I watched my breath heave and billow. Hot stinging tears welled, making it hard to drive. Cold air whooshed in as I opened the car door on First Avenue, a frigid two blocks from the Ortega Funeral Home. As I rounded the corner, I saw people spilling out, some smoking, others just breathing and, in the cold, it was hard to tell the difference.
I went inside. The black sign with removable white letters spelling out her name pointed me left into a room thick with Spanish and cologne. I wrote my name in the book, ending with, “your favorite student,” as if she was ever to read who came and who didn’t. She was lying up front, her normally unruly curls tamed and her burgeoning belly gone. Dionisio, her husband sat to the right, alternately crying and laughing into his hands as the minister spoke, and spoke. “Thank you Professor,” I thought as my semester’s Spanish was put to work listening to the eulogy. Her name, “Ruth,” was spoken over and over. I also heard her husband’s name and “Octavio” more than a few times.
Octavio. Her baby was born only five days ago. She sent us an e-mail canceling class and we all looked forward to hearing the happy news, news which came and left so fast, it whipped us with disbelief. She had even sent us review notes for the final, which we sat for eight days after she died. “Easy as a pie,” she joked in her Dominican accented English, when we fretted about the test. “Piece of a cake.”
Why is it that when one who is loved, is lost, we turn inward to examine ourselves so rigorously? Who am I, really? Who will come to my funeral? What will they say? How many names will be written in my book?
I made my way to the front of the room and knelt beside her still form. I touched her forehead - cold like a refrigerator. Just a moment ago, you were alive, talking, teaching, laboring, giving birth and celebrating your son. Like Mary and Joseph, you and your husband welcomed your Christmas child. But you could not keep a fingerhold on this earth and left them - and us. For them, for us, it was too soon. For you? No sé.
Ciao, mi profesora. Sueños con los ángelitos. Hasta luego.