Momservation: Our lives are better left to chance, I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance. ~Garth Brooks, “The Dance”
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As promised last week, I’m releasing an excerpt from my yet to be published book, AND A CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM: FROM UNTHINKABLE TRAGEDY TO UNEXPECTED FAITH. It’s a spiritual memoir about my family learning to live again after loss thanks to Heavenly messages from my charismatic six year-old sister, Sommar (pronounced “summer”), who guided our way as we found the courage to live our authentic lives.
Though I strongly believe in the inspiring and hopeful story I have to share—a story I believe I was destined to tell—it’s been hard to push forward with this retelling of my family’s tragedy; So difficult to put out there for all to read such personal accounts of finding the courage to be the person you are destined to be.
Like a skydiver ready to conquer their fear of heights, I stand poised at the open door trying to trust that the equipment won’t fail me, trying to convince myself to take this leap of faith.
And I tell myself as I take a deep breath and let go, the words of Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of shots you don’t take.”
Below you will find Chapter 19, An Angel in My Shoes, the most requested excerpt from last week’s blog poll.
Please let me know what you think of it and if it compels you to want to want to jump with me.
An Angel in My Shoes
Excerpt from AND A CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM: FROM UNTHINKABLE TRAGEDY TO UNEXPECTED FAITH
By Kelli Wheeler
That Sunday, like the Sunday seven weeks earlier when I’d decided to fill my hours by draining a whole bottle of Schnapps–landing myself in the emergency room, I once again found myself in an empty apartment.
But this time, rather than feel an isolating loneliness and despair in the eerily quiet apartment building, rather than missing the cacophony that usually emanated from the two levels below, I found the stillness calming.
Staring out my floor-to-ceiling window at the tree-lined sky, a warm contentedness spread through me. The top of a newly-leafed willow tree framed my view out the window, its budding, vivid green leaves determined to burst forth from dormancy. I felt the promise of new life eager to burst forth from a cold, fog-shrouded winter, eager despite not knowing what spring and summer would hold. The leaves don’t know they’re in for a pleasant spring followed by one of Sacramento’s long, scorching summers, with a flash of brilliance in the fall before their inevitable winter demise. But still they reach for the sun, committed to whatever the journey brings.
“I’m going to be fine, Sommar,” I whispered, a smile of long-lost determination and belief in myself tipping the corners of my mouth up. “I just wish you were here with me. Here to see what I’m going to do with this life.”
Then I made a silent pledge: In your honor, Sommar, I will live this life fearlessly. I will wear my scars proudly, to prove I played hard.
To show I meant it, I threw the covers off me, jumping up to take a shower.
“Let’s get on with this day!” I said to the empty room, grabbing my towel as I headed to the bathroom.
Thirty minutes later, I walk through the doorway of my room, my towel wrapped around me, my hair already blow-dryed. I step up to the tall, narrow chest of drawers tucked between the doorway and the outside wall of the closet, opening the top drawer to get my undergarments.
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a movement.
Turning my head to the right I catch the tail end of one of my hot pink heels popping up from laying on its side, still rocking from the movement before settling, still upright.
I’m stunned, unable to comprehend what I think I just saw.
I look around the room, confused. No one else is in the room. No one else is home.
“Stacy?” I call, just in case she came home while I was in the shower. Even if she is, it still wouldn’t explain how my shoe picked itself up. But I’m looking for any normal explanation I can latch onto, even if it’s just Stacy reassuring me that I hadn’t seen what I thought I’d seen.
When there is no answer, I call again, peeking my head down the hall. I call my other two roommates’ names to empty silence.
I look at the shoe again. It’s sitting up, pointing toward the open closet.
“That was weird,” I say aloud, brows creased in confusion.
I stare at the fabric-textured, padded pink pump that was part of a pair I had worn to my high school Senior Ball. Normally, there would be nowhere else to wear a pair of hot pink heels perfectly matched to an electric pink cocktail dress. But I loved the shoes’ vividness and comfort. I had left the dress back home, but took the shoes with me to college for a flash of color and flair for nights out on the town. They were my fun shoes, last worn a few nights earlier for a huge fraternity party.
I look across the disheveled room for the match to the pair. It takes me a minute to find it in the mess on the floor. I finally spot it, lying on its side. It’s in front of the window, next to my bed, where I must have kicked it off before falling on top of my covers, exhausted.
I look back to the shoe by the closet, standing even though I could have sworn it had just been lying on its side, resting where I’d kicked it off just like its mate. I jump up and down, trying to see if I had somehow caused the third story floor to vibrate the shoe into movement when I entered the room.
It doesn’t budge.
Without moving my eyes from the shoe, I open my underwear drawer again, slamming it shut to see if the rattle of my dresser had caused the shoe to move.
Not a millimeter of movement.
I slam the drawer open and closed again, two more times.
The hair on the back of my neck prickles up, sending shivers down my spine. I slowly look over my shoulder toward the other shoe, half-expecting to see it in a different position. I feel a slight sense of relief that it is still as I had last seen it.
Clutching my undergarments in my hand, I tighten my towel around me with a growing sense of unease. I step over to the shoe in front of the closet, stopping next to it to jump up and down as hard as I can.
Not the slightest jarring.
“Huh.” I huff, staring in disbelief at it for a long moment. Then I reach forward with my toe to kick the shoe back over. “Let’s see if you can do that again,” I say to the shoe, but really as a challenge to my own perception. I’ve already decided I had imagined it all when I turn on my heel to grab a set of clothes from the dresser to finish getting ready in the bathroom.
I walk down the hallway to the bathroom at the end. I put on lotion and deodorant, get dressed, and plug in my curling iron. I leave the bathroom to grab the make-up bag I keep on top of my dresser.
When I step inside the doorway to my bedroom, I grab the make-up bag with a glance, half-smirking at my own silliness, toward the shoe I kicked over in challenge.
I freeze, my mouth dropping open in shock, my head going light and my body going tingly with adrenaline.
My pink pump is standing back up.
And the matching shoe, the one that had been on its side across the room, is now next to it.
Standing together as a perfect pair.
I flee to the bathroom in panic, tears springing to my eyes.
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” I moan. My mind races to rectify its misperceptions, to explain what I have just witnessed, but there is no logical explanation. I throw the make-up bag on the counter, staring into the eyes of the girl who stares back at me in the mirror, trying to see if those eyes can explain what they saw. Dumbfounded shock settles over me, making my thoughts erratic.
Okay, let’s not think about what just happened. Let’s just put on your make-up. Then you can think about what just happened.
I unzip the mesh bag, selecting mascara, usually the last thing apply when I do my make-up. I try to touch the wand to my lashes, but my hand is too unsteady. I put the brush back in the tube, throwing it back in the bag.
Okay, let’s just do your bangs. You can curl your bangs and then you can go look in your room again and try to make some sense out of this.
I pick up the curling iron with one hand and a clump of hair with the other, bringing the hot stick toward my forehead. I freeze and stare at the shell-shocked girl in the mirror.
What if they’ve moved again? What will you do then?
I’ll run out the door, I counter. Having a conversation with myself.
Just curl your bangs and then you can make a plan, I try to calm myself.
But my hand is shaking too much to curl my bangs. I’m afraid I’m going to burn myself, but I keep trying.
What if you walk out this bathroom door and they’re in the hallway? my hysterical voice says.
The fear of this new, imagined, scenario freezes my hand. My room is the last door on the right before the entrance to the apartment. I picture my shoes in the hallway, an unknown entity moving them, blocking the narrow hallway that leads straight to the front door at the other end, trapping me. I throw the curling iron to the counter.
I have to get out of here!
I slowly move to the bathroom doorway, stretching my head to peek down the hall. My heart is racing. I feel like it will stop on the spot if I see those shoes in the hallway.
I breathe a sigh of relief when I don’t see them, stepping fully into the doorway. I stare at the front door, the key to my escape. But my muscles have frozen. I can’t move. I’m paralyzed by fear that if I see those shoes moving again or in another spot I might die of a heart attack. I decide I won’t look into the room again as I pass, I’ll just leave. Satisfied with my plan, I start down the hallway.
But the hallways seems to stretch forever as I first pass the other bedroom on the right before it opens to the kitchen and living room on either side of the hall.
You’re going to have to make a run for it, I decide, imagining the shoes stepping out from my bedroom to block my path to the door.
I take off. As I pass my room, I squeeze my eyes shut so I don’t accidentally catch sight of them possibly standing in my doorway. I crash into the front door, frantically grabbing for the knob. I open it and slam it behind me so the shoes can’t follow. I run barefoot down the flight of stairs, not sure where I’m headed.
When I get outside, I’m running past the courtyard when I see the payphone on the wall of the poorly-furnished, infrequently-used recreation room.
I race to it, but quickly realize I have no money and I’m not sure who to call or what I’d say. But I’m scared. So frightened. And I need to talk to someone to help me make sense of what I just experienced.
I decide to make a collect call to Cole, the boy I’ve been dating for a month. I’d planned on heading over to his dorm later anyway, so we could hang out before grabbing dinner together at the Dining Commons.
When he answers, he’s already alarmed by the collect call. It doesn’t help that when I hear his voice I burst into tears and start babbling incoherently.
“Cole! Oh my God, Cole! My shoes moved! All by themselves! It just popped up and then I kicked it over and then the other one moved next to it and then they were both standing up after I had kicked it over…”
“Wait. What? Slow down. Where are you? Are you at home?” he tries to interject.
I only stop to answer him after the last question. “No. I had to get out of there. I couldn’t stay there in case they moved again,” I cry hysterically.
“Okay, where are you? I’m coming to get you,” he says, reacting to my distress.
“I’m outside of my apartment, but I can’t stay here,” I say, glancing up at my window that still seems too close.
“Are you okay?” he asks, still trying to figure out what’s going on. His voice is tinged with worry. “Has someone hurt you?”
At that moment, I realize I have him needlessly worried and I feel terrible. I rush to reassure him and try to compose myself.
“I’m okay. Everything’s okay. I just can’t stay here. Are you coming on the levee?”
That was the shortcut we took avoiding the long path through campus from the dorms. “Yeah, I’m leaving right now.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you up on the levee.”
Since I’m barefoot, I stay on the sidewalks through the apartment complex and up to the Guy West Bridge, avoiding the sharp gravel levee top. I start off in a hustle, but the farther away I get, the calmer I become. My head begins to clear and I slow down. As I walk, I carefully replay in my mind what happened, trying to poke holes in my observations with logical explanations.
But I have none. It begins to dawn on me that I might have just experienced something not scary, but amazing. Something supernatural.
Before I can give more thought to it, I see Cole racing toward me with his roommate in tow.
“Kelli! Are you alright?” he calls. I notice he’s carrying a baseball bat.
That’s when I get the giggles. Here comes Cole to my rescue against a pair of hot pink heels.
By the time the boys reach me, they are thoroughly confused. One minute I’m calling in a panic crying, the next I can’t stop laughing.
“What’s going on?” asks Cole, not sure whether to be concerned or annoyed.
I finally collect myself, wiping the tears of mirth from my eyes at how ridiculous this is all going to sound.
“Everything’s okay. No one’s coming after me.” I point with a smirk to the bat resting on Cole’s shoulder. “Weapons are totally unnecessary.”
He takes the bat off his shoulder from its ready position and brings it down to his side with a slightly embarrassed chuckle.
“I couldn’t understand what kind of trouble you were in, so I thought I’d come prepared.” Nodding to his roommate, he adds with a smile, “Thought I might need some back-up too.”
“So, what’s going on?” his burly roommate, Bob, wants to know.
“You guys are going to think I’m crazy,” I begin, “but I know what I saw, so hear me out.”
I have their rapt attention as I explain everything, including the challenge I issued the shoe by kicking it over and daring it to do it again. When I finish the story with the frantic phone call, Bob has the first question.
“So, no one was in your apartment messing with you?” He doesn’t sound skeptical, more like he’s trying to collect all the information to make an assessment.
“No. I was home alone. I had been all day. Stacy’s at her aunt’s in the Bay Area until tonight, and my other two roommates don’t usually get back until late. They go home over the weekend.”
“So you don’t think anyone’s there now?” asks Cole.
“I doubt it. Why?”
“Let’s go see if they moved again,” he says, eager for more proof to my incredible story.
At first I hesitate, remembering how scared I was at that very prospect. “I’m not sure I’m ready to go back there. It totally freaked me out.”
“You’re going to have to go back there some time,” says Cole, shrugging. Then he points at my feet. “At some point you’re going to need shoes.”
“That don’t move all by themselves,” adds Bob, with a mischievous smirk.
Despite the significance of what I’ve just experienced, I can’t help laughing. Cole chuckles too, adding, “Hey, maybe a pair will just meet you out here!”
“Okay, quit joking now,” I say, wounded. “This really did happen, and it’s not funny.”
“Sorry,” both boys say, taking in my serious expression. “So what do you want to do?” asks Cole.
I just stand there, confused, unsure of what happens now, not sure what the protocol is after you’ve seen your shoes move by themselves.
It’s Bob who helps me decide, making the first movements toward my apartment building.
“I know I’d like to check it out. I think it sounds cool. I wish something like this would happen to me.” Bob’s enthusiasm gives me courage. But it isn’t until he says, “I wonder who was trying on your shoes?” that it even occurs to me to think about who my unearthly visitor might be.
I have an idea, but I want to talk to my mom and grandma before offering my thoughts. Instead of telling the boys what I suspect, I say, “Okay. Let’s go check it out.”
As we walk back to the apartment we go over the details again, the boys asking the same questions that I had asked myself when I was looking for a logical explanation, collecting the facts of what had happened.
By the time we walk through the front door, the three of us are creeping forward apprehensively; a surreptitious “Boo!” could send us through the ceiling.
But the shoes are right where I had last seen them, in the same position, standing together in front of the closet like someone has just neatly stepped out of them. I let out a sigh of relief, but I also feel a twinge of disappointment. I feel like I would’ve been validated, like the boys would’ve had no cause for doubt about my story if they had moved again. But mainly, I worry my earlier fear has scared away my suspected visitor.
“Those the shoes?” Cole points to where I’m staring.
“Did they move again?” Bob wants to know.
I shake my head. “No. That’s where they were when I ran back to the bathroom, before I left.”
As we stand there expectantly staring at the shoes, each of us silently willing them to move again as proof, doubt begins to creep up on me.
But I won’t let it. Because as I stare at those vivid pink heels, I know they are just the type of shoes Sommar would’ve loved to try on. I can picture her clomping around in them saying, “Look at me Sissy! Don’t I look pretty!?”
I walk over to the shoes, smiling down at them. Then I look at Cole and Bob.
“Let me show you what they did,” I say, no doubt I will have two more believers once I recreate what happened.
Like me, they jump up and down on the floor. Assess the distance from the window to the closet. Set a shoe up, nudging it to see if it will rock as if popping upright. Take note of my conviction and that there was no one home and no signs of disturbance from the apartment beneath us.
“Okay, that’s just a trip,” Cole finally says shaking his head in grudging belief.
“That is way cool,” says Bob totally on board.
It feels good that they believe me, but that doesn’t mean I want it to happen again.
I grab my draw-string laundry bag, the one with a stick figure painted on the outside and the words “One more day and I’ll be naked” underneath, and jam my pink shoes in it. I cinch the bag shut, shoving it in my side of the closet and shutting the door. Putting them securely away.
“Let’s get outta here and go to the DC,” I tell the boys. “I don’t want my shoes waiting for me by the front door when I get back.”
With a history of her own supernatural experiences, I knew Mom would be the perfect person to tell about my shoes. I called her as soon as I returned the apartment, only venturing back when I knew my roommates would be home.
Immediately after I told Mom what had happened with my shoes she said, “I bet it was Sommar. She always loved shoes.”
“Then how come I was so scared?” I asked, still trying to sort out the experience I’d just had. “You said you never felt scared when you had ‘visits.’”
“I was open to it. This is a new experience for you, and new experiences can be scary. Even when they’re not paranormal.” Mom chuckled. “It’s not surprising that she moved your shoes like that. She always did like wearing your things. Remember the time she came out in your bra, with the toilet paper stuffed in it?”
“How can I forget?” I groaned, unable to suppress the smile in my voice. We reminisced a little while longer over some favorite memories of Sommar. Mid-reminisce, a realization hit me.
“You know, right before my shoes moved I had been talking to Sommar. Telling her I was going to be okay and that I wished she was still here to see it for herself,” I told her, in awe of the connection I was only just making.
Mom made the same connection. I could practically hear her nodding her agreement. “She didn’t mean to scare you. She was just letting you know she’s here. She’s still here with you, walking beside you.”
To hear her say it aloud brought a warmth over me, like a comforting blanket.
“Well, I’m glad she’s with me, but I don’t think I’m ready to see her trying on all my clothes.”
Mom laughed with me, but she was serious when she said, “Tell her then. Ask her to come to you, guide you in a way that doesn’t scare you.”
“Like my dreams,” I offered. “I wasn’t scared when she came to me in my dream the night she died.”
“Tell her. She’ll listen,” Mom said, with wistful, quiet conviction.
After I got off the phone with Mom, I immediately called my grandma. With each retelling of the story, I found I became more excited, more convinced I had experienced something special and amazing.
But it still didn’t mean I wanted it to happen again. Even though I was elated for the message I had received, the fear I felt in those moments stayed with me.
I held off telling Gramma of my mother’s interpretation of what happened, curious to see what she thought.
“Do you think it was Sommar?” she asked, even though she knew nothing of my near death experience a few weeks earlier or of my recent anguished efforts to reach out to my dead sister. I could hear the restrained hope in her voice, sense how she was trying not to lead the witness.
“I do, Gram,” I said breathlessly.
My confirmation gave her permission to speak freely. “I think so too!” she gushed. “Did you tell your mom?”
“I did. She had no doubt it was Sommar.”
I told her about the connection between Sommar and her penchant for wearing my clothes, the piece of information that Mom and I had used to validate our belief that Sommar had visited me.
With one of her characteristic squeals of delight, Gramma enthused, “How wonderful that she came to see you, Kelli! Oh, this is so great!”
I loved that Gramma, Mom, and myself so easily shared this conviction. The conviction that Sommar was still with us. That those we love never leave us. That they just take on a different form. It felt good to have a support network, to be surrounded by family members who didn’t need convincing to have faith. It was like wrapping myself in a comforting cocoon of common purpose and belief, our own little Sunday church for those who believed in the validity of supernatural experiences.
“It did scare me though, Gram,” I admitted. “I’m not sure I’m open to this kind of experience.”
“Then she’ll come to you in a different way. She knows her last attempt scared you. She’ll be with you in whatever form is most comforting to you.”
She was like a preacher, her words ringing true to my heart and filling me with renewed faith.
Sommar had let me know she is always with me, and I didn’t doubt I would see her again when I needed her. She was my guardian angel and my guide.