Wendy Woolfson

Guardian Angel

Once, I bumped into an old friend I hadn’t seen in years whilst walking down the street. He was in an emotional state and needed support. He said I was his guardian angel and he didn’t know what he would have done if I hadn’t come along in that moment. I didn’t do much, just listened to what was happening for him and gave him some time, then we parted company when he was feeling better. But I don’t think it was any coincidence I was in the right place at the right time. Sometimes we encounter people in our lives for the briefest of moments, yet they can have the biggest impact.

It was a dark, late October evening. It was cold and I was tired after a long day at work. I had just come off the slip road from the motorway and was heading down the final long stretch of road back home through the rush hour traffic on Great Western Road. I was having one of my lowest days. I was in the middle of some really difficult parenting stuff happening at home and I knew it would all kick off when I got in, so I was bracing myself to deal with that.

Layered over that was my sadness. When I was alone it would cover me like a heavy blanket. In some ways it was comforting because it was so familiar and I had learned how to snuggle into it so well and it fitted just right. I could reach into its corners and draw out a memory to dwell upon and it would snake around me like a tourniquet that I knew could bring relief. I wished there was some way of ending it all. I was so tired. The kind of tired that sleep doesn’t cure or a rest on a warm armchair in a sunny corner. It was the kind of exhaustion that made every move a task, every thought a danger to overloading my batteries and fusing out and brought with it a desire to not be here anymore. But I had to be here and the part of me that runs the common sense and practical areas of my life just wouldn’t let me go. The pain of dragging this despair around with me every day was debilitating. I was brilliant at masking it. Most people who knew me would have had no idea I was feeling that way. There were a few who did and they were my lifeline when I was drowning.

I slipped into my pattern of morose reflection like most people slip into their comfiest pyjamas, as the traffic came to a halt. I sighed and pulled on the handbrake to wait for it to clear and glanced down the seemingly endless trail of blinking red brake lights ahead of me. The traffic on the other side was at a standstill as well. I’m a people watcher, so I almost always take those opportunities to notice who else is around me and what they’re doing. The guy in the car next to me just a few feet away facing the opposite direction was uninteresting to the point that I can’t remember anything to describe him with here. But then their lane moved slightly and the cars shuffled forward one space and he was replaced by a woman. I can’t remember what she looked like either which is strange because I will never forget what happened next.

It was like it all happened in slow motion but was over in less than a minute. Her car approached and filled the space left by the previous car. She looked right at me as if she was expecting to see me. As her gaze fell on mine, I had a feeling of transparency. She saw me, I mean really saw me, in a way that no one had ever seen me before. Her eyes locked with mine and in that instant, it was as though she could read my thoughts. Her face turned to concern as she furrowed her brow and mouthed the words, “Are you ok?” I panicked. I knew I was not ok; I was not in the smallest sense of being ok and she knew it. How did she know? A multitude of emotions flooded through me including embarrassment at being seen like that, unmasked and naked. I couldn’t handle it. Something about her directness and the clarity with which she seemed to see me was terrifying. I did the only thing I could think of, I put my mask on. I mustered a watery smile and quickly nodded in a brisk and reassuring way, pretending as if I had just been in a daydream. I could tell by her face she wasn’t buying it and she knew it was a lie. We both knew. She gave me a deep, meaningful look then briefly glanced through her windscreen as her lane slowly started to move. One more fleeting look, and she was gone to be replaced with a line of meaningless cars driving past my window.

My regret was instant and I wished I hadn’t pretended. I wanted to jump out of the car and yell after her to come back and help me somehow. I wanted to fall into her arms and tell her everything. I wanted to bury my head in her shoulder and just cry. But I didn’t know how and now she was gone. The moment was gone. I tried to imagine how we could have done it anyway; it was ridiculous. What could she do to help me in the middle of traffic? We couldn’t stop everything for her to administer mental health first aid, and yet, if she had stepped out of her car in that moment, I would have been so grateful.

That was six years ago and I still feel emotional when I think of her, even though I’m all good now and I burned that old blanket a long time ago, but I wonder, I always wonder, what did she see on my face that day that made her stop and connect with me?

I think of her as a guardian angel. Seeing her really shook me up and helped me move a step further along the path to getting some help. She shone a light on how sad and desperate I was feeling and made me realise how bad things had got. Funny how I can’t remember what she looked like. I don’t think it was an accident she was there. She was sent to give me a message and I received it well. She may well have saved my life.