Chapter 2 of 12 in the Book "Evelyn Restarts The World"
The Dueling Gardens Part 1
The universe is a cold place, in temperature and soul. Its drive for balance makes it this way. When evil rises up, the universe will vanquish it, and all the souls rejoice. When good rises up, the universe will vanquish it, and all the souls mourn. It wants balance from the micro to the macro. It will not stop the murder, but it will punish those responsible. It will not make your job better, but it knows of a better job. It will not stop the accident, but it will provide seat belts. When Manuel Diaz’s father died in the vast expanse of the South Pacific, the universe did not hear his cries as he descended toward the unknown, but it did hear the cries of a mother as doctors franticly worked on bringing life back into her new born child.
Manuel Diaz did not know of his true father until he was an adult. His mother was seventeen and two months pregnant when she learned her boyfriend and father of of her unborn child died. Afraid of what an already judgmental society would think, she quickly married the first man that was interested. She told herself over and over that she would learn to love this man, that he would be a good father, but sadly hopes like these seldom come true. Instead he was an arrogant drunk, vicious and abusive. He broke the young woman's spirit, made her feel ashamed and guilty of her own emotions. He created walls of abuse that she eventually mistook as security, and with this she would not leave. The one light in her life was her son, not because it reminded her of a deceased boyfriend, but of a deceased self.
She had six children with this man. As the years went on, his drinking went from drunk at the job, to drunk with no job. Starting at age ten, Manuel Diaz and his mother were the sole providers for the home. When one was at work, the other watched the children. Keeping a large family fed is hard, keeping a large man drunk, is even harder. Manuel Diaz was a good man. He never blamed his mother, he never took his anger out on his half siblings, and he never showed resentment to the man who created this world. Manuel’s calm attitude angered his step-father, making violence in the home a nightly occurrence. This sort of environment is viral, it infects the mind and reproduces. It takes almost a supernatural strength to stop the spread of abuse, but it can be done, and Manuel Diaz was living proof. Through his teens he was an anchor for an entire family. Sadly his siblings could not shake their childhood and slipped into destructive and often deadly situations. His brother, second oldest and just a year younger than Manuel, was killed in a botched robbery at the age of sixteen. Manuel sold his only possession, a 1958 Fender Stratocaster, to pay for the coffin. When his fifteen year old pregnant sister was arrested for accessory to armed robbery, Manuel worked 100+ hours each week for a month to bail her out so she wouldn’t have to have her baby in jail, a baby the state immediately took.
Manuel Diaz’s first love was music. He finally saved enough money to buy another guitar, but knew it could take him a year to save for an amp. He was a regular at the music store, so he asked if he could clean the shop for credit, which the shop owner agreed to. Being at the music store was the first happy time of Manuel’s life. He would often forget about the burdens of home, when deep in a music conversation. His taste refined past what the radio would play, his playing ability shifted from recital to creativity, his raw talent and soul became a new drive. At the store he was around people like him for the first time and he loved it. Manuel was an encyclopedia of musical knowledge: gear, bands, theory etc. He knew it all. The shop owner, impressed with Manuel, offered him a full time job with commission, which would earn him more than the three other jobs he had combined. The shop owner even printed business cards with Manuel’s name on them, something he hid from his step-father but showed his mother. It was the first time in eighteen years that he saw true joy on her face. He met guys from all over town, some even referred to him because of his knowledge. Often when a group of individuals get together to talk music, there is an inevitable bookend statement...”We should start a band!” Manuel did not suggest it but was overjoyed that someone did, and then another one of Manuel’s dreams came true; he had a band. The shop owner had a head for business and knew that these guys were great, so he let them practice at the shop and sponsored them; he even bought a car for them to tour in.
"Los Truenos Pesada” was the name they settled on and they were a hit in the Chicano Rock scene. Manuel Diaz was a dynamic and innovative guitar player. He played loud and soulfully and he went against conventions by using high gain and thicker gauge strings than his contemporaries. With the heavier sound, they may have pushed away more of the pop audience but gained massive respect from their peers, which led to a great influx of business for the shop. It was an exciting time for Manuel: he had money to support his mother, his step-father was growing weak and docile, his siblings who were still in the home were old enough to help his mother. Manuel toured with his band for six years all across the United States, he even played some shows in Great Britain. During those years he never got married or had a serious girlfriend. He loved his independence, since it was the first time in his life he had it. In May of 1969, Manuel Diaz received a letter to his mother’s home. The letter read that he had been selected by the draft to serve in a war he knew little about, in a country called Vietnam.
Manuel learned of his real father before he shipped out. His mother, distraught, was convinced her son would have to face the same fate his father did 25 years before. She pleaded with her son to object; he was older and had a career, so it was possible to get out of service, but Manuel didn’t want to. When he learned of his father it became a missing piece that left him with a new calm, a reassurance that he could become his own man and his step-father was no longer a vision of his future.
Manual Diaz was one of the oldest drafted men; his caring nature and confident demeanor, along with his age, quickly made him the wise older brother of his squad. The men and even some commanding officers came to him for comfort and strength, something he was willing to give even as his own anxiety would rise. While on patrol on a balmy July day in the A Shau Valley, Manuel’s platoon was ambushed. It was fast and fierce. Manuel was shot three times, once in the abdomen and twice in his left thigh, which completely shattered his femur but missed his femoral artery. He was the second person to be hit in the attack and was rendered unconscious immediately. He did not hear his friends cry out to him for help as they were mowed down, thankfully it is something he never knew. Manuel was rescued, barely alive. He went in to cardiac arrest twice but pulled through. “Miracle Manuel" is what the the doctors called him. A miracle indeed but not with out a cost, his leg was gravely injured; the doctors removed portions of his femur making his left leg shorter than the right. The muscles were completely destroyed, causing him to walk with a limp and a cane. After recovering in Japan for six months, Manuel received his disability discharge and was sent home.
Manuel settled back into life. He couldn’t physically handle life on the road so he decided to not rejoin his band, but he did go back to work at the music store. Before the owner died, he made Manuel the general manager: a wise choice. Manuel made it his mission to keep the store current and hip. He built a stage in the back of the store and let new bands play, and he added new records to the inventory. In August of 1976 a young woman named Patricia came into the store to buy an acoustic guitar for her brother. Manuel helped her and the two immediately hit it off. Patricia would come into the store frequently and eventually Manuel asked her out on a date.
Over the next ten years the two were inseparable, they traveled the world and traveled their souls. The two never married; they didn’t see the point in it. They learned early on that Patricia was unable to have children; she would frequently get depressed about this but Manuel reassured her of his love and would always bring her back up. In 1984, Manuel surprised Patricia with a home. Their home was small but with two big yards, one in the front and one in the back. Patricia loved to garden and before they even unpacked she was in the front yard mapping out her dream garden. Though she had the talent to grow anything, her passion was flowers, especially roses. She made a beautiful walkway to the front door lined with a spectacular array of rose bushes. People would come from all over to look at them in bloom, often asking if they could take wedding, Quinceañera, and even funeral pictures in front of them. For two years Manuel and Patricia lived in complete bliss, until the spring of 1986.
Patiricia was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Though she put up a fight, she quickly succumbed to it and passed away in July of 1986; this is what finally broke Manuel Diaz. He slipped into a deep depression, fueled not only by the loss of his best friend, but by the forty-three emotionally and physically painful years he had lived. He stopped going to work, started drinking heavily, and never left the house. His stepfather died in the winter of 1986 and his mother moved in to his spare bedroom. She tried her best to bring him out of his depression, but nothing was getting through. Patricia’s garden rotted away, and with each dying plant a little of Manuel died as well. One morning in March of 1987, Manuel Diaz decided to commit suicide. Knowing his mother could not handle him dying, especially to suicide, he decided he would take his kayak far out into the ocean and go overboard. With his disability, the ocean would take him quickly, and if someone found his body there wouldn’t be much left to identify. It wasn’t the best plan but desperate men rarely are looking for perfection.
Manuel was just finished loading his kayak into his truck when he heard someone approach him from behind.
“Hello, going fishing?” the person asked. Manuel turned around and saw that it was his neighbor from across the street, Mr. Powell, whom he had never spoken to. Patricia and Manuel went to say hello when they moved in but Mr. Powell never came to the door. The times they saw him after that he never responded to their greetings. The other neighbors told them that Mr. Powell has lived on this block forever and was a mean man who has always looked that old.
“No…just a canoe trip,” Manuel responded, a little shocked and annoyed that today had to be the first day he spoke with Mr. Powell.
“Hmm...didn’t pack many provisions,” Mr. Powell said as he looked in the bed of the truck. Manuel moved to block Mr. Powell’s prying eyes.
“No, it’s a short trip.” Manuel, clearly frustrated, turned on his truck to leave.
“Well, I figure I will start growing some roses, it couldn’t be that hard. Since your wife died, this block has lost a lot of color, and since you are clearly going on a one way trip I figured you wouldn’t mind,” Mr. Powell said as he poked at one of the dried rose bushes. Manuel was taken aback by the comment, not just how rude it was but that Mr. Powell knew what he was planning on doing.
“What did you say?” Manuel angrily asked as he stepped out of the truck.
“Well, I have seen that look in a man’s eye before, and that’s the look of a man who has decided to kill them self. So I figured I would come here to let you know that I was planning to grow some roses. Patricia did a re-"
“Don’t ever say her name again. I don’t know why you are bothering me. Go away, now.” Manuel demanded.
“Okay, well I hope you reconsider your plans today.” Mr. Powell began to walk back to his house but as he got halfway across the street he turned back towards Manuel.
“They really made the block look great…I think I will start tomorrow.”
Manuel was furious and shaken. He didn’t know what to make of his encounter and decided not to go to the ocean that day. Instead he paced around his living room, thinking of things he should have said and done. The next morning he patiently stared out of the window at Mr. Powell’s house. Sure enough, at 8 a.m. Mr. Powell emerged with a gardening hat and shovel. Manuel couldn’t believe it; he cursed and punched his wall. The ugly man across the street was going to try and mimic something his beautiful wife put her soul into? Manuel was not going to stand for such disrespect. Within these moments a warmth flowed through Manuel, a life and new reason came to him. He was going to honor Patricia and make her garden grow again. At quick glance it seemed to be out of spite for Mr. Powell, but to Manuel it was about creating life where there was none, in the soul and in the ground. The next day Manuel started early, pulling the dead bushes out of the ground, laying new soil and planting seeds. Mr. Powell came out at 8 a.m. and looked at his new competitor.
“I’m happy you changed your mind about your trip,” Mr Powell shouted across the street as he began to dig. Manuel smiled and paused from his work.
“Good luck to you Mr. Powell.”
The two men went back to work on their gardens.