1988: An Act of God

In a few months the white Oldsmobile that we bought from a private sale turns out to be what Dad calls a “lemon!”

“I’d like to go over there and beat that son-of-bitch to a bloody pulp while his wife watches. Selling me a no good car, that bastard!”

Last week when it broke down, Dad tried to fix it. I had no idea what he was doing. I just sat inside playing with my Dream Glow Barbie while he swore wildly with his head buried under the hood.

Dad pops his head in the window, interrupting my Barbie’s daily hair brushing, “Jenny, I need you to do Daddy a big favor. I need you to start the car when I say so.”

Start the car? What? I’m not even 7 years old. I’m barely okay with riding in the car.

 “You’ll be fine. Just put the key in the ignition like this. Then you turn it. But not until I say so! That part is very important or I could get killed under there!”

When he says this, it sounds like I’m underwater. I can hear him. But I don’t believe what is about to happen.

Then I hear the signal. You can do this? He said it was easy. Just turn this key until….

“Motherfucking, cock-sucking whore!!! Stop!!!”

I hear squealing. Huh? What’s happening? Then I see his face. It’s red. No purple-ish.

“Jenny. What were you thinking? Were you trying to kill your Father? You’re lucky I don’t kill you myself right now for that. Well, what do you have to say?”

I stammer, “Umm, I heard the signal, Daddy…”

“No! Jesus Christ. I never said go. Maybe I said goddamn! You’re a fucking moron. A useless piece of shit. Life’s not easy for your Father. You’re my last daughter. It’s just us now. And you aren’t doing jack shit to make it any better!”

I cringe, waiting for him to hit me. This is the angriest he’s ever been. You’re going to get beat twice as hard. I’m so scared that I’m not sure if he hits me or not.

But it’s useless. The car won’t run. And we’re between places to live right now, so all of our belongings are in the trunk, too. Dad says we can only take one small suitcase that has our clothes inside. The other two boxes stuffed full of my Barbie dolls and My Little Pony’s have to stay behind in the lemon.

As we walk away Dad grumbles, “Well, Jenny, you’ll probably never see all your beautiful dolls again. We have no place to put them now. Too bad those fucking things would have been worth a fortune someday.” I want to run, screaming for help. But we’re on a deserted country road. I hate you. I don’t care if I’m your last daughter. Those are my toys. And they are worth a fortune now, to me!

The next day I can barely concentrate in school. We are learning subtraction.

But Dad has good news when he picks me up.

Dad informed my Godmother, Madeline. She said, simply, “Thomas the Lord is good. I’ve planned to buy a new car, anyways. You can have my old one.”

It’s an antique light blue, push-button and Dad can’t stop marveling. “Jenny, just look at this car. They don’t make them like this anymore.”

Once we take Madeline to pick up her new car, she will sign the deed over the Dad. On our way, she notices something.

“Thomas, would you pull over, please?”

Worried, he asks, “Why? What are you sick?”

“No. I saw the most beautiful rainbow.”

“Madeline, for God-sake, I’m going 65 miles an hour on the Northway. I can’t pull over for every cloud and rainbow.”

But he pulls over just the same. This makes Madeline very happy. How does she work her magic with him?

My Godmother’s new car is hideous. Oh please don’t ask if I like it. I’m not a good liar. It’s puke brown with a slanted back. I’ve never seen a car like this. Strangely, it suits her. The ugly loner that no one else would ever want.

Two weeks later, Dad informs me that a tree crushed Madeline’s new car outside the Goldshade Restaurant on Warren Street.

No one was hurt. But the insurance won’t cover the car because they deemed the accident an “act of God.”

Unruffled, Madeline tells Dad, “God must have wanted my car crushed by a tree. He must have had a reason for it. I have faith, Thomas.”

I can see Dad’s veins swell and his nose flare, “Madeline, excuse my language, but you’re fucking nuts. Oh yeah. God wanted a tree to crush a saintly woman’s car. No this is just another bullshit greedy insurance company taking advantage of you. And the restaurant should be sued too. They knew that tree was dead. Jesus Christ!”

Despite Dad’s tirade, Madeline doesn’t ask for her old car back from us. She and Dad work out a system for us to drive her around to all her appointments. And stopping for all the rainbows and pretty clouds.


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