My mother once told me that when my grandfather was about 14 years old, he had a nervous breakdown. I thought, “well, that explains a lot.”

The man was complex, complicated, moody, loving, cruel, with flashes of brilliance that I suspect my small town was too small to understand. He married young, like it was customary at the time, and had over ten children. It’s hard to wrap your mind around having and raising so many kids, but according to my mother, he was well, capable, and supportive before he succumbed to a mental illness that affected all of us for generations. She fondly remembers her childhood, when he was a taxi driver and used to buy them clothes in Santiago. But that, too, just like youth, was fleeting.  

Supposedly he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but after numerous years of reading about mental illnesses, I’d concluded that he was bipolar. We were wrong. The man was afflicted with schizoaffective disorder–a comorbid combination of both.

During my short time in my pueblo natal, Sosúa, I remember he’d go months, sometimes years, without leaving his house. He was a hoarder of broken electronic devices–some of which he found and would fix without former training.

My grandmother would send either my uncle Kelvin or me to bring him food, and occasionally my uncle Abelito would bring it, too. Then something would spark in his brain and he’d be all over town leaving traces of himself. He was the town’s designated loco and we all carried that Scarlet letter with him. I especially did, since I was a hypersensitive ragey kid.

He was fond of Christianity, religion, but wasn’t loyal to one single denomination–or perhaps he was enamored with all. As he’d attended every single church in town: Catholic, Pentecostal, Jehovah’s Witnesses, you name it, the man was omnipresent. He got along well with the small Jewish community of refugees that flourished in the island after they were given land, loans, and livestock to start anew during the 1940s. He worked for them for some time, too.

Like most Caribbean men of the time, el machismo was ingrained in him. The one still rampant and wreaking havoc today. I’d wonder why the man never pulled out and why he’d put my grandmother through so much stress. Pull out game: Weak AF. In all seriousness, he was infatuated with my grandmother. His obsession and jealousy were legendary. Well after their divorce and in his 60s, that loco enamorado would bring a band to play her serenatas while he loudly narrated his undying love for her, right in front of her timber and zinc house she’d gotten from their separation. The dark side to that suffocating love was an absurd jealousy that dumbfounded us all.

During my short time in my pueblo natal, Sosúa, I remember he’d go months, sometimes years, without leaving his house. He was a hoarder of broken electronic devices–some of which he found and would fix without former training.

My grandmother has always been a very kind, friendly, and hospitable neighbor, friend… and that rubbed my grandfather the wrong way when it came to the men who visited. Our door was always open and many people would visit her, to the chagrin of my grandfather. I remember one time she served coffee to a good friend of the family, the legendary René, before she offered him some and he went ballistic, but first, he stuck his dirty hands in the sugar container. René fled, like he always did, while my grandmother would land an onslaught of insults on him. That was years after their divorce. That poor woman deserved better.

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Cesar Vargas

Cesar Vargas

César Vargas is an award-winning writer, advocate, strategist, speaker, and social critic with a loyal following and a robust social capital that spans from coast to coast: Journalists, celebrities, activists, artists, executives, politicians, and more. He was named one of 40 Under 40: Latinos in American Politics by the Huffington Post. He’s written about internal and external community affairs to several news outlets and quoted in others: The Huffington Post, NBC, Fox News, Voxxi, Okayafrica, Okayplayer, Sky News, Salon, The Guardian, Latino Magazine, Vibe, The Hill, BET, and his own online magazine—which has a fan base of over 25,000 people and has reached over a million—UPLIFTT. He’s familiar with having a voice that informs, invigorates, and inspires people—creating content that usually goes viral. He recently won two awards from Fusion and the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts for his films Some Kind of Spanish and Black Latina Unapologetically. He attained a degree in Films Studies from Queens College, CUNY.