The Guardian Angel (1987) – my first essay

The Way They Go:

    When I was a little boy, three or four years old, my family and I went to the pound to find a new pet.  We ended up choosing an ugly little mutt, all mottled and scraggly, looking more like an overgrown rat with too much hair than anything else.  We named him Popcorn, and he turned out to be the smartest and most loving animal that I have ever met.  Any trick that we could name, he would do.  My guess is that he knew a lot more tricks than we were ever able to find the activating phrase for.  He was my best friend. We did impossible things together with our minds.

One day, I was outside playing and I saw another little dog across the street.  He was a smooth haired dog and a little smaller than my dog, but, in the way of a young child, I thought of him as another Popcorn; a potential best friend.

I went across the street and bent down to pet him.  He was growling under his breath, but never having heard this sound, I had no idea what it meant.  I found out very shortly that, at least with this dog, it meant that he was planning to sink his teeth into my flesh. Things happened very quickly, and I soon found myself racing home, holding my bloody ear, feeling certain that it had been bitten off.  I learned that not every dog was like Popcorn.  I learned that a dog could decide that my flesh might be a good place to leave teeth marks.

One night, after dinner, Popcorn had been let out to roam and to rid himself of bodily wastes before being shut in for the night.  He had been gone a little too long and my dad went out to look for him.  I heard tires screeching and some yelps, and as my mother and I ran to the front door, I saw Popcorn come blazing around the corner of the house and lie down in front of the porch where he died.  My father said that he ran two blocks to get home.  Imagine being the size of a small dog, getting hit by a car, and running all the way home to die.

My mom asked me if I wanted to pet him and I told her that I was afraid that he would be all bloody.  He wasn’t though, and I really should have done that thing.

Swallowing Your Own Engine:

I have a big sack of pain that I carry around with me and  most of it is filled with dead things.  Dead things are knives that get stuck in my throat.  My throat is always sore.

My sack is fairly full, although I’m sure that there are others whose sacks are literally bulging.  I try hard to best them though, I’ll pick up just about anything to add to my collection.  Lately, I’ve found that I can add greatly to the contents of my sack just by walking around.  A couple of weeks ago, I added about seven thousand dead soldiers from the Vietnam war whose little white crosses lined a grassy hill like angry teeth biting the afternoon sky.  My sack gets bigger all the time.  It has to be the biggest.  Sometimes I think that all the dead things in there are fucking each other and making cross-breeds.  They probably do this when I’m sleeping.

Whenever I’m afraid of dying, I just open it up and put each of the constituents inside my mouth, one by one.  I roll them around on my tongue until I’m so knotted up inside that there’s no more room left for me at all.  Just a big, mangled knot of rotting things that used to be happy and warm and friendly, but are now just one dimensional black and white portraits of bodies contorted in death.


I’ve always been fascinated by insects.  As soon as I realized that there might be other worlds ( about age four ), I became aware of two things simultaneously: 1. I was from one of them and 2: So were insects.  I felt an undeniable kinship with them, and I spent at least as much time with these creatures as I did with my human counterparts ( who were constantly trying to convince me that I was one of them.)

By the time I was five, I had witnessed the mating rituals of the Preying Mantis and the Black Widow, photographed mantises in combat and, more gloriously, in birth — and had hand-fed Orb Weaver spiders that were almost as big as my head.  These kinds of activities made my parents a bit uneasy, but eventually they understood that my obsession could not be denied, and might actually benefit me in some obscure way.

The Preying Mantis is one of the most fascinating life forms on the planet.  Its triangular head is capable of expressions and movements that convinced me early on that these creatures are intelligent.  Every action of the Mantis is a study in the perfection of being, a brilliantly executed motion that appears to be fraught with wisdom and beauty.  My exhaustive observations of these creatures have convinced me that they are little green monks from another planet, and I believe that they’re reporting on us, judging us to masters who are far away but ever vigilant.

To watch a preying mantis is to look into a living mirror— to watch the watcher.  Even though I am probably a thousand times their size, they seem unafraid of me, and I’ve often had the distinct impression that they were actually tolerating my presence.  When it comes right down to it though, they can be squashed flat in an instant.  I haven’t seen one in a long time.  I think that most of them have gone home.

Ying, the Knot:

The other day, a girl I was talking with told me that, when she was looking at pictures of me as a child, she saw something in my eyes that she had a very hard time describing.  Eventually she managed to describe it as ‘an otherworldy quality, the kind of thing you would expect from a wise and ancient alien, from someone from another planet.’  In looking at old pictures of myself, I have seen this thing that she describes, and I believe that I am, in fact, from another planet.  My mother once told me that as soon as I learned the word ‘home’, I was constantly pointing to the sky and saying ‘home.’  My parents felt that I had simply misunderstood the meaning of the word, and before long, managed to correct me in my use of it;  but my knowledge of my birthplace remains uncompromised.  I know that I can’t be from the planet where people kill each other for the color of their skin or because of something the other person said.  I’m not from the planet where a person has been so destroyed by their experience here that one day they walk into their old office and kill half their co-workers.

Even though I’m not from here, I can understand how someone can become so separated from everything that all external life becomes the enemy.  Without moving too far into the abstract, I can relate to a person who suddenly decides that humanity is just a lawn that needs a good mowing.

Where the Hea(r)t Is:

The thing that was in my eyes is gone.  One night, as my family slept, I walked into the hallway of our house and had a conversation with a photograph of me as a child that my father took in which this thing was vibrantly manifested.  I cried for a long time and said goodbye to myself.  I realized that I had gone ‘home’, and had left this shell here to remind the people who stayed behind that I had once been among them, had once watched them deny each other the most basic forms of love and compassion, and was singaling from afar in the hopes that they too might make that journey someday — I was hoping that it wouldn’t take getting hit by a car to make them understand how important it is. That war would become an intolerable obscenity. That nature would be recognized as our own bodies and minds… extending into time and space. I was hoping that they would make ‘home’ where they were, instead of far away. I am still hoping… and so I write to you. This is my signal. Follow it home.

2 thoughts on “The Guardian Angel (1987) – my first essay

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever read the words of another person who made so much sense to me as you consistently do. I am so grateful for your considerable efforts to communicate what you know. Thank you for some sanity in this desolation we call living.

  2. It’s very childlike, innocent. How old were you when you wrote this, Darin? Not that it matters—just that you have matured greatly in your writing since 1987. I like it very much.

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