Friday, January 23, 2009

In Memory of Milton Rojas

Baby Amelia

Amelia is my first dog. I'd never had a dog growing up because of my dad's allergies, so I didn't really know much about them.

I was so excited about Amelia. I'd noticed little bugs on her during the car ride home, but there are bugs on everything here, so I didn't think much of it. Her little belly was unusually large for her body, but I just figured that was her baby shape.

Amelia's Paunch

As soon as we got back to the office, I took her directly to Roberto and proclaimed "Isn't she beautiful?!". He agreed that she absolutely was beautiful, but that given her fleas and with so many worms in her tummy maybe we should call the vet sooner rather than later.

That is how, later that afternoon, I met Milton.

Milton was on the track team with Roberto in high school. After they graduated he received a scholarship from an American woman who lives part time in San Jorge. And so, although he came from a poor family, he began working his way up to a financially secure and rewarding life.

Every time I saw him, whether running into him outside his wife's store, or an appointment for Amelia, he was always so wonderfully even keel. He never looked for attention, but was always so helpful and kind with a smile and a chuckle as he would joke with me while giving Amelia a shot.

Last week I met with him and his wife, Dania after work to present a couple of options for their house addition which they had requested from me. We talked about where the bathroom should go, the room for their son, the room for their future child already planned for, their room and a study room (very unusual for a Nicaraguan house, but Milton had one year of study left to receive his Masters in Veterinary Science).

So given all this, you can understand why it didn't seem real when Roberto received a call Sunday night from his grandmother (his grandfather was the track coach) saying that Milton had been killed.

It took us five minutes to gather everything and leave on his motorcycle and another 10 minutes to get to his house. It was 15 minutes of refusing to cry, 15 minutes I was sure that it was a different Milton, that someone had gotten confused, that the rumor had simply gotten out of hand.

And then we turned onto his street and saw the people outside, the beginning of mourning.

When we got there, the police were guarding the door, finishing their investigation. Less than two hours before, Milton had still been alive. Less than two hours before, for reasons still not fully understood, Milton had chosen this day to come home from hanging out with a couple friends, enter the bedroom, lock the door and shoot himself.

Afterwards, however, is terribly clear in my memory. Roberto, his grandfather, grandmother and I stood outside the house with a hundred other people as the preparations began.

Dania, Milton's wife, called my cell to let me know what had happened. She was inside the bedroom with the curtains drawn, so I let her know I was already outside. I was sure she had many more calls to make.

The police left and three chairs were arranged to hold the casket in the living room while the body was being prepared in the bedroom.

Plastic chairs were rented for all those waiting outside. Teenage cousins were charged with handing out plastic cups of soda and refreshments. The mood was hushed, but people chatted in their groups.

We stayed until almost midnight, sitting and talking. I stopped inside to give Dania a hug before we left. She was putting pajamas on her little boy who was blissfully oblivious.

Before we left a hired car with loud speakers began its crawl through the neighborhoods announcing the death and time of service for 4 PM the next day. Funerals are held quickly because bodies are not preserved with chemicals.

The following afternoon arrived with haze and a warm sun as people gathered at Milton's house. The casket was loaded into Milton's truck which he used to visit farms for his work. From there we walked behind the slow moving truck to the church Las Mercedes.

Procesion de Milton
Procession to the church.

Milton en la Iglesia
Milton's casket being carried into the church.

After the service, the crowd then walked to the cemetery where Milton was placed in a brick and concrete tomb, the most common form of burial in this area.

Intierro de Milton

Life is not easy here. Milton achieved more than most, but possibly because he took the pressure to heart more than most. He was 27 years old and leaves behind his parents, four sisters, a wife and a four year old son.

Funeral Berries

1 comment:

Corrie said...

I'm so sorry, Cole. I just saw this... as you can imagine, it brought memories of Kennedy back and how in this made rush of a world we rarely often are able to know others deeply, or even ourselves...