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Lover's Prayer


Ann Bate

The Before Journal 

She was painting stars as the children slept through dreamless nights. My computer hummed softly as I waited for a girl in a chat room to respond to words already forgotten. 

Meanwhile she continued to paint the off-white walls. The rhinestones in her hair reflected the ceiling lights, casting a mesmerizing glow over the somber holes of restlessness. 

Instant messages flashed on the screen as I offered hectic good byes to  bored people the world over. "g2g, ttyl, bye-bye" The screen died. 

Now I could focus on her motions, almost a play on light. She remained as the morning washed away the night. The artist stretched her hands to the plaster sky. Raising on her toe, she clasped her hands above her head and yawned. I too, had become sleepy, losing track of moments fleeing softly away.

Time often seems fleeting - especially to the dying. Cystic fibrosis is going to kill me one day, yet mortality is one thing all people share. All are dying. So what does it matter who dies first? The world keeps us alive, yet there is no use for us. Natural selection has become the enemy and my death the greatest weapon of the fight. Than what am  I?

At times I believe I'm a victim of the war, chosen to live as proof of man's  conquest over G-d and nature alike. I'm a voyage to the moon, useless yet 
fascinating. The new medicines give me time, and I will fascinate them - and 

A few days later

It is good to be home, the stars shine far brighter here. I look out the  window and stare, but I'm too angry for that in the hospital bed.

More days

I wander from party to party talking to strangers I know quite well. They  are all fine, nothing new has happened. In about thirty seconds I'm all  caught up on their busy lives, and I still know nothing. 

It had been a reckless thought, but an intriguing one. I wanted to see if the girl that painted stars would be in the hospital tonight. After all I had nothing else to do. 

The first thing I saw were the jewels in her hair. Tiny stars. 

"Hi there," I said softly, fidgeting with my car keys.

"Hey," she responded, completing the brush stroke she had begun before she had known of my existence.

"Beautiful painting. Have you ever seen a falling star?" I pointed to the star flying across black paint still gleaming in its wetness.

Her face and hands had been dotted with glitter paint used for the stars. She seemed a part of her own art. A glitter statue in a room of cosmic dust. 

"I saw one as a child." 

"I figured that muchl; the mural is far too vivid to be a dream." I hoped she 
couldn't smell the slight scent of liquor making me brave. "Can we get some coffee?"

"What's your name?" She asked, eyes narrowing a bit as she put the brush down in the wrong container. 'Beware of strangers' sign flashing beneath her eyelids. 

"Daniel, I'm a student at New York University." I pointed out the mistake she  had made with the brushes and asked again if she would like coffee; I would like coffee very much. 

"I know a great place only three blocks away." I waited for her to say yes. A 
hundred seventy-six heart beats and seventy seconds later I got the answer I  was hoping for. 

The coffeehouse was almost deserted as she ordered and paid for her black  coffee, no sugar. I heaped cream and sugar into my cup.

She is a fine art major, in Boston University. Her name used to be Molly.  Before leaving the suburban hell of her childhood, she changed her name to  Tefila. She is an only child, who loves cats but never got around to getting  one, and now her landlord doesn't allow animals. 

I told her I'm dying. The quietude of her response took my breath away.  Instead of bemoaning my fate, she told me about her favorite music, sound of birds, oceans, whales and waterfalls, the songs of G-d. She said they 
expressed far more than human speech. 

The only other time I dated in high school, my girlfriend believed it was her  duty to make sure I didn't die a virgin. She had been brilliant enough to tell me this just before I was about to make love to her. I'm still a virgin.  I couldn't risk her genes mixing with mine.

I walked Tefila back to the hospital to pick up her art supplies. The nurses  were preparing for the morning rush. They watched and smiled sadly as I held her hand. The babies began to cry for their Mommies.

After the fact journal 

I was wonderfully surprised to hear her voice the next day. I could hear her smile. WOW. Tefila asked me to come over to her studio, only a short drive from my dorm. Her model just quit and the project was due tomorrow. I  certainly hoped she painted nudes. 

While waiting for Tefila to open the door, I watched the clouds moving 
north for no other reason but the direction of the wind. She thanked me for 
coming over on such short notice, completely bypassing the usual small talk. 

She painted me lying down, flat on my back on a hard tile floor. I felt the cracks in the tiles beneath me. Her apartment was terribly cold and hard. No carpets, no pillows. I couldn't figure out where she slept. The whole place smelled like chocolate chip cookies and latex paint, mingling together, almost as if the paint had been a mixture of the two. 

She was working on her project through the setting sun and then I noticed  the glow in the dark stars arranged in constellations I couldn't recognize.

"What constellation is this?" I pointed to Tefila's sky. 

"These aren't constellations, at least not the kind we can see in the sky. This is how I would arrange the sky, if G-d asked my help." 

I never knew anyone who wanted to rearrange the sky. Tefila's sky was a  parade of dancing figures, at different points of the dance. 

"You must know a lot about stars." I wanted to keep talking about what fascinated her, over homemade chocolate chip cookies and French vanilla coffee. "I have always wondered why space is measured in light years." I finished my first cookie. 

"Because nothing can out-run light, even sound can be conquered but light  will be last to perish." She made another batch of cookies. 

"Forever and ever," I said softly, finishing my fourth cookie. Tefila doesn't  bake anything besides those cookies, and she doesn't drink anything besides  black coffee. 

"Why do anything but what you love the most?" had been her irrefutable logic. 

"They say when stars die they become black holes." She bit into a huge round cookie, while continuing the conversation.

"The gravity doesn't allow light to escape black holes," I said.

"Some light must always escape or we wouldn't be able to see black holes.  Stars can be seen hundreds of years after they die, because their light is  still reaching earth." 

She took another cookie sheet out of the oven, saving me from an awkward  continuation in a dialogue that didn't need summation.

We talked all night, bewitched by the sugar, caffeine, and starlight. She  showed me to the door at daybreak, after a night of intellectual conversation and kissing beneath her sky. Many such nights transpired; each time the birds chirped to warn us of the coming day. I waited for her to make the first move on those long nights beneath plastic stars. I had never wanted anything more then to make love to her. 

On the last warm day of summer I took Tefila for a ride in the country. The  leaves blew north for no other reason but the direction of the wind.  I couldn't have seen the car coming. The crash threw me towards the wheel,  and threw her through the windshield. She was bleeding from all visible  openings. 

"Dear G-d who fashioned men with wisdom and created openings and cavities - if but one of them were to rapture - it would be impossible to survive and stand before you.  Blessed are you (who) heals flesh." 

"Tefila," I touched her face, scared beyond coherent thought. "Can you hear me? Dear G-d! Please baby, oh please answer!" I called 911 as she opened her eyes. I just looked right in; speaking would have been a cliche.

"Shhhhhh..." I held her hand, feeling the warmth. 

"Where has the sun gone?" she asked repeatedly. 

"I wish I could bring back the sun for you, my angel." Tefila was unconscious again before I finished talking.

I rode with her to the hospital. She had a strong heartbeat, I heard the paramedics say. The sun had come back; it was coming through the windows of the ambulance. 

"Thank you G-d!"

The waiting room was full of other family members; tired, hungry, sad tear-stained faces, fearing life more than death. I wondered how many of these people were waiting for death. 

A young couple was holding hands and talking softly while their baby was  being repaired. The doctors came out with the news. The baby would never be normal, low functioning at best. The couple cried, and Tefila's surgeon came out of the emergency room. 

I could go see her now. Murals of sunny fields lined the walls to her room.

"Who is there?" she asked timidly, looking through dead eyes.

"My G-d!"

Tefila had been crying. She searched for the tissues with inept hands. I handed her the box, overwhelmed by the need to hold her, to comfort her erratic fear, evident in every gesture. 

For one horrible second she pushed me away, and I believe she blamed me for her blind eyes. 

"Please, Daniel, listen to me..." I could barely hear the words coming through 
her hell. 

Tefila told me she was HIV positive since birth. My love had been the original AIDS baby. I held her, refusing to pull away until she let me sneak into her very dark room.

"Tefila, we are getting a chance to love guilt free. Don't you understand we  don't have to worry about leaving one another? At least not for long... It  doesn't matter if you have HIV - we can love and make love." My voice lost 
momentum, and I began to cry.

The world vanished into air, silence followed.

"I love you," I whispered into her ear, while putting my fingers on her lips, so she could feel the vibrations of "I love you."

Tefila rested my head near her heart, rocking back and forth, back and forth, 
talking about the future and about the stars millions of light years away.

I prayed while she slept. "Dear G-d protect her," and then I knew G-d had answered my prayers even before I finished praying, because I would be the answer. I would be her prayer. 

We went home the next night; college had became an afterthought I soon had to rid myself off. 

We bathed together. I dressed her and brushed her hair, putting the  rhinestones in the way they were when we first met.  I could have been satisfied caring for her and loving her, if not for her terrible sadness. She often spilled her paints on the floor and rolled in them, creating disorientated designs, finger painting with her whole body. 

One day I found her naked, shivering, covered in paint. I washed Tefila and  held her while she fell into an exhausted sleep. The next morning all that  reminded me of her was gone, only a note left behind:

Daniel, don't wait for me. I cannot be your purpose. I do not want you to be 
mine. Write a book of great philosophy and meaning to all mankind and then 
I might come back. When I'm done...

Love till my dying/living days 


I left my life to be her prayer and she ran away. What could she do, blind  and infected? I raged at her abandonment and my fear. I was terribly free to look into the dark of days and nights - dreaming of her, and not dreaming of  her. 

I went back to the hospital to look at the mural she had begun the first time I  saw her. She'd titled the work 'I'm a Falling Star.' I whispered it to the abyss, just as a child lying on a stretcher began to sing 'Amazing Grace." 

"I once was blind, but now I see..." She can't see. She will never see!!

About five other children were playing cards. Someone was watching TV. The boy continued to sing as he wheeled his own stretcher with giant wheels. He  sang almost as if he understood. 

"Stop singing, he can't concentrate," said the adult among them, as she moved the cards for the boy whose body was as useless as my lover's eyes. 

I left the hospital that night, heading for the enrolment office of New York  University. The rest of the evening I diligently attempted to remember to  forget the rhinestones in her hair. At dawn I was in the hospital again, staring at 'I'm a Falling Star.'

No one one sang this time, but a baby was crying and I wondered if that too was a song to G-d, or better yet, a song from G-d, just like the whales. The baby fell asleep as I rocked the crib. 

The hospital had become my refuge. I watched silently, never interacting,  except to rock the babies when they woke up crying in the night.  The staff talked to the kids that couldn't understand, the same way they talked to the kids that could. They smiled at the useless bodies and the injured minds. The parents celebrated all accomplishments with great joy.  I continued to stare at the painting, but now sometimes it made me smile. 

A little girl with a body that had gone through fire smiled and hugged all her nurses. She always smiled. Her love was far more real than my own beating heart. How did all that soul survive the fire? Nothing of this earth could have survived that fire. I had to conclude her soul was not of this earth - "I'm a falling Star."

A boy my age lived in the hospital but existed in his own world. They put a  marker in his hand and moved it around, so he could "draw" flowers and stick people. Funny noises made him laugh. When he couldn't sleep, I played bird mating calls for him. They made him laugh. 

I studied these children and the dying children of cancer hospitals for my  college thesis paper. I played with them and learned for them. I watched the  dying children dance in the light, with the joy of knowing they soon would be  the light. 

There I found Divinity, that Tefila had been searching for in her constellations and her murals. Only in the imperfect does it lie; perfection alone has no potential energy. 

I published my thesis in a book, hailed a revolutionary work of child physiology, an uncanny study of death through untainted eyes.

I was watching the moon when the limo pulled up. The driver opened the  passenger door. The golden retriever came first, followed by its master,  Tefila.

She was wearing a cream colored suit with a strand of pearls, her hair lifted  up and decorated with daises where the rhinestones used to be. She knocked on my door. 

I couldn't help but gape at her elegance and grace as I stuttered through an awkward invitation. The dog sat at her command.

"Daniel," she said softly, while lifting her hand to touch my face, seeing me  with perfectly manicured hands. "Your book is wonderful!" she praised me, 
skipping all small talk or traditional catch up.

Tefila had come to New York City for an opening of her first art exhibition.  Most pieces were already sold. Tefila had become a sculptor. Her medium was clay. 

She asked me to accompany her to the opening the next night. The limo took  us to her hotel suite. Had she known that I still dreamed of her? The suite had a perfect view of the city lights. Man-made stars. 

"I'm done," Tefila said, shyly standing in the corner.

"I know." My voice cracked. She moved closer, and began to search for my belt buckle. 

"I'm done," she repeated, tugging at my pants. I didn't think it was within me to stop her hands.

"Honey, do you love me?" I asked her, trembling.

She didn't speak for awhile, and then she asked me to bring her bag. She took out a CD. It was mating calls of tropical birds. "If only I could say it the 
way they can," she smiled. 

"G-d's music." She couldn't say the words; in her own perfection she couldn't allow herself to sing ordinary expressions of human need and human fear. The off-key music of faulty people couldn't compare to G-d's song.

I held her that night, unable to make love to her, for reasons so obscure, my  head spun. I remembered the constellations on her studio ceiling that had also been G-d's music, except she had written the lyrics. 

"And it was evening and it was morning, the first day" - Genesis 1:5

Her assistant came by toward evening, with the silky blue dress for the 
opening, and the pearl choker.

Tefila had named her exhibit "Black Hole." The sculptures had been arranged 
according to the time of their completion. All her work had a caveman like 
detail to it, or rather lack of detail. 

The first piece is a statue of a woman with huge disproportional hands,  reaching up to the sky, crying. The last statue is almost exactly the same,  except the hands are much smaller, still reaching to the sky, but now the  tears are of elation and wholeness. She is finally proportional. 

Tefila breathed her soul into the clay, creating something from a void. I searched for myself in her work. I found nothing bridging the past, completing my void. Tefila did not attempt to make love to me that night, she  feel asleep still in her blue dress and pearl choker. 

"And it was evening and it was morning, the second day" - Genesis 1:8

She disappeared again. I called the gallery; they didn't know any more than I  did. I walked the streets looking for her, among the buildings dancing in the sky. 

I found her, standing in front of the Modern Art Museum, naked and shivering, crowds gathering to see her.

"Tefila, what are you doing here?"

She smiled through lips turning blue. "I want you to remember the moment I  say I love you. I'm cold, bare and humiliated, now I can say I love you - I  love you, in my imperfection and my incompleteness."

"I know." I hugged her. As the crowd got bigger, I covered her with my jacket and carried her home, whispering to her the whole way. "You are Divine my love... absolutely Divine." 

I wanted Tefila to bare her imperfect human soul to me, and now she bared everything, loving completely in her own incompleteness. Because it isn't possible to truly enter a vessel that believes itself full. 

We made love in darkness, so I could behold her as she beheld me. We were a singular thought and a complete love. 

She woke me up to watch the sunrise, and listen to the birds. "Daniel, I know  why the birds' songs are perfect."

"Why?" I asked through a sleepy haze, brushing my lips against her hand.

"The birds know their songs from birth, but people spend their whole life learning how to talk, in the hopes of expressing love in broken rhymes." 

We  mated at sunrise. 

"And G-d saw that it was good. And it was evening and it was morning, the 
third day"
- Genesis 1:12, 1:13

She sculpted us with blind eyes and prophetic hands. 

I donated the statue to the childrens' hospital after her death, a year from  the day we first made love. 

People from all over the world sent flowers to her. I bought her flowers as  well. A rose for each hour she lived; 201,480 flowers in all. 

Thirty days after she saw heaven, it rained flowers in NYC. The terminally ill, the handicapped and the graduating class of NYU threw the flowers from the skyscrapers. 

Traffic stopped, people stared, and laughed and danced. Flowers belong in the hands of the living and not by the graves of the dead. They don't need the flowers. Flowers are a shadow of what Tefila has become.

Note: Only later did I find the definition of her self-given name. In Hebrew, 
Tefila means prayer. I had tried to be her prayer, but all along she had been the answer to my prayers. From heaven to heaven flew her soul. Now she  can rearrange the constellations. 

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