Once Was Enough

Robert Stout

“It’s not what I wanted my life to be.”

Carolina shrugs, a gesture that is both dismissal and acceptance, then softly sings 

Qué lejos ando 

de mi pueblo, 

ay tan querido. 

Cuanta nostalgia 

me recorre el pensamiento 

(How far I roam 

from my pueblo, 

ay, so beloved. 

How much nostalgia 

thoughts of it evoke)  

A momentary frown veils what she is seeing: her young adulthood among hillside orchards far from the clang and clutter and smog of this Mexico City barrio. She lives in a concrete block cubicle, musty and dark because the windows are small and curtained. Now in her late forties, a small woman, thin-shouldered and sharp featured, she responds to the designation “immigration widow” with a taut smile. She tells me she has not heard from her husband since “the big discovery.” Her son still lives in the beloved pueblo, her daughter in Monterey many, many miles away. 

She made what she called “the big discovery” months after her husband had returned to the United States from a Christmastime visit. A blood test revealed that she was HIV-positive. Doctors assured her that the disease had been transmitted sexually “and the only man I’d had relations of that kind with was my husband.”  

She’d brooded for days, she remembered, then called him and accused him of infecting her. He shouted that that was impossible, that she was a whore, and hung up. He stopped wiring her money which forced her to seek work in the pueblo.   

“It was all right, I could manage until...” Her thin lips tightened and she closed her eyes. A clinic nurse, learning of her blood test results, refused to take Carolina’s temperature or check her blood pressure. Pressured by the doctor to do so the nurse angrily stormed out of the clinic and told everybody the doctor had put her in risk of contracting AIDS. Two days later Carolina’s employer dismissed her. Friends she’d known since childhood refused to touch her or speak to her. Her daughter, who’d been living with her, left to move in with relatives in Monterey and Carolina, vilified and ostracized, packed what she could in boxes and sugar sacks and moved to Mexico City “where nobody knew me and nobody cared what I did or had.” 

For the past four years she’s worked for a fruit distributor, packing and loading boxes and plastic containers with bulk imports to be sent out to retailers. “Half of what I earn goes to medicines,” she shrugs, “but I get by. Get by, that’s all, just get by.”  

Her employer doesn’t know she’s HIV-positive. Neither do her neighbors. Some wonder that she insists on living alone without male companionship, to which she replies “I did that once, that was enough.” She has no desire to see her husband, nor has she attempted to divorce him. “That’s all past. Dirty water washed down the stream.” She presses her thin lips against her teeth and tries to smile. Then in her thin, clear voice softly sings 

Que me puede ya importar 

Si lo que me hace llorar 

Esta lejos de aqui 

(That it no longer matters; 

What made me cry 

Is a long way from here)



Robert Joe Stout is a poet, novelist and journalist. He has been a newspaper reporter, contributing editor, community theater actor and director. He is also the author of three novels including the recently re-released Miss Sally. His poems can be found in several anthologies including New Southern Writing. He has received a national journalism award for spot news writing.

Duende Logo.png