I can’t remember what she looked like. When I think of her face, an image of “Rocky” from The Mask appears. I remember light curly hair and fair skin, but apparently she was ugly. She was ugly because my mother said she was. She had slanted eyes, a flat nasal bridge, and abnormal teeth. Perhaps she had other irregular physical characteristics but I didn’t notice. I didn’t know what Down syndrome was then. Her name was Shiloh and she wore a uniform to school every day. My parents took care of her a few hours a week. She did unusual things like lift her skirt up in public, or talk in unusual phrases. People with Down syndrome have a mild to moderate IQ, and in some cases they have a severe intellectual disability. I never knew about Shiloh’s, and I never had a conversation with her. I wasn’t allowed.
My brothers and I used to make fun of her footwear. They were black and white saddle shoes, popularized in the 40s. In those days, we simply referred to them as “Shiloh shoes.” At the time, we wore sneakers with fat laces and windbreaker outfits. Anything else was out of fashion. I don’t know why she came to exist in our household. I asked one of my brothers recently and he said that my parents did it for extra income.
One afternoon, we picked her up from school, and she rode in the station wagon with my siblings and me. We didn’t like to sit near her so we let her sit as close to the window as she wanted. She stuck her head out like a dog and let the wind crash through her curly hair. We weren’t driving that fast, maybe about thirty-five miles per hour on a residential street. I noticed that Shiloh reached for the door and pulled on the handle. My sister and I screamed when the door opened. My father slammed the breaks and Shiloh smashed up against the door, and managed to stay inside the vehicle.
My father screamed at her in Spanish, “Que chingados estas haciendo?” she didn’t understand. She laughed and shook her head, and attempted to climb out through the window. I don’t remember the ride home, but it must have been uncomfortable and comical.
I asked my sister the other day, “Remember that time Shiloh tried to jump out of the station wagon?”
“Yuck, no. I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember what my dad did to her?”
“That girl was just crazy.”
In the driveway, my father dragged Shiloh out of the vehicle by her curly hair and hauled her into the house. “Ahora vas a aprender cabrona.” Shiloh laughed and seemed to enjoy it.
Perhaps my father thought she challenged his manhood. My siblings, mother, and I went into the house and retreated to our normal routine. I decided to check up on Shiloh and I walked to my parents’ bedroom. Shiloh had her skirt down to her ankles and my father was whipping her with a metal baseball bat on the ass. He glanced in my direction and kept hitting her. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at, but I knew I had walked into a real horror show. Shiloh cried and roared like I had never heard. For the first time, I felt sympathy for her. My father was physically abusive to my siblings and I, but this seemed highly inappropriate.
I told my sister, “You don’t remember my dad whipped her with a bat?”
A few days ago, my brother and father came over to watch a game. I asked my brother, “Do you remember Shiloh, that one girl?”
“Yeah of course. What about her?”
“I was wondering about that time she tried to jump out of the station wagon. I was thinking about her punishment.”
“Ask my dad.”
My dad said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You guys are inventing things.” He took a drink from his tequila and went back to watching the game.
Rodrigo Ribera d’Ebre is an essayist, novelist, scholar, director and curator. He was born and raised on the seedy streets of the Los Angeles Westside, near the LAX Airport, where he participated in many subcultures during his youth. After his two closest friends were convicted of the homicide of a federal informant, d’Ebre distanced himself from the streets and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and his writing has appeared in Dual Coast Magazine and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is the author of Urban Politics: The Political Culture of Sur 13 Gangs, a political treatise on Mexican American street gang organizations in Los Angeles. His nonfiction has been highlighted by NPR and he is an award-wining filmmaker for his narrative and direction in the documentary film, Dark Progressivism. He is currently a graduate student in the MFA program at Mount Saint Mary’s University.