I know now that I was a rather priggish kid through most of my years in elementary and high school. I was also really insecure and thin skinned. I was socially awkward; in fact, as I think about it, I was quite a mess. I could not get out of my school fast enough—I’ve written elsewhere that I literally left Colombia within a week after I graduated high school and I have lived more than twice as long in the USA than I did in Colombia.
A few years ago, after swearing just about on my life that I would never, ever go to a class reunion, I ended up going to one in South Florida. I think a little more than half the class of ’78 of Colegio Bolivar gathered over a weekend that was absolutely magical. We’ve all grown up to become some pretty interesting, cool people.
One of the people I got to spend time with that weekend was Maria Bueno, whom we all called Cheche. She was pretty, she was adventurous, and when we were in high school, was one of the people I found really threatening. She and her friends would go to the far back of the girls’ bathroom to smoke and I’d be outraged, I tell you, outraged. She was comfortable in her body in a way I could not be in mine and I realize now how uncomfortable that made me, how I envied the cool girls.
Recently, I read an article about academic tracking—how kids are assessed and put in tracks depending on ‘academic potential’ that become self-fulfilling prophecies. We had that at Bolívar and I was in a different academic track than Cheche, one that certainly gave room to no small amount of smug self-righteousness on my part.
One of the loveliest parts of the class reunion was that I got to spend time with Cheche. I got to know her as a kind, really funny, very accomplished woman. I remember being so thankful that I had gotten more comfortable in my own skin and less insecure so I could see what a beautiful person she was. Even more, I was just thankful for the chance to get to know her, rather than the version of her that had been filtered through so much of my own baggage. She lived in Southeast Florida and we stayed in touch, tried a couple of times to have lunch but things were happening fast and furious in my life with my daughter and my work, and we never did manage to have that lunch.
Last Thursday, Cheche had a massive stroke and she died that night. I found out on Saturday, right after I finished officiating at a wedding that was all about youth and new beginnings and silliness and joy. The news of her death made me very sad—and I am still sad. May she rest in peace, and even more, may her beloved daughters, whom I did not meet but whom I heard so much about during that class reunion, and her husband, be surrouned by the grace and goodness that come from having been loved by such a beautiful, special woman.