They were very different girls, Altonise and Alexis.
Both were fun-loving, full of life, and feisty. Beyond that, their similarities were the color of their brown skin and the first letter of their names.
I taught them both, loved them both, and both were murdered.
One was a senior, one was a junior. Different high schools. Different challenges in life. Different goals. Different styles. Different attitudes.
Both were found dead in their homes, both of their last moments filled with violence and terror.
Unfulfilled promise that will never have a chance to bloom.
As a teacher, there are no things worse than the funeral of a student, except maybe the day when you and your students find out about that death.
I couldn’t go to Alexis’ funeral because my husband works weekends and I couldn’t find a sitter.
Altonise’s fell on Monday after a rainy Easter weekend. The day burst with bright blue sky and a few dancing white clouds. My heart wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the day nestled in with the tragedy of the funeral.
But even the funeral wasn’t gloomy.
There were songs of hope and the promise of salvation, and guarantees that, if we follow the right path, we’ll be able to see our loved ones again. The mourners sang and clapped along, and silences were punctuated with the keening of her friends and family.
There were speeches of forgiveness and admonitions against violence and revenge.
And there was pink. Deep rich pink, like impatiens in the summer. It was in the corsages members of her family wore, in the flowers around her casket, and in the headbands and hairstyles of her friends.
As a mom, there are no words I can offer for comfort. And as a teacher, there aren’t either. Death is of life, and we must face it, but when it is a shocking death, a loss of the promises of youth, how do you find comfort or offer it?
And so, for Alexis and Altonise, two spirited young women whose tenacity and spunk lit up the world around them, I can only offer words. One of my favorite poets is John Donne, whose poetry is by turns passionate and full of faith, lost and full of love. In one of his holy sonnets he says, “But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space.”
I will mourn the space that held these two girls, and hope that as the world turns on, those who loved them will live a little more, do a little more good, and experience a little more of life in their honor.