Even before Shannon "left", I looked for Angels. I never doubted that they were there, watching, guarding, laughing at our missteps, but I wanted the bright light and overwhelming comfort of their presence in my physical awareness. I believed that they would appear as wispy, etheric beings. I imagined a lot of white and the smell of cookies, you know like John Travolta in "Michael". I never imagined that they would appear dirty and cold and smell like wet dog and well worn wool.
Walking Bob and Coco were trying to get to Hanover before dark. The rain was freezing before it hit the ground. The December wind was biting. He looked like a downhill skier, braced against the wind, as he trudged up Jeff Davis Highway, heading south, one labored step after another.
A Jeep Wrangler is not necessarily the best vehicle for a want-to-be Samaritan but we managed to get his faded blue back pack and overstuffed Tote a La Garbage, the black plastic variety, into the back. Squeezing this ninety pound man wearing every article of clothing he owned and his forty pound dog into the passenger seat proved slightly more challenging.
“There’s a motel in Ashland. We’ve stayed there before and if you can take us even a few miles, we’ll be grateful. This is Co Co. She won’t bite.” His voice was soft and raspy.
So we headed south.
“I don’t ask for handouts but I sell Vitamins. “The World’s Greatest Vitamins”. There’s a web site, and they mail me a check. I had stomach cancer and these vitamins saved my life”.
Wasting no words, Bob fished around in his pocket and pulled out a faded Xeroxed copy of a newspaper article that chronicled the miles he and Co Co had travelled together. He sat quietly staring at the road ahead as Co Co slept contentedly across his lap, her big brown head on my right arm. She snored softly. You would think there might be some discomfort, crammed into the front seat of a Jeep with an exhausted stranger and his sleeping dog, some need to fill the silence with superficial small talk, but after a few miles we both seemed to relax and conversation came easily. Bob talked about his friends in North Carolina. He talked about his previous two trips across the United States on foot. He talked about the vitamins he sold to raise money to grant wishes. He talked about his wife and daughter, killed in a car accident on their way to meet him for dinner at the restaurant he had owned.
I asked him why he walked.
I asked him why a sweet seventy-two year old man felt compelled to walk alone, to sleep under a tarp, to eat when he could –what he could. I asked him if he was ever afraid. I asked him what would happen to Co Co if something happened to him. His eyes were so blue and so clear and he looked at me as if he hadn't heard a word I had said. He seemed so innocent and vulnerable.
“I hear the Angels when I walk.”
It was that simple.
I waited in the Jeep with Co Co while Bob checked into the Shady Grove Motel in Ashland. She had warm, brown, knowing eyes, that seemed grateful and perhaps a wee bit apologetic. I helped Bob get his belongings into his room. The once gold carpet was faded and frayed and I felt a little dizzy as the blue floral bedspread danced tragically with the paisley wallpaper. I ignored the various stains, because there was a refrigerator, a microwave and extra blankets, and Bob and Co Co seemed happy.
I left Bob with enough cash to stay for a few days. I wanted to fix his life, with a warm bath, clean sheets and a hot meal. I wanted to know that as the winter storm worsened he and Co Co would be safe. I tried to understand how he lived with such uncertainty, and even envied his fragile fearlessness.
The trip back to Fredericksburg felt lonely, I missed this tiny stranger and his brown dog. The Christmas lights sparkled in the icey rain. I thought about holidays with Shannon. I thought about the afternoon argument with Jules about the candles in the windows and how much he disliked them. An argument that now seemed insignificant and silly. I worried that I hadn’t done enough for Walking Bob and Co Co. I wondered why my heart wasn’t big enough to take this tiny dirty man and his big brown dog home with me. I wondered if he would have come, had I invited him. I cried a little. I laughed a little. I called my Mom to tell her that I had, "Yes again", picked someone up on the side of the road. I explained to her that he was just a tiny man with a big brown dog, certainly no threat. I explained that he had a daughter with Shannon, and that he talked to Angels. I can't really remember what she said, but I'm sure she advised me never to do it again.
By the time I got back to Fredericksburg the rain had turned to ice and I took comfort in the fact that Walking Bob and Coco were safe and warm ... at least for the night. I flipped the switch on the candles in the windows and wrapped myself in their soft glow. I know you will scoff and think that I am prone to fanciful imaginings but as I sat there in the wicker rocker listening to the ice hit the windows, the smell of cookies filled the room.
What if Angels walk instead of fly? What if they wear tattered wool and have big brown dogs and appear at those moments when life seems to have lost its wonder? I couldn't help but smile when I realized that there was one more thing that I had to do for Walking Bob and Co Co, even if he was an Angel.
Without even the slightest hesitation, I turned on the computer, searched and found the web site, and ordered two big bottles of “The World’s Greatest Vitamins". I'm a little embarrassed to admit that one of those bottles is still unopened in the cabinet over the microwave, but whenever I see them way in the back... peeking over the Pepto and Nyquil, I think of Walking Bob and Coco and Angels and cookies and the incredible power of possibilities.