When I try to explain Irma to other people I am speechless, and suddenly less effusive than I normally am. Somehow my mind draws a blank, and I try to tell stories of her, of how she shaped my life, how I tell her I love her every day, and how much I miss her completely.
I met Irma in 2003 when we both worked for the Sociology Department at the University of Utah. As is typical with a lot of my friends, we had an instant bond and shared in laughter and happiness. I quickly fell into what I considered her inner circle of friends. We would get together every Tuesday and Thursday at the Hard Rock Cafe, where we would drink margaritas and Long Island iced teas as if they were going out of style. We talked about the world, politics, gender, and anything intellectual. We were young, idealistic, and a bit foolish, but we had the best of intentions.
Prior to meeting Irma, I didn’t have a sense of what my future could hold. I went to college for the education; I never really had a plan after graduation. She taught me that I could go to graduate school, law school, and could become a professor of linguistics, sociology, or anything I wanted. I must have seemed so nascent to her, but I think she secretly reveled in opening my eyes to how influential I could be, and how much I could contribute to the world around me.
When the Air Force called her to serve in Missouri, I felt devastated. I remember this group of friends sharing a cocktail of anger, resentment, sadness, and loss; one we would experience again just a few years later. Irma pressed on and went to Whiteman Air Force Base and enrolled in the university there to pursue her Master’s degree. I visited her one January, just before graduation, and we had a great time laughing about the world, questioning everything, and arguing about the value of fiction versus non-fiction. I returned to Utah to finish my degrees and start working and she continued on with her service.We had regular phone dates, and she told me about her trip to Venezuela and what she learned about poverty, equality, race, and capitalism.
She came back to Utah during the holidays of 2005, and we had a brief get together with her, and I remember feeling her vivacity and knowledge pierce through the darkness of the winter. This was the last time I saw her. In May of 2006 she was killed in Mexico while visiting her family.
The day I got the call was one of the worst days of my life. I cried for three days straight, and then drove with two other friends to Missouri for the military memorial, to meet members of her family, and grieve with new and old friends. I felt the world lost one of its best individuals, and that no one would ever, or could ever, compare to her. I still feel this way, and every day I wish she were alive.
Irma taught me to not give up. She taught me to love, to fight, to constantly educate myself, to question everything I hear, read, and see, and to challenge myself in every way possible. I can still her her voice and her laughter, I can imagine her body movements and her reactions to certain scenarios. And every time I do I experience the grief and loss. It gets better every day, but the loss is still a profound ache. I wish I could tell her I love her and I miss her. I wish she could read these words. I am confident she knows how much she means to me, even after all of these years without her. But I would give anything up to have her in my life again. Mi amor, Irma.