When I returned to El Refugio in 2008 I enjoyed teaching Vanessa a bit of English. I wish my Spanish had been better at the time so I could communicate with this very sweet girl. One thing that attracted me to her was that she was in the 21st century in some ways where other females were not. We became friends and she was somewhere between a daughter and a kid sister to me.
This past year, Vanessa became pregnant and married the young man who fathered the child. He’s a humble fellow, very friendly, and he loves Vanessa very much. He works. That’s always a big plus here in El Salvador in my assessment of couple relationships.
Her due date was set for early February 2012 and we shared her aches and pains along with the anticipation of a son. A name had been chosen. A crib had been obtained for the tiny house they share with Hna. Delia. A baby shower was given last Sunday by the women of the church. She was regaled with a lot of good things for her baby.
On Monday, she was taken to the National Hospital in Chalchuapa. She’d been having strong pains that might have been false labor. They kept her overnight and sent her home on Tuesday.
Later that day she was taken once more to the hospital in Chalchuapa. They told her to go to the National Hospital in Atiquizaya. This facility is smaller and lacks equipment such as ultra-sound. I don’t know why she was sent there.
On Wednesday morning, Vanessa’s sister Claudia and Nahomi’s mother, Ingris, knocked on our door out of breath. Ingris was crying. Claudia told us that the baby had died in his mother’s womb. No other information was given. They had to run to tell Hna. Delia.
Late Wednesday afternoon, we attended the wake for the baby at Claudia and Joaquin’s home. The guests were somber. Hna. Delia was overcome with grief and crying to Jesus for her daughter. Claudia and Ingris were rubbing her chest with alcohol and some leaves. Ingris began applying the liquid to her arms and legs as well. (Later, Margarita explained it’s a weed they use with the alcohol to calm someone.) Hna. Delia cried and shrieked until she suddenly stopped with her eyes closed causing a mild panic between the two women. At last she moaned and they had her get up to go into another room where she could lie on a soft sofa.
David, the baby’s father, came into where several of us were sitting. I got up to hug him and I told him how sorry I was and to be strong for Vanessa. He seemed little more than a boy in my arms as he wept. He’s served in the army and is now a guard at a prison. I held the young man, who is taller than I, for a few minutes until he seemed a bit more in control.
A bit later, they came in with the little white coffin and placed it on a table. The table had a white cloth that didn’t quite cover the length. Some women had been cutting white flowers and putting them in containers until there were six or eight vases to surround the coffin.
Someone opened it and a few went to look inside. The little boy with ruddy cheeks and a slightly open mouth was dressed and covered with a little blanket. He wore a light blue knitted cap. His eyes were closed as if in sleep. He looked so…complete, so ready to wake up with a tiny cry. But the tears were mine. Tears for Vanessa. Tears for David. Tears for Hna. Delia. And I confess to tears for me as well.
Only two days earlier, Margarita had been talking to Vanessa on the phone. Vani talked about going to work in the future and wondering if Uncle Roger would be able to watch the baby. My heart jumped at the thought. Of course I would be thrilled to have the opportunity to care for him. That joy was gone as well.
After a couple of hours of sitting, standing, walking outside, and sitting some more, Hno. Francisco began the short service. I had had a brief conversation with Hna. Yani about the baby’s death as God’s will and I couldn’t see God collaborating with incompetent medical personnel. So when Hno. Francisco opened with “another angel in heaven” I wished I could leave. Where? To be with Vanessa. I pictured her in the dinky little hospital alone because of the limited hours of visit and only the husband and close relatives permitted. How could all this have happened in so short a time? Why did this young mother have to be alone in the darkest hour of her life? Was she feeling guilt? Anger? No, that’s not Vanessa. The anger was and is mine. Abandoned? I don’t know. I just know that if I had my way I’d be trying to console her, be praying with her in the best Spanish I could muster up. What must she be going through while her mother is inconsolable here?
It’s now Thursday. The interment will be at 2:00 p.m. Margarita has been cooking and helping to prepare food for the CDI kids in the absence of the bereaved cooks. This afternoon we’ll go to the house and begin the long walk from Colonia El Angel, where in 2010 Vanessa was queen in the Fiestas Patronales, to the community cemetery about a mile up the highway. Despite the calls for joy at the baby’s heavenly reception, there will be tears. Certainly on my cheeks…for the injustice done to Vanessa and David, for people willing to take whatever the government in its many forms lays on them, for the loss of someone loved by so many although we never got to know him.