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.”

1988: “Takin’ What They’re Givin’”

I wait in line at 2:15 pm near the double doors. Dad always arrives early to pick me up. His car will be first in line, behind the last school bus.

When we get back to the apartment, I will do my homework and then practice riding my wooden scooter. My mother gave it to me. A hand-me-down from my older sister. I’m not afraid of going fast anymore, either.

Instead, Dad says, “Good, you’re out right on time today. Poppa got us a job, starting right now. Remember that rich woman and her husband who own the antique store downtown?”

I nod.

“Yes, well, you know your Father. I always find work somehow. Anyway, her daughter, Jan, owns a giant house, and I guess they need someone to clean for them. The place is probably filthy so Daddy’s going to need your help. I’ll teach you to clean like the drill instructors taught me in the military.”

But, but, wait, I have homework to do. And I’m scared to clean a stranger’s house. What if I do it wrong? Will you hit me like last week when I didn’t know how to fight with a samurai sword?

 After Dad drives a few blocks, I’m lost. “Daddy, where are we?”

He chuckles a little, “Oh, this is where the rich live, my child!”

Jan’s house stands in the middle of a cul-de-sac. How many mansions are there on this one circle-shaped street?

But Jan’s sticks out because it’s pink. A pink castle. If Barbie were real, then she would live here.

 No one is home, but dad already knows how to open the door through the garage. I scan the concrete ground with apprehension and wonder. So this is what a garage looks like inside? It’s bigger than our apartment.

 Once we’re inside, Dad surveys the task. Why are we here by ourselves? Why would these people let strangers in their house? Everything is so pretty. I scan the room noticing, couches, chairs, curtains, rugs, and beds with flowery pillows. How did they get all this stuff? I want to be rich when I am grown up too.

 I hear Dad cursing, “Goddamn, mother fucker. It’s going to be a real bitch to clean this one bathroom alone. This is what the filthy rich do. They don’t appreciate what they have. They let everything go to pot.”

He finishes his tirade with a brag, “Well, I guess that’s why they hired me—because your father is the best! Nothing beats me ever! I can’t wait to see their faces when they see this grime turned to sparkle. Now I just have to find an old toothbrush under the sink.”

Now he turns to me, “Daddy will start on the tiles while you clean the sink.” He shows me how to scrub the sink with the Bon Ami and a cloth. “And don’t forget, you remember where everything is. And put it back exactly as you found it—just like Dad taught you to do at home.”

I shudder while burning the contents of the vanity into my brain. Toothbrush holder on right side, soap dish on left side. After I get the hang of things, I mostly forget about my homework due tomorrow.

Just as we are finishing the kitchen, the owner comes home. She’s very tall. Not like a Barbie, but she has pretty blonde hair and pink skin. Jan and Dad talk while he shows her around. I hear her squeals as he reveals his accomplishments.

I glance at the clock on the stove. 6:00 pm. Oh no! It’s late. I really need to go home and work on my school assignments for tomorrow. Please let them finish talking soon.

But when Dad and Jan return to the kitchen, he has a grin from ear to ear. I know this look means something is happening. “Jenny, Jan just invited Daddy and you to cater dinner here for her and her fiancé tonight. Isn’t that great news?” No. No. We did our job. He said cleaning. Why are we cooking now? He offered! You know he offered!

 Through blood-filled eardrums, I hear Dad mutter something about how, “Jenny is really great in the kitchen helping her pops. I used to own my own catering business before Jenny was born, you know. Just getting started back up. It’s been difficult raising her on my own.”

Jan responds with the usual, “Oh we’re so happy to have found you. This is perfect for us. Someone we can trust to clean our house and cook delicious meals for us. And Jenny is just darling. We would love to keep her here, my fiancé and I.”

While Jan is upstairs, Dad cracks open a beer from the their fridge. “You did good work today, poppa’s little girl. Daddy is teaching you an important lesson. You never turn down work. And I’m glad you helped me today because all of this money that we earn—it’s all to keep you alive. It’s not for Poppa.”

I stare at him blankly. None of my other classmates work. We’re only seven years old.

 He pours a bit of the beer into a small paper cup, and slides it toward me. “Go ahead. Try some.”

Now I look more confused. Isn’t that for adults?

 He nudges me, “Oh don’t worry. That little bit won’t hurt you. Daddy would never do anything to hurt you.”

The first sip is sour. Ugh gross. Why would people drink this? But the second one is better. I secretly wish he would pour just a little more in the cup.

On cue, he does. “Jesus, Dad just realized that you haven’t eaten anything all day! That’s my girl. You never complain.”

We snack on a few things as Dad whips up a gourmet dinner. He gives me my usual task of chopping lettuce with the big butcher knife.

Later, while Jan and Rob enjoy dinner, and dad enjoys their compliments, I’m permitted to watch T.V. on their couch.

I flip through the channels until a catchy tune takes my breath away. “There’s something strange in the neighborhood…Who you gonna call—Ghostbusters!” I glue myself to the screen until Dad says it’s time to go home. I’m thankful Jan takes an extra five minutes to write Dad’s check so that I don’t miss the last scene.

I love the Ghostbusters. And I love this house. And I love Jan. I want to live here with her and Rob. She said I could!

1998: A Missing Report

“Jenny, shouldn’t I have gotten your report card in the mail by now?”

I give him a worried look. Shit! What are you going to do? I play dumb, shrugging my shoulders, “I don’t know?”

He walks to the calendar, “Yeah, I always get one in the mail by now. Maybe I better call the school first thing tomorrow morning.”

Jesus, keep it together now. I stammer nervously, “That’s okay, Dad. I will ask them tomorrow about our report cards. They haven’t mentioned anything to us.”

He shoots me the skeptical look of a special ops agent, but doesn’t say a word. Phewww. He’s going to buy it. For now!

 “Alright, then. You just let me know tomorrow when you come home.”

Holy crap! That was close. So tomorrow is Friday. That buys you the weekend. And then you can come up with something.

 I compose myself long enough to excuse myself for homework time. I shut my bedroom door quietly, and proceed to unzip my backpack.

I look over my shoulder one last time to make sure Dad didn’t let himself in while I was pondering my last 48 hours on earth. All clear.

I remove my physics book, and two notebooks. There it is!

After several days hiding at the bottom of my bag, it’s all crumpled. I look over my shoulder again. You can’t be too safe. Life or death.

I breathe in with an audible gasp at the apparition in my doorway. Instantly, my face grows hot red. Oh. No. There he is. Please don’t let him come any closer.

“Jenny, Daddy just came up to see if you wanted a snack. You didn’t eat anything after you came home tonight. You’re thin enough. Like Daddy always tells everyone, ‘Gandhi ate more than you.’”

Motherfucker. That was close. Out of sorts, I say, “uh, no. I’m okay. I just need to do some physics homework for tomorrow.”

I point toward the book on the floor. Please let him be convinced.

“Oh okay, well Daddy was just checking on you. Don’t forget to ask about your report card tomorrow. So strange that it didn’t come this week!”

After he leaves. I sit in a heap on the floor. I look behind me at the window and consider jumping. It’s only two stories, you idiot!

 After several minutes, I reach in the bag for my report card and open it up. This time I shield it behind my notebook incase Dad walks in again.

A, A, A-, C, A. You’re fucked. I look back at the window again, wistfully.

 

 

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1991: Lilacs and Fire Hydrants

Dad taught me the fire hydrant game when I was six. Red ones count for double points today.

Summer foliage hides some of them, even though I already know where each one pokes out. Of course, it’s considered cheating if you call out ahead of time.

Another block, and you can call the splotchy yellow one on the corner of Bay Street and…

Before I am able to point exaggeratedly, Dad pulls off the side of the road in a hurry.

I look at him quizzically as my arm dangles toward an abandoned brick building instead of my secret fire hydrant.

Dad laughs, “Oh you thought you were gonna beat Daddy, huh? Well, don’t worry my child. You’ll have your chance. But first, your Father wants to get some of these beautiful lilacs. If I’m quick, no one will notice.”

Dad sneaks behind the car as traffic whizzes by. I watch as he slices his boot knife through each branch. I can smell the lilac aroma before he lumbers back in the driver’s seat.

Dad hands the lilacs over to me, “Here. Hold these we get home to put them in water. God! What a beautiful deep purple this year. Your Father’s favorite flower, you know.”

I know, Dad. You stopped for them last year too. But did we really have to interrupt our favorite—our only—game we play together?

 Despite my annoyance, I stick my nose down and take a deep breath. I admire each clover-shaped petal. Purple is my new favorite color.

 But then I see them. No! I’m dead!! It like that movie, Invasion of the…

I must be screaming, though I don’t realize it, because Dad’s voice exceeds my own, “Jenny! Jenny! Jenny! Stop the screaming. What is it?”

I hold up my arms to reveal thousands of ants covering me.

“Oh, Jesus! It’s just a couple of little sugar ants. Stop being a pussy, would ya?” Dad tries to brush them off, but there are too many.

Dad pulls to the side of the road just long enough to take the bouquet from my hands and toss them into the road.

“Fucking, shit. I hope you’re happy, Jenny. They’re gone.” Fine. It wasn’t my idea to get them. Maybe you should have checked for bugs first!

 We ride back to the apartment in silence. Even though the fire hydrant game is over, I continue to count them all as we pass by.

1996: Ripped

 Proudly, I scan over the last paragraph of my English report. You’re writing is really improving. And it’s so much easier when you can do your own work and not have him dictate everything…

Dad interrupts my inner voice as he glances over my shoulder. “Jenny, what are you working on there?”

Nervously, I stammer, “It’s just my English paper due for tomorrow.”

“Huh. Well you better let your Father read over that.” He grabs the loose-leaf sheets from the table before I can hand them to him.

I resent the anticipation. What’s he reading it over for? I’m a better writer than him. Now he will see that for sure and leave me alone…

 But as I glance up, Dad arms move in a mechanical flurry as he rips my report to shreds. The crisp, lined-sheets fall at my feet like confetti from a freshly bashed-in piñata.

You bastard! What are you doing? That took me hours! It’s my best work ever!!!

 “Jenny, I’m sorry, but this is shit work. It just won’t do. I mean, moreover? What the fuck kind of word is moreover! It’s no word that you should be using. Daddy is trying to teach you a lesson the hard way. I know I’m a bastard but you’ll understand one day.”

Fuck you asshole. Hmmm, let’s see. You’re a seventh grade dropout and I’m already in high school. And I’m an A student. And for your information, MOREOVER is a sophisticated word to use. And I’m going to use it all the time. Every day. When I finally get out of this shit hole and far away from you. 

 “Now, Poppa wants you to get out some new paper, and I’ll dictate to you. You can correct the punctuation shit—like you always do.” You mean like how you don’t know the difference between a comma and a period. Motherfucker.

 I see myself punching his face, where an emerging bulging purple veins meets his jaw. Boom.

But instead I try to control my visibly quivering hand as I retrieve more loose-leaf paper from my three-ring binder. As I struggle to copy his diction, the word MOREOVER echoes in my head, repeatedly.

When we are finished, Dad asks coolly, “Hey, do you want to watch Temple of Doom?”

Sure. Why do you bother asking, anyway? Do I ever have a choice? At least we can turn the lights out so I can tear up in peace.

1993: Bad Checks

 “Come on Jenny, let’s go see if there’s anything good in the garbage this week.” Dad finds an old Hoover. There’s no way he’s taking a used vacuum. Is he?

 Dad flips the vacuum over on the pavement near the dumpster. “Look at this, Jenny. It’s just as Daddy suspected. Some asshole never cleaned all the hair out of the brush.” I feel my stomach turning as he shows me the wiry wound strands covered with goop.

Dad pulls out his trusty boot knife and begins to slice through the matted mane. Between cuts he pulls with all his might. I can tell he feels prouder every time a new chunk gives way.

While he concentrates intently on rescuing our new vacuum cleaner, I see a police officer walking toward us.

Dad, crouched over the broken Hoover, doesn’t realize the officer is now standing over him, “Mr. K?”

Dad, a bit startled, replies, “Yes. I’m Tom. I’m the manager of this complex. How can I help you officer?”

“Actually, I’m here to speak to you sir. We’ve been looking for you for a long time. It seems you wrote some bad checks several years ago.”

Dad doesn’t miss a beat. “There must be some mistake.”

But the officer persists. “I’m afraid not, sir. In fact, I’m going to need you to come with me down to the station.”

“Officer, what about my daughter? I’ve raised her since she was four days old. She has no mother and we have no family.”

“Well, I guess she will have to come down to the station with us, for now.”

For now? I feel myself quiver all over. Tiny goose bumps appear on my legs and arms. Are they arresting me too? Are they going to take me away? Where would I go?

 Reluctantly, Dad takes my hand and squeezes it. It feels like we will never arrive at the police station, but we’ll be stuck in this police car purgatory for the rest of our lives.

When we arrive, the officer seats us in his office. My stomach begins to grumble while turning over. I realize that I haven’t eaten all day.

Officer Jones pulls out a book of checks and shows them to my father. “Tom, do you recognize your signature on these checks?”

Dad points to two authorizations and apologizes, “I’m sorry officer. I never knew these checks were bad. I think what happened here is that I closed out my account at First National Bank and these companies never informed me that I owed them anything.”

I lean forward slightly. I recognize Dad’s handwriting. One is made out to Sears for $37.12.

But then Dad points to another two checks, and says, “Officer these are not mine. This must be my crooked nephew. I never had an account like that. Only the one at First National. You can check that information out.”

Officer Jones doesn’t respond but he informs us that he will be back in a few minutes.

As we wait, Dad appears to be calm, but I see beads of sweat forming on his face. Why is it taking so long? They’re going to arrest him. Put him in prison. I’ll be sent off to a foster home and they’ll hurt me like they hurt my mom.

 When the officer returns, he informs my father, “Listen, Mr. K., this is a very serious offense. And since these bad checks have been out for years, we could arrest you for this. But I talked to Sears and the other company on your behalf. They said that when you pay them the money you owe, they would drop the charges. We also verified that the other bank account does not belong to you.”

Dad is ecstatic. “Yes of course. Thank you officer Jones. I always pay my bills. I don’t want to owe anyone anything. And if you need any help contacting my cheating nephew, I’d be happy to supply you with his contact information.”

I breathe for the first time in 2 hours. When officer Jones brings us back to the complex, I’ve never been so happy to see the fly-infested dumpster. God, I’ll never complain again. About anything.

The used Hoover is right where dad left it. Relieved of his newfound freedom, he carries the vacuum cleaner to our apartment.

1993: Rabbit Ears

It’s October. My favorite time of year to rustle through the leaves as I walk.

Dad turns on the news before school as usual. He watches Katie Couric discuss the day on a grainy screen. The rabbit ears fail Dad today because I see him adjust them several times. A quarter-turn clockwise. An inch to the left. How does it help to fiddle with them constantly?

 We had cable last year, but Dad didn’t pay the bill for a few months so they shut us off. “It’s better this way, Jenny. We don’t need to be watching so much television anyways. Your Father never really liked T.V. I miss the days of radio—the Lone Ranger and The Shadow!”

Then why are you always the one watching it and who cares about the stupid Lone Ranger! We’re the only family this century that has rabbit ears!

 As I choke down my scrambled egg and orange juice, ugh too much pulp, why does Dad buy this kind, I realize that it’s going to be a worse than usual day.

Another child kidnapping case! There was already one over the summer and then one from a couple years ago that Dad still obsesses over. Now I’ll never have any freedom!

 Right on cue, Dad flips out, “Goddamn motherfuckers! Another baby kidnapped. Do you see this bullshit, Jenny?”

I nod in his direction.

“You see now why Daddy can’t let you just go out and ride your bike alone. It’s a different world than it was twenty years ago. Plus your Father is a single parent. A single Father…no less! I have to be even more careful. If anything happens to you, they’ll blame me.”

He continues, “I’d like to catch every one of these sons a bitches, and torture them slowly for hurting these innocent babies. They taught us how to torture people in the military, you know. Burn their skin slowly with hot oil, rip off every finger nail, gouge out their eyes…”

He goes on for a while. My stomach turns. I hope he doesn’t see me throw the last bit of egg in the garbage.

1989: Death By Scabies

Lots of kids get cut or bruised from playing or falling off a merry-go-round. But I got scabies in the third grade.

“Jenny didn’t I tell you that your goddamn Mother was back from California. You know how Daddy’s nose is…I could smell her from this hotel room. She can’t hide from me. Anyway, she had a fight with her n****r-loving sister, and she’s coming to stay with us for a few days.”

My mom is here? When is she coming over? I hope that she will like me. And maybe she and Daddy will make up and then she can live with us.

 As she enters the doorway, her eyes focus solely on my Father. She moves in a demure but elegant way.

“Thomas…”

Before she can continue, Dad interjects, “Deborah, you are the only one that has ever said my name right in my entire life! Thomas. Perfect.”

She replies, “Thomas, I know. You always told me that.”

“Deborah, you can’t hide your true feelings from me. I see your eyes…you are crying a little bit because you missed me.”

As I wait for them to forgive each other and be reunited for all eternity, she changes the subject.

“You would not believe what my sister did to me? She’s psycho. She had a fit because I left a damp towel on the closet floor. Excuse me, Di, but I just traveled across the country, to see you, my only sister, and you’re worried about a friggen towel. Get a life.”

Get a life. This is a new expression. Apparently one she picked up from living in California.

 “Well Debbie, you know your sister is nuts. It happens with twins. There’s always one that’s fucking nuts. I watched a program about twins on 20/20…” Before he finishes, Dad moves on to more pressing matters, “So, how long are you going to stay? Jenny and I are happy to have you here and we have plenty of room.”

I see her look of disappointment as she glances around the hotel room. Two double beds, a small TV, and a postage-stamp size bathroom. But we are grateful to see her. We don’t care how many goopy towels she leaves lying around.

Forcefully, Mom cuts him short, “Tommy, I’m not going to stay long. I already bought my ticket to go back to California. I’m going to try and work it out with my boyfriend. We have a beautiful apartment out there and I just love San Diego…Don’t try to change my mind either, Tommy boy. It won’t work. Oh and one more thing, I’m going to sleep with Jenny Penny tonight.”

Debbie and Tommy. This is the way things always progress. They always start as Deborah and Thomas. I wonder what occurred between them to cause this. A once lived and now lost perfect world? But my mom wants to have a sleepover in my bed. Finally! She’s noticed me!

 That night is glorious. I dream that my mom, the most beautiful creature I ever laid eyes on, hugs me tight and never lets go; but, by morning, she’s all business and back to the airport.

The next day, still recovering from my mom-high, the phone rings in our hotel room. It is my Aunt Diane. “Tommy, Tommy…”

I can hear her voice through the phone. She sounds irate.

“Di, she left for the airport already.”

“I don’t give a damn about her. That no good whore gave us all a disease.”

“What Diane, slow down. What disease?”

“Bumps, horrible little itchy red bumps on our ankles and legs. It’s fucking bugs, Tommy. I can’t even believe my sister stooped to this level. Fucking bugs! Both Bo and I got them from her, and we gave her ungrateful ass a place to stay.”

Dad manages a reply, “Diane, that’s fucking horrible!”

“Yeah, well we went to the doctor and I’m only calling you now so that you can get checked out. This is serious, Tommy! And the slut knew that she had them too.”

“She slept in Jenny’s bed the other night.”

The next day, Daddy notices the red bumps on his ankles and legs just as Aunt Diane had furiously explained. I got them too. Everywhere. Red, itching, burning, scabs.

These bugs bore under our skin, and lay their eggs there. Highly contagious, too.

“Jenny, this is why I won’t sleep with your Mother, anymore. Once I found out that she was sleeping with everyone, I lost interest. I don’t ever want you to be a whore like that when you grow up. A woman has to learn to respect her body.”

I wince at his calling my mother names. Why does everyone call my mother bad names? Even her own sister…

He shakes his head in disgust “Horrible woman!”

After a dramatic finale, Daddy’s scabies clear up in a week or so. But, I’m not that lucky. So far I’ve missed three weeks of school.

At first, I continue at school. Covered with long sleeve tops and pants. Segregated from my friends, especially during playtime. I hate being isolated, but being sick means that dad feels bad for me

“Jenny it’s horrible that you have a no-good mother, so daddy wants to get you anything you want today.” Reluctantly, I point to a pink Barbie Corvette. I’ve been eyeing it in Kay Bee toys for months. Dad doesn’t hesitate. He counts out a twenty, a ten, and five-dollar bill for the cashier.

Even though I get to play with my new bubble-gummy corvette at school, other things are not going so well. The bumps are getting worse. One day while we are lined up in the cafeteria, I accidentally bump into Chloe, who Daddy said “looks like a horse.” She yelled in a high-pitched tone while leaping out of line, “Ewwww! Get away from me! My mom said you have a disease all over your body. So gross!”

That was my last day at school until things got cleared up.

I know something is wrong when Dad worriedly says, “Come on, Jenny, we have to get you to a doctor. This is bullshit, you are not getting any better.”

We never go to doctors. Only twice when I was four or five. And I giggled uncontrollably when the pediatrician, a man, touched my chest with his cold heart scope.

The doctor warns, “Honey, this is going to hurt a little, but I have to scrape off a sample of your skin.” He takes my left hand in his rubber-gloved hand. The metal knife looks so scary that I blank out.

Cringe. I hate pain. But these bumps are never going to go away, are they?

 The doctor takes a couple samples, then announces, “I’ll be back after running some tests.” When he returns, he asks to speak to my father outside the examining room. The door is open. They are talking softly, but I can still hear their conversation. Super-girl hearing!

“I have bad news for you, Sir. Your daughter has a nasty case of scabies and they have basically taken over her body. Her system is growing weaker and she is unable to fight them on her own. If this continues, she will die, as these bugs are a parasite, and will continue to use her body.”

You can hear a pin drop. Die?

 The doctor continues, “We have one option. Currently, we don’t have a medicine approved here in the United States that can cure your daughter at this stage. What I am about to do—I could lose my medical license for. There is cream that comes from Mexico. I’m almost certain it will cure her. But you have to promise me never to mention this to anyone.”

With tears in his eyes, my father swears that he will never tell a living soul.

After we cover my body with the white cream, and, just as the good doctor promised, I am cured.

1995: Almost Graduation

Dad moseys the old Plymouth down a narrow one-way street to drop me off for school. St. Mary’s Academy. The gothic stone structure always seems out of place standing next to a plastic-cluttered playground and a chain link fenced parking lot across the street.

Dad always says, “The church—with all their money—had this place built over sixty years ago by some famous architect. They even imported the marble all the way from Italy.”

When he made the decision in 1986, Dad pronounced, “Jenny you’re gonna go to the same Catholic school as your Father. In those days, the nuns beat us with thick wooden rulers.” He holds his sausage-link thumb and index finger up to approximate the ruler’s width. “Now it’s illegal for them to do that. But let me tell you, those nuns were as mean as any drill instructor Daddy ever had. Evil—some of them were too. They hated children!”

The car is now idling in front of the main entrance. I hear Dad going on, “You know, Jenny, one time me and my buddy, Gary, got to meet the Pope. We tried to suck the ruby out of the bastards ring, but we couldn’t get it. Can you imagine these so-called men of God wearing jewelry like that? It’s all a farce if you ask your Father.”

I wonder momentarily, why the hell did you send me here then? Ah who gives a shit. You’re in 8th grade. You’re about to graduate, and then you can go off and become the first woman President of the United States.

Basically, I’m a senior around here since the high school shut down in 1989.

Dad snaps me back to reality as he turns to me before letting me exit the cab, “Jenny, why do they have to take you on a senior field trip to goddamn Canada of all places? And to a theme park, no fucking less! You know that you and Daddy hate those kind of places.”

I give him a concealed death glare. I don’t know what I hate because I’ve never been allowed to go to any places!

 He continues, “And besides, you can’t go unless I go. So you better make sure that I am a chaperone for this little trip of yours.”

Defeat. I’m screwed for life. You will never give up. I just want one day without hearing your voice. I want to be cool like other kids, like Jessica, who gets to have boys sleep over. I want a mother. They seem to understand. As usual, I nod, “Okay.”

“Okay what? Make sure I’m on that goddamn bus. I’m not letting anyone take my daughter to Canada without me being there. Did you hear me Jenny?!”

Later that week, all 13 of us pupils, prim and proper, line up outside the stone church. We don’t dare talk in line as we wait to receive our diplomas; we have learned well the consequences long before this point. We are expected to behave perfectly and are shown no mercy should we falter.

Who cares? We don’t require words; we’ve learned to communicate through glances and gestures. We are practically family. No we are family! Brothers and sisters. We grew up together. This is the end; we have finally made it.

Even at the age of 14, we all realize, jokingly, that we will need therapy one day.

I feel proud in this moment and as the organ music begins to sound, I well up with tears for all of our achievements. Don’t lose it now; Get a grip!

Suddenly, Dad comes rushing toward the line with the look of a wild coyote.

“Come on Jenny, let’s get the hell out of here. This goddamn bitch says that you can’t graduate.”

Uh, he said “goddamn” and “bitch” in church. Oh my fucking God. Not graduate? But, I’m an A student.

I see her behind him. The principal, who happens to be a part Catholic nun, part drill instructor. This is not the first time that she and Dad have sparred. This is her revenge.

As I walk out with Dad holding my right arm, she grabs onto my left arm, and says, “Wait, Jenny, don’t leave. Let me explain to you what I told your father. You can graduate today…”

My face is burning red and I spin around to face her. I know in this moment that I will commit a sin that cannot be erased.

“Let me go, you fucking bitch!”

I rip my arm away and watch her face contort in shock. I hear gasps as my father and I make our way out of the church.

The fresh, June air that I breathe tastes surprisingly raw. This moment disappoints me more than any other in my life, so far. Shit. I earned this!

When we get in the car, the maroon vinyl seats stick to my already sweaty silk dress. I roll down my window and ask “What about my class trip tomorrow?”

“Well, that evil cunt ruined that for you too! Naturally, you can’t go now.”

My heads feels like it will permanently hang down at a 45-degree angle. This is his fault. He never wanted you to have fun anyway. He never tries to work anything out; it’s always bullshit drama.

 “Daddy feels bad, but we couldn’t let her push us around. How dare she tell me that you weren’t going to get your diploma, only a shitty piece of blank paper. If we weren’t in church, I would’ve punched that bitch right in the face.”

We drive around town for a while, but I am dazed. After a couple hours, the answering machine blinks red with several messages from my friends.

“Hi, Jenny. We all hope you are okay. Are you coming to the awards ceremony tonight? Will we see you tomorrow? The bus leaves at 7 am.”

How can any of your friends still care about you—the weirdo?

 Later there’s more. “Hi Jenny, this is Sara. I have your awards from tonight. We really missed you. Please call us.”

I want to pick up the phone and say, “No, I’m not okay. Please come and take me away from this prison.

Dad becomes more annoyed with every call, “Don’t these people ever give up? No! We’re not okay. We’re alone again. Just Daddy and Jenny. There’s no mother or sisters or brothers. Nobody really gives a shit about us.”

It’s 8pm. I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast. Dad realizes this and opens the cupboards to reveal the bare ingredients in the apartment: flour, sugar, milk, and a liter of grape soda. Like magic he whips us up some homemade pancakes and “maple” sugar syrup.