I never saw my grandmother’s great-great-grandmother, Arlytia Carter Habermeyer, make love to an angel. It happened at Locust Creek. Her husband, Martin Horton Habermeyer, a gifted trumpeter in the Mormon Battalion who had no idea what to do with those lips, tried to defend his wife’s virtue by challenging the angel to a wrestling match. She died in childbirth.
I never saw her grandson, James Ernst Habermeyer, waiting in Sundance canyon at midnight to trade his soul to play the fiddle. The angel convinced him there is a devilry beyond music and it’s called dentistry.
Rosanna Josephine Habermeyer saw angels on top of the Salt Lake tabernacle drinking tea.
Ebenezer Hyrum Habermeyer heard angels laughing at Mountain Meadows.
I never saw the angel visit Eugene Cyrus Habermeyer who suffered from a gangrenous toe. They got on a train to San Francisco and were never seen again.
Murray Ansel Habermeyer saw angels melting ants with a magnifying glass.
Heber van Orden Habermeyer saw angels bathing in the Spanish Fork hot springs. They sang Italian opera with flawless accents.
I never saw Florence May Habermeyer the winter before the winter they outlawed polygamy eavesdropping at the quilting bee on the squirrelish but earnest lovemaking of angels. She aborted nine little angels.
I never saw the angel appear to Effie Sophronia Habermeyer during the drought of 1907 and supply her with lozenges of laudanum. She sold them for a handsome profit to nervous housewives.
Olive Emilia Habermeyer saw an angel lose a tooth in a game of Mormon basketball.
Phineas Cannon Habermeyer, a sailor, shared a urinal with a guardian angel in Cuba. Nothing ever happens these days, the angel complained.
Lovinia Mabel Habermeyer, who brought coffee to Oppenheimer at Los Alamos, saw angels writing equations on blackboards. Their bodies glowed pale orange.
My grandmother, Esther Elisabeth Habermeyer, told her daughters to be little guardian angels and wait outside while she paid the piano teacher. Forty years later my aunts mulled DNA tests.
My mother, Sharlene Joanne Habermeyer, who is too afraid to verify her paternity, saw angels teaching people falling from the South Tower how to spread their arms and fly.
My son started believing in angels after his wife died. It happened in a laundromat off Highway 59. It looked less an angel and more like one of those Roswell Grey aliens on the X-Files with the bulbous head and black, pupil-less eyes. The angel put on my dead daughter-in-law’s clothes, slowly, like a reverse strip tease. I never saw my son put his hand on the angel’s potbelly, or the angel stretch its webbed fingers over my son’s chest. Two widowers. Oh, what a sad fucking cosmos.
I never asked him why he sold his story to the National Enquirer, or what he does with those fan letters saying they’ve spotted an angel in drag driving a Chevy Malibu with a bumper sticker that says Heaven is Sad.
Whispering rainbows. Jellyfish weddings. Babies with glass for skin. It helps to believe in the invisible things. I don’t, but it helps. Things like angels circling the tub as I was under the lip of water, waiting for the air to run out. I thought it was the Rapture. Only I didn’t die, but I wasn’t saved either.
When my great-great-grandfather left Germany in 1874 to start a Lutheran church in Peoria, a ministry which he described in his diary would conquer the seven-headed dragon prophesied in the Book of Revelation, nineteen relatives followed him. Only his brother, Gustav Ernst Habermeyer, stayed behind. No photographs of him exist, but his medical records are available at the municipal archives in Ansbach. His heart weighed 11 grams at birth. The doctor diagnosed arrhythmia and said the child would not live through the night. The boy’s mother, Eva Margaretha Habermeyer, who believed science was a conspiracy of fallen angels, sang to the child while it sucked at her breast. It was her voice, she said, that taught his heart how to beat. When his heart weighed 41 grams he was expelled from school for mindlessness. It weighed 72 grams when he saw the meteor shower and stopped believing in God. It weighed 104 grams the morning he spied the neighbor reciting French poetry in her underwear. It was the foreign words, not her nakedness, he later said, that cured his arrhythmia. When his heart weighed 274 grams he disobeyed his mother and sailed to Antarctica on the Valdivia. He wore a deep-sea diving suit and sank to the ocean floor. Hours later he returned with stories of strange fish and architectural ruins. Nobody believed him. When the war began his heart weighed 295 grams. When it ended it weighed 287 grams. It weighed 294 grams when love disillusioned him for the last time. It weighed 304 grams when he took a position writing radio jingles, a job he worked for five decades without any measurable effect on his heart. His heart weighed 318 grams when he was ridiculed by the Ansbach Scientific Society for publishing an article advancing the theory that cities of the future would be powered by human biofuel. It weighed 337 grams when he began broadcasting radio jingles soliciting research subjects: Take it from your rabbi/ it’s as easy as toasting rye/ Liquefy! Liquefy! His heart weighed 347 grams the night he tested his experimental machine. A neighbor collected the puddle of him. It weighed 351 grams. When we visited Germany last month, my wife and I were surprised to find his house had been designated a historical landmark and converted into a small museum. We saw his notebook with scribbled equations, his pipe, his chamber pot. In the parlor was a bell jar on a stool. What remained of Gustav Ernst Habermeyer was a pale yellow liquid, almost translucent. A few drops are added each month, the museum curator said, thanks to generous donations of the public who, like my great-great grandfather, believe in the soft light of hominids.