About two months into my freshman year in College a mixture of homesickness, partying too much, and fighting with my boyfriend led me to a therapist. Unlike most children of divorced parents I have always enjoyed therapy. Growing up I thought speaking with a professional therapist was better than talking to my nanny or violin teacher.
Q: “Chris, how is your relationship with your mother?”
A: “Fantastic, she raised me alone, is saved as “Big Booty Momma on my phone, and made me who I am today”
Q: “What about your father?”
A: “Hmmm, its ok. We talk on holidays and birthdays. He lives in Central America.”
Q: “Chris, you have daddy issues.”
My eyes emulated Mr. Wile E. Coyote. Wherein the therapist was the road runner who had stolen my dignity and I was the repressed Coyote left to an anvil falling straight onto his gay little heart.
The daddy issue shock wore off after a couple more sessions and we agreed that I should make an effort to visit my father during the upcoming holiday break. After bringing it up to dad he thought it’d be a great idea to spend the holidays together. At this point in time, I hadn’t seen him in about 3 years and had the same phone conversation, year after year, on easter, my birthday, and christmas. The agenda for the visit was to spend quality time together. On a count of dad being a devout evangelical christian I figured it was best that I take things slow and leave the coming out for a future encounter (unless I felt things were going smoothly in which case carpe diem: “I’m gay, dad!”).
My boyfriend at the time, Sebastian, was extremely supportive and reassured me that he’d be a phone call away if I needed to vent when the antiquated “how many girlfriends do you have in college?” question arose. Like a gay Lifetime melo-drama Sebastian dropped me off at the airport and hugged me til it hurt. I’d revert back to that hug for comfort.
I arrived at Comalapa airport unscathed and nervous. The drive from the airport in daddy’s bullet proof G-Wagon was just as awkward as I had remembered it. Red lights were particularly cringe worthy, Dad would stare and pet my face- similar to the way Dr. Frankenstein observed his creation when it first came to life.
Arriving at the home in El Escalon 4 guards with rifles stood before the 3 meter high metal gate lined with electric barbed wire. No one was to get in, and no one was to get out. The first two days were blase. I went to the local ice cream shop, POPS, and had my usual banana milkshake. Phallically delicious.
A minor wave of depression came over my 18 year old self after two days of separation from my boyfriend. The urge to call him resembled that of a husband away for weeks from his wife, children, pet golden retriever, and Yukon Denali. As soon as everyone was asleep I’d take the wireless phone out to the ranch across the yard and call my dearly beloved.
Growing up I heard some pretty shitty stories about my Dad. Up until this point I held some type of allegiance to him and disregarded the commentary- always thinking “he can’t be that bad.” I kept the conversation with Sebastian brief and made sure to leave out the parts about missing his dick and rubbing up against his lil Colombian body. The paranoia was real, even though I was outside of the main house I whispered, “ok Sebs, I gotta go, but...I love you.” Before hanging up I heard two clicks- there was reason to believe someone was eavesdropping. *click*
Adam & Eve
I approached the marble staircase and heard a sound that resembled adult whimpering. By the time I reached the top of the staircase the whimpering had grown into a breathless infant-like cry. My innocent cashew sized mind thought: “What in the actual fuck is going on?”
I follow the cries to my grandmother's room where daddy is sitting- in the dark- in a wicker chair choking on his tears. My grandmother- in a sacrilegious cult like manner- emerges from the darkness with a book light clipped to her leather wrapped bible and slowly reads: “JESUS CREO A ADAN Y EVA”. Jesus created Adam and Eve.
This is where the time line starts to get hazy. Hours of verses and passionate homophobic explanations were hammered down on me.
In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
1 Timothy 1: 8-11
We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality,
‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
It’s as if my grandmother’s bible studies had all amounted to this one moment. Her bible- vigorously highlighted and annotated- a homophobic vessel of GOD. Her tambor low and her tempo slow as if she was talking to a deaf person who read lips. My grandmother, Mercedes, was known for “rescuing” mute and deaf girls from the coffee farms and making them her personal slaves. The joke around San Salvador was that she only kept the deaf and mute workers around so they couldn’t rat her out when she talked shit about fellow family members/church friends/ literally everybody.
In the corner the wicker chair makes cracking noises as my dads inherent whimpering continues. The book light reflecting off the bible is the only light I remember. My grandmother paced around the room as she read giving off a candle like glow that only illuminated the area where she stood. Approaching the foot of the bed where I sat with my head down she placed her cold hand on my cheek:
Abuela to me: “Do you want god to fix you?”
Me: “Ummm, fix me? Fix what?”
My dad gets up in his tighty whities and runs to the bathroom where he projectile vomits like the freakin exorcist.
Me: “How about we sleep on this and we talk about it first thing tomorrow?”
Abuelita: “We need to pray more together- as a family. Pedro, come over here and put your hands on your sons heart and head.
This may sound weird to the average person, but it’s very on brand when you grow up visiting your dad in central america every summer where you visit a church where people faint/death drop/ convulse with the holy spirit. Needless to say, going to evangelical mass in San Salvador was worse than playing team sports or sharing a bathroom with my gross straight brother (he showers often now). There’s no A/C, it lasts 3 hours, and is typically followed by a bible study with again- NO FUCKING A/C.
Abuela, Dad, and I prayed late into the night. I remained silent, head bowed, as their hands touched my neck and held my hands in prayer. Their words were passionate, repetitive, and uplifting. “You are gods child. You will persevere, find god in your heart.” I wanted a sandwich.
That night, they had the guards move a bed from a guest bedroom into my dad's room. Apparently, the best way to scare the gay way [away?] was by sleeping next to daddy. I was exhausted, but alert enough to feel uncomfortable. At 18 I HATED being told what to do. But my father, the man forcing me to sleep in the same room with our beds touching so he could hold my hand and pray for me more while I fell asleep- didn’t know the first thing about me. He didn’t know every birthday wish until 13 was for him to become a part of my life. He didn’t know that I took him seriously when he asked me to “step up as the man of the family” before abandoning my mother, brother, and I at the age of 5. How would he know anything about me if all he could talk about were cars, vintage watches, the fluctuation of coffee stock prices?
I fell asleep to the sound of my dad crying.
Quien es el Niño mas guapo de los Menendez?
The next morning I awoke to a big awkward breakfast. (quickly describe how u felt post the nights previous events, appalled, confused, groggy?) Dad had no appetite and stared at me as I cut my pancakes into quarters. His starchy short sleeve Ralph Lauren button down was tucked into light washed Ermenegildo Zegna jeans. My grandmother joins us: “Buenos dias les de dios Christopher Manuel.” “Buenos dias les de dios Nani.”
Halfway through my pancakes Nani starts smiling at me. Smiling the way Regina Jorge smiles at Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls, the way Brain smiles at Pinky before a bad idea, the way Mariah Carey looks at a husband before she divorces him. Nani is dressed in a skirt suit with enough shoulder padding to fill a futon.
Nani: “Quien es el niño mas guapo de los Menendez?” Translation= who is the most handsome Menendez boy? *Cue: feeds faggot jesus pancake.
The doorbell rings and my grandmother makes a gesture in sign language to, Vanessa, the deaf maid.(LOL you weren’t joking!!) Vanessa returns from the front door with the chubby youth group leader and about 5 other church goers. My pancakes -much like my courage- shriveled and stale.
It was clear breakfast was over and it was time to continue god’s hetero-rewiring session. I could see the Boqueron Volcano sitting before the crowded city and felt ashamed. As we walked outside towards the ranch I felt- in my 18 year old mind- that my family wanted the best for me and that being a homosexual wasn’t what god wanted.
Mirian was setting out folding chairs on the lawn. Typically audiences are enticing, but this felt different. I thought of Sebastian, I thought of the loving and accepting people from back home. I began to panic. What were they going to do to me? Perform a gay lobotomy?
Two of the churchgoers I didn’t know came up to me and placed their warm hands on my temples. “Ashjaalalaallalalalalalalareprendoooashalla.” “Oh fuck” I thought, this is going to be weird.
The discomfort was paralyzing and I was starting to make sense of their selfish agendas.
As the church crew settled around the chairs I demanded to speak to my mother. A switch had flipped in my head and I was in regaining control from the holy spirit. We walked up the iron stairs in the backyard to the balcony on the second floor where I called my mom. It took all of three sentences for my mom to interrupt me: “Christopher Manuel, I spent 15 years of my life trying to win their acceptance. Their validation means NOTHING. DO NOT let them manipulate you into thinking you need their acceptance. Your life is not there, your life is HERE. God will love you NO MATTER WHAT” *Cue: George Thorogood’s : Bad to the Bone.”
HOLY SHIT SHE WAS RIGHT
My head tilted 45 degrees to the left and I smiled “I’m ready.”
We descended and walked towards the pop up altar which had been decorated with a beautiful arrangement of tulips. “These fucking people” I thought to myself. My grandmother held her bible and smiled at me as I stepped on to the Altar. Our Fathers were said and a beautiful sermon (of which I remember nothing due to the trauma of this moment) was delivered by my grandmother. Her tongue tenaciously spit invigorating rhetoric, creating a sense of community and support. Her hand- twitchy from a car accident she had with a gas truck when she was a teenager- cupped the back of my neck as she ordered the demons within me to leave. My head bowed down in embarrassment and disgust. I couldn’t believe all these people gathered in hopes of making me straight.
Next, a white linen sheet with a hole was placed in my hands. Nani instructed me to put my head through the hole. I could smell her sweet Chanel No. 5. The men and women approached me and put their hands over my chest, back, crown of my head, and ribs. Everyone sitting down was drunk in their murmurs, whispering incomprehensible religious jargon. Why the fuck am I wearing a white sheet?
The first drop of holy oil hit the crown of my head and made me wonder if anyone had checked if the weather was right for a gay exorcism. I looked to my side and saw large plastic jugs with Stars of David on them. It made sense in a split second- Nani had asked her church homies to bring a couple liters of holy oil from their recent trip to Bethlehem. That high grade homo cleansing shit.
I couldn’t have foreshadowed how much oil was about to be poured on me. Like an episode of Nickelodeon’s slime time live I received a FULL holy oil soak from my grandmother. People were shouting and crying like we were at the Superbowl. My grandmother placed her hand on my forehead and pushed it back ominously whispering “te reprrrrrendo a satanas” or “ Satan I repent you.”
THE GREAT ESCAPE
I thank god for my fabulously long lashes as they helped me keep the oil from getting in my eyes. Looking around people were collapsing and crying- including my father. That was my cue. I dropped to the floor like I had seen on a cable Christian TV show and pretended to be filled with the holy ghost. If you smoked enough meth or were half way through a bottle of percocet you could almost believe that a gay demon was escaping from within me. I paused for a few seconds...my back to the floor. I stood up- and before any of the jesus freaks or my dad could start celebrating I screamed “Soy maricon y me encantan los hombres!” or “I’m a HOMO and I love men!”
I jumped off of the faltar (faux altar) threw the white sheet and ran for my golden runaway bride moment. I fell flat on my ass the second my oily feet hit the sleek white marble floor. Regaining my footing I headed straight for my room. My kneecap slammed onto the stair countless times as as I escalated- I was a slippery mess. Two guards followed me as I inched up the staircase. I used a baby crawl/stop drop and roll technique to make it into the room. A guard was placed outside of my room. FUCK. I fiddled with the home phone but couldn’t remember the international code to call home.
The door opens and I ignore my dad standing there. Up until this moment he was a spectator; watching his mother conduct the kumbaya party. It was then that it dawned on me that my grandmother does everything for him. She paid for the bullet proof G wagon and was his bullet proof vest when people asked about him. Textbook definition for how to raise a fuck up.
Daddy said- with an 80’s synth pop vibe - that I couldn’t leave until the work was finished.
Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep.
He left a few seconds later as I stared blankly- refusing to make a deal with his devil.
Me: Primo (cousin), you gotta come get me. Nanny’s lost it and they’re trying to pray the gay out of me.
Cousin: you’re on your own cuz.
I finally remembered the international code.
011 +53 305 632 8334
Me: MOM, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME. GET ME OUT OF HERE
Mom: I’m calling the American Embassy. Hold tight.
...10 long minutes later
Mom: The Embassy isn’t being cooperative. Their temperament seems to have changed when I mentioned the last name. I got in touch with your Tia Ivette- she was going to start a round of chemo but as I soon as I explained the situation she told she she’d be on her way.
Ivette was my father’s brother's second wife. In the past- a successful Salvadoran model who for years was the face of a supermarket coupon magazine-now a fatigued bald woman wrapped in an Hermes scarf.
Seeing her skinny, pale face when the door opened gave me the most relieving feeling. She embraced me and I could feel the IV plugs on her chest press against my bony chest. Ivette served as a dramatic representation of perspective. I instantly felt selfish for making her go through any more pain than she was already going through. A woman I had met less than a year ago was nurturing me with more strength than my father had ever exuded to me. Having lived in the States for many years Ivette spoke to me in clear English.
Ivette: We’re getting you out of here.
Ivette made up some boloney about having contacted the American Embassy and that if they didn’t let me go my mother had every intention to report me as a hostage and I’m so freaking valuable so they’d have to come and save me, duh. Go with it, the sarcastic dramatism is cathartic.
The drive leaving daddy’s house is a blur. Attempting to recall that specific moment yields AM radio static. I felt like I was running windows 98 without MCafee antivirus software- glitchy and spammy. Ivette was like my Whitney Houston fairy godmother (remember when Whitney was in Cinderella y’all). If memory serves me right she told me to stick to who I was.
Arriving at my aunt’s house my 3 cousins were packing bags into the back of a 4runner. Who am I? Am I still me? I think so, I think so.
“We’re going to the Volcano house. It’s beautiful up there and there’s no cell phone service so no one can bother you.”
Nothing could have made my little gay heart happier. I called Sebastian before leaving and told him everything. Our love felt palpable.
The following two nights on the volcano were beer pong and backstreet boys. At 18 you (think you) forget and heal fast. You’re dumb, naive, passive, easy going- mostly unaware of the scars the devil’s dick is singeing on you.
On the third day we rose again in fulfillment of the scriptures. The 4runner was packed and we began our wobble down the unstable road. It was one step closer to being back home in my boyfriends arms, one step closer to never having to speak to Daddy again, and one step closer to getting out of this damned hell hole with no cell phone service.
The moment we got cell phone service my cousins phones wouldn’t stop going off. Dozens of voicemails and text messages came through. Something really bad had happened. My cousin Javier called his dad - he told us the terrible news. A local gang had shown up in police uniforms and held my grandmother, dad, maids, and guards at gunpoint. There were broken bones and shots fired- but no fatalities.
THE GAY GODS SAVED ME Y’ALL.
Robbers un-tied bows from the christmas tree and used them to tie everyones hands and feet.
Dad received a black eye and broken rib to match his broken black heart.
Deaf/mute maid was out back when robbery started. She walked into the bondage christmas nightmare and attacked robbers receiving a shot in the arm.
Christmas cash bonuses for hundreds of coffee farm workers was stolen. A. Inside job or B. Menendez’s pretending to get robbed to omit paying christmas bonuses.
Daddys recently inherited watch collection (which he talked about more than god) was stolen.
When someone passes away you send flowers. When it’s someone’s birthday you wish them a happy birthday. When christmas bows get used to tie your family up at gunpoint you show face and offer your condolences. Walking in the house’s energy was somber and dramatic. God had saved my gay ass from being robbed and or shot. The deaf maid murmured sounds to me as her eyes filled with tears. When news hit the pew my grandmother’s church fans came running to make sure she was ok. The living room looked like a fundraiser. Fresh horchata and melon juice was passed around on trays. A table with assorted baked goods was being restocked.
Daddy’s face was bruised, his left arm in a sling, his torso in some sort of back brace. He was TOE-UP. “I’m sorry about how all of this turned out Dad, I really am.” “I don’t want your apologies.” I went in for a hug- his reply: “Don’t touch me.” I distinctly remember holding back lip quivers and tears. I was done with Daddy.
Leaving El Salvador I felt my curiosities had been addressed. The experience spoke volumes of my father and his family and I wanted nothing to do with them. Being back with my family, friends and boyfriend in the US made me feel safe.
Two years after the incident I returned to San Salvador for a cousins wedding. My father and grandmother did not attend. As I walked into the Custcatlan Country Club I saw necks turning and eyes following me. Between the gossip and the way I strutted in my black Ferragamos everyone knew I was the gay Menendez cousin. Someone I didn’t know approached me and shook my hand: “We know things aren’t great with your dad but we’re happy to see you here in good spirits.” In the distance was the Boqueron Volcano. The feeling of shame that once overcame me as I stared at it’s massiveness was replaced with a sense of pride.
Being diagnosed with Daddy Issues is not a life threatening disease. The more you share your experience with the others the less likely you are to cringe when you hear of someone’s dad doing something nice for them. I’ve learned to appreciate the step-in father figures in my life. Since the incident in 2009 I’ve forgiven the younger me for trying to change so my Dad would like me. Dad, I understand the shock was unbearable when you found out I was gay. I forgive you for what happened in 2009. Moreover, I refuse to let hatred fester inside me as it causes premature aging and takes the fun out of life.
My father and I don't speak since the incident. He started sending me bible quotes every day. I would try responding to start a conversation but it never amounted to anything. His emails were marked as spam and now live amongst jockstrap coupons and other irrelevant e-crap.