Ariana’s funeral was beautiful. We are all heartbroken, but after the years upon years of hospital visits and deteriorating health, I think that Raúl feels a sense of closure. He is not relieved, and he doesn’t feel free – just trapped by a new kind of grief – but now, finally, he knows it won’t get worse.
I don’t think I’d ever been to a funeral for someone I cared for as much as Ariana. It felt good to be surrounded by people who love her and who I love and to be able to talk about her and talk to each other and lay her body to rest and eat food and laugh together afterwards. Standing next to Raúl, I could not help but wonder how many people he had seen die in ruthless violent ways. I wondered what it was like for him to be in death’s audience again.
After the funeral service, Miguel and I had people over for food and drinks. People stayed a long time and talked. By 11pm, everyone had filtered out but Raúl, who looked at me from the middle of a collection of empty food trays and wine glasses and asked if he could stay the night. Now he is sleeping on our fold-out couch, breathing heavy and still as a rock. Miguel and I clean up in the kitchen. We try not to be too loud, but I don’t think anything could wake Raúl right now. I watch Miguel scrubbing plates and humming to himself, his gray hair, his fingers crinkling with age. I have never felt so lucky.
When Raúl left the bakery and went back to teaching, Miguel asked me if I’d miss him. That was seven years ago, and I still see Raúl at least once a week. He tells me about his students, who were born in 1992, 1995 – “I swear, Gabriel, they’re growing up in a different country than we did,” he tells me.
It’s almost Christmas, and I keep thinking of that Christmas more than thirty years ago when Raúl reappeared. It feels like yesterday. In some ways, every time I see him, it is a reappearance.