Shortly after Mami leaves, Carlos falls terribly ill. He has a high fever and terrible headaches, and vomits often. He loses a good deal of weight and takes on a skeletal appearance. Mago and Reyna are furious with their mother, and believe Carlos’s illness is directly related to her abandonment. They would later discover that he was suffering from hepatitis, but at the time blamed it on his sorrow.
The last time Mami left, the effect was so profound that when she departed, Carlos’s illness was mistaken for a physiological reaction to his own feelings of despair.
Carlos misses over a month of school, and his grades plummet. Once he is well enough to return again, he insists he’s not going to go, unable to see the point in trying to salvage his marks. The children’s Tīo Crece, overhearing an argument about school between Carlos and Abuelita Chinta, urges Carlos to come with him to find work. Reyna is nervous about Carlos hanging out with their “crazy uncle,” but she admits that there is no one else around to teach her brother how to be a man.
Though Carlos was suffering from a real disease and not simply heartache, it does become evident that Mami’s abandonments have had an effect on him—he longs for an adult presence and influence in his life, and turns to Tío Crece to fill the void left by the repeated abandonments he’s been forced to endure.
Tío Crece suffers from schizophrenia, but hardly anyone realizes that this is his diagnosis—many neighbors and family members believe he went mad years ago when one of his girlfriends slipped him a love potion, sickening him with hallucinations and madness that would chase him his whole life. At just thirty years old, Crece is skeletally thin, with oily hair and rotten teeth. He often tries to get Reyna to kiss him, and even masturbates in front of her in the main room of Abuelita Chinta’s shack.
Tío Crece is lewd at best and dangerous at worst, but his family makes excuses for him because of his affliction. Reyna fears the man, and yet when Carlos begins growing close to him, others encourage the attachment in hopes that it will be good for both Carlos and Crece.
Later that evening, Crece and Carlos return home dirty and sweaty, but happy. They have brought home a bounty of food. As Abuelita Chinta and Crece prepare dinner, Carlos tells his sisters exciting tales of his day with Crece. From that day on, Carlos and Crece are inseparable. Mago urges Carlos to remember that Crece isn’t his father. Reyna realizes that, in the wake of their mother’s second abandonment, Carlos is growing up and needs a male role model in his life—not his “little mother” Mago.
Reyna and Mago have been so focused on their mother’s absence and what it means for them that they never stopped to consider what the lack of a positive male role model might do to their little brother. Now, as they see Carlos enjoying his time with Crece, they realize what he has been missing.
A few weeks later, another of the children’s Tíos come for a visit. Crece is in a bad mood the whole time, and even takes his rage out on Carlos. When Tío Mario and Tio Crece go out drinking one night, Crece’s madness is exacerbated by the alcohol, and he gets into a violent fight with Mario. Chinta and Carlos attempt to break up the fight, and Crece nearly turns on them before suddenly coming out of his drunken hallucination. After this incident, Carlos is no longer allowed to spend his days with Crece, and Abuelita Chinta forces him to return to school.
At the end of the day, though, Crece is unstable and even dangerous, and is not the role model Carlos needs. As Carlos is forced to go back to school, he and Crece are separated from one another—though this small abandonment is perhaps for the best.