The Deadliest Slipper

So before we get started a few things that you should know. 1) This story does not make my Dad look good. He was a deeply flawed man and yet, he tried to love me as best he could. 2) This story highlights some dark truths that happened long ago. Never was an old slipper such a catalyst for chaos.

It’s August in Mexico City 1986. I’m ten years old and as usual, my mom has chosen to go home for the entire month. Despite our additional work and tutors my mom planned (she never wanted us to lose our Spanish or miss out on traditional Mexican history) those weeks at home were pretty fun. The city was void of people with the occurrence of summer vacations and it was the rainy season.

The rain in Mexico City is beautiful. Perhaps because it’s one of the highest cities in the world or where it’s located geographically but, it is very tropical. The rain has a weight and a sound unique to itself and then there is all the flooding. As a kid, you can be enormously delighted by seeing streets flood and urban rivers develop over sidewalks and parks.

My dad had completed construction of our big house in Mexico just two years prior. The house in Mexico City has always been a central character in my childhood. The house was deeply linked to my father: it was the culmination of his work, the embodiment of his tastes, an explanation of his youth, a weapon against his enemies, a tool for potential gains, a demonstration of his character, a self-portrait.

The house was built on a street called Mil Cumbres, a small turn off in Las Lomas. The lot was exquisite and large. You arrived from the street through an enormous entrance and past a  high brick wall. The house was built into a cliff side so you entered through the top floor and had three levels below it. The house was surrounded by the garage, servants quarters, gardens and playing courts. The house faced a beautiful ravine where other incredible homes were delicately placed. My dad built the house in a Tudor style: vaulted ceilings, marble floors, vaulted windows, hand carved interior stone, and brick exterior. The interior of the house was created to impress the visitor. Classically decorated with modern touches, no finish was forgotten. The house, like my father, was impressive and intimidating.

I believe that visit was only the first or second time we had stayed in the house (we were living in Los Angeles at the time). On the middle floor of the house were the bedrooms and family room. This floor consisted of the master suite, the family tv room and the adjoining rooms for my brother and me. It doesn’t sound too big, but each floor was over 3000 square feet! Can you imagine having a house over 10,000 square feet with only three bedrooms (the master and two adjoining kids rooms!?)?

On this August morning, my brother and I were sleeping in the same bedroom. I was ten and he was twelve. The seasonal rains could be heard on the Tudor pained windows behind the heavy baroque drapes. I could hear him coming down the hall, from the master bedroom, down the hall, through our study area, in the adjoining room and into ours. His cacophonous leather slippers sounding the alarm with every step. I remember pretending to still be sleeping: after all, he never came to wake us, that was always my Mom’s role.

He pulled the drapes authoritatively and poked us pointedly to wake us. Despite his attempt at tenderness, all I felt was sternness. He seemed to be in a pleasant mood, you never knew with him. Most of my childhood with my Father was spent mastering the art of walking on egg shells and solving a crisis. But on this late morning in August, my usual disinterested father woke his own children and seemed to be happy to do so.

My mother was there of course, in her usual blue robe. I loved that robe because I have such fond memories of her. My mother’s step was lite, brisk and nurturing. My father, a giant mountain of a man (standing 6′ 4″ and weighing well over 350lbs), had a heavy, commanding and injured gate. So there we were the awkward nuclear family: my father, my mother, my brother and me. Not quite knowing what to do in such an unusual intimate movement.

I can’t quite remember how it went, but somebody made a joke and that broke the ice. Seeing my opportunity to add to the humor, I zinged my dad about the noisiness of his slippers. I said something to the effect of, “Geez Dad I could hear you coming a mile away and it was so loud!.”

That did not go well.

The reaction was instantaneous. I had pushed some kind of button that was setting off a nuclear bomb! He became furious, volatile, and aggressive. My mom trying to explain and make light of my comment. My brother frozen and silent in the mahogany twin bed just 5 feet from me. My father began to scream at my mom about my insolence. Slapping his hand on the chest of drawers opposite my bed next to the bathroom. Enraged, he storms out of the room, my mom in tow desperately trying to sooth everything that was wrong.

My brother and I left alone still in bed. Silent. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Like a tsunami crashing onto unsuspecting shores, my father powered into the room. I barely had time to turn and face him as I was getting out of bed. BAMMMMM!!!! I felt the sting of his fist against the side of my face as I spun down onto my bed. “YOU NEVER FUCKING TALK TO ME LIKE THAT. YOU FUCKING IMBECILE. WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? IDIOT!”. And as quickly as the wave had crashed, he was gone.

I remember my brother still frozen on the bed in disbelief at what he just saw. Not quite aware of the pain in my face, I was in shock. My brother and I said nothing and began to prepare for the eventuality of the morning.

My frantic mom races in a few minutes later with love, fear, and impotence in her eyes. “I’m fine,” I say. Not fine and not knowing what else to say. And then we heard it, “JORGE AMIN, VEN ACA!!” or in English, Jorge Amin (the severity of my full name impressed a greater sense of doom) get over here.

It was never, ever, ever a good thing to be summoned by Dad when he was in a full rage.

Meekly I walked across the from my room to the master. Truly terrified of what could come next. “Yes Dad,” I mumbled from behind the half open door.

“Shut the door!” he shouted with fury as he looked out the full-length Tudor window to the canyon behind the house.  I decided only entering only a few feet in, in case I had to run. Not a second later he began a tirade about his disappointment at who I was. How I had always been a difficult and challenging child. My lack of gratitude and entitlement were unpardonable and merited extreme measures.

Most of the time, his statements were rhetorical designed to shame, humiliate and instill fear. Through the tears and the shaking I would interject “I’m sorry,”, “forgive me, Dad,”,  “I didn’t mean it that way,” but it was like talking to a hurricane. I remember his usual threats of kicking me out of the house, of ending our relationship because he deserved something better, of beating the shit out of me until I understood.

And then I had one of my first out of body experiences. I remember thinking, I might die all over a comment about slippers. I watched in awe and terror as my father worked himself into an atomic storm. Clearly, he was unaware that he was speaking to a child, let alone his son. His pacing becoming more violent and chaotic. He was spitting and tearing up like a rabid dog. I couldn’t hear any sounds; he moved to the wood framed loveseat by the window, he picked it up like it was nothing, he hurled it towards me. It wasn’t meant to hit me really, he was entirely out of control. I’m shaking. Tears streaming down my face. I’m scared shitless.

Like snapping your fingers, the door opens and my uncle Benjamin walks in, and I was back in my body. Sensing a dangerously familiar pattern, he looks at me, “Jami (my nickname in Mexico), get out,” holding the door open for my escape with strength and compassion.

“Benjamin, mind your own fucking business!” he hisses threateningly. My uncle repeats his instruction to me with greater urgency and compassion. I move quickly dodging insults as I go and the door is slammed shut behind me. Through the heavy wood arched door, I could hear two Titans yelling.

I head upstairs to find my mother and her friend in the formal living room. I can see that my mother had been sweating bullets and trying to manage this untimely social visit. Whenever my father would behave this way, my mother’s interference always made things worse; we both felt instant relief in close proximity to each other.

My mom’s friend, Cuquita (also a nickname), is one of her only friends that was never intimidated or frightened by my father. She spoke quickly and with a staccato certainty that you either loved or hated. Their consolation helped enormously.  Cuquita’s fury to go scream at my Dad about his behavior increases my anxiety and gives me hope that I’m not alone.

In the end, my uncle eased the pressure and doused my father’s rage. I can’t quite recall if Cuquita and my father ever exchanged a single word. I avoided my father as best I could for the rest of the trip. Moving in the long shadows of the house, I measured every word I spoke in his presence. There was never an apology or explanation to me. I received a further warning the next day to watch what I said.

I wish that there was a funny anecdote to end this story but there isn’t one. Sometimes, the experience is just tough. That being said, I credit a lot of the trauma I experienced with my father with the strength that I have now. Perhaps seeing needless suffering for him and for his family helped instill a need to serve and ameliorate individual’s lives. I can’t really be sure, but I do know that it happened.

Our musical selection for this story: You Can’t Always Get What you Want!!

 

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