1994: Hail Mary!

You should be in bed. It’s a fucking school night. How are you supposed to get A’s and be his personal slave?

Instead I kneel on the edge of Dad’s bed while squeezing his back and feet, vigorously. I know what he likes by now; he taught me since I was six years old. “Jenny, you have to squeeze Daddy’s feet good because I’m Greek. And the Greek’s are the smartest people in the world. They know that the feet control the whole body.”

Whatever! Just drop off already. Before my fingers fall off.

I detect the faintest snore. Good. Almost worn out.

 But Dad snorts, jolting himself awake. “Jenny, go get a pen and paper. Then come back and sit on the edge of my bed.”

When I return, he reminds me of his pain. “You know your Father doesn’t like to complain about pain, but when that bastard Doctor took my Darvon away last week, that was real pain. I asked God, why? Why would he put your Father through that? Why did he charge me with raising you alone?” Apparently you won’t be sleeping tonight.

 “But God told your Father not to worry and that he wants me to send the pope the right version of the Hail Mary prayer. The one we say in church, it’s all wrong.” Oh Dear God. Why have you forsaken me?

You can send random stuff to the Pope? Hi Your Eminence, I’m a lunatic. Also, here’s my superior version of the prayer that Jesus Christ probably recited to the disciples. See, I knew you would like mine better.

 He dictates while I write quickly. “Your Eminence, Your Holy Grace, my name is Jenny and I attend St. Mary’s Catholic School. I wrote another version of the Hail Mary prayer…”

He pauses, “You got all that so far, Jenny?” No! No! No! This is your shit. Why is my name on it?

“Yes.”

“Good. Now…Holy Mother of God…who gave us…” My hands continue to write but I block out his words.

The next day, Dad drops the letter off at the post office. Nothing will ever come of that.

A few weeks later, a letter from the Vatican arrives in the mail. “Dear Jenny, thank you for your thoughtful submission. His Eminence appreciates your devotion and consideration.”

What? They must be nuts there too!

 The next morning Dad marches into school with me. He shows the letter to the principal’s assistant.

“Oh, this is lovely. You must be so proud of Jenny, Mr. K.” What a load of crap. He’s so proud of himself.

“Yes, she a good kid. I thought you would want to see it. I mean it must be pretty rare to receive a letter signed by the Pope, right?”

“Yes, of course. In fact, if you don’t mind, we should hang it just outside the Great Hall.”

Thank God no one ever looks in that case. But this isn’t the end. You know he’ll be gloating for a long time to come.

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1997: The Opera

Rap at the door. Don’t open it. Peek through the blinds. As if the Crypt Keeper’s out there. Nope. Just our neighbor, Jim.

 I call upstairs, “Dad! Jim’s knocking. Do you want me to let him in?”

His voice reverberates downstairs. “Yes. Tell him that I’ll be right there.”

After Dad gives me permission, I open the door and greet Jim. He’s a tall man. Dark brown hair and scraggly beard. The densely flecked pockmarks on his cheeks trigger me me to touch my own face. Dad said you get those from having pimples. Does that mean you’ll have them too?

 I inform Jim, “Dad will be right down.”

He laughs mischievously, “Okay.”

“Jim! Hey-a buddy. You want a cup of coffee?”

“Always!” Mischievous grin again.

 “I’ve got some Swedish meatballs, too!”

Amused, Jim says, “Sounds great.” You never get offered Swedish meatballs. Not that you’d want them, but shit.

 While I watch dad load a plate full of sweaty mystery-meatballs, I grab a mug and pour myself a cup of coffee. I don’t have to ask permission anymore, though I see Dad glance in my direction. He nods a little, as if to say, Getting bold are you, now? Okay for today, kid. But don’t let it go to your head.

 “Tom. These meatballs are fantastic!”

“Thanks. The secret is in the spices. And of course not letting them dry out. I always buy a ground 80/20. Just the right amount of fat.”

After Jim finishes sucking another one down, he offers Dad a gig. “Hey Tom, I’ve got a fantastic opportunity for you.” Oh Lord. What now?

 Dad interrupts Jim as he notices his empty mug. “Jim you want a some more coffee?”

“That’d be great.”

“Jenny, go get Jim some fresh coffee, would you honey?” How about you go and get it for him yourself? I thought you didn’t want me retrieving ‘no man’s beer’ someday! Jerk.

I listen carefully to Jim’s scheme as I serve his coffee with a polite smile.

“Well, Tom. They need a baker for the opera festival. The other guy pulled out at the last minute.”

“Oh Jeez, Jim. I don’t know. That’s quite an undertaking. How many days? How many people are we talking here?”

Jim shakes his head, “Nah. There’s plenty of time. It’s this weekend. About five-hundred people.”

Fifteen hundred cookies! For fuck sakes. Jim better be the one staying here and helping him bake.

 Dad glances at his wrist where his watch left a toasted outline, “Jesus. That’s a lot of people. So I’ve got three days to get all the shit and bake fifteen hundred cookies.”

Please say no. For once in your life, please.

 “Ah shit, Jim. Looks like Jenny and I are going to be busy motherfuckers for the next few days.”

Contort hand into gun shape. Point at temple and shoot.

 Jim leaves on a full belly and Dad’s promise.

Meanwhile Dad plots the menu. “Jenny, I’ve got to make my brownies, and my famous chocolate chips. I think I better make the nut and date bars, too. And of course my Greek butter cookies.”

I shrink at the mention of Dad’s butter cookies. The worst. Well no, the baklava is the worst. Because the ‘fucking phyllo dough.’ But four different colored glazes, plus a dark chocolate glaze, plus shredded coconut, plus ground nuts….

 “Hey, Goddamn! What’s wrong with your Father? I almost forgot my award-winning baklava.”

Reeling with rage, I abandon my usual guarded post and stare at him through beady eyes.

“Oh, and I think we’ll make whoopee pies. And snicker doodles too.”

What the fuck is a snicker doodle?

 For the next three days, we mix, we fold, we spread, we layer, we brush, we dip, we cut, and we rinse. Repeat.

During tasks, Dad swears. Sometimes at inanimate objects. Sometimes at me. They blur together.

Can the neighbors hear him through the walls? “Jenny, Jenny, Jenny. Open your fucking eyes. You have to dip those cookies faster. You’re not making out with your boyfriend!” I blush at Dad’s allusion. I don’t have a boyfriend.

 “Jesus, Mother Fucker. I knew this brand of flour wasn’t going to be any good.”

Or maybe you’re no good? Do all bakers swear like this?

Despite Dad’s tantrums, everything turns out perfect.

“Jenny, come here. I want to show you your Father’s secret.”

You know that I know this already, right? Since about 1988. But please, continue on…

“See, most people, when they make baklava, they water the honey way down. No! Cheap bastards. The real secret is half honey to water. That way it’s thick.”

Dad demonstrates the magic as he brushes the honey mixture on top of the painfully constructed baklava.

“Daddy’s got all this in his special recipe book. You know, the grey one that was my father’s. And you’re going to get all that after Daddy’s dead. It will make you rich one day.”

While he brushes another layer on for good measure, I try to imagine not hearing Dad’s voice one day. Yeah, right.

 Even though we’re done baking, loading the car and setting up prove to be just as daunting.

At intermission, our first customer approaches.

He points, “What are those cookies, there?”

Before I can answer, Dad interjects, “They’re snicker doodles. Excellent choice. Very delicious.”

Instead of ordering the man stands quizzically for a moment. “I’m sorry, but those aren’t snicker doodles.”

“What do you mean, they’re not snicker doodles? I’m a world-class chef and baker. I ought to know what a snicker doodle is!”

“Well, sir, I’m sorry, but my grandmother and I used to make snicker doodles when I was growing up. And these are most certainly not those.”

One day, when you’re gone, you’ll never be weird again. Snicker doodles will always be snicker doodles.

 But Dad pushes back. “Sir, I’ll make you a deal: if you buy one of my snicker doodles and don’t tell me that their the best you’ve ever had in your life, then I’ll refund your money myself.”

The man buys two. I watch his eyes as the first bite melts in his mouth. He grins oddly at my father. “Well, they’re still not snicker doodles, but they are the best cookies I’ve ever eaten in my life.”

Dad grins from ear to ear, nearly forgetting his absent top teeth.

As the customer walks away, I stand motionless with an odd sense of confusion. So should I be something other than a common snicker doodle?

 Stay Weird.

1985: Poor Man’s Steak

 

I spy an angry woman behind us in line at the Grand Union. I turn away as her eyes meet mine.

Dad busily chats with the cashier. “Honey, my name is Tom, but you can call me Uncle Tom.”

Dad wraps his arm around my shoulder; “I know you see me in here every week with my daughter.”

The curly-blonde cashier stares at Dad while she holds his change in her outstretched hand.

“Anyway, I’m a psychic. I’ve wanted to tell you this for two weeks, but I didn’t want to scare you.”

Her eyes widen. We both wait impatiently for Dad’s premonition.

He continues, “It’s about your boyfriend. He’s cheating on you.”

The cashier starts to tear up. Dad tries to comfort her. “Don’t ask me how I know these things, but I just do. Don’t worry, honey. You’ll find someone much better. Mark my words. You’ll be married within a few years, and you’ll have two sons.”

I glance back. The customer behind us walks to another clerk. Hurry up, Dad.

While Dad leaves the clerk, sniffling, we walk toward the double set of automatic doors.Today, he asks me, “Jenny. What’s your favorite number?”

“That’s easy Daddy. It’s three and four.”

“Hey that sounds like a great late double.”

“There’s something else I want to tell you Dad.”

“What is it?”

“Someday, I’m going to own one of those fast bikes I saw on T.V.”

“You mean a motorcycle?”

I nod. Yes a motorcycle.

 Dad makes a vroom vroom sound.

“What a strange child you are. What five year old tells their father they want a motorcycle one day?”

I shrug my shoulders as he pulls our hotel room key from his pocket. The oval key tag is made of orange plastic with a braid around the edge. The golden number, 23 catches my eye even in the dark hallway.Dad doesn’t usually cook, because we only have a kitchenette with what he calls, “a piece of shit stove.”

 But today, Grand Union had his favorite meat on sale.

I watch as Dad heats the pan, vigorously swirling the butter in the bottom. “See Jenny, I want you to pay attention to Poppa. This is the mark of a first class chef. I’m the only human being I know that can sauté chicken livers to taste like filet mignon.”

I’ve never had filet mignon but it must be really gross. Why would anyone want to eat that?

 The liver meat expands as Dad slices through the plastic wrap, cutting the price sticker in half, 49 cents. Eeek! The smell. Don’t breathe. Don’t look.

 “You see this, baby girl? The butter has to brown first like this. Gives the meat a nutty flavor. And the heat has to be very high so you can flash this in the pan so quick. Yummy! Pretty soon you and Poppa are going to have this delicious, first class meal.”

As the livers hit the pan, they sizzle. The steam rising from the pan turns my stomach immediately.

I stab the spongy meat and lift it toward my mouth while holding my breath. Spit it out! Posion! No wait, he will kill you.

“This is why Daddy loves you. Because you eat my delicious chicken livers, and you gobble them up! Daddy’s been feeding you these ever since you were a baby, you know.”

I fit as many pieces in my mouth as I can without swallowing. Then I excuse myself to use the bathroom, promptly spitting them into the toilet. And flush!

It’s better to be hungry tonight than eat these. It’s ok. Tomorrow we’ll be back to pepperoni and soda.

1987: Night Terrors

It’s 10:00 pm. I put my Barbie’s to bed for the night, and kneel by my bed to say my prayers.

Dear God,

Please help all the little kids in the world who have less than I do, you know the ones who are starving or really sick—the ones I’ve seen on T.V. Thank you, God, for hearing my prayers each night.

After prayer time, I saunter into the living room on my wooden scooter wearing an oversized green “Luck of the Irish, Guinness” t-shirt.

“Jenny, come sit next to Poppa. You’re just in time. A really good movie is about to start.”

I join him on the basket-weave brown and orange sofa.

The movie is called “A Nightmare on Elm Street”

“Jenny, you’re really going to like this movie. It’s Freddy Cougar. Lots of hacked-up killing and good shit in this movie. Daddy knows you have school in the morning, but our deal is still the same. You stay up as late as you want. So long as you never complain about getting up first thing in the morning. I think that’s a good deal, don’t you?”

I nod, as razor sharp claws emerge on the screen.

 

 

1998: Silence is Not Golden

I barely get in the car when Dad asks, “So did you find out about your report card?”

I know I’m in the wrong here. But could you give me a break? For once!

 “Yeah they said they are mailing them out next week.”

“Oh okay. I know they’re all A’s, like always! But you know Daddy. I like to save them.”

 Enjoy your last couple days of life…

 Monday morning comes faster than usual. I don’t have an appetite for breakfast.

“Jenny, Jesus! Eat your scrambled eggs.” I would but the smell makes me sick. And I don’t want scrambled eggs for my last meal.

When Dad lets me off for school, I walk toward the door with a series of foreboding steps. Today I have more important things to sulk over than the fact that I’m the last loser with no license and no car.

Why did you have to fuck up? Why didn’t you just write those stupid Spanish journals? You know why! Yeah, but he doesn’t buy excuses. Fuck it. Just tell him the truth tonight. He’ll be angry, but what choice do you have?

 I stand at my locker with my backpack propped up on one knee. I reach for my report card. Too bad no one was willing to forge a fake. Bastards.

What? I know it’s in here somewhere. I pull everything out. Ruffle through every folder. Shake out every notebook. Oh come on! You lost it? After all this? So you’ll just tell him that you lost it. But that you had trouble in one class because the teacher wouldn’t work with you. So maybe he’ll just pop you in the nose and ground you for the rest of the year.

 My stomach turns a little more with the passing of each class. Someone help me! Can I live with you, Lauren? Your parents seem nice. They let you date. And get a fake tan. And drive.

 I look up at the clock in 8th period. 2:04 pm. Dear God! You know that he’s already parked outside. Waiting for you.

 I walk with my head held low toward Dad’s blue Dodge Caravan. Fucking world is unfair! I’m sure none of these other parents would give two shits. So I got a C. So unlike me. Big Whoop. Maybe I’m more complicated than people think.

 I try sucking up to Dad a little as I buckle my seat belt. “Hi, Dad. How was your day?”

“My day? Where’s your report card, young lady?”

I don’t dare look at him. “Well, I didn’t want to tell you because I lost it.”

Dad groans.

My speech is hurried now. Dammit. Learn to lie better. “I talked to the office. They are going to give me a new one tomorrow. Let’s talk about it when we get home, okay Dad?”

He’s curt. “Yes let’s.”

As Dad pulls in the driveway, I can hear each stone pop as the tires roll over them. Be brave. Tell him the truth. He always says you can talk to him no matter what.

 He barrels through the door. “Dad, there’s something—

He cuts me off. Veins bulging. “No! No more talking or chances for you. I’ve given you enough chances you goddamn motherfucking lying whore. You’re no better than your slut of a mother.” I wince.

“I called the office today. They said, ‘Oh Tom we gave Jenny her report card last week.’” I try to interject, “That’s what—” He raises his hand. I wince again.

 

“Didn’t I tell you to shut the fuck up? Some things are going to change around here. First of all. No more of this boyfriend shit for you.” Fuck off. That’s been going on for two months. I’ll be out of here next year!

 “I’ll never trust you again. And to think, after all your Father has done for you. I’ve been telling you since you were little that you’re my last daughter. My last baby. You have to make something of your life or all my sacrifices are for nothing. And I’m not going to let some boy take all that away.”

I brace myself for him to hit me. Come on you sick bastard.

 “I’m not going to hit you. You’re too old for that now. Even though I’d like to rattle your ass.” Bullshit you’re just afraid of the authorities. Child protection. I should have told them the truth three years ago.

 “So here’s how it’s going to go. You lied. So your punishment is that I’m not talking for a whole week.” That’s a punishment? There must be a catch.

 Just then, a knock. Saved by the bell.

 Dad flings the door open. It’s Mary’s mom. She asks, “Hi Tom, can I borrow some sugar?” But he stands there silent. She asks, “Tom are you okay?”

Dad points to his mouth. My face grows red hot. Mary’s mother looks at me for guidance.

Furious, Dad points toward me several times. And then back to his mouth.

I mumble something to Mary’s mother. “He’s mad at me.” I consider running. Do you get the punishment now idiot? He’s not talking to anyone. And you have to tell them why.

 The phone rings. He won’t talk.

 Our neighbor, Bob stops by. He won’t talk.

He slaps me in the back of the head if I don’t tell everyone that I caused his silence because I lied. No one dares to ask me a follow up question. They know he’s a psycho freak.

 Five and a half days later. I nibble on a chocolate donut for breakfast. The icing sticks to my fingertips a little. I always thought silence was golden. It’s not.

 Dad walks toward me. Just leave me alone, would you?

 “Well, Jenny. I hope you learned your lesson. You better never lie to your father again. It’s just us, you and Daddy. Like I’ve always told you, we rode the dragon’s breath to get here, and Daddy’s going to make sure you have everything in life.”

I feel myself exhale for the first time all week. Jesus. Thank god he’s back. I muster a smile through beady eyes. Six more months and you’re out of here.

2003: It’s Daddy!

I flip open my cell phone. Jesus. Just the thought of hearing his voice makes me cringe.

 “Jenny. Good, I’m glad you answered right away because it’s important.”

What is it this time? Your brother stole your hot dog sauce recipe again?

 I hold my hand over the speaker as I mouth to my fiancé, “It’s my father.” Of course it’s him. It was him at noon, and three o’ clock, and now at seven sharp.

 I muster an “uh huh.” Pretending to listen. All bullshit.

 “Jenny, Daddy’s had another premonition. God told me more about the people and your Mother…”

I cut him off. “Dad, I told you that I don’t believe in any of that.”

Silence. “So you mean to tell me that you don’t believe in all the things your Father has predicted? Kennedy, the shuttle, your first boyfriend, your fiancé, your mother, AIDS, and all the others you’ve witnessed with your own eyes!”

Actually, I haven’t witnessed shit. “Dad, I told you before. I just don’t want to talk about this stuff anymore.”

He snaps back, “Go ahead. Be a coward. But that game isn’t gonna work when they come for your Father one day. I’ve protected you for as long as I can by being quiet. But I told you after you graduated from college that God gave me a job to do. Soon I will have to get Gabazar’s message out to all the people.”

“Well Dad, I can’t be involved in that!”

“You’re not going to have a choice. None of you are. Not your Mother or my ex or my other kids.”

“I’ve had enough of this conversation.”

“Don’t you dare hang up on me Jenny. I’m your Father. You’re my daughter—my property. And I’ll come down there and knock the sense into you if I have to. Do you hear me?! I’ll fucking kill you.”

I hang up. Fucccckkkkkk Youuuuu!

 I exit the bedroom beat red to find my fiancé sitting on the couch reading a book. I hurl myself to the ground and begin to scream.

I crawl on my belly toward our sliding glass door, which leads to our small balcony. “I can’t take it anymore. If I even have to talk to him one more day…he’s going to kill me. I know that now. I’m going to die before he does because he’s sucking every drop of life from me! I should just kill myself now.”

Shit, I’m only on the second story.

 No one will ever know what you go through with him. You are his property. Chained to him for life. One of us has to end it. Preferably before your next monthly visit with the bastard.

1987: Nail-Biter

“Jenny! Jenny! Jenny! Look at your gorgeous, beautiful nails. Bit to fucking shit. What did Daddy tell you about being a young lady? You need long nails in case you ever have to hurt someone. They are your only protection. You can gouge someone’s eyes right out with long nails. Just look at yours now. Shaking his head in disgust he says, “Never, ever again.”

Why can’t my nails to grow back instantly? Why do I bite them so much? Why am I so nervous? Why can’t I stop?

 “You leave Daddy no choice. Come on. I’m going to buy that poison they put on bad children’s hands. That will stop your ass. Let me tell you, if you bite your nails with that shit on, you’ll know it. Teach you a lesson.”

I beg, “No, please. I promise never to bite them again. Just give me one more chance.”

His eyes grow cold. “You’ve had more goddamn chances than you deserve. Too late! We’re getting the poison. And I better not see any fucking tears!”

I wish I still had my nails to dig in my skin.

We arrive at the pharmacy downtown. He approaches the clerk.

“Ma’am I’m looking for a bitter poison to put on my daughter’s hands.”

The clerk looks back at him, startled. “S—ir, I’m sorry we don’t sell anything like that.”

He shoots me a glare. Now we have to look for the poison somewhere else?

But Dad distracts himself by browsing for a few minutes. I wonder what it would be like if the cashier was your mom? She seems nice.

He grabs some candy bars. Again, bothering the cashier, “You know when I was a kid, these candy bars were only a nickel and they were three times the size.” He holds up his hands to approximate the size of the former candy bars. “You wouldn’t believe how good they were too. They used real chocolate back then.”

As we walk out, the little bell jingles above the door. Oh I hope we don’t keep looking for the poison. I hope he won’t be even angrier that he couldn’t find it. Maybe he will just cut my fingers off.

I smell the mint as Dad chunks into a peppermint patty. Between chews, he tells me, “Looks like you got lucky this time. But it better never happen again. Don’t forget the lessons Daddy is teaching you. Daddy has a reason for everything that I do. I know. I’m a bastard, but someday it will save your life.”