I’ll never forget the writing class I took my senior year of college. We were a group of eclectic people – young, old, black, white, druggie, straight-laced, Christian, Athiest, gay, straight – and yet we were a family.
There was the lady old enough to be my grandma. She had previously served in Africa with the Peace Corps and she was one of my closest friends. There was the kid with the red converse shoes – he had lived on a military base in Japan for a summer. He was one of the best writers in our class, and I had a crush on him. There was the girl who was clearly cooler and prettier than everyone else, but she didn’t act that way at all. She was one of us – she saw the world the same way we did.
We knew everything about each other, more than many of our close friends or family members even knew. Our class was a safe place where we could share stories of abortions and lost loves, childhood innocence and sexual experiences, family secrets and personal dreams. Everyone was so real and raw and interesting. We didn’t limit our interactions to class time; often we would linger around before or after to talk about the bigger things in life.
Our professor, Rane, was a proud gay Latino from Chicago. I loved and hated him. He would go on and on about how he could teach anywhere else – an array of prestigious schools across the country were constantly recruiting him – but he chose to stay in Toledo because of students like us; talented students in smaller cities. I would roll my eyes and think he was annoying for making such a big deal of his sacrifice. He would hound us about finding our voice as a writer – he told me that he had no sense of who was writing my essays, that I sounded like more a column or blog writer (…he had a point.) I remember wanting to rip my essays up and throw them in his face; I wanted to curl up in a corner and cry. I hated him because he pushed me to be a better writer, and it hurt. I was so starved for his approval.
I haven’t really written anything of substance since that time in my life – I haven’t been pushed to. That is, until I pushed myself to write something beautiful this past March. I wrote a 20-page essay about an experience I had in Africa, and as soon as I finished it I emailed it to Rane. To me, it wasn’t good unless he said it was good. He responded and said he wouldn’t be able to read it until the following week, but then he would get back to me.
I want to be a person who believes the best about people, but I didn’t think he would get back to me. He never returned our final portfolios (30 pages of writing!) – even after we begged him for months after the class had ended. And I was right, he didn’t get back to me this time either.
When I was driving back to Toledo two days ago I thought about Rane, and how I still wanted my senior portfolio back from him – I wanted to see it marked up with all his brilliant comments that would inevitably piss me off. Also, I still wanted to know what he thought about my Africa essay. And I just wanted to know how he was; if he was still living with his partner and if he had written anything lately.
That night I googled him to find out where his office was located. This is what popped up…
The first thing I saw was Rane Ramon Arroyo (November 15, 1954 – May 7, 2010). Weird, I thought. Someone else must’ve had a similar name. It took me a few more seconds of scanning the google page to realize it was him; it was true: my professor tragically died three months ago.
I sat there, stunned.
How could this be? The last time we had communicated with each other was just a month before he died, and at that time he said he was full of positive energy.
I was lying on the back of my car yesterday, staring up at the sky and thinking about life. All the things I had been so focused on the past few weeks seemed ridiculous: finding a job in Columbus, applying for Teach for America, figuring out my living situation …none of it even matters in the big scheme of things. And somehow I forgot.
As I watched the clouds dance across the blue sky above me, I wondered where Rane was right now. He surely didn’t claim Christianity, so where did that leave him? I thought about how I had been nervous to send him my Africa essay, because it had strong Christian themes and I didn’t know how he would respond to that. And then I wondered if he had read it, and maybe it affected him and maybe that was the whole reason why I wrote it in the first place, even though I thought I was writing it for myself. God knew Rane was going to die just a few weeks later, so maybe he loved Rane so much that He used me to write an essay that would change Rane’s heart toward Jesus. I don’t know. These are just thoughts.
It makes me think of life as this big spider web – and everything and everyone is connected, though we will never fully understand this. Only God sees the big picture, and he is the one who weaves us in and out of each other’s lives.
All I know is that Rane affected my life, and I can only hope that I affected his.