Eli, José and I after the 2005 Raza Grad Celebration
The first call came at 7:44 a.m.
It was Ralph. He still has his own ring tone, but by the time I reached my phone, it had stopped ringing. A minute later, the phone beeped and I checked my voice mail.
“Hey Cindy what’s up? It’s Ralph. Can you give me a call when you get this message?”
He sounded a little groggy. I called back right away.
And then the words I’ve been trying to deny and forget all day flowed through my phone.
He asked if I’d heard from Eligio, a mutual friend. I said no. He asked again if I’d heard from him. I replied no again. He paused. I knew that pause. It was the hesitation of someone who is about to be the bearer of some awful news.
Last night, one of our friends, José Vásquez, was hit by a car as he walked home from a party. José died.
I didn’t comprehend the news at first. The details weren’t clear. They’re still not clear. From what I know, José was at a party with some friends. Those friends left him and he decided to walk home. He walked home on the freeway. We don’t know which one, but we know he was hit by a car and that he was taken to County/USC Medical Center.
I couldn’t sleep after hearing the news. I kept myself busy throughout the day by doing the things I had planned to do when I returned from Mexico late last night. I did laundry. I met up with a friend for a Dodger game and sat in the hot sun while I watched them beat the San Diego Padres. Then I went to a wedding.
Throughout the day, I tried to reach friends who were a little more removed from UCLA to give them the terrible news. They deserved to know as they had all once been part of the same circle while we were students.
I met José in 2001 when he joined MEChA. He entered UCLA in 2000 after graduating from Wilson High School in El Sereno. He was one of a few Salvadoreans in the organization, proof that our definition of Chicana/o was more than just being of Mexican origin. José got involved in some of the high school outreach projects and put his math major to good use as a tutor at local high schools. I think he even became the tutoring director for Xinachtli, MEChA’s outreach project. By his 4th year, José was in a special two-year program for undergraduate students interested in becoming math teachers. He finished off his BS in math while at the same time taking courses toward earning his teaching credential. He graduated from UCLA again last year with a Masters in Education. In the stands at Pauley Pavilion sat a few dozen students from Jordan High School, where he taught algebra. They held colorful signs congratulating the Jordan teachers graduating that afternoon. José was one of them. He was 25.
I told Vane the news in the morning. In the afternoon, I got ahold of Gabby, Isa and Chispa. Chispa and Isa referred to José by his nickname, Mighty Mouse. Isa mentioned that she had just seen him last week. Gabby called him her unofficial concert buddy because they ended up at the same concerts pretty often.
Eligio called me later as I was on my way to the wedding. “We’re all meeting up at Cynthia’s house in Echo Park,” he told me. The we he referred to was a bunch of UCLA alumni who were friends with José. told him I’d be at the wedding. I felt bad for not going, but I wanted to keep my mind off death.
Right now, I cried for the first time as I logged on to MySpace and saw that mutual friends had changed their profile pictures, names and headline messages in reference to José. I think it’s hitting me now that I’ll never attend another Halloween party, watch an early morning World Cup soccer match, eat tacos late at night at La Estrella or go to a UCLA basketball game with José.
I’m gonna miss him. A lot.