At the intersection, there was a couple. Their clothes looked clean and they spoke to one another gently. Had I seen them anywhere else, they might have looked like a typical couple on a summer’s day. But under the bridge by the stoplight, a different story emerged. She drank from a plastic bottle, water I assumed, given the intense heat. He reached into his rucksack and pulled out several packs of tissues. As he approached the cars in front of mine, I noticed how freely his clothes moved around his rail-thin body, his shoulders a mere hanger for his too-large shirt. His cheekbones jutted out from his narrow face, his leathery skin baked by the hot Spanish sun. He held up a pack of tissues as he walked by the driver’s side of three cars, trying to make eye contact with the drivers in each. Something behind me caught his eye and he walked right by the passenger side of my car. I told myself I might have lowered my window had he come around to the drivers side.
I watched as he approached the car behind me, an older but still pristine Carrera. The driver had lowered his window, resting his arm on the open frame. His outstretched hand held a reddish colored bill, folded neatly between his fingers. Through my rearview mirror, I took in the driver’s thick salt and pepper hair. The tissue man keenly approached the car. He rested his hand on the door, but didn’t take the bill right away. Instead, for a minute, the two just talked. There was familiarity in the way the men spoke to one another, as though they knew one another. The exchange lasting longer than the typical “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. As the light turned, the bill finally changed hands and the driver slowly patted the man several times on the forearm.
Driving away, I thought about the confidence that comes with a nice car and a little cash in hand. Memory replays the scene at the stoplight… Older wealthy man in Carrera pulls up and sees tissue seller at the usual light. Tissue spots the familiar car and approaches, knowing the Carrera will probably give him some cash. Carrera pulls out a ten euro bill, one of fifty in his wallet. He rolls down his window, asks Tissue about the game last night. They banter about the better team, Alaves or Getafe, they talk a little about the extreme temperatures outside. A little more back and forth and then Tissue, grateful for the money and keen to keep the relationship going, thanks Carrera profusely. Carrera comes by this light every other day, so Tissue will be on the lookout. Carrera drives away feeling good about the difference he’s made in Tissue’s life. And then he drives home to his big house in the suburbs where his adoring family awaits.
At least, Carrera wants his family to be adoring. But often they aren’t adoring enough. So he insists that they put him at the center of their world. Family longs for a little breathing room, but the more they breathe, the more Carrera pulls them in, suffocating them. For most people, love is earned, yet worship can be bought. For Carrera, the lines between love and adulation are blurred. Carrera wields this power at stoplights, but it doesn’t work quite so well at home. Love becomes an expectation, and when Carrera perceives it to falter, he reminds Family that he paid for the roof over their heads, the exotic vacations and their fancy college degrees. Family concedes in order to calm the storm, thinking that maybe this is how love goes.
Watching Carrera with people like Tissue, Family can’t help but adore him a little. There is something in his generosity that is genuine, almost needy. He can strike up a conversation with the most vulnerable, becoming fast friends with those in need. He calls it “pay it forward” and tells Family that the greatest sign of gratitude is to be kind to others. No one can argue with that. He hires struggling artists to paint him pictures, buys the town drunk drinks, leaves large tips to the wait staff at his favorite restaurant. They all adore him. And while Family appreciates the ease with which Carrera brings others in, Family watches as he pulls Others near, wondering just how close they’ll get. In a way, Family resents them all. Tissue, Waiter, Drunk — they walk alongside Carerra in the light, oblivious to the eventual darkness that always set in.
I glance in the rearview mirror as Carrera passes me on the left. I catch a glimpse of the driver, realizing he looked nothing like I thought. The thick salt and pepper hair I had imagined was actually thinning and white. I slowly rejoin the present, understanding just how cruel Memory can be.
I wanted to miss him.