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When I Learned as a Child That Guardian Angels Wear Many Disguises

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional or physical abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

This is a story about an old cowboy who became my hero.

I remember riding the preschool bus home to an empty house everyday. Watching TV and trying to put together a snack with what I could reach.

One day I was sitting in the back of the bus. Tears rolling down my face. Hoping no one noticed, I was always the last one off. Bill stopped me on my way off to ask why I was crying? I said, “I was afraid of being home alone.” “Sometimes it was dark before anybody got home.” Bill shut the door of the bus and said, “Why don’t we go visit your grandpa today.”

So we pulled into the yard and he got off the bus to talk to my grandpa. I ran inside excited to see my grandma. After helping to make supper my mom showed up. She asked if they’d seen me because I wasn’t home when she got there. I hid underneath the table, hoping she wouldn’t see me. Praying she would just let me stay with my grandparents.

I remember everyone yelling and my mother dragging me out of the house. She put me in the back of the car. I remember her screaming at me, reaching into the back seat to hit me. I remember her complaining about the gas she had to waste to come and pick me up. She told me if anything happened it was going to be my fault.

Now after that day whenever Bill would pull up into the yard, if nobody came outside to greet me at the door, he would shut the bus door, turn around and say, “Why don’t we go visit grandpa today.”

Every time my mother would pick me up it was the same thing. She would scream at me until we got back to the house.

One day the closer we got to the house, the stronger the smell was. Smoke was thick in the air. We turned into the driveway of what used to be our trailer house. I remember there was nothing but a structure smoldering. A shell of the house I spent every afternoon alone in.

My mother finally stopped yelling.


Years later I remembered the way that trailer looked with smoke hanging above the trees. The blackened ground and scourged memories. That’s when I realized without my old friend looking out for me, I would have been in that fire.

My story would have ended there. A headline in tomorrow’s paper about a 5-year-old left alone to fend for herself after school. A water heater exploding. And the tragedy of a little girl dying alone.

Instead Bill taught me that it’s OK to admit when I’m scared. He taught me to look out for the quiet ones who need a friend. There is someone out there who will be your guardian angel. Even if he wears the disguise of an old cowboy wanting to have coffee with your grandpa.

A woman holding a firefighter's helmet

Photo submitted by contributor.

Originally published: May 29, 2021
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