1998: Almost Gone

Dad chucks a box of chocolate covered donuts at my head. Whoosh. I duck as the donuts crash-land against the radiator. Scanning the crumbled bits of frosted cake, I shoot him my what now glare. “Fuck it. Your Father is sick of those goddamn boxes. Those fucks who made them must have been morons. They don’t close. No matter what I fucking do.” He slams his hands against the counter. Closing the ephemeral box one last time.

So is this directed at you? Are you in trouble for shitty box construction now?

“And as for you. You fucking cunt. You’re like your no-good mother, and I ought to beat that out of you. I can’t wait until you are gone to college. You ruined Daddy’s life because you are a selfish bitch, and I can’t wait to start doing what I want to do for me. I’ll be glad when you are gone!” I give him my usual blank stare hoping he won’t hit me again like he did last week when he found a rotten apple in my gym bag.

“Oh and another thing, you’re done with the running bullshit until you tell me about the aliens.”

My eyes switch back and forth, searching. The aliens?

“Don’t fucking play dumb with me. I know that aliens came down—motherfucking abducted you—and then sent you back to torture me. You’re not my daughter.”

Hold on a fucking minute. He doesn’t even believe in aliens. Now you were abducted? How do you even answer that? Maybe it was Gabazar, you freak! Leave me alone.

He intimidates me by approaching my chair from behind. I close my hands into tightly balled fists.

“Ah fuck it. I know you’re not going to talk. Look at you. You’re pathetic. Maybe you need to get a boyfriend, if you know what I mean!” I sit motionless.

“Well what are you waiting for? Go brush your motherfucking teeth. It’s almost time to go. I ought to make you walk.” Please! That would be nice. Or how about I drive myself like a normal seventeen-year-old.

I scamper up the stairs and turn the water on. Screw brushing your teeth. You’re going to gag. Maybe you won’t make it to the end? Less than a year, but somehow an eternity. He’s worse than ever. What if you kill yourself?

You’d have to slit your wrists with a knife. One of his knives. I cringe, realizing the water has been running too long. No you can’t. Tell someone. Just run away. Tell someone.

I remember all those zombie movies where no one believes the good guy. The whole town—they’re on his side—he’s conned every single one of them. The teachers. The parents. Your own goddamn friends! You know that’s always been the genius of his plan. And no—you can’t tell anyone.

“Come on! For fuck sakes, Jenny. How long does it take to shit and shower?”

“Coming…asshole.

Grabbing my gym bag at the last second, I fly down the stairs. Don’t come home tonight. Get in coach’s van. Run like the wind. Let him try to stop you.

I smile at him as though I’ve forgotten the last half hour. Dad scans my outfit. I silently wait for his approval. He nods, half winking—half scowling.

When he drops me off at school, I hunker down so other people won’t recognize me. “So, Daddy will be here at the usual time. You tell the bastards they better not keep you late tonight.”

Instead of agreeing, I bolt for the side door. Beeline to my locker. I stuff my bulging gym bag in, while grabbing my Physics book.

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1995: OJ

Calm down! Stop shaking! He would kill you for this display of weakness…but he’s not here.

 I involuntarily continue to tap my feet up and down under my desk. The vibration radiates through my thumb and forefinger causing me to drop my pencil. It’s no use. You can’t concentrate. I glance at the clock. Still only 1:52 pm. Hurry up final bell. It’s the 3rd of the month. Shopping day!

Why do you get so excited when you know you’re going to starve for 28 days after he blows the whole disability check? And he’ll blame you like last month. Just concentrate on this math assignment, for God’s sake!

Yeah, but it’s our day together. Our only thing we do together…because he worries about the bumps…

I recall his words, “Jenny, I’d rather see you have nice clothes than food to eat. Besides, food makes you fat like your old man. You don’t ever want to get fat and look bad in your clothes. Trust Poppa! And you know Daddy doesn’t believe you can spoil kids by buying them things. It’s how they take care of those things and how thankful they are to have them.”

Instead of solving equations, I nervously pick at a checked up edge of my desk while my mind continues to wander toward one of Dad’s routine rants.

“Jenny, you and Daddy have a special relationship. Shopping is our special daddy-daughter thing. It all started with your Father’s family curse—neurofibromatosis—when I was 16. My face was clean and handsome, too. Then the first one appeared on my chin while I was in the Marines. I tried to shave it off twice, but it grew right back. Came from my fucking mother’s side. My father never should have married that woman, but that’s another story. Anyways, your Father never had trouble getting a woman because of these things. But in the 1970s, I went to the beach and a little boy screamed bloody murder when he saw me. The kid thought I was some kind of monster with these things. So after that, Daddy figured, fuck it. Truth be told, I don’t like being around lots of people anyways. That’s why we never go to parks or dirty fucking fairs. Who knows what animals pissed there or what disgusting people do in those public places?”

Could that one event have embarrassed him so long—to last for all these years? Will I get the bumps when I turn sixteen, too? I examine my body each week to make sure none have grown. Just a few ugly brown birthmarks so far.

RINGGGGGGG. At last! I quickly fumble for tonight’s assignments among the rumpled papers stuffed into the bottom of my locker. You really got to clean this mess up, jerk.

Leaping toward the double doors, I spy Dad’s car parked right in front. Please don’t let anyone see you get in the contact-paper car. You’re having enough trouble at this new school. I toss my backpack onto the seat first, and hop in with a giant grin on my face.

Dad wonders aloud, “What the fuck are you so happy about?”

Oh no! He forgot about shopping day. He said we might even go to the good mall this time.

My head hangs while my smile quickly dissolves into despair.

He catches on. “Oh! You think we’re going to the mall today, don’t you?”

I nod. Phew. He remembers! But why does he seem so angry?

“Well you can forget about that today. Your Father is all riled up. Do you know what the fuck happened today? They let that n****r, OJ Simpson—fucking wife killer—off today. Acquittal my ass! He held his hand taut when he tried the glove on. And the fucking thing has his blood on it.”

Dad holds his hand up with all of his fingers spread open like a turkey.

“For fuck’s sake if I held my hand like this, I couldn’t get my hand in a glove either. This is why your Father hates sports players. We give these people way too much power. I want to kill that n****r myself. If Nichole Brown were my daughter, he would have never got away with this shit. Mark my words, Jenny, if you ever try to date one of them, I’ll kill you myself.”

I wince at Dad’s suggestion of violence. I hate you! If you only knew what we learned in school. That people like you are called racists. You should be sent to jail!

He shifts the car out of park, but jabbers on. “Don’t get Daddy wrong. I don’t believe in hurting black people. A lot of them were cleaner and better behaved than white people when I was a little boy living in the city. It was them who didn’t want to mix with the whites because we were too dirty. And I agree with them. The races don’t belong mixing, for Christ sakes.”

How do you know? People can do whatever the hell they want to!

 “Really. Believe me. Daddy almost got killed when I was in service because I was on my leave and I gave my seat to a black woman on the bus in South Carolina. People wanted to beat me up. But I didn’t care. And my first friend when I joined the military was black. He showed me how to defend myself because I was one of the shortest guys there. But he liked me because I was tough.”

Yeah. Yeah. Heard these stories a million times. You say one thing and do another all the time.

When we get home, Dad fixes my usual snack of Ramen noodles. I devour them, and excuse myself for homework. “That’s fine, Jenny. Go to your room, and do that useless shit they assign you in school.” Exactly what I intend to do, jerk.

 “…What you really ought to be doing is staying down here and watching the news with Daddy to learn some real life lessons here. This goddamn commie country we live in, where our white women are no longer safe.”

But I have homework! And I have to be a straight-A student, right? Besides I’ve heard enough of your racism for one day.

 As I trudge upstairs, the cream and tan pattern in the rug makes creates a hypnotic mood to drown out Dad’s curses at the T.V. What if the whole world knew what a bastard he is? What if they really, did? Would everyone think you were just his evil daughter?

1997: Chinese Push-ups

Dad hangs around at my cross-country practice often enough that Coach offered him the assistant’s position. Mostly it provides a legal reason for Dad to ride on the team bus.

Today, we compete against Johnstown. While the team waits for the bus on the side lawn, Dad approaches the guys in their most Gumby-like states.

Please let him become a mute like Steve Martin at the end of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I chuckle at the thought, but I know humiliation looms.

“Hey boys, I calculated how everyone of you could beat the opposing team by a minute and a half.”

My teammates barely raise their heads. I know what they must be thinking. Old man, go away. And stop standing over me while my groin is exposed, too.

 “Hey, Mark, I know you want to hear Mr. K’s ideas about how you can beat your old time.”

Mark, a former, well actually, current crush, responds politely. “Sure, Mr. K. But, I don’t think I stand a chance against Jim, the best runner at Johnstown.”

“Don’t say that until you hear my genius idea. I actually did the math on this.” Dad pulls out a piece of folded paper from his back pocket. Could my luck be any worse? Nine other girls on this team all have normal families. No wonder cute guys never want to date me.

 “Look here. I calculated all this with a complicated mathematical formula. If each one of you boys lengthens your stride by a tenth of an inch each time, then you’ll win the race easily.” I catch Mark staring back, dumbfounded. Brilliant idea, Dad. I can’t believe our real coach with the Harvard degree missed that one! And who made you an expert mathematician all of a sudden? Just last week, you told me that one plus one doesn’t really equal two. So I had to derive the proof for you.

Zero interest in Dad’s scheme causes him to press the boys even harder.

“Alright, I bet none of you boys can do a Chinese push-up like Mr. K.”

Kevin’s ears perk up. “What is a Chinese push-up?”

Dad grins mischievously because he knows he has them hook line and sinker. “Oh you guys never heard of those?” Yeah because you made them up! “Well Mr. K wasn’t always a fat old man, you know.” Kevin smirks.

“I’m serious. Mr. K won a contest for doing the most Chinese push-ups back when I was in the Marines. And I’ll bet not one of you can do them.”

Mark speaks up. “Show us one Mr. K.” Before Mark can finish, Dad’s already belly down on the grass explaining the rules. “Okay, now you can’t cheat! You have to put your arms and hands stretched out completely in front of you like this. And then push up.”

With the attention of the entire team, Dad pretends to strain a little before pushing his way off the ground.

Kevin and Mark want to prove themselves too. Give it up, boys.

You’re going to die single. Probably squeezing his feet until the last breath.

 Within a minute, they’ve all failed, and probably pulled a muscle, thereby diminishing their chances of winning the actual race. Mentally, I envision Dad marking the checkbox, Winning, suckers!

 Once the drama dies down, Coach makes a few announcements. While we board the bus, I hear Kevin whisper to Mark, “Dude, he got off the ground because he used his fat stomach. No one could do one of those stupid Chinese push-ups.”

Fuck. A new personal low.

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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1998: Gabazarians

My first period of the day is English. We’re reading Thoreau. Kind of a weirdo. But I’m intrigued. I walk to my usual seat in the second row.

Matt and Casey are huddled right behind me, whispering. One of them pokes my shoulder.

I’ve had a crush on both of them at some point in the last few years. God, I hope neither of them noticed.

Matt leans in and whispers, “Dude, what’s a Gabazarian?”

I feel my face burn. I can’t help it. Fuck, fuck, shit! I need to disappear from the universe immediately. Or at least to Walden Pond.

 I play dumb. Still red-faced, “Dude, what are you talking about?”

“Umm I called your house this weekend, and your answering machine said, ‘You’ve reached the home of the Gabazarians, God’s new chosen people!’”

Holy Christ! I’ve been verbally bludgeoned to death. It’s over. Give yourself up, freak!

 Shaking, “Umm, I don’t know what you’re talking about, Matt.”

“What religion are you? Don’t you go to St. Mary’s?”

“Yeah, we’re Catholic.” Pheww! Stop glowing asshole, you almost have this smoothed over.

 Matt doesn’t give in. “Hmm, well it sounded just like your voice on the answering machine, and I called it twice and it was the number listed in the school directory for you.”

Because my life is over and our English teacher tells us to stop talking, I just shrug and turn around. But I can still hear them snickering.

Why didn’t you just tell them that your Father is nuts. And this whole Gabazar thing that you hoped would be a phase is all his idea. And you need help. Whatever. It’ll never happen. You’re too embarrassed to even admit it to your best friend.