“All God’s angels come to us disguised.” ~ James Russell Lowell.
I stood, my bare feet sinking into the slimy soil at the bottom of the lake. I was knee-deep, my brother Greg, leading me into the water, wielding a bright flashlight. It was dark, and normally the water would frighten me at night, but since my brother was there (who I thought was the coolest and smartest person ever), I didn’t feel even one bit of anxiety. We were on summer vacation, hanging at Beachcomber Campground, my favorite place to vacation in New Jersey. I was young, probably around 5 years old, maybe younger. Our mission of the night – to catch some bullfrogs!
As usual, I can recall this memory with perfect clarity, and each time I think of this particular memory, I smile. Most little girls would have no interest in wading into a dark lake with a slimy bottom in the dark, to catch even slimier frogs. But not me. I was ecstatic, and determined to catch a frog, to hold its little body in my hand, to feel its tiny heart beating, to feel, in my own hands, the miracle of this living thing’s precious life. Not that I could explain that to my brother in so many words. All he knew, was that I was in on the conquest, his faithful follower of all adventures.
At this age, my hand and eye coordination and dexterity still left much to be desired. But I was determined, I would catch a frog, a precious gift from God, and then let it go, return it to its home. My brother Greg showed me the flashlight. “All we have to do is shine the light in their eyes,” he said, “and then they won’t be able to see or get away.” I believed him. He swiftly caught his first frog, and then another. Then it was my turn. I caught one, cradled it in my hands, like it was fragile and needed to be held with much care. Greg wanted to catch all of them, just for the fun of it. But we needed something to put all the frogs in. So he snuck back to the old pop up camper while I examined the miraculous creature in my hand. It had the most beautiful eyes. It was almost as if we were communicating with each other. The frog was calm and had no fear of me, but it wanted to be let go.
When Greg came back, he was carrying a large cooler. We filled it with some water, and proceeded to have a ball catching frogs, until I think we caught so many we couldn’t fit anymore into the cooler comfortably. Bursting with pride over our successful frog hunt, we took the cooler back to our camper, to show mom and dad. Greg opened the lid, and my parents burst out laughing over the sight they saw. Bullfrogs flopping everywhere in the cooler, croaking, and all trying to get out of the cooler. The ones who made it were quickly scooped back up and into the cooler, and the lid was closed. My mom insisted that the frogs be taken back to the lake right away. So off we went, and I watched with wonder and joy as all the frogs hopped on back into the lake, happy to put the distance between us. That was the night I began to wonder at the miracle of life, its impossibility, its fragility, and the presence of a higher power, the one behind all these wondrous living creatures.
My parents always encouraged my love of animals, no matter what form that animal took. I guess they just figured I was going to grow up to be a veterinarian or something. I remember, it didn’t matter what time of night it was. It could have been 1:00 AM, but my mom would wake me and my brother Greg up to see the possums that used to wander our back yard, looking for food. I would stand, transfixed, eyes glued to the night creature with the long rat like tail, filled with amazement.
Amazement. That describes the way I feel whenever I’m in the presence of one of God’s precious creatures. My heart fills with love, amazement, and my eyes fill with tears. Tears at just the gift to witness such beauty. Today, the same thing happens to me. As an example, Dale and I were visiting the Belize Zoo, and we had the pleasure of seeing a caracal (one of my favorite wild cats) up close and personal. She was right next to the barely perceptible fence, lounging. I was in pure awe. Struck by her beauty up so close, and thinking to myself, “How could there not be a God? How could something of this beauty exist without a hand to guide its existence?” My eyes welled up with tears. Once I got a grip on myself, I poked the camera’s lens through the fence, and began to photograph her. She had a look of pure contentment on her face. She looked up at me, and then rolled over, exposing her vulnerable belly. I snapped away with the camera. We almost missed our flight home that day due to my connection to the wild cats. I had spent much time prior to the caracal trying to get a great pic of a margay, another one of my favorite wild cats.
That’s the way it’s always been for me. Since I was a kid. I am stunned by living things. As a kid, I followed my brother Greg everywhere, because he thought the same things were cool that I did. At night, we’d wander down to the wooded area of our section, trying to spot bats flying in the trees, in between a good game of manhunt. And it was Greg who made my love for even insects bloom, when he introduced me to this little miracle he called a cicada. They came around in the summer. At night, we would wander about the yard and woods, looking for the green, creepy looking insects crawling up the trees to be reborn. Once we found one, we would park our butts on the ground with a flashlight and watch. Watch the transformation. The way the insect’s shell of a back would begin to split, and then the creature would carefully crawl out and hang on the shell, a beautiful shade of green with crumpled up wings. We’d watch as the wings dried, and became beautiful wings that reminded me of a pixie or a fairy’s wings.
All of my life, I have felt the presence of a higher being when I am with animals, babies, or in nature. I have always believed that I was surrounded by God’s messengers, who appeared to me in many forms, either to inform me of their presence, or to give me a message. As a child with ASD, I’m not really sure which it was back then. I have since learned that my guardian angels appear at regular intervals, sometimes to give me a message, sometimes just to let me know they are there when I need them most, and sometimes to protect me from harm.
Sometimes, God sent me a guardian angel to watch over me. At this point, some of my readers may think that I’m delusional. But that’s ok. The only thing that matters to me, is that I’m sure these angels were sent to me because I was autistic. Young, naive, gullible, and emotionally and mentally immature compared to others of my age, I needed someone, something to protect me from harm. Someone to watch over me and protect me at such a vulnerable age.
The first angel I ever met, came into my life when I was so young, I don’t really ever remember him not being there. His name was Tasha. He was a traditional apple head, mixed breed Siamese cat. We got him from a litter of kittens that my aunt’s cat had. He was supposed to be my sister’s cat, but there was no doubt that I belonged to him.
We were inseparable. Wherever I was, he was. He slept with me every night, wrapping his lithe little body around my head as if to protect me from the outside world. Maybe he was even trying to protect my sensitive little ears from the sounds that kept me up at night, tossing and turning. When Tasha was there, I had no night terrors. His soft, furry body ensured that no bad dreams would be able to enter my head either. He was, in reality, my best friend, my only friend at that time. You see, I didn’t have many friends, because I just could never seem to fit into any of the elementary Catholic school cliques. Even though I could relate more to boys than girls (I mean, climbing a tree and catching frogs was much more interesting to me than, say, hop scotch or jump rope), the Catholic school boys didn’t like me either. They made fun of me because I didn’t have the dexterity and hand eye coordination to play sports in our poor excuse of a gym class. No one ever wanted me on their team, and I was always the last person left to be picked, no matter what kind of game it was.
So it was that Tasha was my only friend, besides my brother Greg. Tasha never left my side during the day. I could be in my room, playing with dolls and he would be there. Bored with the dolls, because they weren’t real, breathing beings, I would take the doll clothes and put them on Tasha. I’d then put him in my little baby stroller and push it around. Never did he try to squirm or fight me when I dressed him. Not once did he jump from the stroller and high tail it for somewhere less embarrassing either. I never knew that wasn’t normal cat behavior, I just thought all cats were like that.
If I went outside, Tasha went with me too. Sometimes we would play with my brother Greg. Greg used to take Polaroid pictures of Tasha and I, I guess back then Greg must’ve thought I was cute, and not the annoying teenager I was to become in the future. Anyway, in every photo that Greg took of me outside, Tasha is right there, either next to me, or in front of me. In one particular photo, which is framed on my dresser today, Tasha is gazing up at me in pure adoration and love. I’d have to look at the date on the photo, but I think I was three years old. Standing there holding one of my toys that I had fixated on for a period of time, a stuffed toy mouse that I took everywhere with me.
When I was old enough to go play by myself, I always headed for the woods of Juniper Hill. It was the only place I could go where I could feel normal, and enjoy again, those feelings of a master creator. Tasha always came with me. If I went to the woods, he was by my side, not running ahead or lagging behind, but always by my side. Back then, I thought of him as my fellow explorer. But what he really was, was a guardian angel. I have no doubt that he influenced where I went, and kept me out of harms way. Sometimes we did get into a little trouble. I’m thinking of the time we were wandering through the woods when my foot plummeted directly into the hole of a giant yellow jacket nest. I pulled my foot out, but it was too late, we were being swarmed by the stinging buggers. Both of us ran home together, me swatting at bees with my hands, and Tasha running as fast as he could to outrun them. We both needed treatment when we got home. I had gotten stung so many times, it’s surprising I didn’t have an allergic reaction to them.
For years, Tasha and I were together, and I never thought we would ever be separated. But I guess, once that angel had taught me, and protected me as best he could, it was time for him to leave. I remember when Tasha got sick, and it still brings tears to my eyes to think about him. He had become ill with a virus, or maybe it was his kidneys, I don’t remember the specifics. All I remember was that my best friend was as thin as a rail, and he wouldn’t eat anymore. I would open a can of tuna, and sit there on the floor, begging him to eat. He refused.
My mom came to me soon after and explained to me that Tasha was very sick, and he wasn’t going to get better. She told me we had two choices, to let him die at home with us, or to take him to the vet office, where they would give him something to put him to sleep peacefully, and he would feel no more pain. I could already feel Tasha’s pain, it had struck me like a brick wall, and brought my foundations crumbling down. “No,” I said, “I don’t want him to feel any pain anymore.”
And so it was decided. That night, Tasha came into my room as usual and sat by my head. I asked my mom when she came in if I could hug him, and she said she wasn’t sure. I think she was afraid that I might get sick, I don’t really know. But it didn’t matter, because that night Tasha didn’t curl up around my head like he usually did. He sat there, gazing at me, me gazing back, my eyes full of tears, his eyes full of love and concern. He was watching me, guarding me yet again, trying to comfort me, saying goodbye. And I knew he was saying goodbye. I cried as I lay there, and finally I fell asleep. The last thing I remember is Tasha watching me, looking into my eyes, telling me everything was going to be ok, that it was time to go to sleep. That was the last time I saw him alive.
Mom brought him home the next day, wrapped in a blanket, and we buried him under the pear tree in the back yard. It became a sacred place to me. But I never felt the influence of Tasha disappear from my life. He continues to exist for me to this day, and sometimes I even thought I saw him around the old house after that. No doubt checking in on me.
Tasha was the first of many beautiful angels to come into and bless my life with guidance, protection and unconditional love.