Excerpted from Kindred by Tammar Stein Copyright © 2011 by Tammar Stein. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
The first time I meet an angel, it is Raphael and I am eighteen.
I am not a religious girl. I do not belong to a Bible study, group, though I was invited. Twice. I do not belong to a synagogue at school. Or a church, for that matter. When pressed, I admit a reluctant belief in a higher power. Reluctant, because such admissions invariably open me up to long, intense discussions. The asker wants to know either how I could possibly hold such childish and naïve beliefs, given the state of the world, or, conversely, given my said beliefs, how I could not be attending services, deepening my understanding and devotion of said higher power.
I am as comfortable speaking about my faith as I am about my sex life. That is to say, not very.
The day I meet Raphael is not a good one, though not so horrible as to merit celestial intervention. It is spring break, and I am the only student staying in the dorms on my floor. There are only three of us in the entire building. We chat a bit when we bump into each other in the common room, but the two of them are working on a project for their astronomy class. They are filled with that low-key intensity that comes from having uninterrupted time to work on an extensive project. Whereas I am here, bored and lonely, by default because my spring break plans fell through. This is my brother's fault. But more on that later.
I have never stayed in a nearly vacant building before. There are the creaks, pops, and groans of an aging dormitory resting for a moment. Other than that, it is so quiet I can hear dust mites landing.
In my room, I am obeying the rules of cohabitation even though my roommate isn't here. Instinctively I find myself staying in my half of the room. Slouched on my bed, listlessly flipping through my con law textbook, I'm keeping an eye on the clock. The cafeteria has reduced hours, and though I've never cared for their food, the new, shorter mealtimes are the only thing giving my aimless days some structure. Dinner is from five to seven. Miss that and I'm stuck snacking on stale crackers or spending too much money on greasy pizza or hamburgers from the no-name restaurants nearby.
I keep an eye on the clock.
At this moment in time, if asked what I think about life, I would say that it is sometimes hard, sometimes beautiful, that we are alone in the universe, and that although there is probably a God, He is far away and not paying much attention.
I am skimming halfheartedly through the chapter on search and seizure when a tsunamic shrieking noise splits apart my dorm wall. I fall off the bed, smacking the sharp point of my elbow on the side of my desk, knocking over a chair. A cold, burning, glowing light singes my clothes, scorches my skin. The light fills the room, pouring in from the broken wall. I can't see. My bed, the desk, the chair, have disappeared in the flare. The icy light is glacier blue, exosphere thin. A voice coming from the light speaks in Ancient Hebrew. No, it is the light. I feel the words, the voice, reverberating down the vertebrae of my spine, coursing with the blood cells in my veins, and a terrible face neither female nor male imprints itself on the retinas behind my tightly closed eyes.
I curl into a protective comma, arms covering my head. The light tears me, burns me. I claw at my hair, my eyes, weeping. I wet myself. I pass out.
When I come to, I am sprawled on the floor in a parody of drunken abandon. I slowly sit up, drawing my limbs inward from their starfish-like stretch. Rubbing the growing bruise on my elbow and wincing from my aching head, I hold myself, crossing my arms over my chest, rocking back and forth. I notice with slight detachment that I am shaking like a struck tuning fork, vibrating.
Hesitantly, I look at the wall. It is whole, smooth, seamless. Its painted Sheetrock, scarred and dinged from years of freshman abuse, mocks the notion that anything has ever come through it. It has never split in two. Never has, never will.
There is no trace of the event. Nothing to show that I have just lost my mind except for the puddle at my feet, the deep scratches on my face.
Perhaps it is divine intervention that made Raphael choose spring break to come visit. I spend the next three days stupefied. I can't shake the memory of that voice; the terrifying feeling of my skin scorched with ice; the wall ripped open, then closed without a seam. I look up "delusions of grandeur" on the Internet; also "schizophrenia." I read that the insane do not think they are mad. The voices in their head, they claim, come from God.
It takes three days before my subconscious gets around to translating the angel's words. I studied Hebrew for my bat mitzvah, but it's been a while.
"I am Raphael, the archangel. Evacuate Tabitha, daughter of John, before the Sabbath."
A quick search of "Raphael" and I discover that he is considered the left hand of God. The founder of medicine. The root of his name, rapha, is the same as the root for "medicine" in Hebrew, rephuah. Raphael, while giving the doctors the desire to heal, also supports the coldness needed to inflict necessary acts of pain. I decide, then and there, that I will not study medicine.
To prove to myself that it is absurd, an LSD flashback without the LSD, I ask the few remaining stragglers around campus if they know anyone named Tabitha. A last name would help, but maybe hallucinations aren't supposed to be easy.
From the Hardcover edition.