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The Angel in the Woods

In this excerpt from A Procession of Angels, a desperate mother worries that her drug-addicted son will never turn his life around.

By Virginia Schoenthaler, Clermont, Florida


It was 2:45 a.m. according to the clock radio on my night table. I strained my ears for the sound of my son David’s car pulling up to the house, but heard nothing. Will this be the night he doesn’t make it home at all?

Of my five children David had always attracted the most trouble. At two he pulled a dresser over on himself trying to climb it. At six he barely missed being hit by a car while he was riding his bike.

“His guardian angel sure gets a workout,” my husband, Jeff, and I used to say.

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David was 19 now, and finding more trouble than even his guardian angel could handle. He went around with a bad crowd whose main source of fun was drinking and doing drugs, and David was all too happy to join them. It looked like David’s guardian angel had given up on guiding him. So have I, I thought, staring up at the ceiling.

Jeff and I had tried everything to get David to turn his life around. Ultimatums, punishments, pleading. David had promised us a dozen times to change his life.

“I’ve really learned my lesson,” he’d said six months before. That was after spending a night in jail. He’d been drinking and a policeman found him sleeping it off in his car by the side of the road. He’d charged David with intent to drive under the influence of alcohol.

“I see where my life is heading,” David told us when we got him home. “No more drugs and no more drinking from now on.”

But the next night he went out to meet his friends again. “I’m not going to do anything,” he assured us as he pulled on his coat. “I’m just going to hang out. If anybody offers me drugs I’ll just say no.”

I wasn’t surprised when he came home high again the next morning. David couldn’t even admit he had a problem, much less ask for the help he needed to fix it. The words came easy enough, but he wasn’t ready to make the kind of changes in his life necessary to give up drugs. For the kind of friends he had now, getting together was just an excuse to get high, and I no longer believed David’s promises about a new start. Lord, David doesn’t want my help–or yours. But could you keep his guardian angel close?

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I heard a car outside and sat up in bed. The front door opened and David’s footsteps sounded on the stairs outside my bedroom. Thank you, God, for bringing him home safe one more night! I pulled on my robe and went to David’s room.

“Are you all right?” I asked from the doorway. “It’s very late.”

David blinked up at me. There was something different about him, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. It must be the drugs, I thought.

“Mom,” David said. “An angel drove me home from the party tonight. I swear.”

“An angel?” I said. Yes, definitely drugs. I was familiar with their effects by now.

“I went to a party out in the woods,” David said. “I was high. I started to hallucinate. I thought there were spiders crawling all over my skin.”

I shuddered.

“I knew I had to get out of there, but I wasn’t fit to drive. My car was parked on the street. Remember how you and Dad used to say I had a guardian angel? I asked God to send him to help me get home.” He frowned, as if he were trying to remember what happened.

“I must have tried to drive, but it wasn’t me at the wheel, Mom. I swear I was in the passenger seat. An angel was behind the wheel!”

I walked into the room and sat down next to him. He was my son, and I loved him no matter what. Even if I hated seeing him like this. “It’s okay now. You’re home. You’re safe.”

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“The next thing I knew we were parked in front of the house. Mom, God sent me an angel. I’m done messing up. I’m going to change.”

“Okay,” I said, but how many times had I heard this same speech from David? He would promise to try harder to stay away from drugs and alcohol, but he wouldn’t really make a change. “Get some sleep now.”