Originally published in the Marymount Manhattan College Review, 2005-2006/Number 18

Father Figure

“Eww what are you listening to? Don’t you know only grownups and hicks listen to Merengue” said Chico as he glided across the room.

“You should be listening to Biggie and Tupac, take a look at your skin, you’ll fit right in” he laughed and headed towards the radio and immediately changed the station.

I wanted to stand up for myself and say that I liked it and not just because Mami listened to Milly, Jocelyn Y los Vecínos all the time but also because I enjoyed it, I genuinely did.   But instead, I said “it was on that station when I got here.”

Mami had finally completed her Associates degree in Business Administration and so the entire family was celebrating by dropping in unannounced and taking over the cooking duties.

“Pasa mé el Adobo” said tía Sofie as she seasoned el penil.

“¡Ya muchacha! You put too much” monitored Abuelita.

“Adeliza, wanna give me a hand with the pastelitos?” asked Mami who had crept behind me with an aluminum foil tray in her hands. It’s not like I had much of a choice so I said “ok.”

 My cousins, all boys, were in the living room wrestling over the remote. I sighed and waved goodbye to good ‘ol clean fun and entered the big girls’ club.

“Oh, you’ll never guess who I ran into,” said Mami.

“¿Quien?” asked tia Sofie and Abuelita in unison.

“El hijo de Polo and God only knows I didn’t want to run into him under those circumstances.”

“What circumstances?” asked Abuelita.

“Bueno…Adeliza cover your ears,” instructed Mami and didn’t continue her story until she saw me do so. “On my way from my final exam last week, I spotted him agarradito de mano con un muchacho.”

“¿Qué?” yelled Abuelita.

“No pero eso es el colmo” said tía Sofie.

“That’s right, gay!” announced Mami.

“And his parents tan come sica que son, always bragging about their perfect son” added tía Sofie.

“I guess he’s not so perfect after all,” concluded Mami. “Ok Adeliza you can uncover your ears now” she instructed.

The doorbell rang and Mami rushed out the kitchen. Tía Consuelo had returned from the bodega with two cases of cerbezas one Miller Light and the other Presidente. “Llego la que faltava” she announced holding up the cases triumphantly. The adults cheered as if she had completed a strenuous task. Dominicans had a motto “todo puede faltar menos la cerbeza” in other words the beers were an essential part of the food group. It didn’t take long for me to become a nuisance and was evicted from the kitchen. I guess my stealing of the ingredients had something to do with it or maybe it was my slippery hands dropping the flour discs that wrap the ingredients of the pastelitos. Either way I was exiled and forced to sit in the living room and watch my cousins reenact Wrestle Mania for the umpteenth time.

The “party” was duller than an unsharpened pencil. The grownups were easily amused with stories about how the other half lived, the other half being those stuck on the Island of Hispañola. Gossip was the reigning currency of the Mateo-Diaz family. No one was safe, you better believe that if you kept a fresh pair of panties in your purse they would know everything down to the color of it without you having revealed such info. Their sharp tongues forgave no one. Especially after a few beers. Whenever Abuelita had too much to drink, which was more or less every time the family got together, she’d utter his name. Fausto or as she called him–whenever tía Sofie elbowed her to change the subject, Fulano, which from my understanding was Dominican lingo for “some guy (who shall remain nameless).”

Fausto was a tall, slim man of a coco butter complexion with pea-colored eyes and hair much too dark for his light skin tone.   He had an easy smile. An infectious laugh and could easily win any argument with a toothy grin. In his day women would go to many lengths, straightening their hair, shaving unwanted body hair and bathing in perfume just for the faintest chance that he’d glance their way. Aside from his good looks he had another thing going for him, he had a visa and was no stranger to trips to the United States. He spent most of the late 70’s in New York working odd jobs and sending money to his sisters who were still living on the island, roughing it.

He had married a tourist who had been vacationing at the resort he had been working at two years prior to his first slice of American life. The two locked eyes and fell instantly in love, yea that’s one version the truth was, at least the one tía Sofie deemed as truth was that the gringa was “shit faced” as I once overheard her say. And found all of the island men charmingly exotic and with one flash of his pearly whites she was hooked and he was on a one-way flight to “the Land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

The marriage didn’t last long and how could it? They needed subtitles in order to communicate. Somehow he found his way back to the island and remained there long enough to court his next bride.

His photographs remained hidden underneath the mattress, sandwiched between the springs and a board; the board was put in to keep the springs from poking Mami and me at night. We did what we had to, to survive and a new mattress was on top of the list every Christmas but somehow always lost out to the new Malibu Barbie and toys for the nephews. I never complained, and how could I? Before I could utter a complaint my mother would raise her hand like a crossing guard asking me to halt and say, “Que no se te ocurre, I don’t want to hear it.” And that was that.

The party dragged on. Bachata Rosa blared from the speakers and soon the ladies found themselves dancing in place rehashing old steps that made the island boys crazy. They laughed and clinked their beer bottles together whenever one of the tías out did the other in the shimming department. The doorbell wailed, whoever was at the door must have thought it would be funny to torture the button. “Ya, ya” sang Mami as she walked across the room to answer the door. While tía sofie scratched her head as if doing that would help her remember which bag she had packed the cake into.

Mami had been at the door for at least five minutes. The loud music did a good job at muffling the argument she was having with whomever was at the door. But as tía Sofie balanced the cake in her arms and a pile of napkins under her chin Mami slid across the floor on her butt. Abuelita screamed “¿Que paso? ¡Que Paso!,” wondering what had just happened. At the sight of Fulano, tía Consuelo pounced grabbing onto his hair and occasionally slapping him upside the head. They spun around in the commotion and if they had been cartoon characters we would have seen a fury of black and white smoke with the occasional angry fist sprouting out.

They collided with tía Sofie and the “congrats Grad” cake went flying and would eventually land on his head. He rose to his feet, and there he stood in all his glory, drunk. Covered in blue frosting. And there we stood with zero shaped mouths staring at the man I would be forced to call father.