THE FRIEND WHO WAS ALWAYS THERE
Today I celebrate the life of a childhood friend. Rogelio Cantu and I were elementary students in the same, catholic school: El Instituto Rougier. The school is still there today, educating our little Veracruzanos inside a big building, in front of the sea. From those balconies that wrap around the classrooms, we would see the sea in its glorious peace or fury. And in that garden our bustle would be chorus to the noisy hustle of passersby in the boulevard - the volovanero, the coconut seller, the tram and the busses ... Today the jarocho children continue wearing the same, much too hot, uniform (pleaded skirts made with wool fabric and knee socks - bermuds for the boys) and the poor nuns are still melting inside their long skirts and nylon stockings.
I remember Rogelio him that, in his shorts just above his bony knees, his shirt always starched and his polished shoes. What I remember most about him is his smile. He was a tall, skinny boy and the typical classroom spectator who enjoyed thoroughly the comedy around him – the boy pulling the girl’s braids and the bully grimacing at the nun's back...
Rogelio's family owned ranches and that is where the nun’s organized their fund raising parties. In those parties we played the games of those times (pulling the rope, putting the tail to the donkey, piñatas, etc). The game I remember most is the wedding game. A girl would be “kidnapped” and transported to a “church” to get married. Thus was my first wedding to a boy named Aurelio Baldizan (R.I.P) - a boy whose head was way too big. I was married against my will.
When I was nineteen years old I married my husband willingly and we moved to Seattle, Washington. Thirty years passed and I did not see Rogelio again nor many of my school friends. Every time I went back to Veracruz, I only had time to visit my numerous family members. As is often the case, my classmates had scattered all over the country and beyond.
A couple of years ago I was surprised to receive a "whatsup" invitation to join a group named "The Aurelianos". The administrator and founder of the group was Rogelio Cantú. Thus I learned that my elementary school husband, Aurelio, had died. I also learned that "Rougier's boys" had been with him, supporting him, in his last days in this world. The solidarity of my classmates moved me. The fact that a Rogelio was now bringing us together (at least virtually, in the name of our school friend, seemed to me a beautiful act on his part. I joined the group gladly and with curiosity.
Little by little I began to reconnect with those "boys and girls" that today (mostly) are grandparents. A year ago, when I presented my novel in my beloved city, we met for dinner and they didn’t let me pay! Many of them attended my novel’s presentation. Their display of affection touched me. It was nice to see them again. In April when I returned to Veracruz I met with Rogelio, la Veci and Rocío (other companions) in a cafe. Rogelio came to see us, even though he was not feeling well. I never imagined it would be the last time I would see him.
There are two things I have learned by participating in my classmates Whatsup chat. The first is this: the nuns did a good job instilling in us values uch as loyalty, benevolence and kindness. The more I get to know (or recognize) my friends, the more I am surprised at what they have accomplished with their lives for their own good, and for the good of their communities. I observe with admiration the respect and affection that they maintain in the chat and I am convinced that that patience and altruism displayed we owe it to Rogelio.
The second jewel for me is this: friends are always there and distance matters little. At any moment you can resume old friendships, you only need a little push, like the one that Rogelio gave us.
I do not know when that tall, skinny boy decided to step onto the stage and take part in the drama of our lives, but I grateful that he did. Above all, I appreciate the fact that our dear Roger never lost his smile. Wherever he is I know that he is enjoying the odyssey. I can already see him setting up a chat with those who, like him, got ahead of us.