Gabi's body was the size of a six-month-old. Yet she was two years old. Though she was Ecuadorian, she looked like a fine porcelain doll, like the ones my uncle brought back after serving in South Korea in the late 1960s. Someone had picked up Uncle Fred from the airport and the car pulled curbside to our house. In each hand was a bag. A bag with a clear box that contained the finely dressed and crafted doll. Loraine got first choice (as usual), and chose the girl in blue silk. Mine was dressed in red. I loved those dolls. I loved Gabi.
I discovered her one day strapped to a cushioned chair inside the apartment for the babies. We usually waited outside for the tias to bring out the children. I was drawn to her by something unexplainable. A purity, a preciousness, a feeling unable to be caught with words. I was content to sit next to her. To stroke her hand.
"Can you feel it?" I remember asking a fifteen year old student.
The question caught him off guard. He didn't know how to answer or he hadn't noticed "that feeling."
It was so real, that when the tias did bring her outside in a stroller or in her chair, I went to her immediately--took her for a walk, then sat down and just basked in that feeling. I worked with her clenched fists, wiggling my fingers into her grasp, trying to help her relax. So taut were her fingers, I worked slowly afraid her fingers would break.
One night, a tia asked me to soothe Gabi in her crib. I was elated. The tia knew I felt an affinity for this little girl. This little girl whose eyes couldn't focus and perhaps couldn't see. This little girl who had no ability to move. The little girl who kept her hands clenched tight. The little girl who occasionally seemed to struggle for breath. I sang to her. All the songs I could remember from when I sang to my own babies. After a while, she settled down.
A few weeks ago, one of our students, still in contact with another volunteer, sent an email. He wanted me to know first that Gabi had died. Wanted to make sure I was okay before he let everyone else know. He didn't know from what she died or the circumstances.
Perhaps her death explained the feeling. That inexplicable feeling so tangible, yet not tangible at all. Gabi's earthly sojourn was almost over. She endured two short years in a body with severe limitations. It was enough. She was watched over by entities unseen, hardly comprehensible, but with a presence that could only be described as heavenly. That feeling.
Gabi is free.