2004: Shrink Session

After my carpet-burned belly incident, I browse online for the name of a good psychologist. One that specializes in childhood trauma.

My first fifty-minute session with Dr. Vee flies by as I hurriedly recount the past 20 years.

My parents had an affair in 1980.

My Father lied to my Mother about having a vasectomy.

Then he brutally forced my Mother to carry me once she became pregnant.

While they were both married with children.

My Father moved my mother in with his family. Not pretty.

She abandoned me after he threatened her life multiple times.

Everyone considers me to be his property. Even she does.

I don’t.

I’m afraid of him.

He’s threatened my life countless times.

I know my fear is not irrational.

I can’t go on like this anymore. What now?

I watch Dr. Vee scribble furiously on a legal pad propped against his knee. Offer him some proof. “Next time, I could bring you some of the letters he’s written to me…if that would help?”

“Sure. That would be very useful. It was a pleasure to meet you, Jenny. I’ll see you in a week.”

During our second appointment, Dr. Vee reads Dad’s letters while I sit across from him on a velvety mushroom hued sofa. I fidget with the pillows to distract myself from the anticipation. Please, please let him recognize that Dad is crazy. Don’t let him be fooled like every teacher, friend, and warm body who thought he was god’s gift as a single father. Just let one person understand

“Well, Jenny, after reading these letters, my diagnosis of your Father is that he’s a psychotic-schizophrenic-paranoid-narcissist.”

Yes! He understands! Wait, he’s what? That’s even worse than you thought…

Dr. Vee stares at me intently. “People, like your Father, with this particular combination of mental illnesses, they are usually very dangerous. I want you to be very careful—particularly in confronting him.”

I take my first breath since Dr. Vee’s diagnosis. “Yes. I’m glad someone finally understands what I’ve been coping with for twenty years. Believe me, I have always been cautious around him. A few weeks ago he let himself into our apartment without knocking. The next day, my fiancé changed the lock. Before that, we got into a fight over the phone—which by the way, I’m sick of talking to him five times a day—and he threatened to kill me because I don’t believe in his predictions or whatever. This has to end!”

“Jenny, I understand your frustration here. I want you to know that I don’t see any qualities in you that are like your Father. You understand what happened to you very deeply, and you’re far more normal than you might realize. Next time we will discuss the possibility of limiting contact, or cutting ties completely. Though I caution you, that can be a very difficult thing to do, psychologically.”

After wringing my hands the whole session, I rise from the couch and sling my purse over my right shoulder. “Thank you, Doctor. This is going to help me. I’m so glad I came to see you.”

As I make my way across the narrow hall, and down two flights of stairs, I feel lighter somehow. Progress! You can do this…you can face your fear. Just you wait until next week, Doctor Vee.

 

Advertisements

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?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

1997: Good Samaritans

“Jenny, I’m going to rest for a few minutes.”

Finally. Now you can get some homework done.

I call back, “Okay, Dad. I’m just going to work on my math assignment.”

I settle down at the kitchen table and open my notebook. Honestly, Course III started off as my least favorite class this year. I like math, but my teacher is really stern.

She’s stricter than the nuns at Catholic school. And you’re such a pussy. You were afraid she wouldn’t give you an A and he would kill you.

 But so far, I got it wrong. This is my best math course since 6th grade.

Just as I start setting up the word problem, I hear “knock, knock.” I jump at the sound and my heart is pounding. Jenny, you don’t ever answer the fucking door unless you know who it is. Do you understand Daddy? Ask your brother and sisters what happened to them when I tricked them and they answered the door when they shouldn’t have! You just can’t trust anybody. Too many psychos out there. You see the news everyday just like Daddy.

 I wince at the memory of Dad’s “secret knock.”

Just go to the door and look through the peephole.

 But I don’t see anyone. Wait! A little girl is standing there. I forget about Dad and open the door softly.

She gazes down, her blonde hair falling softly across her cheeks. I see myself in her at that age. Maybe 9 or 10. Shy. Who is she?

 “Can I help you honey?”

She stammers reluctantly, “Ummm, I heard there is a man who lives here who helps people.” She corrects herself, “That the people who live here help people.”

My eyes widen. My mouth drops open. Of course we’ll help.

 I assure her, “Okay, come in and wait here. Let me get my dad.” You’re so overwhelmed you forgot to ask her name.

I bolt up the stairs so Dad doesn’t startle when I call out. I try not to let him see my eyes well up as I tell him, “A little girl is downstairs. She told me that she heard from someone that ‘the people who live here help people.’”

“You have to come right a–” He hinges automatically upright before I can finish.

I observe Dad in his element. He has a purpose again. A mission. He introduces himself and quizzes the girl. “Hi, I’m Tom. Everyone calls me Uncle Tom, though.” He points to me, “And this is my daughter, Jenny. Tell me what happened honey, and I’ll see if I can help.”

She looks relieved. “My daddy lost his job last month and we don’t have any food.”

Dad doesn’t question her further, except to find out where she lives. She points out the window, “The apartments across the street. Unit 12F.” Excitedly, he responds, “Be careful walking back home and tell your parents that we will be there within the hour.”

As soon as she leaves, Dad says, “Jenny get me that huge box out of the water heater closet.” I work my way past the enormous roll of herbed contact paper, and fetch the corrugated container. I stand at attention waiting to receive further instructions.

But Dad has already crawled onto the counter so he can reach the highest cabinets above the stove and fridge. In a flash he hands me the paltry contents of our cupboards to load into the box. Two cans of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, four packs of dehydrated Ramen noodles, a box of Bisquick, a jar of peanut butter, and a package Little Debbie choc-o-rounds. Our food for the next two weeks until Dad gets his disability check.

“Aghh, Jenny. We don’t need this food. You and Daddy, we’ll be fine. Did you see the look on that little girl’s face?”

Now we have no food. I crumble inside as I see him hand me the last item. But I’m not surprised. I want to help her too. But I’m scared for us. Well at least you can mope in peace for five minutes while he delivers this box across the road.

 Instead he orders, “Come on! Get your shoes on,” while hoisting the large box up on one shoulder. “We have to go fill this baby to the top.”

Dad makes his way over to our neighbors units. One by one, we knock on doors. He tells people that a neighborhood family is in trouble. They are starving. I’m amazed. Can by can, package by package, the box overflows with generosity.