When I arrived at the DA's office building on Thursday May 8th, it was a balmy morning; I could smell the ocean and the freshness of nature; the birds were chirping and the majestic Santa Barbara Court House clock sounded 8:15. (The previous night, in my dreams, I was chatting on the phone, laughing and making plans with a friend to get together.) That day, in the late afternoon, I would be on my way to Santa Maria to meet with her for the last time. I needed to finalize the carpooling plans with other mutual friends who work in that office, and I wanted to do it as soon as possible.
As I was sitting in the rather new, white, "intelligent" building, whose lights turn on and off automatically and keeps a comforting temperature at all times, I couldn't help but looking at the people who were seemingly floating through the hallways, in a somber mood. Even though they went about their business in the usual manner, there was heaviness in the air and in the way they walked; most of them wore monochromatic black attire. In the normally loud office, one could not hear the everyday laughter, or the jokes played among peers. The office was quiet; people spoke softly as if their voices could disrupt their memories of a lost friend, and colleague.
The Santa Barbara District Attorney's office's 140 or so employees in the whole county knew Laura Cleaves. The senior Investigator who, due to her 25+ years of experience, dealt with the most complex case load, the one who had the highest work ethics, and who always tried to do the right thing; the woman who opened the doors of her home every year during Christmas time, so people could rejoice with her decorations and welcoming goodies; the Sheriff's Office trainer, the horse lover, and the excellent wife, mother and cook. She was fun, calm, gracious and humble, as only the great can be. Her impeccable reputation preceded her, but she acted like one more among her peers.
It was hard for everyone to hear about the accident that ended such a rich, full life. When the telephone rang at my home in the early morning of May 2nd, I could not believe or make sense of what I was hearing, but it was unfortunately true. Laura was killed by an irresponsible, egocentric, and brainless drunk driver who ripped us all of a wonderful human being, who provided a great service to our community.
Laura with her sweet smile was there, at the religious service in spirit, welcoming everyone for the last time. (I smiled at the thought that she and I made the meeting we arranged the previous night in my dreams.) For her friends who vastly overflowed the large church capacity one thing was very obvious, there was no doubt or disagreement about what kind of person she was. Those who gave the eulogies, and the rest of us in our minds, described her as ethical, warm, trustworthy, committed, and loving. Most of us were trying to contain our tears in an attempt, not always successful, to quiet our pain.
Maya Angelou said once that "A woman of courage enters a room, and everyone is put at ease. There is something appealing in the way she walks and in the way se holds herself." This is the memory I will always keep about Laura.
Her human presence might be gone, but her impact in all of her family, friends and the community outlives her.
Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.
Cross-posted at Edhat.com