1995: Forbidden Words

I scan the cupboards for something to eat. Nearly empty. Except for a Hostess box. I rip open a ring ding and shove the whole thing in my mouth. Some of the white filling oozes out the corners. I wipe my cheek with my index finger. Gross. Also, yum!

Dad approaches me as I gulp the last bit. He smiles. “Oh good. You found the last cake. Daddy saved that for you. I ate the other one earlier. Might be another bad Christmas. We could go to my sister’s house, but fuck that! You know I’d rather stay here and starve. And Daddy loves you for staying here and starving with me.”

My stomach growls in the middle of Dad’s tirade.

“Anyways, they’ll probably call and invite us again, but ever since the time we were homeless, and my own family turned us away, so we had to sleep in our car—our fucking car—in the dead of winter, your Father never really wanted to be around those people. That and they make the goddamn turkey so dry.” At least they make a turkey.

I nod, while gazing across the room at the crooked Gabazarian memo hung by the phone. He changed the tack from blue to green. What the fuck is he up to?

“Hey, Jenny. Let’s you and Poppa go rent a movie—like we always do on the first day of your vacation. No cable but we got a VCR.”

I nod. “Okay, Dad.”

“I guess that great hack me up movie—Die Hard with a Vengeance—just came out!”

“Dad, I bet it’s already rented out. Everyone will want to see that one.”

Dad’s hands move in a blur towards my abdomen. Bam. Pow. Ouch! He continues, pushing me into the laundry closet. I shield my face while he jabs my ribs. Even through my coat, his blows are lethal.

“You know what this beating is for? For fucking saying ‘I can’t!’” For doing wha—? Oww…I never said can’t…

“Daddy’s teaching you a valuable lesson here. It’s too bad at your age, I still have to do this, but maybe you’re stubborn like your cunt of a mother.” I’ll kill you one day. If I can ever figure out how.

“What you should have done was to think positive. Maybe they don’t have the movie, but you’re never gonna get anywhere in life with that shitty attitude.” Oh, fuck. You should have known better. Always keep your mouth shut. Say less. Nod more. This is going to hurt later if he lets you live.

When Dad feels satisfied, he retreats from my slumped body. “Come on. Get up. And I better not see any tears, either. Fucking—big—baby is what you are.”

What I’m trying to do is hide my glare, you bastard. You’ll pay for this one day.

On the ride to the video store, winter wind travels through the rusted floorboards, numbing my toes. Fucking Mary Jane shoes.

When we arrive at Hollywood Video, one copy of Die Hard rests against shelf. Of course. He had to get his way. At least this will distract him for the night.

On the way out, Dad grabs two free bags of popcorn. As we drive up Glen Street, I flinch, inching closer to the door. “Lock your door, Jenny, before you fall out.” I glance at him. I wouldn’t get that lucky.

“Daddy’s not gonna hit you again. I made my point. So long as I know you’ll never say that you can’t do something, ever again.”

I nod, while pressing my right shoulder hard against the window.

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1993: Santa’s Sleigh

Dad flops an issue of Better Housekeeping on the table. “Daddy stole that from the doctor’s office a couple weeks ago.” I raise my eyebrows, disapprovingly.

He responds, in a way, to my silent protest. “Listen, I only took it because I want to bake a recipe they have in here. Besides they don’t need this anyways. They have fifty magazines laying around that office.”

He fans the pages successively, back to front, until he finds our new quest. He spreads the magazine in front of his chest and points to a gingerbread Santa Claus, complete with eight reindeer, Rudolph, and a sleigh.

I try not to roll my eyes, but it’s too late.

“Daddy’s serious about this. We’re gonna make this today. You know your father loves a challenge…but we’re not gonna use their gingerbread recipe.” Of course not. So why did you need the book?”

“Go get Daddy my father’s book. You know…the grey one.”

Now I know he’s serious. Grandpa’s grey cookbook only comes out when he means business. As I feel for Dad’s box in the cavernous credenza, I wonder about my imaginary grandfather. Dad always says that he was a cheap Greek who only gave Grandma a dollar a week to feed sixteen kids—stern, a chef, a gambler, and dead from smoking unfiltered cigarettes before I was born.

I hand over the tattered book with care. I watch as one of the hand-stitched threads breaks free from the cover—while Dad makes his way through—the individual pages sliding in opposite directions. “Good. This book is eighty years old, you know? My father was lucky he didn’t come over on the Titanic because he came around that same time. Early 1900s.”

Dad shakes his head. “Of course. You might know it’s Daddy’s bad luck. I always find the recipe I want, last.” I scan the lined ledger; marked with a dark blue numeral 55 and the title, Ginger Bread, the recipe contains few ingredients. Let’s hope this is simpler than the baklava.

“So you’re probably wondering why I needed the book if I wasn’t going to use their recipe, right?” I don’t dare give him the satisfaction of a nod.

“Daddy just needed to see how they assembled the sleigh and what they used to make the road and the reins. I’ve been thinking, and I have a great idea for all of it. Come on. Get your coat. We’re going to the mall.”

What’s at the mall for baking?

When we arrive, Dad makes a beeline for the coziest confection shop in town, The Candy Kitchen.

While we wait our turn, Dad scans the cases. “Okay, Jenny, this is what I want. Three pounds of that rocky road candy, and then I’ll get some of that shoestring licorice for the reigns…”

I look at the prices, confused. $10.95/pound? Did he win a horse? The smell of sugar and chocolate wafting into my nostrils makes my mouth water. Well at least we can eat this crazy gingerbread Santa! Merry Christmas!

He nudges my shoulder. “Daddy hasn’t told you the best part yet. We’re not going to eat this, naturally…” I feel my heart sink. Then, I’m out. We better not be giving it away.

“We’re going to mount the whole thing to the coffee table for show.” Someone call a doctor. My father has officially gone off the deep end; he’s not going to eat candy—his favorite food in the world.

“But that doesn’t mean we can’t get a couple chocolate covered marshmallows while we’re here—for ourselves.” I instantly forgive him a little.

After the clerk bags all of Dad’s goodies, she informs him of the $54.07 bill.

What in the fuck? That’s seriously a month’s worth of food!

Dad pull out his rubber-banded money wad and forks over the dough.

At least you’re getting two marshmallows out of the deal. Be thankful.

After getting out all of the ingredients, flour, baking soda, ginger, molasses, butter…and four more hours of labor, Dad is ready to assemble the whole thing on the coffee table.

He approaches the job as if he’s been called in for open-heart surgery. “Goddamn mother fucker. Rudolph’s leg snapped. Quick, Jenny, hand me the confectioner’s glaze. Dad uses the white substance to mend Rudolph and adds his red button nose.” Pheww, that was a close call.

I roll my eyes again, and smile too. Santa’s sleigh and reindeer look even better than they did in Better Housekeeping.

After two weeks pass, school dismisses early for Christmas break.

I see crack marks where the gingerbread has dried out. Gross. What are we going to do with this thing after Christmas?

Dad doesn’t seem to notice. “Come on. Dad got us some cheap candy at the dollar store. Let’s watch some Christmas movies or some shit.” For real? Is this like a trick, and we’re going to end up at OTB? Why is he so happy? It’s Christmas. He hates Christmas.

After Dad powers on the T.V., I wait for him to adjust the rabbit ears. But the picture broadcasts completely clear. Where am I? I pinch my arm. Oww. Not dreaming then?

“Haha. Daddy tricked you for Christmas! The cable company had a special for new customers signing up. No money down. Free HBO. We probably won’t pay the bill and they’ll shut us down in a couple months, but who cares!”

My mouth drops open as Dad changes the channel to reveal Dudley Moore dressed as Patch, the elf. The Santa Claus. Yes! While we watch John Lithgow float into space, the chyron reveals that Home Alone is next! Woohoo!

Dad catches me eyeing the gingerbread sleigh while Kevin sleds down his stairway. One day, you’re going to have a house just like that. “Hey, Jenny. You can eat that if you want to. We had it up long enough.”

I sniff Santa’s reindeer, realizing that they don’t smell like gingerbread anymore, and the once cherry red reigns have turned a cotton-y pink. Gross. Aw, screw it! Probably the best meal you’ve ever had on Christmas. Go for it.