1992: Nine Cop Cars and An Ax in a Pear Tree

My mother locks herself in my parent’s bedroom.

Annoyed, Dad asks, “Jenny, is your mother still up there?”

I nod, “yes.”

“Well, go and see if you can get her to stop this silly nonsense!”

I knock on the hollow wood-composite door. No answer. I jiggle the brass knob. Locked. What is she doing in there? I would never get away with this.

 Innocently, I plead through the door, “Mom, it’s me. Are you going to come out soon? Dad wants to talk to you. Please.”

Still, no answer. But I hear her talking in a low voice. She’s on the phone?

When I come down the stairs empty-handed, Dad barrels his way right up. He pounds on the door. How is it that his fist doesn’t plow right through?

 His face glows a dark crimson while he yells, “Debbie! Get your goddamn ass out of the bedroom this instant! Or I am going to get my ax and hack you the fuck up.”

Recognizing his tone, my organs quiver inside as if he’s said this to me.

 Still she says nothing. I wish for a magic fairy to sweep her away so she doesn’t have to confront my father. I can’t bear to watch this.

 Disgusted, he turns to me, “I don’t know what the fuck her problem is! Come on and help Daddy with the dishes, would ya?”

He washes. I dry. I hate drying because the kitchen towel smells of twenty spices that Dad uses to make his famous dirt-dog sauce. Like cumin. Yuck.

With his hands submerged in soapy water, dad looks back toward the living room windows.

“Jenny, do you see lights flashing right outside our apartment?”

I shrug. Since you always keep the blinds shut, I’d need x-ray vision to see out there.

 It’s nagging him so he walks to the window and lifts one plastic panel from the venetian blinds in order to peer out. He looks up startled and motions for me to come over.

Whispering audibly, “Jenny! Son-of-a-bitch! There’s about nine cop cars outside our apartment. What the hell is going on?”

Dad opens the door reflexively. As complex manager, he’s usually aware of what’s going on.

As he unbolts the door, two officers approach.

They ask, “Is there a Deborah living here?”

Dad replies confidently, “Well, yes. She’s my wife.”

“Yes, sir. We’ve come because your wife’s sister called us about a domestic violence dispute. She said that you threatened to chop Deborah up with an ax.”

I peer from just behind Dad as they say all this. Holy shit. Are they going to arrest him?

Dad doesn’t panic. Instead, he bursts out laughing.

Suddenly composed, he continues, “Oh Lordy, Officers. She tricked you too! I’ve never touched that woman in my life. This is what she does.”

Pointing to his temple, Dad remarks, “She’s got a few screws loose, if you know what I mean?”

“Well, nevertheless, Mr. K, when someone calls us with this type of threat, we have to come and safely escort that person off the premises.”

“Sure thing Officer. If Debbie wants to leave, she could have just left.” Directing his gaze toward me, Dad proclaims, “This is our daughter, Jenny. I’ve raised her since she was four days old because Deborah ran off then too.”

The officers look stunned, but still skeptical.

Dad directs them with an arm wave, “My wife is upstairs. My daughter and I were just here wondering why she wouldn’t come out of her bedroom. You don’t know Deborah. She always has a plan up her sleeve. Don’t be surprised if she’s back here in week.”

Just then, Aunt Diane and her fiancé Bo walk through the door. This is actually messed up. Diane rescues her sister when she usually spends hours talking shit about my mother over lunch with Dad.

 Dad chuckles as he directs his gaze toward Diane with a smug grin. “Di you know as well as I do that she’s making this up because she wants an excuse to leave.”

Aunt Diane replies, “I don’t know this time, Tommy.”

Now Dad smirks in Bo’s direction, “Well Bo, it looks like you’re stuck with both these crazy bitches. I don’t envy you, brother.”

After the cops escort my mother away, I expect Dad to be livid. Instead he acts as though nothing has transpired.

“Ahhh, your Father’s glad she’s gone. Now I can do what I want without all the bullshit nagging. Tommy-this and Tommy-that.”

He continues, “Jenny, don’t ever nag a man that way someday. Your mother is lucky she never got herself killed because of her mouth. You hear me? If you don’t like something or don’t want to do something, just say no. Don’t give a man a hundred reasons why and keep repeating yourself.”

I file his advice away in my mind even though I detest it.

A week later, I walk out from school right at 2:15pm on the dot. If I don’t, Dad worries. As I approach the light grey Oldsmobile, I nearly faint.

My mother is in the passenger seat. She rolls down the window. “Jenny Penny. Get in the back, my love.”

Holy fuck. They don’t teach us how to cope with this is catechism class.

As we drive down Cooper Street, the same police officer that came to escort my mother the week before, passes us on the opposite side. Even from my back-seat view, the officer’s mouth drops to the floor as he recognizes my parents.

Without missing a beat, Dad turns to Mom and says, “Boy, Deb, did you see the look on his face!?”

They both laugh in unison. It’s one of the sweetest moments they’ve ever had together.

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1995: Almost Graduation

Dad moseys the old Plymouth down a narrow one-way street to drop me off for school. St. Mary’s Academy. The gothic stone structure always seems out of place standing next to a plastic-cluttered playground and a chain link fenced parking lot across the street.

Dad always says, “The church—with all their money—had this place built over sixty years ago by some famous architect. They even imported the marble all the way from Italy.”

When he made the decision in 1986, Dad pronounced, “Jenny you’re gonna go to the same Catholic school as your Father. In those days, the nuns beat us with thick wooden rulers.” He holds his sausage-link thumb and index finger up to approximate the ruler’s width. “Now it’s illegal for them to do that. But let me tell you, those nuns were as mean as any drill instructor Daddy ever had. Evil—some of them were too. They hated children!”

The car is now idling in front of the main entrance. I hear Dad going on, “You know, Jenny, one time me and my buddy, Gary, got to meet the Pope. We tried to suck the ruby out of the bastards ring, but we couldn’t get it. Can you imagine these so-called men of God wearing jewelry like that? It’s all a farce if you ask your Father.”

I wonder momentarily, why the hell did you send me here then? Ah who gives a shit. You’re in 8th grade. You’re about to graduate, and then you can go off and become the first woman President of the United States.

Basically, I’m a senior around here since the high school shut down in 1989.

Dad snaps me back to reality as he turns to me before letting me exit the cab, “Jenny, why do they have to take you on a senior field trip to goddamn Canada of all places? And to a theme park, no fucking less! You know that you and Daddy hate those kind of places.”

I give him a concealed death glare. I don’t know what I hate because I’ve never been allowed to go to any places!

 He continues, “And besides, you can’t go unless I go. So you better make sure that I am a chaperone for this little trip of yours.”

Defeat. I’m screwed for life. You will never give up. I just want one day without hearing your voice. I want to be cool like other kids, like Jessica, who gets to have boys sleep over. I want a mother. They seem to understand. As usual, I nod, “Okay.”

“Okay what? Make sure I’m on that goddamn bus. I’m not letting anyone take my daughter to Canada without me being there. Did you hear me Jenny?!”

Later that week, all 13 of us pupils, prim and proper, line up outside the stone church. We don’t dare talk in line as we wait to receive our diplomas; we have learned well the consequences long before this point. We are expected to behave perfectly and are shown no mercy should we falter.

Who cares? We don’t require words; we’ve learned to communicate through glances and gestures. We are practically family. No we are family! Brothers and sisters. We grew up together. This is the end; we have finally made it.

Even at the age of 14, we all realize, jokingly, that we will need therapy one day.

I feel proud in this moment and as the organ music begins to sound, I well up with tears for all of our achievements. Don’t lose it now; Get a grip!

Suddenly, Dad comes rushing toward the line with the look of a wild coyote.

“Come on Jenny, let’s get the hell out of here. This goddamn bitch says that you can’t graduate.”

Uh, he said “goddamn” and “bitch” in church. Oh my fucking God. Not graduate? But, I’m an A student.

I see her behind him. The principal, who happens to be a part Catholic nun, part drill instructor. This is not the first time that she and Dad have sparred. This is her revenge.

As I walk out with Dad holding my right arm, she grabs onto my left arm, and says, “Wait, Jenny, don’t leave. Let me explain to you what I told your father. You can graduate today…”

My face is burning red and I spin around to face her. I know in this moment that I will commit a sin that cannot be erased.

“Let me go, you fucking bitch!”

I rip my arm away and watch her face contort in shock. I hear gasps as my father and I make our way out of the church.

The fresh, June air that I breathe tastes surprisingly raw. This moment disappoints me more than any other in my life, so far. Shit. I earned this!

When we get in the car, the maroon vinyl seats stick to my already sweaty silk dress. I roll down my window and ask “What about my class trip tomorrow?”

“Well, that evil cunt ruined that for you too! Naturally, you can’t go now.”

My heads feels like it will permanently hang down at a 45-degree angle. This is his fault. He never wanted you to have fun anyway. He never tries to work anything out; it’s always bullshit drama.

 “Daddy feels bad, but we couldn’t let her push us around. How dare she tell me that you weren’t going to get your diploma, only a shitty piece of blank paper. If we weren’t in church, I would’ve punched that bitch right in the face.”

We drive around town for a while, but I am dazed. After a couple hours, the answering machine blinks red with several messages from my friends.

“Hi, Jenny. We all hope you are okay. Are you coming to the awards ceremony tonight? Will we see you tomorrow? The bus leaves at 7 am.”

How can any of your friends still care about you—the weirdo?

 Later there’s more. “Hi Jenny, this is Sara. I have your awards from tonight. We really missed you. Please call us.”

I want to pick up the phone and say, “No, I’m not okay. Please come and take me away from this prison.

Dad becomes more annoyed with every call, “Don’t these people ever give up? No! We’re not okay. We’re alone again. Just Daddy and Jenny. There’s no mother or sisters or brothers. Nobody really gives a shit about us.”

It’s 8pm. I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast. Dad realizes this and opens the cupboards to reveal the bare ingredients in the apartment: flour, sugar, milk, and a liter of grape soda. Like magic he whips us up some homemade pancakes and “maple” sugar syrup.

1988: Chocolate Cake, Please?

Today is my 7th Birthday. Dad is still head chef at Camp Chingachgook until the end of the summer. He stayed up late last night to prepare a special cake for me. My first birthday cake.

He doesn’t cook his cake like other bakers. They use a cake pan. But Dad fills a deep aluminum soup pot two-thirds filled with batter. The cake cooks for two whole hours. When it comes out of the oven, Dad dumps the pot upside down with his right hand and catches the cake in the left crook of his arm. Last year he missed, and the cake went on the floor. Motherfucking cock sucking son-of-a-bitch, Jenny. Your Father’s beautiful cake is ruined and it’s all my own fault!

Last week, Dad asked me, “Jenny what kind of cake do you want your Father to make for your birthday? My famous dark chocolate with mocha frosting, right? That’s Daddy’s best!”

I ponder Dad’s idea. He’s right. You do love chocolate cake the most. Truth be told, I’d rather eat the densely moist chocolate perfection all by itself, minus the frosting. But I know that other people like frosting so I nod, “ok.”

“What do you want Daddy to put on the top of your cake?”

This is the most important question anyone has asked me in a long time. Maybe ever.

Your favorite shapes…heart, star, and ?

 I animatedly tell him that I want three shapes on the top. “A heart, a star, and a—square!”

Dad looks puzzled, but intrigued. “You want those three shapes only on the top of your cake?! You don’t want it to say ‘Happy Birthday’ on there?”

I nod “yes,” and then “no.”

“Okay, Jenny. You’re a very strange child. You know that, right? But Daddy will do as you wish.”

I hear him mutter incredulously under his breath, “a heart, a star, and a square.”

Yes, exactly. And I’m not strange. This cake is going to be so great. No one has ever seen one like it.

 Proudly, I keep imagining the finished result.

When I wake up Dad informs me that my Godmother, Madeline, and Godfather, Neil, are both coming to take me to the Sagamore for my birthday.

Yipee!! I can’t help but grin at the thought of spending the day with Madeline and Neil. They are the grandparents that I never had.

 But Dad is less enthused. “They better have you back on time for your cake. I don’t know what I’m going to do if they are late. The camp kids will go nuts and devour your cake, and I won’t be able to stop them.”

I lower my head in despair. Of course you can stop them. Just don’t put it out. We won’t be late!

We have a perfect day at the resort. Except when I become anxious about returning to camp and quickly run down a long hill towards the car. Somehow I stumble. Bam!! Both knees skinned. I’m so stunned that I don’t cry. My knees burn. I wonder if they will ever grow back.

By the time we return, Dad shoots me a disappointed look as he glances at my bloody injury.

Sorry. I tried to hurry back.

 After Madeline and Neil tell Dad about my brutal injury, he informs us of the bad news, “Well, that’s too bad that you were late. I told Jenny not to be late. Well I was right. The cake is all gone but two slices, and those are for you and Neil.”

They try to urge with him that I should have a piece instead, but he insists that I’m being punished for not listening.

Dad brings the last two pieces out on a paper plates. I can see one pointed edge of the star, and one corner of the square.”

I hold back my tears by digging my nails into my thighs. Water fills my eyes in such a way that if I were to blink or glance down, it would all run out. Then he would kill you for sure. So I dig my nails a little deeper into my flesh. Happy Birthday to me.