For Easter break, Dad allows me spend the night at my friend Lauren’s house. Lauren’s parents buy all the brand-name snacks like Doritos and Fruit Roll Ups. And they don’t nag us while we squeal over Dirty Dancing.
Dad’s hyper after I return home the next day. You’ve been away for more than an hour—eye roll—so you know this is how he’s going to behave.
“Jenny, you’re not going to believe what Daddy found this morning while you were at Lauren’s!”
I never ask what. I just wait for his words to terrorize the air.
He strides over to the front door and points to the spiny green mat outside. This was lying there, perfectly, outside our door.”
In the palm of his hand he holds a small tree branch. Tree branches fall all the time, right?
“Do you see it Jenny?”
I narrow my eyes in confusion. Nope.
“God left this for your Father! It’s a branch shaped exactly like a cross. Right outside our door. Laying there. Just like this! Can you imagine the odds of a tree branch blowing off in the shape of a perfect cross and landing dead center on our door mat!”
No but I can imagine what the authorities would say if they knew I lived here with you. Please let this be one of his 24-hour notions.
“This time your Father’s not giving up. Seven years ago when you were only a little girl, God came to me in a dream and told me his name. But I forgot it when I woke up. Well, I didn’t tell you but last week God came to your father again. But this time he kept me awake all night so I couldn’t forget. God said to me ‘Thomas, you must tell the people they can have whatever they want and do whatever they want. And my real name is Gabazar.’ He kept your Father awake all night repeating his name, Gabazar. And his message to the people.”
You know God doesn’t do things like that. Not that you have conversations with him. There was that dream about Jesus when you were 8 years old. But you didn’t go around telling everyone that Jesus gave you sparkly pastel fairy dust.
Hurry think of something to escape!
“Dad I have to finish my math assignment for tomorrow. I’ll be in my room if you need me.” At least he can’t check over math homework.
Despite my breath of relief for the afternoon, I am wrong.
The branch shaped like a cross doesn’t turn out to be one his 24-hour notions.
“Jenny, Daddy’s worried about just leaving this cross lying around when we leave the house. I mean what if this place burned down. I need a way to protect it and display it. I want to have a giant wooden cross carved, and then I’ll whittle out a special opening for this one to fit in.”
Dad traces the curves of the branch with his index finger as if he’s mentally measuring. Hatching his plan.
“That way, when I walk through the streets bringing God’s message to the people, I can carry this.”
You can divorce your parents, right? He can’t be serious. This is far even for him.
“You know they’re probably going to kill your Father, right?”
Who, the voices in your head?
“They always kill people who tell the truth. Your Father will die a martyr. I can’t help it. God chose me. He chose Moses once and now he chose your Father. We are the first two of God’s new chosen people, the Gabazarians.” Refusing to look at him, I lower my gaze, counting bits of carpet pile—praying that the real God will send my real Father to rescue me.
Convinced of his calling, Dad hand-writes what he calls an official church document for the Gabazarians. He brings the document to the notary, and hangs it with a single blue tack in our kitchen near the cordless phone.
“Jenny. I want you to record a new message on the answering for Daddy because you have a much better voice. Here you go. I wrote it all out for you exactly as I want you to say it.”
I reluctantly accept the loose-leaf sheet he hands me. I shake as I read the words, “Hello, you’ve reached the home of the Gabazarians, God’s new chosen people. We’re not home at the moment. So please leave a message, and we will get back to you shortly.”
Please leave a message with the number of someone who will save me. This man can’t be your Father. He just can’t.
I don’t know how I utter these words with such clarity. But I do. Because I have to.