the platform, and waited for the next train. I moved over when I felt someone standing behind me, which annoyed me. Then a voice came from the stranger, "You know, you shouldn't stand that close to the edge of the platform. You might fall off and get killed."
Now there was an idea I had not considered. It would be quick, spectacular, and a headline grabber. I decided I was not about to give my heart-stabbing ex-lover the satisfaction of knowing she had been instrumental in my demise. I stepped back from the edge and smiled at the stranger.
Oh, my God, it was a priest. How perfect. If I jumped onto the third rail, he would give me the last rites and I probably would go straight to hell where my relatives were hopefully residing. Jumping onto the third rail, though an interesting thought, was not a good idea.
"Thanks," I said to this nice looking Catholic priest.
"Don't mention it," he replied gleefully.
I wished I had not said it. He continued looking at me.
"You don't look very happy."
"Oh, I'm fine, thank you." Who the hell does he think he is, making a comment like that? He's not my mother.
"No, I don't think so."
He obviously was not going to let this go. Maybe I should keep moving away.
He wasn't finished, "I don't mean to stick my nose in your personal business, but when you came onto the platform, you seemed to be radiating a good deal of sadness."
Well, shit! If I ignored him, I'd look stupid. And if I moved away from him, he probably would follow me. So, what the hell, let's see if I can improve on my many ways of being pathetic. "Yeah, well, you know, the weather, my sinuses."
"I know what you mean …" he smiled mischievously. "… on a beautiful clear morning like today." I noticed the twinkle in his eye as he spoke to me. I hate when people twinkle at me.
Ok, I'm going to give it to him with both barrels. Maybe he’ll shut up and move away. "Well, monsignor or whatever it is they call you . . ."
"Freddie. You can call me Freddie."
He was not helping by being so bloody nice. "Well, Freddie, it's like this. I had my heart broken last night in front of the whole world, and I feel like shit. So there, satisfied?" The notches on pathetic rose with alarming speed. If there had been a bell at the top of that scale, it would have rung loud and clear. I eyed the third rail.
I had hoped he would move away from me, and leave me alone. That was not going to happen. He moved closer. Now he was touching me. Oh, Jesus, now what do I do? He put his arm through mine. "Hey, I've been there. It's not the end of the world."
Wait a minute. I looked into his face, "You have?"
"Yes, of course." he smiled and snuggled up a little closer. I had not expected snuggling this early in the morning, and I wasn't sure I liked it.
"But you're a priest," and I was thinking a naughty one at that.
"Oh no, it happened before I became a priest." He smiled and gazed upon the prospect.
He tightened his grip on my arm as the train came into the station. Obviously, he was a mind reader. He let go of my arm as the doors of the train opened, I entered first and found an empty seat.
"May I join you?" I smiled and he did. It was going to take at least half an hour before I could get off the train. I girded my loins and hoped for the best.
By the time the train arrived at my station, Freddie, whose full name is Father Frederick Matthew Monahan, had convinced me I could go to confession, even though I was not of the Catholic persuasion. He suggested I would feel much better after doing so. I thought it an odd idea at first but the more I thought about it, I decided it was not such a bad idea after all. Might as well dump my misery on some other poor fool and make them miserable, too. I thanked him and stood up to leave.
"Wait." I turned. "Here." He handed me the cross he had taken from around his neck. I began to refuse. "No, no. Take it. It may bring you good luck. Please." He was so kind and gentle with me, I could not refuse.
I took the cross and thanked him. With reluctance, I got off of the train. As the train pulled away, I knew I was going to miss Freddie. He wasn't soft, white, or fluffy, but he came close to being the comforting angel I had asked for earlier.
I watched the train disappeared around the corner and felt that meeting this man was like a miracle. I did feel much better. As I descended the elevated station stairs, I wondered what the hell had just happened to me.
The morning at work went smoothly. I was glad when it was time for a lunch break. I walked to The Lola Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar on Lake Street. That's all they have on the menu, and it is so good and inexpensive. No waiter to tip either. But I always left something for Claudette, the barista. She was young, pretty, and on the verge of being beautiful – like Donna Reed. And Claudette had cleavage which she did not hide. Smart girl, lots of tips. I had often thought of making a play for her.
I finished my onion soup and roast beef sandwich, reached into my pocket for Claudette's tip and touched the cross Freddie had given me. I pulled it out and took a closer look. It appeared to be of solid gold with beautiful green stones embedded along its length and width. I wondered what they might be.
Claudette spotted my gift. "What a beautiful cross.” She smiled.
"Yes, it is."
"May I see it, please?”
"Yes, of course." I handed the cross to her. She looked at it carefully and then surprised me.
"These are emeralds.” She reported with glee.
"They are? How do you know?"
"My father's a jeweler. He knows everything about gems. I used to play with them on his workbench when I was little. He'd tell me stories about each of them. He said emeralds were the teardrops of God.” She handed the cross back to me.
“Teardrops of God, do you know any more stories like that?"
"Oh, sure," she smiled.
The light dancing off the multiple facets of each stone in the cross was mesmerizing. So many different shades of green, so alive, so beautiful. The teardrops of God. And Freddie had given it to me. A chill went up my spine. Holy crap! This is getting spooky; but a nice kind of spooky.
I noticed there was an empty space at the center of the cross. Probably a stone came loose and was lost. Some person will be lucky when they find it. I searched my pocket to make sure it wasn't there. I thought of Freddie. What a blessed man he was for giving me this gift. His beautiful, kind face came back to me again. Today was turning out to be much better than I had anticipated.
"Thanks, Claudette, you've made my day." I left a bigger tip than usual. She thanked me and pushed the bill into her cleavage.
As I walked back to the office, I thought of Freddie’s suggestion to go to confession. Holy Name Cathedral on Wabash near Superior came to mind. I might give it a try. It was the closest, so why not?
Several days later, I took the afternoon off from work. After having a turkey sandwich, and a bowl of pea soup with Claudette, I walked over to the cathedral.
There weren't many people inside but, the ones I did see were gathered on the left, near what I assumed was the confessional. I sat near them and watched. Some were kneeling, praying, others appeared to be waiting. Those who came out of the confessional seemed much happier than the ones sitting and waiting. I wondered if I would be happier when I came out.
The cathedral was almost empty when the last person came out of the confessional. She thanked the priest as she departed so, I stood up. The priest opened his door, looked out, saw me, and closed the door again. I guessed I had better get in there.
Oh, my God. Freddie had clued me on what the process would be but I still wondered what was I going to say to this priest? I closed the confessional door; the sliding door to the priest opened. I could barely see him. And then a pleasant voice came through the screen, "I'm here."
"Yes, I . . . I have sinned, Father."
There was a pregnant pause. "You've never been to confession, have you?" He knew, and I noticed a slight accent in his voice.
"No, I haven't,"
"And, I don't believe you are of the Catholic persuasion either." He really knew.
"No, I'm not. I'm sorry. Perhaps I should not have come."
"No, no, wait. Don't go. Why don't you talk to me? Tell me what's on your mind."
He was beginning to sound like Freddie. I decided to open up. "Well, Father . . .”
"My name is Daniel – please."
"Well, ok. Daniel, it's like this …" I proceeded to dump my guts on this poor fellow. I finished with tears running down my checks, "Well, that's it. Am I going to hell?"
He laughed out loud. "No, you're not. Hey, there's a small café around the corner. Why don't we finish our conversation there? And I promise I will not try to convert you."
I was so charmed by this man, "Really?"
"Well, if you have the time, I'd like that." He closed the sliding window between us and opened his door. I followed.
For the first time I got a good look at Daniel. He was a bit taller, perhaps a few years older, and he was pleasant to look at. I had noticed a slight accent and could not help asking, "Are you French?"
He smiled at my perception, "Swiss, actually."
"You do speak French."
"Yes, I do. I was born and schooled in Switzerland."
"And you probably speak twenty languages." I was guessing.
"Oh, no, just five," Daniel responded as if it were nothing.
"Must be a barren source of amusement to be here with only English to deal with?"
"No, you’d be surprised …” he countered, “how often I am able to use all of the languages I know."
"All at once?" I regretted saying that. He would need to know me better before I launched my humor on him.
"As a matter of fact." he paused and then laughed, "No, just one at a time."
"Sorry, Daniel, I have a strange sense of humor." another notch on pathetic.
"Actually, I like American humor. They are so open about things they observe and see the funny side quickly." I was beginning to like this guy.
We only spent a short time together, most of which Daniel used in confessing to me. He had recently arrived in Chicago and knew little about the city and its culture. Having lived here all my life, I volunteered to show him around – he accepted, and with a more gratitude than I would have expected. We exchanged phone numbers and parted.
Talking with this understanding man made me realize how unfair I had been with Roberta. Daniel subtly suggested forgiveness would help me overcome the hurt and angst I was experiencing. I did not know if I agreed with him but told him it was something I would consider.
We met several times a month on various adventures to museums and art galleries in the Chicago area. His knowledge of art shamed me into the realization of the amazing education he had. Our conversations never touched on my personal plight, though I knew he was concerned and cared what was happening to me.
I did call Roberta and apologized. She was shocked at first and then suggested we have lunch or dinner. We did meet and agreed a personal relationship would have been a disaster. We agreed to be friends and parted with a big hug and much smiling.
I thought of Freddie and Father Daniel, and how much they had played a part in the healing process. Converting to Catholicism didn't enter my mind – seeing Father Daniel again did. I enjoyed being with him. I felt safe with him. I could relax and be myself.
One afternoon he invited me to the rectory to show me an art book we had talked about, which I was unable to find at the bookstore. He had the most brilliant library of everything imaginable. I scanned the ceiling-high shelves which covered an entire wall. My eyes floated along, passing over a small portrait of a priest. Nothing registered at first, then I did a double take. No, it couldn't be. My eyes traveled back to the framed photo. I reached up and brought it down. "Jesus." was all I uttered. Daniel was searching for the book we had talked about, and heard me.
"Ted?" he walked over to me.
"This photo, who is it?"
"That's Father Monahan."
"Freddie," I whispered, and looked at Daniel.
"Yes, that's what they . . . how did you know?"
"I met him on the train several months ago. He’s responsible for us meeting,” came my casual reply.
"That's impossible, Ted – he died on the Titanic in 1912."
What I heard almost took my breath away. I sat down.
"Ted, what is it?"
I handed him the photo. "Tell me what you see hanging around his neck?"
"A cross. An unusual cross." He held the photo for inspection.
"Look closely at it."
As he did, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the cross Freddie had given me; I handed it to Daniel.
"No, it can't be," he whispered.
"Yes, it can. The man I talked with was the spitting image of the photo. He looked the same – not a day older." I could hardly believe what I was saying.
Daniel sat down with a thump on the chair next to me, staring at the photo, then at the cross in his hand. "What does it mean?"
I started to laugh, "I don't know. But, it was him – it was definitely him."
We sat there for a long time. As Daniel handed the framed photo back to me, I noticed the edge of a slip of paper sticking out from the backing. "May I open this up?"
"Yes, of course." It turned out to be a newspaper clipping of the sinking of the Titanic, along with a handwritten note about Father Frederick Monahan. He had boarded the ship at the last minute and was not on the passenger list. Surviving passengers spoke of him and his part in helping them board safely into lifeboats. There was no evidence he survived. The note continued, saying that since the disaster there had been several incidents of people swearing they had met him, and always in a crisis situation.
"Why did he appear to me?"
"You were in a crisis, weren't you?"
"Yes, but not a life or death crisis."
"Did you ask for help?"
"No, I don't think . . . wait a minute, I did ask for help. Do you think …?"
"Yes, I do." Daniel was all smiles.
"Perhaps Father Frederick meant us to meet."
"Yes – perhaps."
"I’m happy we did meet, Daniel. You’ve been very helpful to me. I'm enjoying our friendship." I heard the rumble of thunder from an approaching storm. “Ah, we're in for a storm. I love a good thunderstorm."
"So do I.” The storm grew closer. There was a knock at the door. Emma peeked in. "Come in Emma."
"I'm about to prepare dinner, Father. Will you be dining in this evening?"
"Yes, I will." He turned to me. "Ted, will you join me?"
"Yes, of course. I would love to."
"Thank you, Emma. There will be two this evening."
"Very good, Father. I'll call when it's ready."
"Thank you." Daniel turned to me, "I must admit, I hate eating alone."
Emma left the door ajar. I got up to close it so Daniel and I could talk privately.
Lightning flashed as I placed my hand on the doorknob. A clap of thunder sounded as I began to close the door. More lightning flashed. Something sparkled on the floor outside the room. Cleo, Daniel’s calico cat, saw it and pawed at the small object, which jumped up from the carpet and sparkled. I bent over and picked it up. "Jesus." The lightning and thunder came again, only stronger. It seemed as if the whole building shook.
"What is it, Ted?"
I turned around and looked at him. Another flash of lightning danced across his saintly face. More thunder came as I walked back into the room, closed the door, and walked over to Daniel. I put my hand out and dropped the stone into his hand. He looked at it and asked, "What is it?"
"It's an emerald – the cross?” I pulled the cross out of my pocket and laid it on the table, pointing to the empty space at the center. Heavy rain pounded against the window pane as Daniel placed the gem into the empty space – it fit perfectly.
"It may have dropped out as you came in."
"No, I noticed the empty space the first day I had the cross."
"What does it mean?" Daniel was confused.
"It means Freddie was here."
"What? … But why?"
"I have no idea, but he was here.” I wondered what he might be up to.
The sound of thunder was moving away. I got up and walked to the window. As I pushed the stained glass window pane open, a gust of wind mixed with mist from the rain engulfed me. Daniel walked over and stood behind me. I thought of Freddie, who had stood behind me on the train platform not too long ago, and warned me to step back from danger. There was no danger here – only the comfort of a new found friendship. Little did I know how important that friendship was about to be, in steering several other souls to safety.
"The book! Where is the book you were going to show me?"
"It's over here, I forgot about that." He pulled the book from the shelf and laid it on the table next to the cross and the errant emerald. I closed the window and joined him. We spent the rest of the afternoon pouring over the images in this beautiful art book, as more of Daniel's incredible knowledge of art spilled onto its pages.
The storm had departed, leaving behind the fading rays of a setting sun as the afternoon passed into evening. The faint sound of the dinner bell came from below. "Ah, dinner is served. Emma is the most accomplished cook. Shall we?"
"Yes, but first I want to collect the cross and that loose … stone. Didn't we leave it on this table?"
"Yes, it was right here"
"Well, it's gone now." Cleo jumped up onto the table and walked over to me, licked my hand, and nuzzled her head against my arm. "Cleo, did you take the cross?" I remembered how Freddie had snuggled up to me on the train platform. I thought of the changes in fortunes since that day.
"I have a sneaking suspicion Freddie came and took the cross. I guess he wanted it back – now that my crisis is over."
Daniel smiled, "I have a feeling you're right." He picked Cleo up as we headed downstairs to supper.