People bunched outside of the chapel doors, SRO, trying to peer inside. Ribbons fluttered in the breeze, wide long ribbons from wreaths strung with their black phrases in English and Vietnamese. Wreaths and flowers lined the interior to the doors. One from an ER staff—I presumed—someone’s co-workers.

Incense at an alter, gilt packets, a large floral centerpiece around her photograph, and at one side, a small Buddha. Behind it, a tapestry of the Buddha. I had no view because of the press of people.

Leaves on a green lawn under big trees. Traffic on Main Street kitty corner from Ranch 99 Market. The minister spoke in Vietnamese. Men ducked in and out, whispering. She appeared to me, this girl, bearing up under the significant duress, of her time and ours, with an inward steeliness, an outward coldness.

As if begrudging words, sometimes she’d say goodbye. I thought it was mere shyness. She was lithe and strong, a distance runner. Sometimes I heard the goodbye. I looked up as she went to the door—the abrupt profile of her cheek so expressed the fierce determination that I admired and respected.

17 years old, swept out by a wave on the beach and drowned last Saturday, as if the world insisted on making the cruelest, most bitter gesture in the most obvious vacant way. Her friends wept as they spoke of their love for her. I waited my turn to speak. “Thank you for the honor of letting us know Thuy Tran,” I said, “thank you for the honor of allowing me to be her teacher.”

I clasped the hands of her brother, her sister and her mother, on the way out the side door. I said something to them. Her mother thanked me. Out in the sunshine, my cell phone chirped. Messages ticked into my cell phone, wishing me happy birthday.