1993: ATM

Dad grins ear to ear as he waves a letter in my face. “Jenny! Oh boy! Just wait ‘til your Father tells you what I have here.”

Please let it be about us getting a new car. Fully working transmission and brakes.

I stare at him blankly while the corners of my mouth turn up slightly. He’s never this happy about receiving a letter. Only bills and threats come in the mail.

“This, my child, is your Mother’s new bank card and pin number!”

My eyes narrow into a squint. Huh?

“Jenny, don’t you get it?” No, not yet. “The bank sent your Mother’s new card to the house. They don’t know that the bitch moved out, yet. We’re gonna eat like kings this month. Daddy might even buy us a steak for tonight. Now hurry up and get your shoes on.”

Think. Oh my…no! He can’t be thinking of…because that’s illegal.

I catch myself shaking my head no as Dad replies to my silent protest. “Come on, Jenny. You’re not going to wimp out on your Father now are you?”

Flinching, “Dad! Won’t you get in big trouble?”

“No! You know your Father is a genius. I have a plan. I probably could have been mafia or a perfect thief. But God had other plans for your Father, I guess. Damn shame, too. I would have loved to be real mafia…just like the Godfather. Make my whole family bow at my feet!”

Yes, thank you God for allowing him to be violent and insane…but not mafia too.

Dad hurries me into the car. “Come on, Jenny. I want to do this in the middle of the day. Nothing suspicious. Here’s the plan. We walk up to the ATM together at Price Chopper. You’ll stand off to the side. Daddy will stand in front of the camera, but I’m going to keep wiping my face. They won’t be able to get a clear image that way. They’ll never prove a thing. Just like Uncle Fester.”

What more can you say? He’s made up his mind. If he goes to jail…you’ll end up with her. What if she doesn’t want you? Used goods…

 “Now, Poppa doesn’t want you feeling bad over this or anything. This is between your Mother and me. Daddy’s glad you’re a good girl and that I raised you right, but this is not the same as stealing. Do you hear Daddy?”

I shoot Dad a side glare. Thud. Ugh. The car’s rear end bottoms out at every road bump. “Goddamn, Jenny. We got to get the back shocks fixed!”

Dad resumes his tirade. “Let your Father tell you why this is not stealing. I want you to understand the difference between right and wrong. Your Mother has never given us a single dime. All the times I called her in California…when you and Dad were homeless…starving…she didn’t give a shit…she said ‘Tommy what I don’t see, doesn’t bother me.’ What kind of a fucking Mother says that about her own child? So this, Jenny, is just money that’s rightfully ours. She owes us this. And I know Deborah too. She never has less than a thousand or so in the bank. She’s better with money than a goddamn Jew.”

She never gave us money. That’s true. Probably wrong. But you lied to her about getting pregnant, and then you made her give birth to me. Stealing is stealing. It’s still wrong. But I can’t stop you.

Dad confidently strolls into Price Chopper and makes a beeline for the ATM. I scan the place with only slight turns of my head. Don’t look suspicious. If you blow his cover, he’ll kill you.

My heart pounds rapidly as I see Dad punch in the pin #1224.

Withdrawal Amount?

He enters $300.00.

Three hundred dollars!!! Is he out of his mind? She’ll have him hung for this.

A man walks up behind Dad. Oh no, it’s a cop. They know. We’re done for. I’m innocent!

 Jesus. Calm down, Jenny. It’s just a man waiting to use the ATM.

The machine spits out twenty-dollar bills in rapid succession. 5 make 100, 10 make 200, 15 make 300.

Dad grabs the bills without hesitation. He folds them in half and sticks the bulging wad in his right pants pocket. The man behinds us takes his turn at the ATM as if we’re all here conducting the same business.

“Hey, let’s go see if they have any of that bottom round that’s expired for half price. You know Daddy can cut the steaks so they taste almost as good as filet mignon.”

Yeah. Better than chicken livers, anyways.

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1992: The Walk

I stand in the driveway as the tow truck repossesses our silver Oldsmobile. No! Bring it back! Why did they have to take away the best car we ever owned? How can he let them do this? Why didn’t he find a way to pay the bill?

“Well, Jenny…no time to feel sorry for ourselves. I knew they would take our car away after your mother left us! Again! What was she here, 2 months?” Maybe longer if you hadn’t threatened to hack her up with an axe?

“My brother George won’t care either. He filed for bankruptcy last month so they can’t come after him for being cosigner anyways.” Yeah but he still has a new truck. And we have nothing.

“Don’t worry. Pops will find a way to get us a car. Like I always do. Come on. Let’s go for a walk.”

Rusty leaves crunch beneath my feet along the curb. Let’s just keep walking forever.

As we make our way around the neighborhood, Dad says, “Jenny, you know that Daddy has always been honest with you. There’s a reason for that. I don’t want anyone else to tell you tall tales one day about your Father.”

Can’t we just have one walk in peace? Crunch, crunch, I can’t hear you.

“Jenny. You know that God told me to go to your mother and that you had to be born because he has a purpose for you and your Father. I was supposed to have one last daughter. You know Daddy tricked your mother. Told her I could never have any more kids…”

I hate you for tricking her. Why did she have to be part of your plan?

“…of course, Daddy didn’t know if I could have kids because of the fucking rheumatic fever. You know the doctors thought I might never walk again. Lost all my teeth…”

I still hate you.

“But none of that matters because I knew you were going to be born. I even knew what you were going to look like before you were born. Right down to the birthmark on your chest. Just like your Father.” Dad pounds on the left side of his chest.

“My first wife, my other kids, none of them matter. I had a job to do. To raise you. God told me, go to Debbie. And I did. What did it matter that I was married? That we all lived together while your mother was pregnant for you. That life was over. And I guess God wanted us to be alone, you and Poppa. Riding the dragon’s breath…like I always told you.”

As Dad drags on, my fists clench beneath my sleeves leaving marks on my palms. Fuck your dragon. I’m not riding on his breath or going along with your plan anymore.

“Dad. What you did was wrong. You had a wife and children. I never should have been born!”

“Don’t you dare judge your Father! After everything we’ve been through. You don’t even know. Your mother wanted to abort you…”

“Good. I wish she had. I don’t want to be alive if I caused all that pain for people.”

“Bullshit. Your Father wasn’t going to let some needle kill my baby. I told your mother I’d hack her the fuck up, and her goddamn sister too.”

I hang my head. You’re an asshole. You’re a bully. I can judge you. And I will live a different life than you.

Dad grunts a bit as we make our way back to the apartment complex in silence.

Jesus…did you just challenge him out loud? Yes, and it felt really good.

1988: Knickers

When the recess bell rings, we all charge out the front doors and race across the playground toward the brick wall. Sure enough, Dad waits for us by the secret archway with a fresh shipment of popsicles. My classmates shout “Mr. K, I want orange…I want cherry…grape, please…” over one another.

Dad grins. “Yes, Yes, children! Don’t worry. Mr. K brought plenty for all of you.”

Why does he do this for my friends? Some of them aren’t even my friends. Is this his orphanage?

I wait until the herd clears to grab the last grape flavor. Dad slaps my hand—knocking the Popsicle back in the box. “Jenny. You know better! Come back to the convent for a minute while Daddy washes it for you first. Who wants to eat all that nasty glue they put on there.” I salivate as the dribbles of water re-freeze along the sides on the Popsicle. “Thanks, Dad. Got to get back to the playground now so I don’t get in trouble.”

“Okay, I’ll see you at 2:15 sharp. Just come back to the kitchen. Daddy won’t walk over to pick you up today. I have too much cooking to do, here. We’re getting ready for this big dinner, tonight. A hundred nuns.”

For the remainder of recess, we play red rover. You’re fast. They’ll never catch you. You’re home free. I tag the brick wall so hard that pieces of mortar cling to my hands. Ouch!

At 2:15 we line up as instructed. Dismissed. I bolt once again toward the brick archway, tagging the chain link gate as I cross the finish line.

I pass the gravel parking lot—sights set on the back kitchen door—when I notice Sister Jean outside gardening. Dust flies up as I halt suddenly. “Hi Sister, Jean.”

“Oh, Hi Jenny. How was school today?”

“It was good. We got to play red rover, and we’re learning multiplication. I like multiplication much better than subtraction.”

“That’s wonderful news, Jenny. I know your Father will be looking for you so you best run along to the kitchen. I’m sorry we haven’t had a talk this week, yet. I’ve been very busy getting the grounds cleaned up for fall. I hope you will stop by my room, tomorrow. I love it when we pray together.”

I nod and smile. I love you Sister Jean.

Dad stops chopping onions and looks up at the clock. “You’re late, Jenny.”

“Sorry, Dad. I saw Sister Jean outside on my way in. I just stopped to be polite.”

“Okay good. You don’t want to make your Father worry about you. Not with crazy people out there abducting babies. You remember everything I taught you right?”

“Uh-huh.” Run, scream bloody murder, never go with them, they’ll kill you anyways.

“Good, now do Daddy a favor. I want you to get the ketchup out and squeeze some into the bowl slowly as Daddy mixes the meatloaf.” I hold my breath to block out the smell of the onions and raw ground beef. “Hold it! That’s perfect. Dad scoops a bunch of raw meatloaf in his palm and molds it. See, Jenny. It’s perfect. Daddy’s teaching you to be a first class chef one day.” Someday I’ll never touch food again. I’ll hire a chef to cook for me.

Pleased with his work, Dad declares a five-minute break, outside. “Hey, how did your friends like the popsicles?”

“They really liked them, Dad.”

“Good. I don’t know what it is, but your father always had a thing for being good to kids. I think it’s because we grew up poor with nothing. Your Father starved, you know. Many times, I would get nothing but lettuce with salt on it for dinner. This was back in the 1940s. You know my Father would only give my poor Mother a dollar a week to feed sixteen kids. He was one of the foolish Greeks. While every other family was buying up land cheap and owning restaurants, he was gambling like a fool.”

Dad shakes his head at the memory and continues, “God has a plan for you and your Father, Jenny. I know he brought me to this convent for a reason. One day, your Father is going to take this place and turn it into an orphanage—like I told you—so poor kids will never go without again.” I look at Dad sheepishly, not sure how to respond.

Godmother Madeline breaks the silence by pulling up in her frosted blue Plymouth. She unloads two large black garbage bags from the trunk. “Thomas, I was at the Salvation Army today and picked up some clothes for Jenny.” Madeline hands me a brown wool coat—suggesting that I try it on. I cringe. Is it dirty?

While I lean on the hood of our new white Oldsmobile, she pulls out several pairs of checkered wool pants, too.

Impatiently, Dad interrupts, “Madeline, Jesus Christ! They’re knickers! That’s what kids who were dying-dead-poor during the depression wore. I’m not putting my daughter in that garbage.”

“Now Thomas, you shouldn’t judge an honest gift that came from the heart. Just take the clothes. They will be good for Jenny.”

The regional dinner for the sisters goes off without a hitch. Dad seems to have forgotten about his earlier annoyance with Madeline, but on our way home, He really opens up on the Northway. We’ve only owned the new car for two weeks. Dad says, I wouldn’t have bought this piece of shit if I realized it was a Diesel engine!” I stroke the fuzzy burgundy interior. I hope we have this car forever. It’s so nice.

Dad glares at me intently at me, now. “Jenny, I want you to open the back windows. And when I say, so that there’s no other cars around us, throw those goddamn garbage bags full of rag-clothes out the window.”

I look at him as if to resist. I hate the clothes. They’re itchy. But Godmother was just trying to be nice.

But Dad persists. “Now! Well, don’t just stare. Hurry up and throw those bags—both of them—out the goddamn window before someone sees us.”

Obedient, I watch as the bags bounce on the inky pavement behind us. What will Madeline say when I never wear the clothes?

2000: Stalker

I bound up the carpeted auditorium steps—making my way to the last row of Chemistry lecture.

My cell phone buzzes against my thigh several times. It better not be him again. He called twelve fucking times yesterday, including our daily 8:00pm talk. To bitch about hot dog sauce! Fucking hate hot dogs…and that smelly dirt sauce. Buzzz…Buzzz…Jesus!

Reaching into my coat pocket, I slide the phone half way out and take a quick peek. Of course. Who else would it be? What were you expecting? A miracle? I consider crushing my phone, but instead hold the power button down. Powering off, asshole. Because I’m a college student. Over the age of eighteen. This bullshit was supposed to end.

 Professor McClellan points to random elements on the periodic table chart. “Can anyone tell me what happens when you combine sulfur with….”Shit. You’re lost. I glance at the clock 1:17. You just wasted 17 minutes in a complete fog. You’re going to fail this course if he doesn’t stop!

 The next 33 minutes zoom by as I alternate between conscious thought and visions of strangling Dad. “Okay, see you next week, class. And don’t forget the assignment that’s due Monday.”

What assignment?

Ambling out of class with the rest of the sophomore herd, I wonder, do any of you people have a secret this big? Or is everyone just thinking about the weekend parties and random hookups?

As I make my way from the science center to Grewen Hall, I consider my options. Run away? Ha! Don’t call him back? He’ll be here in three hours. Just in time for dinner! Call him back later? And obsess all day. Call him back now? Yes, get it over with.

 I flip my steel blue Samsung open and hold down the number 1—Dad’s speed dial. One ring. “Jenny! Jenny, is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me.” Now what the fuck do you want?

 “Where were you? Daddy called four times, already. You know I’d never do that unless it was very important!” I mentally rehearse the childhood lullaby Dad taught me. Lizzy Borden took an axe and gave her father forty whacks.

“I was in Chemistry class. You know I have classes all day every day right, Dad?”

“Oh, well like I said, this is very important. Besides your Father is still so upset that you switched your major from economics to physics. That’s one of the dumbest fucking things you’ve ever done. But it doesn’t matter now. That’s not what Daddy called to talk about. I need a big favor.”

Of course you do! Hint: calling me ‘dumb’ right before asking me for a favor is not a great plan.

“Listen. Remember I told you your Mother was back in town from Connecticut? Well, I was right! You know your Father with my crazy intuition. I could literally smell her.” Luckily Dad can’t see me roll my eyes through the cell phone. Just leave her alone. It’s over.

Dad continues, “Well, your Mother should have known that I would find her—of all people…” Because you’re a violent stalker…

“…Anyways, I put a note on her car. I told her that I would always be in her life because we share a daughter together. I left a few messages on her answering machine to call me back, too.”

I breathe audibly but say nothing. Yeah, so I’m not getting how your creepy shit involves a favor from me. If you think I’m gonna call her…you’re wrong!

“Well, your Mother—that crazy bitch—she called the cops on me.” My jaw drops open as I visualize fireworks! Clearing my throat, “Ah hem…” to hide my elation, “…What!”

“Yes, and that’s not all. The bitch filed a restraining order against me! They delivered it this morning. Said something about how I left 26 messages on her answering machine. That’s bullshit. I might have called her 6 times! You know your Mother always exaggerates so bad.” I think you’ve now called me 17 times in the last 36 hours, so…go, Mom!

 “Okay, Dad. Well, I don’t know what I can do. Maybe…stop calling her. She obviously doesn’t want to talk.” …to you!

 “No, Jenny! You’re missing the point. Your Father has a situation, here. They set a court date. I could be in real trouble.” His voice just trembled. Jesus! What really happened?

 “Anyways, Daddy needs you to write a letter to the district attorney on my behalf—stating what a good Father I am—how I raised you—all my years of community service. Type it up all professional on that computer of yours, and make it look good!”

Hesitating, “Dad, I’m not sure if I can do that. I mean how would a letter from me help? And I wasn’t there, so I just don’t feel comfortable. I don’t want to get involved in the middle of this.”

“Don’t be a fucking asshole, Jenny! Of course, you’re gonna write your Father a letter. How could you ever question me? I saved you! Your Mother wanted to kill you, and you know that. It’s just you and Poppa, and it always will be.” It’s not a favor. It’s a command.

 Filled with rage, I step off the curb without looking. Shit! Car whizzing! The driver slams on his brakes… screechhhhhh…and glares straight into my eyes. I raise my right hand to say, Sorry, dude! If you only knew…

As I enter the main dormitory doors, Dad asks, “Do you have a piece of paper and a pen?”

Curt in my reply, “No, Dad. I’m not back to the room yet.”

“Okay, well Daddy will stay on the phone until you get safely back to your room. I need to give you the district attorney’s info. By the way, you girls keep your doors locked and bolted at night right? And you don’t walk around that campus at late hours, I hope?” Jesus! For the thousandth time…the fucking door is locked. I do what I please, now…at least when I’m not on the phone with you.

 On the elevator ride, I grab my notebook and pencil from my backpack. “Okay, Dad. I’m here. Lie. What’s the info?”

I scrawl District Attorney Morrison’s info down on the back of my chemistry notebook. Bits of recycled cardboard skew my scribbles while the pencil lead snaps under my death grip. “Gotta, go, Dad. Lots of assignments and tests, here.”

“Okay, honey. Poppa loves you very much. Always remember that.” If you loved me, you’d die and leave me alone.

I barely acknowledge my roommate’s “Hello.” Just get this letter over with, and hope they don’t lock you up too.

 Dear Mrs. Morrison,

My Father raised me since I was four days old…

God! Don’t write that shit! You sound like his puppet! I feel to see if my nose has grown.

After signing my name, I fold the letter in three equal parts and stuff it into an envelope. Heading to the basement mailroom, I consider not sending the lie. Oh fuck it. What’s one more thing?

I pause in the hallway as my eyes well up. It’s a lot and you know it! You need to start confronting him again. Play by your rules.

My hands clench into an icy ball as I send the envelope whooshing through the ‘outgoing mail’ slot.

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?

1989: The Return

Mom’s navy blue pump catches on the doorjamb as enters our hotel room. Once inside, she peeks from left to right. Kitchenette, television, bathroom, tweed couch, and bedroom. What if she’s sad because we live in a stupid hotel instead of a real house like the McCarthy’s or the Thompson’s? What if she leaves again like last time?

Instead Mom arranges her luggage on the bed and faces Dad with a beaming smile. He returns the smile. “Deborah, I’m so happy you’re home from California. This is going to be the best thing for our daughter, you know. She needs a woman. She needs a mother.”

Pretending not to hear him, Mom squeals, “Tommy, come here! I want to show you some of the gifts I brought back for you. They’re all from the Casual Male shop in Cali where I worked as assistant manager. I’m going to miss it out there, but I got a fabulous deal on all these clothes for you.”

Dad soaks up the attention as Mom pulls out new silk shirts for him. “If we’re going to be together, Thomas, I want you to look good. More like when I met you.”

“Oh yeah, I used to dress good back then.” Dad turns toward me. “Your mother always liked my khaki suits, Jenny. Of course those were the days when you were just a figment of our imagination.”

Dad winks at Mom. She grins back and rolls her eyes. “Oh, Thomas! You were a bad boy.” Why do they get along now? They fought so much when Daddy would call her on the payphone every week last year.

Mom holds shirts and pants up against Dad’s frame while he talks with his hands. This is kind of boring.

I zone off toward the large mirror that hangs opposite my bed. Where you stuffed your nightgown last week after watching the Huxtables. Dad almost caught you admiring your chest when he woke up after his four-hour nap. I shudder at the memory while Mom feels around the bottom of her suitcase and pulls out two silk ties. “Tommy, I know you don’t like ties, but these were each a hundred and fifty dollars.”

Dad grabs one tie from Mom’s hand. He inspects it carefully. “You know me so well, Deborah. I don’t usually wear ties, but I love this one. The colors are perfect. That, and the fact that you bought it for me.” When he lays it on the bed, I see the chocolate brown and blue swirly design.

He’s so happy. Wonder what Mom brought back for you?

Patiently, I await Mom’s gifts. I’m here, Mom. I missed you.

“Tommy. Hold up! I’m not done, yet.” Dad turns back toward me. He looks sorry somehow.

Mom continues, “Here’s the best one!” She pulls out a buttery-yellow leather backpack. It’s perfect. I love purses and bags!

My eyes grow wide. Dad eyes grow wide. “Yes it’s real leather, Tommy. Go ahead. Feel it.” Wait? It’s for him?

“Jesus. Deborah. You must have paid four hundred for this.” Mom doesn’t seem to care about money today. “It was a lot, but I wanted you to have it.” She unsnaps the two outer pockets, but the moment has passed.

I hang my head. She forgot about you. But that’s okay. She’s back. Hope they won’t act like this all the time.

“Jenny Penny! Mom brought a little something back for you too.” I knew it. She didn’t forget you! Maybe your bag is pink or purple?

She pulls out a small stuffed bear with a red ribbon tied around his neck. I don’t immediately walk toward her. So she brings the fuzzy animal to me.

I look up at her. Not exactly what you wished for. “Thank you, Mom.”

“Of course, honey. Mom wouldn’t forget about you.” Her copper ringlets graze my cheek as she leans forward to kiss my forehead.

Dad motions to her. “Hey Deb, we better hang these shirts and things up. I don’t want any of this stuff you paid a fortune for getting wrinkled to shit.”

“Good point, Tommy.” Mom turns on her heel and heads back toward Dad’s pile of gifts.

While she attends to the chore, Dad leans over and whispers in my ear. “Don’t worry. That backpack will be yours one day, Jenny.”

I glance toward one buttery yellow strap that hangs off the edge of the bed. You can wait.

1997: Bye, Bye, Engine!

After the couple next to me finishes making out, I quickly plug in my locker combination.

Okay. You have to read for history in homeroom today. Yeah, fuck that! Skim it. Yes, you’re a horrible person, but who wanted to carry that shit home. Oh and study for bio test in lunch. You’ll still get an A.

My art teacher, Mr. G approaches my locker. He wears his usual uniform: a smug grin, a Florida tan, and crisp white shirt with “TFG” embroidered on the collar. Some days he drives a Mercedes, other days he drives a small burgundy pickup truck.

Confidently, he informs me, “Jenny, I think it’s time for your Father to get a new car!”

I swivel around and look up at him quizzically. I mean Dad needed a new car since 1989, so why pick today to tell me that he drives a piece of shit.

Aware of my confusion, he continues, “Jenny, do you realize what’s happened outside?” He says this as he points to the double doors at the end of the hall.

I shrug, “ummm, no?”

His baritone voice registers louder than usual, “I think your Father’s engine just fell out of his car! Right in the school parking lot!”

Jesus. Keep your voice down G! Why don’t we just broadcast it over the loudspeaker?

I nervously laugh it off, and shake my head while fighting back tears.

You should go out there and see if he’s okay. Screw it. What can you do? You’re not an engine repairperson.

I quickly drop into homeroom and hunker down over my notebook pretending to study for my biology quiz.

When the 2:17 school bell rings, I approach the double doors reluctantly. Is he going to be out there? Was he there all day? Could you really get any less popular?

But as the afternoon sunlight streams across my face, I blink twice at Dad standing next to a hot red car. That car is beautiful!

Son of a—he bought a new car? Wait-a-minute. Shit, that’s Mary’s car.

Dad grins like a Cheshire cat, “Hey, Mary let me borrow her car to pick you up. Didn’t your art teacher tell you what happened to Poppa this morning in the parking lot?”

I gaze toward the pavement. Proof of your guilt.

“Goddamn engine mounts gave way. Right after I let you out.”

How was I spared that embarrassment? Well, almost…

“Daddy thought to himself: how am I going to pick Jenny up? So I just went to Mary and said give me your keys. And she did. Just like that.”

I don’t dare ask, “What are we going to do now?”