Dad screams at the television while I finish my homework lessons.
“Goddamn motherfuckers. Jenny, let Daddy teach you a lesson here. Because these assholes on the so-called-news, they lie. Columbus did not discover America. That’s why we don’t celebrate Columbus Day in this house. And I hate it when they teach you that bullshit in school. Daddy’s been complaining about this since the seventies when my other kids were in school. Why don’t they teach kids real history—about the Indians that were raped and murdered so we could have their land!”
I briefly nod. Then bury my head in my workbook. This assignment is due tomorrow, Dad. We don’t celebrate any of the holidays.
He approaches the table.
“What are you working on there? What the hell is so important? What could be more important than the lessons your father is trying to teach you?” Duh! My homework! My teachers are smarter than you and they can teach me everything I need to know.
“Oh. Religion. That’s another crock of bullshit, too!” But we’re Catholic, and you sent me to a Catholic school.
“I mean, just look at this horseshit—
Dad snatches the workbook from the table. I clench my hands. Give it back. It’s mine.
“A motherfucking white Jesus. You know Jesus was a Jew, right? Bastard had skin darker than your Father.”
But—it’s my workbook—and I like this Jesus. I look at him with pleading eyes, Please give it back.
“Listen. I know you think your Father is crazy.” Yes. Keep going…
“But someday you will thank me. Because you’ll know things that other people don’t know. It’s not that you’ll be better than other people. It’s just—the lessons I’m teaching you—other parents—they aren’t gonna teach their kids like Daddy’s teaching you.”
I sigh. But I don’t want to be taught other things. I want to live in a house like Mary and Lauren. I want to have Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Puffs for breakfast. And Fruit Roll-Ups for lunch. And I want a Mom, too.
“So these teachers in school—they think they’re teaching you about God. Well, God has no religion. Do you know what Daddy means by that?” I narrow my eyes, No?
“See people think that if you’re religious, then you’re going to heaven.” Yes. Like if we’re good Catholics and we go to church and take communion every week. Then we go to heaven.
“But your Father is here to tell you they’re all wrong. The priests. Your teachers. God doesn’t care about religion. He cares about whether or not you’re a good person.” Aren’t religious people, good people?
“Let Daddy give you an example so you can understand. We go to church every week. And you see some of those snobby fuckers that sit in the front. They won’t even talk to us.” That’s because we’re weird and they’re better than us.
“Those fucks think they’re better than us. But how is that Christian? Jesus sat with the criminals.” But—
“It’s even worse than that. Some of those people in that church—they’re drunks—they beat their wives and kids.” You do that, so—
“But some people don’t go to church. Some of them don’t even believe in God. But they volunteer their time. Help people in need. They never hurt anybody on purpose. Now don’t you think God would rather have those decent people in heaven? Rather than those assholes who are too high on their horse to wave hello at church? It’s the same bullshit every Sunday.”
Well—I hadn’t really—thought about it.
“I can see you’re thinking about what you’re Father is telling you. That’s good. You’ll see that I’m right one day.”
Oh shit. He is right. He’s actually figured this out, and you can’t disagree with him even though you want to. You need to. But he’s right. But then why—if he knows this—would he act the way he does? Doesn’t he want to go to heaven too?
“Daddy knows what you’re thinking. That I’m a horrible Father. That might very well be true, but I was raised like shit. My parents—they never educated me. They never cared where I was—if I had a hot meal or went to school. So I’m trying to raise you to be better than your Father. I want you to be smart—but way beyond one and one equals two. Because one plus one doesn’t always equal two. But Daddy will save that for another time.”
Okay. Now he’s lost it again. But, you have to admit, there’s something good within him. If you can remember the good things, reject the bad things, then you might have a chance. A chance to be a good person one day.
The next day in religion class, Kevin raises his hand to talk about our lesson. He says, “People can’t go to heaven unless they believe in Jesus Christ, and accept that he died on the cross for our sins.”
Miss Volemer smiles and nods. No that’s wrong! It’s wrong and you can’t stand for it.
My right hand trembles as I stretch it high above my head. “Yes, Jenny?”
“Well, I don’t agree with Kevin. I mean—I don’t really agree with the book either.” I hear a few gasps from behind my seat in the second row. Miss Volemer stares at me intently as my face grows hotter. You have to say it, wimp. You have to say the truth.
“I—I don’t agree because if a person is a good person, and follows the teachings of Christ, then they should go to heaven even if they don’t believe. That’s what Christ would say. And that’s what I believe.”
My face glows red hot. I scan the classroom through my peripheral vision. Everyone sits silently. Including Miss Volemer. You’re going to get in big trouble. Whipped with the ruler like in the old days that Dad used to tell you about.
RINGGGGGG. Phew. Saved by the bell.
I quietly collect my things, and retreat to my locker. Head down. But feeling smart, just like Dad said I would.