1992: The Walk

I stand in the driveway as the tow truck repossesses our silver Oldsmobile. No! Bring it back! Why did they have to take away the best car we ever owned? How can he let them do this? Why didn’t he find a way to pay the bill?

“Well, Jenny…no time to feel sorry for ourselves. I knew they would take our car away after your mother left us! Again! What was she here, 2 months?” Maybe longer if you hadn’t threatened to hack her up with an axe?

“My brother George won’t care either. He filed for bankruptcy last month so they can’t come after him for being cosigner anyways.” Yeah but he still has a new truck. And we have nothing.

“Don’t worry. Pops will find a way to get us a car. Like I always do. Come on. Let’s go for a walk.”

Rusty leaves crunch beneath my feet along the curb. Let’s just keep walking forever.

As we make our way around the neighborhood, Dad says, “Jenny, you know that Daddy has always been honest with you. There’s a reason for that. I don’t want anyone else to tell you tall tales one day about your Father.”

Can’t we just have one walk in peace? Crunch, crunch, I can’t hear you.

“Jenny. You know that God told me to go to your mother and that you had to be born because he has a purpose for you and your Father. I was supposed to have one last daughter. You know Daddy tricked your mother. Told her I could never have any more kids…”

I hate you for tricking her. Why did she have to be part of your plan?

“…of course, Daddy didn’t know if I could have kids because of the fucking rheumatic fever. You know the doctors thought I might never walk again. Lost all my teeth…”

I still hate you.

“But none of that matters because I knew you were going to be born. I even knew what you were going to look like before you were born. Right down to the birthmark on your chest. Just like your Father.” Dad pounds on the left side of his chest.

“My first wife, my other kids, none of them matter. I had a job to do. To raise you. God told me, go to Debbie. And I did. What did it matter that I was married? That we all lived together while your mother was pregnant for you. That life was over. And I guess God wanted us to be alone, you and Poppa. Riding the dragon’s breath…like I always told you.”

As Dad drags on, my fists clench beneath my sleeves leaving marks on my palms. Fuck your dragon. I’m not riding on his breath or going along with your plan anymore.

“Dad. What you did was wrong. You had a wife and children. I never should have been born!”

“Don’t you dare judge your Father! After everything we’ve been through. You don’t even know. Your mother wanted to abort you…”

“Good. I wish she had. I don’t want to be alive if I caused all that pain for people.”

“Bullshit. Your Father wasn’t going to let some needle kill my baby. I told your mother I’d hack her the fuck up, and her goddamn sister too.”

I hang my head. You’re an asshole. You’re a bully. I can judge you. And I will live a different life than you.

Dad grunts a bit as we make our way back to the apartment complex in silence.

Jesus…did you just challenge him out loud? Yes, and it felt really good.


1994: An Unwanted Visitor

When we walk in the front door, I immediately sling my loaded backpack onto the bench. I can feel where the strap dug into my shoulder. That’s going to leave a red mark. Damn small shoulders. Damn math book.

 I have plans tonight; it’s my first school-night off in two weeks.

Time to catch up on spelling, math, and science. Why is Course I so hard? You’ve always been great at math. What’s happening? Maybe you’re working too much. You don’t even have weekends off. Practically living with Ann, Bob and their spoiled kid. Your kids will never be spoiled. I said it’s time to brush your teeth! Lucky you have a toothbrush, and teeth.

 “Hey Dad, I have a lot of homework due this week. I think I should go work in my room for a little while.” So you don’t interrupt me every three minutes to commentate on the news.

“Okay, Jenny. But first come here. Look at that car parked in the driveway.” He points through a single blind slat that he’s lifted half way.

“That’s Kevin’s spot. No one parks there. Who the hell is that?” Who gives a shit? Can I go catch up on two weeks of math that I’m technically failing?

 He must detect the sarcasm in my shrug. “Hey, it’s your Father’s job as manager of this place to keep an eye on everything. And if they don’t move, I’m going to have to go out there.” I roll my eyes out of habit.

Before Dad can make good on his promise, a professionally dressed woman carrying a briefcase exits the dark blue Toyota Camry. We don’t see people like that in these parts. I hope she’s not lost.

 The mystery woman makes a beeline for our door. As she approaches, I notice the faint pinstripe in her grey slacks and the shimmer of her fuchsia-colored blouse. She can’t be a Jehovah’s Witness. It’s not Sunday.

 Dad’s already opened the door before she knocks. Cautious, he says, “I’m Tom, the manager here. Can I help you?”

She doesn’t hesitate. “Yes, I’m Rachel Porter from Child Protective Services. Do you have a daughter named Jenny?”

“Yes, I do. I’ve raised my daughter since she was four days old because her mother didn’t want her. What’s the problem here?”

Stop trying to sound tough, asshole.

 Rachel doesn’t flinch. “Well, I am here today because our office received a phone call regarding your daughter.” Her words cause goose bumps to form on my arms. Holy shit. Someone knows I’m alive and that he’s crazy? Who is it?

 Furious, Dad shoots back. “There must be some mistake. As I’ve said, I’ve raised my daughter since birth. If there’s any question, you can talk to her teachers at school. I’d also like to know who made this phone call. The only reason I’m asking is because I have a lot of jealous and crazy family members who would do something like this to punish me, believe it or not.”

Rachel doesn’t blink. “I am sorry, but all calls to the agency are anonymous, sir. While, I’m here, though, would you mind if I had a conversation with Jenny?”

“No. I don’t mind. Come on in. Can I get you anything to drink?”

 Again, Rachel resists Dad’s best attempt. “Actually, I’d like to take Jenny for a walk around the block if you don’t mind.” Holy shit. Showdown.

 Now Dad hesitates. “Uh, sure I guess that’s ok.” He turns to me, “That okay with you Jenny?”

I nod.

 “Okay, when can I expect her back, Ms. Porter?”

“Oh about 20 minutes or so.” Okay so this is happening? Please be smart and take me away. Far away. Change my name. Put me under a protective order.

 As we exit the apartment without Dad, I feel as though I’ve stepped into an unknown dimension. Next you’ll see the sandworms from Beetlejuice.

 Rachel waits until we’re half way through the driveway to ask me where I go to school and if I like it there. So far her questions are easy. Stay calm.

 She continues to probe in a friendly way, “So your Dad raised you?”


“Do you have a good relationship with your dad? Do you have visitation with your mother?”

 The lies come out of my mouth with ease. He trained you so well. “Yes, I’ve always been with my Dad. My mom gave me up after I was born. I’ve only see her sometimes when she’s around. She moved to California when I was little.”

As we turn the corner onto Haskell…a safe distance…

 Yeah right there’s no safe distance. This whole investigation is a fraud. Is this how they protect children? Does it work? Do they understand that he’s the Terminator. He’ll kill us all. He’ll never stop until we’re all dead, unless I lie. This might be your only shot, you idiot, but you can’t take it. Now take a deep breath and keep lying to this nice naïve lady.

 Near the last house on the street, Rachel asks me the big question, “Has your Dad ever touched you in any inappropriate way?” You mean incest? No he hasn’t. Never. But he’s threatened my life, hit me, and called me a cunt and a whore on weekly basis. Does any of that matter?

 I smile a little as my eyes graze the uneven sidewalk. “No my Dad has never done anything like that.”

“Are you sure, honey? Nothing at all that you want to tell me?”

Give it a rest already. You’ve got him all wrong. Thank God I know enough to lie or we would both be dead.

 “No. I mean my Dad and I are really close. I used to sit on his lap sometimes if he would read me a story. But nothing bad ever happened.”

After I’ve answered her probes, we turn the corner again toward the apartment.

“Well, that’s good. You seem like a very nice young lady, and I’m glad that you have your Dad.”

“Thank you.” And you did it. Blew your big chance. Just hope he spares you after Ms. Porter leaves.

 Before we knock, Dad’s already flung the door open. He’s smiling. He knows you wouldn’t have the guts.

 For the first time, Rachel smiles too. She’s concluded that I’m safe and well-adjusted. Next case.

 Dad grills me on the questions she asked. I tell him the truth.

When I finally open my math book, I hear him yelling on the phone, threatening my mother, then my aunt. “You cocksucking whores better not have done this to me. Those bastards thought I touched Jenny. Mark my words. I’ll kill whoever did this.”

2001: Running with a Cordless Phone

“Let me tell you something, Jenny, I don’t give a shit if you’re 20 years old. You’re still my daughter. You’re my fucking property. I will kill you myself first! Do you hear your father? You’re not going to see these two boys at once and have one of them kill you. And don’t tell me it doesn’t happen. You know as well as I do. You see it on the news every day.”

I’m not “seeing” them both at once. I broke up with my boyfriend to see someone else and if you’re so worried about one of them killing me, stop calling my ex and stirring the pot, asshole!

Dad continues as veins bulge from his neck, “Are you listening to me, you no good, cock-sucking whore? Here’s what’s going to happen. Give me your cell phone. Right now. Right fucking now. Good. And from now on you do as I say, when I say.”

I want him to drop dead. You bastard! You got away with talking to me that way my whole life. But the day I turned 18, I swore you would never threaten me again. Never again.

Per protocol, I immediately retreat to my bedroom and lie on my bed. I dig my nails into my arms so I won’t tear up. Waiting. Always waiting. Later that night, he makes his way up the stairs, grunting and snorting all the way. I can hear every breath he takes as though he is standing over me. I pretend to be asleep, but I have one eye open. I am lying on my side because I feel most vulnerable on my back. He uses the bathroom and then goes into his bedroom. It approaches an eternity before I can hear him snore.

You know he is the lightest sleeper ever. Fucking Marine Corps training. And he will make good on his promise to kill you if he hears you. Still, you’ve got to do this, or you’re better off dead.

I pretend I am a samurai wearing a black body suit, moving so quietly no one can hear me. I know where all the spots are in the floor that creak because we have lived in this apartment for seven years. I don’t stand. I crawl. I scoot my behind down one step at a time, skipping over the 8th step entirely. Okay big shot, you made it down stairs, there’s no turning back, and you’d better stop wasting time thinking. He could wake up at any time and then you are DEAD. I think I hear something, so I stay very still for a moment but nothing happens. Maybe you’d better take the cordless phone because you don’t have your cell and you need to call your friend when you make it outside the apartment. I grab the handset with reluctance since it makes a little beep when you pull it from the cradle. I stop to see if he stirs. Nothing. But I can’t be sure since I am shaking so badly, my heart is pounding in my eardrums. Now I am at the front door. I stand there for several seconds. Oh shit. This is the worst part. He’s going to hear it open. He will jump out the second story window, thereby cracking the earth open to its core and you will die drowning in molten lava. Stop it. Just focus. See the door opening slowly. You can do this. You’re a woman now. I grip the door knob and turn it slowly. As I open the door, I hear sirens in my head. They are so loud, and I have to open it faster now. I can’t take the pressure anymore.

I am outside. Pitch black. What time is it anyway? I can’t shut the door. Shaking too badly. Oh God what if someone comes right in and kills him because you left the door open? No. He brought this on himself. You have to run. You have to save your life. And that’s it. I bolt. I don’t just run. I turn into a gazelle. I cut clean through the apartment complex and make it to a street. I look back twice. Maybe three times. By now he could be in the car looking for you. Time to hide. Run faster. No, fly. Now I am two streets over hiding behind other people’s houses. I turn on the cordless phone. No dial tone. Of course! You’re an idiot. You’re “out of range.” Sometimes I wonder why people think I am smart. No time for this. You have to find a way. It’s too late to turn back. I construct a mental map of back roads all the way to my friend’s house. My Father’s voice is in my head now. Jenny, you’re a very foolish little girl. You want to run away from me…fine. But now you are putting yourself at risk. You’re vulnerable. Predators, they always know when someone is weak. They will find you. You know Daddy taught you better than this. Just then, I notice someone’s light is on inside their house. I sneak under the window. It’s their kitchen. A woman is doing dishes. Late to be doing dishes. What time is it anyway? She looks young and nice. A woman won’t hurt me. You just have to take a chance. I begin waving at the kitchen window, mouthing, “help me please and I’m sorry to bother you.”

She motions for me to go to the front door where her husband greets me. He looks nice too. I hope they are not killers. Sick psycho married couple that lures you in then… stop being paranoid like your Father. I am tearing up as I say, “I am so sorry to bother you this late at night.”

Warmly, they both motion me inside, “Come in honey. It’s okay. What happened to you?”

“It’s my Dad, I’m 20 years old but I had to run away because I am afraid he is going to kill me.”

They look at me with odd understanding. They told me their names, but I forgot already. “I won’t need to bother you for long. I just need to call my friend to pick me up, if you have a phone you are willing to let me use to make a local call.” The wife sends her husband to go retrieve the phone. Meanwhile she explains, “Don’t worry honey. You know what? There is nothing to be sorry for. I came from an abusive family too. I understand what you are going through. Really, I left home much younger than you are now, but I’m glad you got away. And I’m glad we had our light on to help you tonight. Really, it’s no imposition.”

Her husband hands me the phone and tells me, “you can go in that back bedroom if you would like some privacy.” Then I realize there is a baby’s basinet in the other bedroom. Oh no, you’re going to wake up their baby. They are so nice. My dad is wrong about people. They are not all evil. Some people can be trusted, and that’s the way you will live my life, trust until someone gives you a good reason not to. I dial my friend. Oh please let him answer and not his parents.


Shakily I stammer, “Hi, it’s me. I ran away tonight. He threatened to kill me. I need you to come and get me. I’m at these people’s house around the corner from my dad’s place. They were really nice to let me use their phone but I have to get out of here quick before my Father wakes up.”


“Sweetie? Ummm…okay this is a lot to take in. I have to go ask my parents if it’s okay if I bring you here to stay. Be right back.”

Please let it be ok. I’m out of options.

“Sweetie, they said yes. You can sleep in my room. I will sleep in my sister’s old room. Where are you exactly?”

I talk to the couple for a few more minutes, thank them for all their help, apologize one last time, and then stand by the door looking out the front window. My friend’s light blue Chevy is the only car on the road at this time of night. I run as fast as I can and hop in.

He asks me, “What’s going on?”

“Just get out of here. I’m still afraid my Father is going to find us. Also I think it’s best if you take me to the police station so I can tell them I left of my own free will. I know my Father. He will report me missing.” Oddly, he taught you to go to the police so no one could ever hurt you. It’s crazy to be following his directions at a time like this.

 We drive downtown. I’ve been to the police station there before when my Father was the manager of the apartment complex where he lives. We walk inside and there is an officer behind a glass window.

I say into the speaker, “Hi my name is Jenny Kamburelis. I am here because I ran away from home tonight and I don’t want my father to report me missing.” He beeps the door so we can come in. Another police officer asks me several questions and files a report. Name, age, address, reason I ran away…basic information.

The officer asks, “Who is this person with you?”

I reply, “It’s my friend who came to pick me up.”

The officer responds, “Okay, you’re all set. And good luck. I want you to know this is not unusual. We see these types of family disputes all the time. I hope you can work it out with your Father.”

“I’m not sure that I can. He is very violent. You don’t know him. I go back to college in a week. If I need help retrieving my things, could a police officer be there?”

“Sure. Just call us if you have a problem.”

We drive back to my friend’s house. I love his family home—neatly tucked away behind so many trees that you can’t see it from the road. Anonymity. Each minute that passes I become less afraid. I am exhausted emotionally. I fall into bed, but I can’t sleep. Sleep you overtired zombie.

“Sweetie, sweetie wake up!”

“Huh what’s happening?”

“It’s your dad, he’s on the phone right now. He wants me to help him come and find you. He says you are missing.”

“Did you tell him that I am here?”

“No, not yet. But I think I have to tell him the truth at this point. I mean he is a wreck. He is crying, and he’s asked me to come help search for you.”

Holy shit. He’s crying?! He’s never cried over anything. I saw him tear up once when his sister Nellie died in a car accident. But he doesn’t cry. Ever.

Nervously I tell him, “Uhhh, ummm, okay. I guess you have to tell him that I am here.”

My friend retrieves the phone, “Here you go. Your dad wants to talk to you.”


“Jenny. Honey, you scared Daddy. Come right home now.”

“Well you scared me…and, no, I am not coming home right now. I just got here and I am tired.”

“Well, when are you coming home?”

“In the morning, I guess.”

“What time?”

“I don’t know. Uh, about ten o’clock. I need to go and get some rest now.”

He says in his most charming voice, “Okay, you and Poppa will talk about everything when you get home. Oh, and why ten o’clock? It’s so late.”

“I will see you at ten.” You bastard, pain in the ass. You are lucky I am coming back at all. God, I am such a wimp.

My friend drops me off at the apartment door that I had become so intimately acquainted with less than 10 hours ago. Fuck. You’re back. He’s probably doing that whole Don Corleone thing—luring you in last night with the “I love you and come home” crap. Now he will just kill you. I’m so tired; I won’t even fight him.

 I walk in to find Dad sitting in a white rocking chair. Rocking methodically.

He addresses me, “I’m so glad you’re home. Pretty sneaky you are. Boy, you scared Poppa good. I got up in the middle of the night to check on you, like I always do, and you were gone. I said to myself, boy, she must be pretty pissed.”

Blank stare.

“So tell daddy all about what happened.” Ummm ok…he’s not mad and he thinks this is some kind of great adventure?!

“Well I just ran out after you went to sleep. Then Gary came to pick me up, and I told him to take me to the police station so I wouldn’t be reported missing.”

All the while he continues the rocking motion while snorting. Then he grins and says, “That’s my girl. Just like Daddy taught you. This is the proudest Daddy’s ever been of you, and you’ve got some balls like your old man too. So tell me more. What happened at the police station?”

Wow. I thought I was going to never see him again. Now he’s proud? No matter how much you think you know him, you don’t.

 Oddly, I am happy that he is proud of me. Finally! “Well, Dad they just took a report, and wrote down all my information. I figured you would have called them first thing when you found me missing.”

He nods, shaking his head “no,” but wants to know more. “Dad, I’m pretty beat. I can tell you more about it later.” This is sick. Just sick.

“Okay, Daddy will let you rest. I just can’t believe you went to the police like I taught you to do. He’s actually proud of himself, and, by extension, you. “All right. You and Daddy, we’re gonna work this out. I told you I will always have your back. Whoever you like for a boyfriend, Pops will support you on that.” Utterly confused, I climb the stairs that I just crawled down the previous night and lie on my bed with an odd sense of relief and a feeling that, maybe, I am loved.