Updated: May 15, 2020
When I started my barbering career in 2013, I knew my clients would be important to me, but I don't think anything could have prepared me for losing one of them like this.
It took me a week to write this post. I sat down so many times, but everything that came out was angry and abusive toward him. I'm not proud, but that is how I felt. If I could have seen him alive and in front of me, I probably would have punched him before I hugged him.
I really liked Carlos. We had so many important conversations, and we laughed together SO MUCH. His humor was of my favorite variety: so honest you almost miss the joke, but if you are lucky enough to catch it, you laugh harder than ever. You know what I mean?
He was one of my Thanksgiving clients. My kids always go to their dad's on Thanksgiving Thursday. I do my special dinner with them the following Monday. I would work the whole Thanksgiving day if I could, but most people have plans, and I can only get clients for a few hours in the morning. The ones who come to me are either service industry workers who are crazy-busy during the holidays and want to get cleaned up before they go to dinner with family, OR they maybe struggle with inlaws or extended family and are looking for any excuse to get out of the house for a few few hours. I'll keep it between Carlos and I which group he's in, but either way it is a vulnerable day for all, and makes for special bonding time.
When I heard that Carlos was in the hospital, my first instinct (after I thought, "God damnit Carlos, you sonufabitch") was to go visit him. And a few months ago I would have, but that was before the coronavirus changed everything. Not only was I not able to visit him, but neither was his wife. She told me they would make an exemption for her only in his last critical moments. Can you even imagine?
I can't believe how fast it all went. My last text conversation with him was just a couple weeks ago in late April. I was checking in to see how he was doing, and he said not great, but he always said that, especially lately. He wanted to know when he could get a haircut. I told him I'd make sure he was first on the list. He went into the hospital on May 6th, and passed overnight on May 8th. His last facebook post was May 3rd, only 3 days before going in, and it was a funny one. I responded with a laughy face. I had the urge to call him then to follow up on that last conversation, and I wish I had done it.
The truth is, I had been worried about him for some time, at least a year or so. When I first met him, we bonded over a mutual struggle with depression as well as obesity. At the time, he had a decent handle on his. He had been losing weight and working on getting mentally and physically healthy. We talked about how now was the perfect time to change up his low-maintenance haircut, and he agreed to start using product and maybe giving a shit for the first time in a long time. I love helping people give a shit about themselves, and I know from later conversations that I really did help by taking an interest in him personally.
We also bonded over the fact that I was raising chubby nerd (my oldest son was in 9th grade and struggling with his weight and his confidence.) Carlos had BEEN a chubby nerd in 9th grade, so I was able to talk to him about some things that not everyone "gets," and he had a wealth of useful advice for me. He was really proud of how I was helping my son through everything. I needed that encouragement. I was not going to let my son be swallowed up by depression and miss out on opportunities to shine. I was grateful for any insight I could get.
Carlos came to me originally because his old barber had closed down his shop and recommended the salon where I worked. I don't think he would have changed barbers for any other reason, because it was clearly a painful experience to go to someone new. I remember the first time well. I saw him shuffling toward me all shy and cautious and thought, "An introvert! Can't wait to figure out what this guy's nerd thing is!"
Turns out his nerd thing was comedy, another bonding point. He ran a prank call podcast with a couple of friends called Madhouse Live. He never bragged about the fact that it was monetized or that they had a surprisingly large, and immensely loyal fanbase. I had to dig to find out all of that.
A couple years later I was credited for convincing Carlos to go meet the other guys from the podcast. They had been working on it for years, but never met up because they lived all over the country. When he told me they were meeting in Chicago but he didn't think he should go, he should lose more weight first, money blah blah blah, I told him he absolutely had to make it happen. He was the happiest I had ever seen him right before that trip.
I started to worry about Carlos when his depression began to take over. He talked so ugly about himself, and every time I saw him for a haircut it was like I was witnessing a slow, spiritual death. His health was deteriorating, and that only made it worse. He used to let me cheer him up when he was down, but with every visit it got harder for me to make him laugh. I hated that, and sometimes I told him. He'd say, "I know, I know. I gotta get a handle on this."
I tried so hard to get him to go to the comedy club with me. He'd done standup in the past, and from the first time I got up the nerve to do it (Dec 7th, 2017), we'd talk about it at every single haircut. He'd say, "I think I'll go this week, but I don't know..." I'd sometimes message him reminders day of, but I wish I'd tried harder. He would have found some serious commiseration at the comedy club. I know it would have helped.
The last time I saw him, right before the corona shutdown, his shoulders were so hunched they were practically dragging on the floor. Despite knowing better I said, "You look like shit, man." I told him it wasn't his face or his body that looked like shit, but his spirit. He looked like he didn't want to be here anymore, and he agreed with me. He'd been on dialysis, and I think that can make a person who doesn't struggle with mental health lose their will to live.
The crazy thing is that as hard as he was struggling, he always helped people. I look at the comments on his page, and there is so much love. He would tell me how people would write to him to tell him how he got them through a hard time, or how he inspired them. I'm seeing comments like that now, and I know people mean it.
He had so much support from his fans, and some even offered them a kidney and were getting tested to see if they were donor matches. I wish he had been able to hold on a little longer. I would love to have seen the things he could have accomplished.
When I got the message that he passed, I had a talk with him. I have no idea what happens when we die, but I thought if he's ever going to hear me, it's now. I kind of hope he didn't hear me. I called him a bunch of names, and I blamed him for not trying harder. My depression has been bad enough at times that I almost ended my life.
In fact, Carlos was there for me when I was hospitalized for mental health in the fall of 2018, not all that long ago. He is one of the handful of clients who knew I was going. So when he passed, I think I blamed him the same way I tend to blame myself, even though I know logically it's not my fault, just as I know it isn't his.
I'm still angry, but not so much at him. I'm angry at all the intangible things. I'm angry at illness. I'm angry at disease. I'm angry at this stupid pandemic. I'm angry at society. I'm angry at cruelty. I'm angry that the world lost another sensitive soul WAY TOO SOON.
As his wife Athena says, "Carlos was special." He really was.
Mostly, I'm angry because I lost a friend. RIP Carlos, you bastard. I'm so sorry that I will never cut your hair again. You will be MISSED.