This I Believe

Karina - Oakland, California
Entered on December 22, 2006

I believe in Angels. Not the frilly, white kind with wings and halos that hover over you in dreams, but the vociferous, brown and proud kind that follow me throughout my day – while I’m driving on the freeway, while I’m sitting in meetings at work, while I’m washing the dishes, and especially while I’m listening to loud salsa music on the radio. And for me, it’s always the same Angel. It’s the spirit of my homegirl, Emilia, who passed away earlier this year.

Emilia and I met in college. In fact, we lived together during a study-abroad semester in South America. We were there in winter and it was much colder than either of us had expected. Although there were two bedrooms in our little house-behind-a-house, we only had one space heater, so we packed everything into one room and not only shared a bed, but over the span of five months, shared our life stories, our hopes and dreams, our greatest fears and inevitably lots of laughs and even a few tears. And the tears, for Emilia, turned out to be uncharacteristic. In fact, in all the years that I knew her, I only saw her cry two other times aside from our late night truth-telling sessions in Chile; one was when she didn’t get in to Boalt Law School (her top choice), and the other was the last time I ever saw her.

The last time I saw Emilia it was a wet, rainy day in San Francisco. My 7-month old son and I met her in her downtown office. She commented on the modern-day rain protector I had draped over my son’s stroller. I confessed, “I know mujer, I have baby gear now.” I commented on the beautiful view of the San Francisco Bay from her posh, lawyerly office. She bragged, “I know gurl, I have a real attorney’s office now.” We went to lunch and she told me the sad and shocking story of her pending divorce, laden in betrayal and hurt. As always, she was composed and animated, using her hands as she spoke. At one point, as she was unpacking and retelling lie after lie after lie, I could no longer contain my emotional reaction. Tears started rolling down my face. And the minute that happened, her eyes welled up in such a way I had never seen before. For a moment, she let go. There was a quick but eternal silence between us – both of us staring blankly at each other with tears saying more than words could, or ever will. And yet now, in retrospect, it has been the single moment I go back to again and again, searching for signs of what was to come.

I got the call in the middle of the night, at 1:44am to be exact. It was my friend Teresa, who I also know from our semester abroad in Chile. “Karina, I need you to wake up.” There were more words after that, but all I remember coming next was, “I have some very bad news.” And then there were more words I can’t remember, ultimately culminating in words I will unfortunately always remember: “I think Emilia committed suicide tonight.”

That was the first time I saw the Angel. Or more accurately, that was the first time I FELT the Angel. In my dark house, in the middle of the night, I felt empty and alone, yet something was with me. Someone was with me.

You see, the truth is: although Emilia and I stayed connected after college, we pursued different paths. We led different lives. We led astray, as the say…As the years passed, we saw less and less of each other, busy lives getting in the way of old friends.

This is part of what I struggle with now – the fact that Emilia feels more present in my life now than she was when she was alive. I never used to think about her while driving on the freeway, while sitting at a meeting at work, while washing the dishes. (I did, however, always think about her while listening to loud salsa music. That was just part of knowing Emilia). It’s as if I see her in ways I never did she was alive; as if this Angel sees me now in ways Emilia never saw me when she was here on earth. I see her big, broad smile in crowed markets. I hear her loud, confident voice in noisy nightclubs. But most of all, I feel her presence in the mundane of life – going about my day, hugging my son, reading the paper. She is a true Angel. Alive in life, not in dreams.

We are closer now. And we are farther apart.

This I believe: I believe in Angels that are brown and proud, loud and fierce. I believe in Emilia.