He was my daughter’s hairdresser.  He was my grandson’s barber.  When my second grandson was born and I was visiting; my daughter asked me to go with her so that I could hold the baby while she got her hair colored and cut.  At one such visit I was hold and loving on my grandson and because I was fiddling with my hair, Carlos asked me why I was constantly re-adjusting my hair.  I explained that I had just had it cut but it just wasn’t lying correctly.  When he finished putting color on my daughter’s hair, he set the timer and said to me – “Get in the chair”

“Oh, no, that’s alright, I am here as a baby sitter” I said.

“No, get in the chair – I can fix it”, Carlos said with a firmness that belied any further argument.

20 minutes later (the time it took the color to do its magic on Francesca’s hair; I too had magic for I was transformed.

And that began a visit to Central Florida every 6 weeks to not only visit the kids but for my appointment with Carlos.  By the time we moved to Central Florida to be closer to the grand kids, my relationship had morphed from client to friends.  We shared our ups and downs, we rejoiced in our successes, and consoled each other in our failures.

But mostly we laughed.  You see my visits to Carlos for my hair not only transformed this aging retiree into someone who felt and looked younger but raised my spirits emotionally.  I went home lighter, with a smile on my face, and a future that seemed just a bit brighter – and all because of Carlos.

Who was this Carlos you might ask.  Carlos’s family was from Puerto Rico but he grew up mostly on his own in the burrows of New York City.  He was a small compact guy with expressive eyes that twinkle when happy and dark as a stormy night when angry or sad.  Carlos had a tough exterior and while he often flexed his “Puerto Rican – Machismo”, he was as soft and sweet as honey.  He was a lion when protecting his family and was quick to make sure his boys would grow up without making the mistakes and tough beginnings that he endured.  And to those he loved, he was openly affectionate.  You always knew where you stood with Carlos because he made no secret about what he was thinking about everything and anything.  He could be both boastful and humble all within the same sentence.  He was  charming and eloquent and sometimes a little off colored – if you know what I mean.  He was neither a liar or a cheater rather a man filled with integrity and determination.  He accepted himself for who he was – an imperfect person in progress and he looked at others with the same grace,  He was quirky with his addiction to big watches, flashy suits and pointed toe shoes.  He had a sense of humor that had you laughing till the tears trickled down your face.    He was constantly teaching himself new things.  He was an accomplished artist expressing his feelings through bright, strong colors.  He taught himself marketing and creating videos for his business and for a friend who was opening up a salon.

Carlos was larger than life with energy that needed only a few hours to recharge.  Many would see him and think he was a simple man, and a little rough around the edges.  But once you engaged him in conversation you quickly found out he was well versed on many topics showing  intelligence, knowledge,  vibrancy and zest for living was one you wanted to model and emulate.

He made his living as a hairdresser and the talent and knowledge he didn’t just use to transform you on the day of your appointment but taught you how you could do the same every day.  The last time I saw him we were changing my hair style a bit and he was teaching me what I needed to do now to maintain “the look”.  No one had ever done that for me and I have seen a plethora of hair stylist.  He didn’t just see you as a client but the whole person, your lifestyle, and your persona.  He saw the good and diminished the bad.

Oh, and how he engaged children – they loved Carlos!  Carlos is the only one who has ever cut my grandchildren’s hair and they loved going to see Carlos.  He entertained them and talked with them as if they were the center of his life.  And I think while they were sitting in his chair – they were.

Carlos was 58 years old when he finally met his “till death do us part” wife.  Each had a prior marriage with grown children and together their children quickly saw how they were better together.  Together they poked and teased each other mercilessly but the passion and love displayed between them could light the darkest of night.  While she had a full time job as a Dental Technician, she was his partner not only in marriage but in his business and helped keep the business end of things so that Carlos could concentrate on the clients care.  And Lori was his match, knowing when to stand up to him when his machismo would be detrimental and soft and giving when he needed to be the leader of the pack.

Carlos passed away suddenly and without warning in his sleep on Friday, July 24 and the world became a little darker for me.  I think for many others as well.

While I know that God did not take Carlos away from us; I found myself asking – “Why, God?”  “Why, when he had so much more to do?  Why when he was about to meet another grandchild?”

I have no answers, my friends, but I know that it is our job to keep his memory alive for his grandchildren.  I know that it is God’s message to love each other a little harder, a little more often.  To connect with those we love even if it’s from a distance and to hug more often those who are close to home.  To take the time because time is something that is finite and when it’s gone, it is gone forever.

Carlos was my hairdresser but he was so much more.  Carlos’s early beginnings were much like that of a pearl whose life is filled with irritation.  Irritants that Carlos had to defend himself by creating a covering, layer upon layer, life challenges upon life’s pain until it transformed him into the magnificent multifaceted person that God created him to be – a pearl. And perhaps that is something else I learned from Carlos – to see the irritants in my life not as a problem but as a method for turning me into a pearl.

Carlos is someone I will remember every day when I style my hair in the way he taught me.  Carlos is someone I will think of when I try to remember that life is meant for living no matter how challenging it may be.  I will live it like Carlos did – with vigor and vibrancy.  It is that lesson that will keep his memory alive.

Carlos may be gone from my life but will forever live in my heart.