An Angel On The Ganges

Patrick Michael Brady. The Irish Italian stallion from Monte Sereno, California. Our friendship started during the second grade, back before his eye surgery, back when he wore the most ridiculously absurd-looking Coke-bottle spectacles.

We bonded over sports, Catholicism, and a shared interest in girls. We stole cigarettes from the drug store, played Too Short in volume low enough to escape our parents’ ears, and bought condoms with quarters in the Togo’s restroom. It was childhood. We were free and we were rambunctious and we were smart and we were going places.

Then came puberty and high school and partying and actually succeeding in finding girls willing to give us their attention. Then came our expulsion from the Jesuit High School. Then came his Dad’s cancer and the need for Pat to live with me, in my room, on my couch, for senior year.

Then came meth. And our spiritual experience. And our dropping out of high school.

What followed was a year’s worth of drug-induced research into spirituality, the Illuminati, meditation, the occult, Rosicrucianism, and crime. I became more heavily involved in crime that he did, but it was part of the story for both us.

Then I went to prison. Pat’s Dad died of cancer. About halfway through my prison term I learned that something had happened to Pat. That he’d been arrested and placed in a psychiatric ward.

I got a letter from him along with a poem he’d penned. He was sorry that he hadn’t written while I was away, that he’d gotten caught up in too much madness. If I’d heard anything about him it probably wasn’t true. He was thinking of getting into hip-hop, maybe starting some sort of band or something, a band with lyrics that “elevate rather than denigrate”.

His poem was about us. Our life together. A history, in a way, with stanzas that referenced some of the highlights of our years as friends. I wish I still had this letter, wish I still had this poem. I wish I could remember what it said, the words he used.

When I got home Pat was different. Gone was the vibrant, athletic, intense, and egotistical, intellectual powerhouse and in his place was a gentle, slightly overweight, bearded, occasionally paranoid, yet nonetheless kind version of the man who I had periodically glimpsed during our moments of spiritual contact. I missed the man I knew but loved that man I had before me even more.

They say I have schizophrenia, he told me.

Pat wanted to focus most upon music and spirituality. My visits with him at the house always revolved around one of two things: musical jam sessions with whomever happened to be there, and deep discussions about yoga, Indian gurus, the Rosicrucians, meditation, and God.

His obsession with the spiritual had become so great that many no longer even called him Pat. He was Yogs. Yogs this, Yogs that. I never called him that, but that’s what many knew him by. Yogs, the gentle man, the angel in Monte Sereno. The man who gave the most genuine and soul-cleansing hugs that one could ever imagine. The man whose smile lit up the driveway every time I pulled into it.

I want you to know, he said to me once. I want you to know that if I ever die and it looks like suicide, I want you to know that I didn’t do it. They killed me.

Who did? I asked.

They did.

I understood what he meant by they. Our history was long and our understanding deep. I know who they were and the fact that he thought they might kill him scared me. But I didn’t say anything.

I was boarding a plane in Seattle when I got the phone call. Pat was gone. I stepped on the plane and ordered a bloody Mary, my drink of choice for the following year and a half. I stepped off the plane and made a phone call.

How did he do it? I asked.

A saw.

The next day I drove to the house. I went into the backyard where it had happened. The earth had been scraped by shovels. The stepping stones had been removed. Someone had been trying to clean up what had been left behind.

I kneeled to the ground near a cavity where a stepping stone had once been. Blood had pooled around the edge of the stone before it had been removed, and what remained was a crescent-shaped streak of crimson mud. I pressed it with my finger and realized it was still moist.

I put both of my hands into the mud, staining my palms a muddy red, and cried. I cried and looked to the sky, I looked beyond the eucalyptus trees that Pat was now a part of, and asked, “Why?”

It didn’t take long for me to go off the deep end again. Daily drinking. Meth. You name it. My days and nights were haunted by the imagination of what had occurred. The way he had done it. The instrument he had used.

Around this time, the occupation of Iraq was in full swing and stories of kidnapping and videos of beheadings swarmed the internet. These became my obsession. I watched the videos in all of their gruesomeness, hoping to experience a glimmer of what it may have been like for Pat to die the way he did. Over and over again I watched these videos. I was fucked up.

I started to have what I called night terrors. I would wake up from sleep, completely paralyzed and unable to speak. I would struggle to move and yell. Sometimes it would take many minutes before I could wrestle out of it. I became convinced that I was haunted. That something was living with me. That it was related to Pat and that he was still around, somehow.

I dove into my Aleister Crowley books and found rituals for invoking angels and exorcising demons. I didn’t really believe in any of that stuff but I figured it was worth a try. At one point in time, Pat had been convinced that I was The Beast’s reincarnation.

I drew diagrams on the pavement with chalk. I lit candles. I had a dagger. I even had some of Pat’s blood. I’ll never forget the look on a friend’s face when he showed up, unannounced, while I was performing this ritual.

Dude, he said. What the fuck are you doing? Have you lost your mind?

I’m trying to get Pat to go away, I said, and was overcome with shame.

My meth use intensified and I was, once again, stealing to support my habit and pay the bills. I spent the nighttime hours scouring the neighborhoods, looking for things to fence.

Sometimes I’d steal a purse and there would be change in it. Sometimes I’d be in somebody’s car and I’d find some loose change. I got in the habit of taking any and all change I happened to have and putting it into a large vase that I kept near my front door. When the vase got full, I’d drive it down to the supermarket and empty it into a Coinstar machine.

Coinstar machines reject coins that have something wrong with them. Sometimes, it is because they are foreign currency, sometimes it’s because there’s something like gum stuck to the coin, and sometimes it’s because it isn’t even currency at all.

One day, a Coinstar machine rejected a very unique coin. It was about the size of a nickel and had the same color. On one side, it had the image of an angel blowing a trumpet. The backside had some initials engraved on it.

I fingered this angel coin and, for whatever reason, was reminded of Pat. I put it into my pocket. For some time, I carried this angel coin in my pocket, somehow convinced that, so long as I did, Pat was looking out for me. And then I lost it. Tweaking like I was, I didn’t actually realize that I’d lost it, but I had.

A few weeks later, I had filled up the vase with change again. I took it to the Coinstar and, lo and behold, out came the angel coin. Clearly, I had confused it with some other change and tossed it into the vase. I put it into the coin pocket in my jeans and lost it, again without realizing it.

A few weeks later, it popped out of the Coinstar machine. I needed to keep better track of this angel coin. I drilled a small hole into it, put it on a small key ring, and hung it around my neck on a chain.  It wasn’t going anywhere.

Around this time, my estranged wife informed me that an old friend of mine, Sarah, had wanted to see me, that she had something to tell me about Pat. I had told my wife about the weird angel coin phenomenon, and she’d suggested I tell Sarah about it.

So, basically, I moved into a new apartment and I thought it was, like, occupied, Sarah said to me. My boyfriend’s aunt came by, and she’s a spiritualist, and when she came into the apartment she knew right away that a sprit was there. So, she was going to perform a ritual that would eliminate the spirit but she said it had a message for me. Well, I think it was actually for you.

For me? I asked. What message?

She said that the spirit was a warlock. I knew that the spirit was Pat. And Pat said that the message was for his fellow on the path, or something, and knew that was you.

What did he say?

That he went in too deep and couldn’t get out. He didn’t make a way out for himself. And that’s why he’s been stuck.

To me at the time, it all made perfect sense. I told Sarah about my night terrors, and the rituals, and the angel coin. When I reached into my shirt to show her the coin, It was gone. Shit, I thought. Not again.

I did not rediscover the angel coin in a Coinstar machine. That would never happen again. But I would get it back, this time from a friend who’s house I’d washed clothes at. I found something that I think might be yours, he said and handed me the angel coin, still attached to the chain.

Yeah, I said. How did you know it was mine?

You’re the only other person who used my washer.

Well, thanks, I said.

No problem, he replied. I wouldn’t want you to lose Pat like that.

Thing was, I had never told this friend about the angel coin and its significance to me. How he knew is beyond me, still to this day.

Now, you may be wondering why I am going on and on about this angel coin. I get it. But bear with me.

I was arrested for possession of stolen property and burglary charges in April of 2005, roughly eighteen months after Pat had killed himself. I was wearing the angel coin at the time of the arrest. When I bailed out of jail, I collected my property and saw that the angel coin was included. I did not put it back on, however, convinced that it hadn’t worked. I had been arrested, after all, and would soon be facing life in prison. Some guardian angel it was.

I was remanded into custody a few weeks later and found myself in a world of hurt like never before. Four hundred years to life, they were saying, because of my third strike. For more than a year in the county jail, I fought the charges while secretly planning my own suicide. I would tie knots in sheets and wrap them around my neck, just to see what it would feel like when I finally decided to go.

Each time I attended one of my court hearings, I would see my father in the audience. When I entered the courtroom he would often stand up, smile at me, and raise what looked like a clenched fist. I thought he was, like, cheering for me. For many months, almost a year, this went on.

Eventually, the prosecution decided against pursing a life sentence and offered me a plea bargain of fourteen years, which I accepted. I plead guilty in September of 2006. My father had been in the courtoom room and visited me in the county jail the next day. While we were visiting, my Dad reached into his pocket and pulled something out. I looked through the glass to see what it was.

I’ve been carrying this for awhile now, he said into the phone. I was in some store and there was a little bucket of them at the cash register. I’m not sure why, but I thought of you and I bought it. I’ve been carrying it ever since.

He held an angel coin up to the glass. It was a different angel coin than my original, but it still had an angel holding the trumpet.

Every time I see you in the courtoom, I hold this in my hand and pinch it for good luck.

I spent seven years locked up and came home in February of 2012. During my time away, my mother had kept a bunch of my belongings in a storage unit, which I started to clean out shortly after paroling. Tucked away inside a box was a small wooden box with knickknacks and mementos. The angel coin was inside, still attached to its chain. I started wearing it again.

A few years later, I was snorkeling above some reefs in Maui. I noticed a single piece of coral sticking up, like a finger, and was reminded of something that women might hang their jewelry upon. I thought about the angel coin around my neck and considered draping it on the piece of coral. Like a final resting place. I decided against it. I wanted to put it somewhere a bit more special.

Flash forward to the summer of 2017, I was packing my bags for India and Nepal when I came across the angel coin. I hadn’t worn it in a few years, ever since the key ring had been snagged on some clothes and bent out of shape. I packed it into my toiletries, without any specific plan for it.

My first few weeks in India, I pondered what I was going to do with it. Where I would leave it. I thought that Sarnath, where the Buddha had first delivered a sermon, would be a good place. Pat would’ve appreciated that. I also thought about Lumbini, Nepal, where the Buddha had been born. Ultimately, I decided that I would know the place when I came to it.

Early one morning, just before sunrise, my wife and I descended the steps of the Dashashwamedah Ghat in Varanasi, the city of Lord Siva, the destroyer. The Ganges River spread before us like a vast, inland sea. Embarking on a small wooden skiff, we watched the sun rise beyond the Eastern horizon.

The Ganges River, the holiest river in all of India. A sacred river for Hindus. A pilgrimage site. Where a single dip in its sacred waters will remove all negative karma and ease one’s path towards liberation.  Where having your body burned on its banks will deliver you from samsara, the cycle of rebirths.

The yogis don’t have their bodies burned on the river, our boat guide informed us. They are taken out to the middle and dropped into the water.

Why? I asked him.

Because the yogis want to strive for liberation. If you are burned at the Ganges, there is no work to be done.

As I watch the crimson sun glimmer on the surface of the Ganges’ peaceful waters, I knew what I had to do.

The following day, I stripped down to my linen shorts and descended the time-worn steps of the Ahilya Bai Ghat. It was high noon and the stone seared my feet. The emerald waters of the Ganges lapped against the lowest step as I approached its edge. Clenched in my right hand was the angel coin. Held in my mind was Pat.

I took a deep breath and put one foot into the cool water of Ma Ganga. I thought briefly of the pollution, but put that out of my mind. Om Namah Shivaya.

I took another breath, put my second foot in, and descended further, carefully, because the steps beneath the water were slippery. Om Namah Shivaya.

The water was up to my waist. A silence stilled the air. I looked across the river at its distant shore, empty except for its groves. I thought of Pat and welcomed him into my heart. I pinched the coin and drew back my arm to throw it.

I hestitated. Even when a decision has been made, it is sometimes difficult to let go. A gentle breeze caressed my face and nudged my beard. I tossed the angel coin into the Ganges. It skipped along the surface a couple of times and then plunked, beginning its journey into the deep.

I then fell forward into the emerald waters, exhaling deeply. The bubbles tickled my face and drew past me. Pat shall be reborn no more. There is work to be done.

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