It began the day I was praying on the way to work. “All I want for my children is to be happy,” this heartfelt prayer was escorted by tears that hindered my driving. But the Lord guided me to work as He has always guided through life.
A week later I got a call from my son’s boss. “Mrs. Villareal?” he said, “I haven’t seen Gabriel in a couple of days and you wanted me to call you if that ever happened.” I remembered talking to this nice young man just in case. Gabriel was a diabetic and also had ADHD. His job in the technical department of a local junior college had been a Godsend for someone who was limited in many ways but gifted in just as many.
The call continued, “He was sick on Wednesday (THIS WAS MONDAY!) and I took him home from work. He was vomiting but I thought it was just a bug or something. . . .” He left it there like he didn’t know how to continue.
“Thank you,” I said quickly as I grabbed my purse and keys out of my desk. I told my co-workers I was going to check on my son and dashed out the door.
Going down Hwy 75 in Dallas during the lunch hour can be daunting, but once again the Lord guided my car as it raced towards his apartment. How many times had I been there to take him a treat, to pick him up for lunch, to give him money when he was short? I didn’t know. But this time, it felt so different. Like the Lord was preparing me even as I drove. Yet, I kept praying for my son through it all. I just couldn’t stop. I was on spiritual automatic – worried? Give it to the Lord. He can take care of it all!
When I pulled up to his apartment I rushed to the front door. I rang the doorbell and knocked called his name said, “Gabe, this is Mom!” No answer, none and I couldn’t hear any movement from inside.
All I could think was “I can’t get to help him!” and I could feel myself panicking. Luckily he lived on the ground floor so I could go around to his bedroom window and knock there. Maybe he was asleep. As I approached the window, the blinds were closed. But through the slits, I could see the light from the bedroom and the frequent shadows the ceiling fan cast on the walls.
I knocked on the window, “Gabriel, let me in it’s Mom.” No answer and I swallowed my fear.
I went back to the front door and knocked again and began to make an alternate plan. ‘I have to go the manager’s office. I’m on the lease so I know they’ll let me in.’ He always kept his door securely locked and chained all the time so I was surprised when a still small voice said, “Try the door” and shocked when it opened without any problem.
When I walked into his room I saw him lying on his bed fully clothed tennis shoes and all. He was on his side like he had fallen asleep. I sat down next to him and touched his leg, now cold and rigid. The patchwork quilt on his bed his grandmother had made for him and I had patched and repatched many times lay on his bed. I wanted so badly to cover him with that quilt. To keep him warm and safe. I squelched this feeling deep into my soul and ran my hand through his dark curls. “Oh Gabriel,” was all I could say.
I knew what I had to do so once again I went on automatic and called 911. It wasn’t until they asked for the address that I panicked. I couldn’t remember my son’s address and here I was in a multiplex of apartments in the Village that all look the same. I could give them the street though and said, “My car is parked right in front – a blue Matrix!” I was walking around the front of the building and looking for numbers for anything that would make it stand out for them to find us. To help us! There was nothing there.
That’s when I saw his next door neighbor walking towards me with a basket of clothes. “I just found my son dead and I need to call the police. What is the address of this apartment?”
By the look on his face, I knew I had freaked him out. He scratched his head and said, “I don’t know!”
“Do you have a piece of mail it might be on?” I asked and realized Gabriel might have one. But for the life of me, I couldn’t make myself go in and look.
He answered “Uh, sure, let me look,” and rushed into his apartment.
He was by my side in an instant, “I can’t find anything!” he said now as panicked as I was.
“That’s ok,” I found myself trying to console him. He was just a kid. Younger than Gabriel, I was sure, who always seemed much younger than his actual years.
I waited outside and paced. I kept waiting for the police, an ambulance, something. There was someone on the phone with me who kept saying in a calm, quiet voice, “Stay with me, they’re trying to find you.” Finally, I spotted them, an ambulance that was driving very slowly and passed me on the street.
When I waved for them to stop, they came back. Paramedics, police, detectives, and eventually the coroner. Someone, a paramedic I think, finally asked me if there was someone I could call and I said, “His dad, but I can’t get a line out. She (the 911 operator) has locked up my phone.”
The man gently took the phone from my hands, pressed a few buttons and gave it back to me. It was then I contacted my husband at school and pulled him away from his classroom with an emergency call. “We’ve lost Gabriel. I’m at his apartment now,” was all I could say. It wasn’t until I was sitting there on the stairs waiting for him that I realized it sounded as though he had run away.
As people asked me question after question and I realized what they must think. Gabriel had needles in empty soda bottles. This was something he had learned to do when we found out he was diabetic and had to take insulin.
By the time my husband arrived, person after person had been in and out of the apartment. When we wanted to go back in a young police officer standing sentry at the door told us no. I guess they had designated it as a crime scene. “Please,” I begged, “This is our son.”
The officer finally relented but followed us in. “Just don’t touch anything . . . please,” he added kindly.
My husband and I stood by his bed clutching each other’s hands to keep from touching our son. The one we had brought into the world in 1975 who looked like a wrinkled old man when he was born and who was a beautiful miracle to us.
The officer’s radio crackled with a voice that said, “They need to come out now. The coroners are here.”
As we walked outside we saw it then, a white van devoid of writing on any side. I would never be able to look at another white van and not think of that day.
A detective came up to us and said, “Would you please come over here and answer some questions for me?” I knew he was just trying to get us out of the way so they could bring Gabriel out
As my husband and I sat side by side on the cold cement stairs, the detective asked us question after question about Gabriel and about ourselves. He was patient and kind as we asked questions as well.
It wasn’t until he left us alone that I saw them, hundreds of them, hanging from trees and all over the ground. One fell into my lap and I admired it quietly. It was long, green, and shiny with countless legs.
Much later we found out Gabriel had passed away from ketoacidosis which was a result of his diabetes. I remembered the day we received the final report the Lord had sent the caterpillars to remind me. As a caterpillar changes into a beautiful butterfly, we receive our heavenly bodies as entering his kingdom in heaven. Just like the song If You Could See Me Now Gabriel is with the Lord now healthy and happy. My prayer for his happiness had been answered.