They say that little girls idolize their father for the first five years of their life, that they see him as a prince who can do no wrong.
I remember that innocent time when I saw my father as a wise, adventurous, and mystical man. He was a magician to me; someone who could always find an answer to my endless questions about the world and who could always foresee the future, my only regret is not having asked the questions that burned in my heart or what the outcome of our own family would be. Shame and respect kept me from asking the right questions.
I adored my father and placed him on a pedestal for the first few years of my life. He was my dear Papi and I was his Pozolito, his Chuchi. Only he could call me so, anyone else would get a red-faced snarl.
I was happiest in Villa Coronado, Chihuahua, a sleepy dusty town that witnessed my father’s birth into a young buck of seventeen before he took off for the states in a haste flavored with broken laws and unexplained trails of pursuit.
There and only there did I feel alive and connected to him. Only there did I have the courage to speak to my father. Only in that land of red earth that coated my mouth was I able to look up into eyes filled with kindness and mirth instead of the usual emptiness or anger, and carry on a conversation. But I always waited in jealous agony for my prima to engage him in a folktale and only when he got going did I feel a flicker of hope and pride that this was my father, and I awkwardly blurted out my observations and thoughts on the story he’d laid out like a crisp white sheet set out to dry on a sunny afternoon. Of course my words pour out like marbles from a glass jar, falling over each other and spreading out on the ground in random and disconnected directions. So eager was I to show him that I understood that I ended up sounding like an idiot and when he rolled his eyes at me, the faint glow that warmed my heart from his happiness died inside me.
Mostly I preferred to remain quiet so I could warm myself in the fire that roared inside him when he played his harmonica or got going on recounting an adventure from his youth. He would look around then and I would perk up when he looked my way and I nodded at him as if I understood his secret meaning, as if I knew all just as he did, in my six-year-old eyes.
My favorite moments that sent me soaring higher than a bald eagle against the red Chihuahua evening sky were when I had him to myself. When he would be sitting on the white twine chair in the anteroom and I would sidle up to him so his arms would encircle me and “lock” me in. “What is the password?” would send my little body into invisible convulsions of joy and I would guess at anything and everything that I knew would NEVER be the password so he would never let me go. I wanted to stay there forever until the dusk turned over and the darkness brought the howling chill of night and made my Papi hold me closer as I pretended to sleep and he carried my limp body to bed.
Or when he acknowledged, seeked me out even, and I experienced his genius as a father and saw him as a clever man of life.
My Tia had a small goods store in which she carried papitas Barcel. They had a promotion, a lottery of sorts. You could choose which bag of chips you wanted from the hanging cardboard and when you opened the bag, you could win anything from a sticker to a toy wrist watch. I always hung around the store with my primos and tia, letting the hours pass me by as I helped weigh and dispense half a kilo of jamon or bagged media docena de huevos in clear plastic bags. My father rarely came by so it was a warm delight to see his frame fill the doorway and ask me what I wanted as a treat from the store. I looked around unsure of what I wanted. Should I get a Carlos V chocolate? A Mazapan? My eyes found the bright green cellophane of the papitas Barcel and I pointed at them. “Which toy do you want?”, my father asked as he walked over to the chips. My eyes widened in amazement and slight disbelief. “El reloj, papi.” (The watch) My father confidently walked up to the shelf and pulled off a bag of potato chips and asked me, “Do you trust in me that this will be the watch?” He looked so serious that I nodded vigorously to show my faith in him. I opened the bag slowly as my hands had grown sweaty from the anticipation, and reached in to look for the prize. My hand trembled as I pulled out a pink plastic wrist watch. This plastic toy was cheaper than the town’s hooker but it filled me with awe as I looked at this wonder of a man who was my father. With that, he smiled at me, “No que no?” and walked away.
I sat down and didn’t know whether to cry or laugh or both at the magical moment that had transpired. When my primo made a smart ass comment about the cheap plastic around my wrist, I got up and slapped him hard on the face and ran off before anyone could react to my unexpected display of anger. I went to sleep that night holding on tightly to that watch and dreaming of the magician who came alive in those sweltering hot summers of his homeland.