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Mystery of the Missing Report Card

My childhood was not pretty. Neither was the angel I met in a dark alley in a dangerous part of town.

Collage illustration of a large imposing angel in a dark alley

With every nerve in my body tensed, I hurried down the dark streets of San Francisco's Mission District. Frightening even in the daytime, the neighborhood took on a sinister life of its own in the early morning hours.

Only an emergency would have gotten me into those filthy alleyways at 2 a.m., and that was exactly why I was there that night in 1956. Clutched in my hand was my third-grade report card. It had to be signed for school the next day; "No excuses," my teacher had warned. So I had to find my mother.

I reached the back door of another loud, smoky bar and pushed it open. Inside I stood for a long moment, giving my eyes a chance to adjust to the dim light before I scanned the bar. Not here. I slipped out and continued down the garbage-strewn streets.

Teacher's words ran through my head: "No tricks this time, Pamela Parton. Understand?" Every six weeks we got our report cards, and every six weeks those cards had to be signed and returned the day after. \

It had taken me a month to return the first one, and each day, in front of the whole class, Teacher made sure to remind me of it. The next time around I had signed the card myself.

"Did you think you would get away with this?" she had demanded, brandishing the stiff card with my mother's name childishly printed on it. The class had snickered at my failure at this simple assignment.

How hard could it be to get your mother to sign a piece of paper? None of them knew that drugs and alcohol could make it impossible.

Gripping the card in my hand, I considered my options. There was only one bar left, a biker hangout everyone called the Harley-Har-Har Bar. I peered down the alley and hesitated.

The passageway was two blocks long and dark; anything could be lurking in it. But the open street would take twice as long. Better to get it over with. I took a deep breath and started down the alley.

About a third of the way through I heard heavy footfalls behind me. I looked over my shoulder. In the murky night I could just make out the gigantic figure of a man standing in a boarded-up doorway. He was as tall as the doorframe, almost as broad and dark as night itself.

I took a few steps forward. The footsteps followed. I walked faster–so did he. I started running, my arms pumping as my feet flew over the debris that littered the alley. Then I heard the thunder of his shoes right behind me!

In the next instant I was dangling in midair, held up by the back of my shirt, my feet thrashing uselessly.

Slowly I was twisted around, like a spider hanging on a thread, to face the man who had caught me. his blazing brown eyes pierced me like lasers. The veins in his neck twisted into steel cables.

"What're you doin' here?" he snarled.

I opened my mouth, but not a sound came out.

"Come on," he growled, tucking me under his arm like a rolled newspaper and carrying me back the way we had come. I lay limp in his grip, too frightened to move. And then I realized my hands were empty.

The report card! Had I dropped it in the alley? It doesn't matter now, I thought, wondering what terrible thing was going to befall me.

And who would care anyway? No one was looking out for me. I'd heard an old man on the street once talking about God in heaven, who watches over us. God, are you watching me now? I asked.

When we reached the sidewalk the man jerked me out from under his arm. "Stand up, girl!"

I locked my wobbly legs and waited. The man bent down toward me. "You listen to me, white girl," he roared. "I'm gonna give you some change and I'm gonna put you on the bus. And I don't ever want to see you in this part of town again! You hear?"

I nodded. I didn't care what Teacher did to me. I would never go looking for my mother around here again.

Then a city bus materialized behind the man like a moving island of light. It was my bus, the one that would take me home.

The clock read 3:30 a.m. as I crawled to my hidden bed behind the living room couch. I couldn't chance sleeping out in the open at my house. I could never be sure who was going to end up spending the night.

The next morning I was surprised to see my mother at home. I sat beside her on the bed and took one of her trembling hands in mine. I told her all about what had happened the night before. My mother twitched on the bed, but once in a while she focused her green eyes on mine and tried to smile.

"So I'll probably get in trouble again for not having my report card," I finished.

"You're lying," a voice behind me sneered. "That's the dumbest story I ever did hear!" Spice, my mother's boyfriend, stood laughing at me from the bedroom doorway. "I'm from that part of town, and ain't no man there as big as all that!"

I grabbed my satchel and took off for school. What did Spice know?

As the other students chattered around me in the classroom, I sat at my desk, dreading the moment I would have to reveal that I didn't have my signed report card–again.

"Okay, students," Teacher said. "Please come up as your name is called." I hugged my book bag to my chest as, one by one, my classmates put a signed report card on top of her desk.

"Parton!" she called.

I squeezed my satchel closer to my chest. Not hearing the expected footsteps, Teacher snapped her head up and looked at me over her half-glasses.

"Parton!" she repeated. "Your report card."

Instinctively, I nodded and opened my book bag, pretending to look for the report card as I tried to come up with an excuse. My hand rummaged over the contents of my bag: school books, an orange peel, a broken barrette, my Ginny doll and–What's that?–a square of thick folded paper.

The class had fallen silent. Teacher stood. My hand closed around the piece of paper. I'll tell her I grabbed this in the dark this morning instead of my report card! I thought, pulling it out of my bag.

I swiped my tongue over my dry lips to begin my lie and unfolded…my report card! "I got it! I think," I stammered, holding the card out in front of me like I was offering a bone to a snarling dog.

"Well, bring it up here!" Teacher commanded.

I went to her desk, laying the bent manila card on top of the pile.

"It is signed, isn't it?" she said, eyeing me over those glasses.

I looked down at the card. There on the signature line was the light cursive writing of my mother's signature. I stared at it in wonder. "Yes," I whispered. "It is."

Behind me, I heard a few giggles from the other kids. "Well?" Teacher asked, frowning. "Anything else?"

"No, ma'am," I said.

"Then take your seat, please."

I smiled to myself as I walked back to my desk. Teacher didn't know a miracle had happened. And the signed report card was only the half of it!

God had sent me an angel in that dark alley. Not a beautiful, gossamer-winged creature I might have returned to look for, but an imposing giant sure to shock some sense into me, and make me think twice about coming and going whenever and wherever I pleased.

I was only a child, after all, and since there was no adult around to remind me of that, God's angel had stepped in to do it.

Not long after, I was taken away from my mother by the state. Eventually I was given to my father, who sent me to live with relatives and friends. People often wonder how I survived. Simple: I was on my own from a very early age, but I was never, ever alone.

Download your free ebook Angel Sightings: 7 Inspirational Stories About Heavenly Angels and Everyday Angels on Earth.

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