It is Too Much to Love
A story from New Domangue
I remember when I hired Joaquín as my helper. If it hadn’t been for Carla’s persistence, I never would have hired a man old enough to be my great-grandfather. He must have been pushing a hundred. His old age showed in his work, in the way he pruned so slowly, or the way he seemed to fall asleep behind the handlebars of the lawnmower. But it was like Carla said to me, I was giving him an opportunity to just feel alive. He didn’t talk much beyond responding to my requests with a short, “Yes, Randy” or “Okay, Randy” to my requests. Initially, he called me Mr. Randy, and I couldn’t stand it. It took me some time to get him away from that. What was I to him, anyway? Some clever kid who owned some machines? I was attempting to become an artist—a sculptor, in fact—but I was succeeding in the meantime as a lawn-care guy. My art was pretty much dried up at that point, so I put my energy into the business I got going in New Domangue with a couple of lawnmowers and trimmers.
I thought at first that Carla’s advice about moving to New Domangue would be helpful. A change of scenery could get my art going in the right direction, after all—at least, Carla helped me think so. When we met in New Orleans two years ago, I was still developing my ideas, exploring my craft, but for some reason my art began to wither when our relationship got serious. She said to try New Domangue. She grew up there, and it was different than the city, she said. So I moved.
I had been here about three months when Carla and I began to have problems. I don’t know how it all began, but next thing I knew we were constantly at odds. She said I had turned cold, that I was barely alive, that I didn’t seem to care. I didn’t agree with her, but for whatever reason, things got sour, so I just focused on my business. I went to work early and came home late, and eventually she stopped spending nights at my place.
Throughout this time, I kept Joaquín as my employee. He barely spoke English and barely spoke to me at all. I didn’t understand him, and after Carla moved out I asked myself what the hell I was doing with him. But I didn’t fire him. Then one day, out of the blue, he came up to me and said, “Randy, it is too much to love.”
That was all. He went back to work and said nothing else, as if he had finally wrapped up some long discussion we’d been having. It had an effect on me, those words, and they brought my thoughts back to Carla. I recalled that Carla had said something similar to me one time when we were in the middle of a heated discussion about family and how hers differed from mine. She said that, as a Latina, it was unthinkable to not be in touch with her parents, and that I should consider at least calling mine once in a while. My estranged relationship with my parents troubled her way too much, and I didn’t understand it. Shortly after that, our troubles started. We hadn’t officially ended the relationship, from what I could tell, because she still kept tabs on me, calling and sometimes visiting, but it certainly wasn’t going in the right direction.
So I wondered about that, and I waited to hear more from my curious old helper, but he didn’t share much.
That was his way. He said little. When we worked, we rarely said a word to each other. Most of the time, he went about his work without even asking me a question. I would say what I needed, he would nod, and he’d get to it. He had a strange way of working. At times, I would watch him, and when I did I would wonder about my art and when I would return to sculpting.
One sunny afternoon in early summer, just as we arrived at the property of one of our bigger clients, he turned to me, stared into my eyes, and said the same thing again: “It is too much to love.”
Then, he looked at me as if he were waiting for an intelligent response. I’m sure the quizzical face I offered in return didn’t encourage him. “Yes, Joaquín,” I said, “I guess it is.”
“But,” Joaquín said, “one must.”
I wondered about Carla for a second, shrugged my shoulders, and began to unload our equipment. As we finished up our work, I noticed one of my client’s tenants sitting glumly outside his apartment. He had a nearly empty six-pack at his side, a necktie held tightly in one fist, and a can of beer in the other.
He watched me and Joaquín as we packed up our equipment. As I shut the bed gate, he stood up, grabbed the remaining beers next to him, and walked straight toward me.
“Hello,” I said, “is something wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said, “just thought I’d introduce myself. Name’s Charles Smith. I live right there.”
We exchanged a few awkward introductions, and then he offered us a beer. We accepted.
“You guys wouldn’t happen to know anything about cars, would you?”
“I know a little,” I said. I knew plenty enough to fix most things around an engine, but I wasn’t a mechanic or anything. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Stupid thing won’t start,” Smith said. “Ran fine yesterday. And now, kaput!”
“And it won’t even turn over?” I asked. Smith didn’t answer. He didn’t even look at me as he beckoned us to follow him.
“I’ve been trying to figure it out for hours,” he said. “The mechanics I called said that it sounded like I needed a new engine. Complete overhaul. Car’s too old for that kind of work. If I can’t get it to run, I might just dump it.”
The vehicle was a small, olive-green Chevette. It had a simple-looking engine, one I could probably tinker with and get to run if I had the time.
“What year is it?” I asked.
“1978. That makes it, what, eleven years old now?”
“Mind if I have a look?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders, and I took that for a yes. I had a look inside, tried the ignition, checked the alternator, tried it again, looked under the distributor cap, and so on, but nothing happened. “You tried jumping it, right?”
“Yep. Nothing,” Smith said.
We stood over the car for a few long seconds without saying anything.
“I gave the thing a tune-up just the other day, too,” Smith said.
“Maybe it is missing love and affection,” Joaquín said, suddenly.
“What’s love and affection to do with a run-down car?” Smith asked. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow. I shook my head and let Smith know with my eyes that I had no idea what the old man meant.
“Whatever, old man,” Smith said.
At the time I had no idea that Joaquín would turn out to be some sort of restoration expert. That is, at least not with cars. I’d seen him repair my lawnmowers and other small pieces of equipment as if he’d built them himself, but I’d never seen him working on a car. He didn’t even have one.
“She will need much help,” Joaquín stated, then thanked Smith for the beer and walked away. I excused myself and followed Joaquín toward the truck. Smith stayed back, standing by the side of his car as we drove away.
Joaquín didn’t say anything else the rest of that afternoon, and he moved as if he were in deep thought.
After that day, I noticed that Joaquín went about his work differently. He seemed barely awake at times, and he often forgot to eat his lunch. Around this time, Carla was threatening to end our relationship for good. As far as I could tell, she was my first true love, and I often believed that I should ask her to marry me. But no matter how hard I tried to convince her that I really did love her, she seemed intent on believing that I didn’t.
For the next few weeks, I focused my attention on Joaquín, who for some reason had become infinitely more fascinating to me than my withering relationship with Carla. On those days when we saw Smith, who occasionally stood stone-like in front of his apartment door while we tended the grounds, Joaquín would glance sadly toward him and then toward the car several times. He would then follow this behavior with an exaggerated sigh.
The summer days passed and the Chevette, already slowly deteriorating as it was, weathered the abuse of at least one flood over the course of the summer.
By the time fall arrived, Carla and I had not talked in over a month, and I had no idea if we did or didn’t have a relationship any longer. The days passed so quietly that I simply let them wash over me. I spent my time observing Joaquín and watching hours upon hours of television alone at night.
One clear early fall afternoon, when we drove up to Smith’s complex we found him standing inside the opened doorway of his apartment, vacantly staring at his Chevette. We unloaded our equipment as usual, and while Joaquín prepared everything, I walked up to Smith and greeted him. “Afternoon, Mr. Smith. How are things?”
“What?” he asked, blinking several times as if he were just waking.
“How are you?” I asked. I noticed Joaquín making his way toward us.
“Here comes the old man with love and affection,” Smith said. I watched the old man inspect the grounds as he walked. “I tell you,” Smith began, “I don’t know what to do with the damned car. At first I thought I’d get it over to a mechanic right away. But before I knew it, weeks passed and I hadn’t decided anything. I got used to taking the bus to work—I didn’t even miss driving. But it would still bother me, you know. And sometimes there would be days when I’d just stand here, unable to think about anything but that damned car. And I’d have the strangest thoughts, you know, stupid thoughts. I don’t know. I’m thinking about a new car, anyway.”
“What will you do with the Chevette?” I asked. Joaquín stopped, walked back toward the truck, dug around for something in the back, and returned to a small plot of thorny bushes.
“I don’t know what to do.”
“You gonna junk it?” I asked.
“Aw, no,” Smith said. “It’d be a shame to junk the car. I’m sure somebody could use it, could probably get it going again.”
Joaquín returned to the truck. He grabbed a garbage bag, a rake, and a pair of hedge shears. Even though the equipment was part of our usual stock in trade, something about his movements struck me immediately as out of the ordinary. As Smith rambled on, I watched the old man, becoming mesmerized by his every movement. He walked slowly, methodically, moving cautiously toward the car as if it were a wounded animal. I even recall seeing him pat the backside affectionately as he walked up to it. Then, he began to move slowly around the vehicle, massaging it and caressing it with both of his opened palms. His hands moved with tenderness that I did not find strange, and as I lost myself in the motion of his fingers, I recalled his comment about love and absently repeated it aloud.
“What?” Smith asked. His surprised tone woke me from the trance I’d fallen into, and I realized I had just repeated Joaquín’s words. “What did you just say? Love is what?”
“It’s too much to love,” I said.
“You got that right. That’s why I stay single.”
“But one must.”
“Must what?” Smith asked.
“How about the car, Mr. Smith?” I asked him. From the corner of my eye I could see Joaquín slowly working his way around the tires, picking up debris as if he were removing shrapnel from the body of an injured man.
“What about it?”
“Do you love it?” I asked him. “I mean, do you have some form of affection toward it?”
“Now you sound like the old man,” he said.
We both looked at the old man.
“I’m no romantic,” I said, “but maybe I’m beginning to understand old Joaquín there. And maybe, if you don’t mind me saying so, he’s the answer to your problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you don’t want to throw the car away,” I said, “and if you don’t want to fix it, maybe you could give it to a person who can do something good with it.”
“You mean the old man? Give it to him?”
“Sure, why not?” I asked. I walked away and began my work on the grounds. After Joaquín finished clearing the area around Smith’s car, he joined me and we completed our work.
Smith remained at his door, moving only enough to bring a string of beers to his lips. Then, out of nowhere, he leapt inside and began dashing back and forth from his apartment to the car. Eventually, he signaled to us. Joaquín dropped what he was doing and joined me. Smith tried to speak to us, but he only managed to raise his hands and his eyes to us occasionally as if to explain that he couldn’t speak—or, at least, that he was in too much of a rush to stop and explain. He removed boxes of junk from the Chevette, clearing years of accumulated garbage, debris, newspapers, take-out cups, and whatever else. After his last run to the car, he gave us a nod, a large grin on his face. A minute later, he emerged from his apartment, beads of sweat trickling down his forehead, three beers in his arms.
“Here,” he said, passing a beer to each of us.
“What are these for?” I asked.
“To celebrate,” Smith said. He raised his beer can, and I raised mine, but Joaquín just stared at his.
“What do we celebrate?” Joaquín asked.
“Your new possession,” Smith said. Joaquín’s face revealed nothing, not even surprise.
“Yes,” Smith said. He grabbed Joaquín by his arm, led him to the Chevette, and pointed at it as if it were a grand prize. “This,” he said, “this is now your car.”
He removed two keys, opened Joaquín’s hands, and dropped the keys onto his palms.
Joaquín looked at the car, looked at me, looked back at the car, and then glanced at Smith. “But I do not understand,” he said. “You are giving me her? You are giving to me?”
“Yes, yes, that’s right,” Smith said, a smile spread long across his face. He grabbed my shoulder and nodded.
“A gift?” Joaquín said, still confused.
“Yes! That’s right, old man,” Smith said. “A gift. Now you get me, go on, take your gift. Of course, it can’t move anywhere right now—you’ll have to fix it yourself. But it’s paid for, and you don’t have to pay a dime. You just have to get it to run.”
Joaquín made his way toward the car slowly, paused, then turned back toward us. “But she is a good car still, Mr. Smith. Do you not love her?” he asked.
Smith looked at me for help. I shrugged my shoulders and he turned toward the old man. “You sure are a funny old man.”
Joaquín took a deep breath and exhaled very carefully. He closed his eyes and repeated this several times. I felt sort of alone and awkward as Joaquín went through these motions, even with Smith there beside me.
“I will take her,” Joaquín finally said.
New Domangue, cool and bright that afternoon, seemed to breathe life into Joaquín as he phoned for a tow truck. We followed the truck to a garage belonging to one of Joaquín’s friends. It was one of those beat-up-looking garages that had begun to pop up around town lately. It looked more like a junk yard surrounded by junked cars and enclosed by sheets of tin that were nailed to uneven posts. The entrance was marked by a large patch of barren ground, and past it a dirt road led to an old hangar-like building at the rear of the lot. The building’s large bay doors were wide open, and men were working on cars inside. A sign above the bay doors identified, and in some ways characterized, the business. It was like any other private garage found in New Domangue, where dozens of self-painted signs such as Amarito’s Garage, José’s Automotive, or Américo’s Shop and Junkyard had begun to dot some of the larger thruways. Often, groups of Latino men would just hang out at these places. I was curious to find out what it was about the Hispanic world that Carla said I would never understand.
The sign above the garage read Salvador’s Autoshop. The sounds of Caribbean rhythms greeted us as we stepped out of the truck. A group of men sat in a circle of chairs playing dominoes, a piece of plywood on their laps serving as a makeshift table.
Joaquín bounced toward the group of men, asked for his friend, and disappeared in the direction the men pointed. Within minutes, he returned with a gruff-looking mechanic at his side. Joaquín was talking excitedly and pointing at the Chevette, which was being unloaded a few paces from where I stood. Joaquín introduced me and then ran back toward the seated men and roused them from their game, enlisting all of them in an effort to push the car into a corner of the garage where, Joaquín later explained, he would be allowed to work.
“I didn’t know you were a mechanic,” I said later as I drove him home.
“No, not much mechanic. I help Salvador and learn some things.”
The Chevette became Joaquín’s life passion from that moment on. It was the first car he’d ever owned, and what would have been for others just some machine became for him a living organism. He may not have been a mechanic, but he was certainly a miracle worker. Two months later, he had already rebuilt half of the car. He had started with the interior, ripping out the old carpet and replacing it with one in fairly good shape that he’d salvaged from one of the many junked cars in the yard. He fixed fuses and lights behind the dashboard. He removed the transmission and the engine and worked on them exhaustively, painstakingly, checking every gasket, every connection. You name it, he inspected it, cleaned it, repaired it, or outright replaced it until everything looked near-to-new. He found his parts in his friend’s yard when he could, but otherwise he hunted them down, searching the many other junked Chevettes throughout New Domangue. The car became an amalgamation of many cars. Various parts from vehicles he could not save were carefully removed and relocated into his Chevette. I drove him to the garage every day and stayed with him often, partly because I was fascinated with his work and partly because I was fascinated with the foreignness of his friend’s garage.
I lost Carla for good during this time. She came by the apartment one day and asked me if I had any intentions of keeping us from breaking up. I said that I was working on it. She didn’t like my answer and stormed out. I haven’t heard from her since. At the time, I wished I could do or say more. It was like the same thing that had happened with my art, and I had no answer for it. It just sort of happened.
Joaquín’s project kept me busy after work. He was changing before my very eyes. He walked spryly, laughed often, and even talked a great deal. Even while we worked he told stories. Through his thick accent he would tell tales of past love affairs, the son he lost, his lost wives, his exploits, the revolutions he’d lived through, and the many failures he’d put behind him.
“I see everything a man can see,” he said one morning. It was a Friday, I recall, and the weather was particularly bad. We were waiting to see if the rain would let up, as we would be unable to do anything otherwise. “My pains now are like bird-shit in the wind,” he continued. “All gone. Far, far back. Now I have something I fixing. She will be beautiful. And now she will be finish faster.”
“Faster?” I asked.
“Yes. I have old friend, Sánchez Salderón. He is from our country, but he is here now. I find him yesterday. He is very good mechanic,” Joaquín said. He patted me on the back and smiled at me as if I were some sort of co-conspirator.
“Will you have to pay him?” I asked.
“Yes, with beer,” he said. A large smile spread across his face, wrinkling the skin on his face. He laughed. “Sánchez love to drink,” he said. “And,” he continued, “he love fixing cars.”
It turns out the two were old friends, had been in revolutions together, and had known each other since they were young men. They hadn’t seen each other in more than twenty years. Joaquín had believed the man to be dead, so when they found each other it was like finding a lost brother. That’s how Joaquín explained it, anyway.
As the project moved closer and closer toward completion, I stayed over to watch more often. And on Sundays, if I had no plans of my own, I would spend the whole day at the garage, and the men hanging out there often asked me to join them for dominoes and beer.
I felt a sort of kinship to Joaquín and began to feel as if I could actually belong to this group of men, to this foreign place. The men taught me a few Spanish phrases while I taught them English. We watched Joaquín and Sánchez together, and over the weeks I learned to see something that wasn’t there before. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was as if I could finally observe myself from some vantage point other than mine, and what I saw was a guy who probably still had a shot at waking up, but who hadn’t quite figured out how.
Then, one day, the car rumbled to life. I was involved in listening to one of the men’s stories as we sat outside when it happened. Joaquín was behind the wheel and Sánchez was stooped over him just outside the door. Everyone immediately walked over to them. We were all amazed. It had become a running joke with the men that Joaquín’s car would keep him preoccupied until his death, which would come any day now.
But just as I came up to congratulate him, the engine died. Everyone stood around quietly while Sánchez evaluated the situation beneath the hood. He ordered Joaquín to turn the ignition, but instead Joaquín stepped out of the car and held out the keys on his grease-stained palm. We stood back, waiting, not knowing what to think, while Joaquín fingered the keys in his hands.
“What is wrong?” Sánchez asked. “Why you come out? We are not finished.”
“She is not mine,” Joaquín said.
“What?” Sánchez nearly shouted. He pointed at the car’s engine. “You cannot tell me this is not yours. I help you fix it. I know it is yours.”
Joaquín shook his head. I didn’t understand what was going on. The gathered men also looked confused.
“She is ready to run. Let us try again!” he shouted. We were all caught off-guard and looked at each other in confusion.
Joaquín shook his head. He stood there, saying nothing, his face slowly becoming stone-like as Sánchez shouted insult after insult. The group of men that now surrounded the vehicle didn’t say anything, but on their faces I noticed a sort of expectation. I had a vision of schoolchildren circling a bully and his victim. It may have come to that, but it didn’t. The old man raised his head and, with a solid, determined face, looked Sánchez in the eyes and said, “We will have to wait, Sánchez. She is not mine.”
“Bah!” Sánchez said. He walked past the crowd of gathered men until he disappeared from sight.
“He is still very lonely,” Joaquín remarked as he began to pick up the equipment around the car.
That night I dropped off a very saddened man, a man who looked not quite defeated, but definitely beaten. “You look like a man who’s been told he has cancer,” I said as we drove away.
He closed his eyes and sighed.
I tried to cheer him up with light humor, but I felt like a half-wit trying to crack a joke in the middle of battle. Eventually, I stopped babbling and drove him home in complete silence. As he stepped out of the truck in front of his apartment, he paused to ask a question, but then looked as if he thought better of it and began to close the door. Then, he changed his mind again and opened the door.
“Thank you,” he said, “for trying to make me happy. It is very kind.” He paused for a moment, halfway inside my truck, and stared at my seat covers. “You understand, no?” he asked. “When the engine start, I remember I cannot drive her because I do not have the título. I do not own. I do not own; I cannot drive”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
Joaquín looked bothered by this and looked around the inside of my truck as if he’d lost something. Then he opened my glove compartment and fished out my registration.
“This,” he said, pointing at the paper. “I cannot get this with no título.”
“Oh, you mean a title. That’s no big deal. I’m sure Mr. Smith has the papers at home. He probably forgot to give them to you.”
“Do you think so?” His face changed.
“Sure,” I said. “We could drive by his place tomorrow morning, maybe catch him before he goes to work.”
“That is good,” Joaquín said. “Thank you.”
We shook hands and he closed the door. I watched him until his back merged into the blackness between the buildings as he made his way to his apartment. I drove away thinking how strange the old man Carla asked me to hire had turned out to be.
The next morning, I overslept. I was angry with myself because I didn’t want to think about what the old man would say—or, worse yet, what he wouldn’t say. When I picked him up, I felt as if I had let him down. He didn’t say anything beyond an obligatory good morning. We both knew that we had missed Smith. When we pulled up to Smith’s apartment, he was gone. I wrote a note and left it on the door, and Joaquín and I moved on with our work for the morning. Near the end of the day, I decided to reschedule. We were on the other side of town, but we could make it to Smith’s apartment just as he returned home, maybe sooner. When I announced my plans, Joaquín accepted the news with a singular nod of his head. We knocked on Smith’s front door, but no one answered. The note was still where I had left it that morning. We waited for about one, perhaps two hours, but he never showed.
Instinctively, I began driving toward Joaquín’s home until he realized where I was headed.
“Where are you going to?” he asked.
“I’m taking you home,” I said.
“No. Not home. I not go home yet,” he said. “I want to go to Salvador’s.”
When Joaquín stepped out of the truck, he didn’t ask me to stay. I waved at the men outside the garage and turned the truck around. From my rearview mirror, I could see the men shaking their heads while they watched the old man at work on his car.
The next morning was Saturday. I drove alone to Smith’s house and found my note where I’d left it. I knocked anyway, but got no response. It was the same thing Sunday morning, and again later that night. Not knowing what to do, and feeling as if I had truly let Joaquín down, I decided I would at least go tell him that I tried to find Smith.
I pulled into Salvador’s and found all of the men sitting around a game of dominoes, including Joaquín. Everyone was drunk. Sánchez was back, and he and Joaquín held each other in a drunken happiness. When I saw them, embraced as they were, something about the scene struck me as odd. Sánchez had a ragged-dog-faced look about him.
“And tomorrow you will get the título, no?” he asked Joaquín as I sat down with them.
“Yes, didn’t he tell you many times already?” someone said.
“He will not drive her. No!” another man mimicked. Everyone laughed—everyone, that is, except Joaquín, who smiled apologetically.
“How are you, Joaquín?” I asked. He looked up at me and nodded.
The man continued, “Yes, he waits like the groom for his virgin bride, waiting for marriage—only she is no virgin!” Everyone laughed aloud. Sánchez slapped the old man on his back, very hard, and they fell into further laughing.
After the laughter died down and the rest of the men resumed their game, Joaquín slowly rose. He stared at all of them until each man looked up. Eventually, each one noticed the seriousness on Joaquín’s face and fell silent.
“You laugh,” he said, his words emerging slowly and with a slight slur. “You laugh when you know you are sad. Why? We are all poor men. Who ever owned a car here? Only enough money for beer. And first time Joaquín have his own car is a great thing. I do this right, or I am no man,” he said and sat down.
The men looked at each other. No one knew what to say. They were downtrodden men, I suddenly realized. I could barely imagine the sorts of lives they’d had. They got by, and in the getting by, each one either learned to appreciate what life he had or he learned to obliterate himself. Joaquín was one of them. I thought of Carla and how she begged me to hire him. What was she trying to show me?
Then, out of the silence, came a loud bah! The sound smacked all of us as if it had been slapped onto our faces.
“Bah!” Sánchez shouted again and stood up. “You are a silly old man,” he said. “The gringo does not care if you drive with título or with no título. It does not matter to him. You can drive it now if you want.” “No,” Joaquín said. “There is no revolution here, Sánchez. You cannot take what you want or do what you want like in the old country. You are drunk. Go home.”
“You cannot order me home.”
Joaquín leaned on the table. The men asked both of them to sit down, to calm down, to forget it, because it was meaningless, all a bunch of nothing.
“Fine, fine,” Sánchez said. “I will calm down. Let me have another drink.”
I joined in the game and we drank late into the night. Salvador turned off most of his lights, leaving only enough light beside the Chevette for us to play by. Some of the men told old stories, and as we continued drinking I joined in and shared my own about Carla. Joaquín remained almost gloomy throughout the entire time, ignoring our pleas and refusing to share his stories with us until Sánchez asked him to share his love story about the car.
“All right,” he said, “I will tell you. To you, it is maybe a car, but to me this machine is life. To me it is new life,” he said. He dug the keys out of his pocket and displayed them on his opened palm, two solitary keys on a single ring. “With these keys you will see a new Joaquín Soñoro. A new man.”
Before anyone could do anything about it, the Chevette rumbled to life. Sánchez had grabbed the keys, knocked Joaquín down, and jumped into the driver’s seat. We were so drunk that we were barely able to get out of his way as he drove off into the night. He disappeared from our sight forever.
Salvador called the police immediately while the rest of us stood around quietly. I wanted to say something to Joaquín, but I didn’t know where to begin. It didn’t matter, however, because soon the old man began to laugh.
“It is too much to love,” he said, as he laughed. “It is too much to love.”
For the next week, Joaquín refused to work. I let him know that his job would be waiting for him when he was ready. All he had to do was call me. But he never did. With the summer season coming in, I was busier than usual. I didn’t have time to slow down and check on him, and I would have forgotten about him, I guess, until one day I saw a Chevette that was the same color as Joaquín’s a few cars ahead of me at a red light. I followed it until I was able to catch up and see who was driving it. Half-expecting to see the old man behind the wheel, I was disappointed to find only strangers, giggling and singing pop songs. At that moment, I decided to drive to his apartment. When I arrived, I found an open door and an empty apartment. I stepped inside and ran through the entire place, looking for something, anything that would tell me where he might be. An old woman passing by saw me rummaging around and stopped to ask me what I was doing.
“What happened to the man who lived here?” I asked.
“You mean that foreign fellow? Ambulance took him away two weeks ago. Don’t know what happened.”
I thanked her, closed the door carefully behind me, and walked back to my truck. I didn’t know what I could have done or how I could have helped, but I felt again that I had somehow let the old man down.
I barely slept. When I awoke the next day, I decided to take the day off from lawn work. I drove to a supplier in New Orleans who dealt with artists. I hadn’t visited him in more than a year. We used to talk about my work and how it seemed to him that sculpting needed a certain sort of passion and love that was too hard to keep going. He helped me load the stone pieces I purchased into my truck, and as I climbed behind the wheel he asked me if I believed that artists who couldn’t give their all to their work were worth anything at all.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe it does. But I think that it can never be too much to love.”
I spent the rest of the day getting to know the rock, studying each piece, wondering about what might be waiting inside while I thought about Joaquín and Carla. Their lives seemed less foreign to me than my own so far. Chisel in hand, I took a deep breath, approached the first rock, and sank into a slow trance as I carefully removed surface layers. My hands worked almost by themselves while the rest of me accepted each new surface that came to light. Every moment was a new discovery, and slowly I began to feel that, if I kept at it, I would get to the core of something true and pure that had eluded me my entire life. With each movement of my hands, I felt my heart pound louder and louder. I would keep at it, I promised myself, even if it was too much.
About the Creator
I'm a Dominican immigrant living in the New Orleans area since the 70s. A father of two, I've been a service worker, war medic, ER tech, pro fundraiser, nonprofit leader, city bureaucrat, and now a PhD'd person, but always a writer.
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