1989: Who Can You Trust?

 

Daddy sits on the toilet seat to discuss whatever’s on his mind while I take my nightly bath.

“Jenny, my father always told me of all the people to stay away from, you stay away from the fucking Irish. He used to tell me that at least the goddamn blacks were clean and had manners. But you could never trust an ‘Irishman.’ They’re belligerent, no-good, common drunkards.

Don’t say that about my best friend. I think she’s perfect.

“Daddy would never lie to you; I want you to listen carefully to me now. You can’t trust anyone– not even your own children and your husband, someday.”

No. He is wrong. You can trust people. You have to tell him.

“Daa—d, my best friend is Irish.”

“Bullshit. The Irish are not your friends. I just told you that.”

Defensive, I explain, “Well, she wasn’t my friend at first. She didn’t like me when I started Kindergarten. But then I gave her a Valentine, and we became best friends.”

He shoots me a dismissive look. “Well, I can’t tell you what to do, but just don’t ever trust anyone. You hear me?” I hear you, but I don’t believe you. Why do you have to hate everyone?

After my bath, Dad notices my stubborn red knee bumps peeking out of my tatty white towel.

“Okay, those bumps aren’t going to clear up on their own. You can’t have that shit on your knees. Come here, Poppa knows what to do.”

I approach him hesitantly.

“Come on, I know you trust Daddy, right? This won’t hurt a bit. I’m just going to shave those bastards off with my razor.”

Razor? Cutting? NO! I don’t trust you! We just went over this. You said never trust anyone. I’ll start with you.

“Let me tell you a little secret, Jenny. One of the reasons that men have such smooth faces is because they shave. You won’t see that bumpy shit on a man’s face.”

I don’t breathe as Dad takes the blade to my knees. Blood pours from each bump down my leg. I try to run away from him before he can kill me. How much blood have I lost? Help me, someone!

But I can’t run farther than the hotel bedroom, two feet away. We each have a queen size bed in the same room. I jump on my bed. Don’t touch me.

“Oh come here, you little pansy. You’re a little crybaby just like your wimpy mother. I used to try to rip those little skin tags off her neck and she would have a fit too. One little cut and you would think that you’re being murdered for Christ sake!”

I grip my hands tightly, trying not to cry.

“Those better not be tears. Oh for Christ sake, you little crybaby. If you want to have nasty bumps on your knees, go ahead!”

Dad storms out into the living room and turns on the TV set. I crawl under the covers. I can feel the blood droplets drying onto the sheets beneath me. No dinner tonight. Make yourself a can of chicken noodle soup in the morning while he sleeps.

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1989: Superhero Crush

I nestle into the prickly orangey-brown tweed couch to watch Superman. Too itchy.

 Dad’s snores drift from the bedroom, so I plop down on the floor, instead. Legs crossed into a pretzel. You can hear better this way.

 This next part, I know by heart. Lois sits on her balcony. Superman soars in. Love.

Mesmerized, my eyes follow the sweeping motion of Lois’s sheer white gown in the night breeze. She’s an angel. A smart one. Will you be a pretty reporter when you grow up?

 Except for the smoking part. Because that’s bad for you.

 Superman checks her lungs with his x-ray vision. Pheww she’s okay. He cares about her the way someone is supposed to care about you. When you grow up, you’re going to marry Superman.

 I blink and blush at the love scenes. Hurry. Uncomfortable.

After Superman flies off, I can tell Lois misses him. She’s stuck with Clark, now. No, Lois! Can’t you see that Clark’s the one who really loves you? They’re the same person!

 I love you, Clark, and I promise that I’ll be nice to you someday. If I ever find you.

 The bed creaks as Dad jolts awake. I wipe a single tear that has fallen onto my cheek before he can see it. Close call.

 When the theme song plays at the end, Dad picks me up and holds me high over his head. He flies me around our hotel room. I sweep my arms out wide. Just like Lois Lane.

1994: An Unwanted Visitor

When we walk in the front door, I immediately sling my loaded backpack onto the bench. I can feel where the strap dug into my shoulder. That’s going to leave a red mark. Damn small shoulders. Damn math book.

 I have plans tonight; it’s my first school-night off in two weeks.

Time to catch up on spelling, math, and science. Why is Course I so hard? You’ve always been great at math. What’s happening? Maybe you’re working too much. You don’t even have weekends off. Practically living with Ann, Bob and their spoiled kid. Your kids will never be spoiled. I said it’s time to brush your teeth! Lucky you have a toothbrush, and teeth.

 “Hey Dad, I have a lot of homework due this week. I think I should go work in my room for a little while.” So you don’t interrupt me every three minutes to commentate on the news.

“Okay, Jenny. But first come here. Look at that car parked in the driveway.” He points through a single blind slat that he’s lifted half way.

“That’s Kevin’s spot. No one parks there. Who the hell is that?” Who gives a shit? Can I go catch up on two weeks of math that I’m technically failing?

 He must detect the sarcasm in my shrug. “Hey, it’s your Father’s job as manager of this place to keep an eye on everything. And if they don’t move, I’m going to have to go out there.” I roll my eyes out of habit.

Before Dad can make good on his promise, a professionally dressed woman carrying a briefcase exits the dark blue Toyota Camry. We don’t see people like that in these parts. I hope she’s not lost.

 The mystery woman makes a beeline for our door. As she approaches, I notice the faint pinstripe in her grey slacks and the shimmer of her fuchsia-colored blouse. She can’t be a Jehovah’s Witness. It’s not Sunday.

 Dad’s already opened the door before she knocks. Cautious, he says, “I’m Tom, the manager here. Can I help you?”

She doesn’t hesitate. “Yes, I’m Rachel Porter from Child Protective Services. Do you have a daughter named Jenny?”

“Yes, I do. I’ve raised my daughter since she was four days old because her mother didn’t want her. What’s the problem here?”

Stop trying to sound tough, asshole.

 Rachel doesn’t flinch. “Well, I am here today because our office received a phone call regarding your daughter.” Her words cause goose bumps to form on my arms. Holy shit. Someone knows I’m alive and that he’s crazy? Who is it?

 Furious, Dad shoots back. “There must be some mistake. As I’ve said, I’ve raised my daughter since birth. If there’s any question, you can talk to her teachers at school. I’d also like to know who made this phone call. The only reason I’m asking is because I have a lot of jealous and crazy family members who would do something like this to punish me, believe it or not.”

Rachel doesn’t blink. “I am sorry, but all calls to the agency are anonymous, sir. While, I’m here, though, would you mind if I had a conversation with Jenny?”

“No. I don’t mind. Come on in. Can I get you anything to drink?”

 Again, Rachel resists Dad’s best attempt. “Actually, I’d like to take Jenny for a walk around the block if you don’t mind.” Holy shit. Showdown.

 Now Dad hesitates. “Uh, sure I guess that’s ok.” He turns to me, “That okay with you Jenny?”

I nod.

 “Okay, when can I expect her back, Ms. Porter?”

“Oh about 20 minutes or so.” Okay so this is happening? Please be smart and take me away. Far away. Change my name. Put me under a protective order.

 As we exit the apartment without Dad, I feel as though I’ve stepped into an unknown dimension. Next you’ll see the sandworms from Beetlejuice.

 Rachel waits until we’re half way through the driveway to ask me where I go to school and if I like it there. So far her questions are easy. Stay calm.

 She continues to probe in a friendly way, “So your Dad raised you?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have a good relationship with your dad? Do you have visitation with your mother?”

 The lies come out of my mouth with ease. He trained you so well. “Yes, I’ve always been with my Dad. My mom gave me up after I was born. I’ve only see her sometimes when she’s around. She moved to California when I was little.”

As we turn the corner onto Haskell…a safe distance…

 Yeah right there’s no safe distance. This whole investigation is a fraud. Is this how they protect children? Does it work? Do they understand that he’s the Terminator. He’ll kill us all. He’ll never stop until we’re all dead, unless I lie. This might be your only shot, you idiot, but you can’t take it. Now take a deep breath and keep lying to this nice naïve lady.

 Near the last house on the street, Rachel asks me the big question, “Has your Dad ever touched you in any inappropriate way?” You mean incest? No he hasn’t. Never. But he’s threatened my life, hit me, and called me a cunt and a whore on weekly basis. Does any of that matter?

 I smile a little as my eyes graze the uneven sidewalk. “No my Dad has never done anything like that.”

“Are you sure, honey? Nothing at all that you want to tell me?”

Give it a rest already. You’ve got him all wrong. Thank God I know enough to lie or we would both be dead.

 “No. I mean my Dad and I are really close. I used to sit on his lap sometimes if he would read me a story. But nothing bad ever happened.”

After I’ve answered her probes, we turn the corner again toward the apartment.

“Well, that’s good. You seem like a very nice young lady, and I’m glad that you have your Dad.”

“Thank you.” And you did it. Blew your big chance. Just hope he spares you after Ms. Porter leaves.

 Before we knock, Dad’s already flung the door open. He’s smiling. He knows you wouldn’t have the guts.

 For the first time, Rachel smiles too. She’s concluded that I’m safe and well-adjusted. Next case.

 Dad grills me on the questions she asked. I tell him the truth.

When I finally open my math book, I hear him yelling on the phone, threatening my mother, then my aunt. “You cocksucking whores better not have done this to me. Those bastards thought I touched Jenny. Mark my words. I’ll kill whoever did this.”

1994: Magically Appearing Cars

 

Dad’s on a mission today. “Jenny, come on, I want you to get dressed nice like you’re going to church. Daddy’s got an idea to get us a car.”

We have a car now, but it needs a new engine mount and it has no reverse. So Daddy says, “it’s cheaper to just get a ‘new’ one.”

“There’s an old woman that lives in that little house around the corner from us. I’m pretty sure her husband kicked the bucket because the car hasn’t moved all winter. She probably can’t drive anymore. So let’s see if she wants to sell her car to someone in need. Don’t forget what Daddy always taught you. Our business is our business.”

No your business is your business. I don’t want any part of it. Such a good Samaritan! Always there at precisely the right moment to help an old lady in need. God this is how we got our last four cars. Why can’t we just go to the dealership like a normal family. Oh yeah, we tried that once. Only because my Mother made you do it! And they repossessed the car four months after she moved out—“couldn’t afford it without your mother’s help”—Bullshit! Always someone to blame! Always someone to manipulate!

 We arrive at the door. I have never met the woman who lives here. He knocks. It takes a few minutes for her to answer. She looks alarmed, but then she catches my eye. She asks, “Can I help you?” behind her screen door.

“Hi my name is Tom. I’m your neighbor…live right across the street from you. This is my daughter Jenny. I work for the church and help a lot of the needy people in our area. I would like to talk to you about your car.”

She half smiles in a perplexed way, but invites us to come in.

He makes small talk with her and tells her more about his “credentials.”

The he says, “Well, Mrs. Smith, I came here today because I noticed you haven’t moved your car all winter.”

Mrs. Smith hesitantly replies, “Ye-e-s, well, I have a bad hip and I can’t drive anymore. My husband passed away last year. So my son is going to come and take the car out of my driveway anytime now.”

This is ridiculous. I can’t even believe he figured this out. I can’t believe I am just standing here and listening to this. I am willing myself to magically disappear, but they continue to talk despite me.

My father explains to the elderly woman, “Well, as I was telling you, my daughter Jenny and I work with the needy. And as it happens, there is a woman in the complex where I live. She’s a single mother. Husband left her alone with a newborn. He was abusive. Bad situation. Anyway, she’s in dire straits and really needs a car. I am hoping you’ll consider selling yours to help that poor woman out.”

No! That did not just happen. I guess that’s why you told me about “our business”—the thing you say when you want to tell a lie and have me keep my mouth shut. I knew you were going to come over here and manipulate her, but I figured you would tell her that we needed the car. And not on the first visit! At least that’s how you’ve done it the past. Not taking any chances this time apparently. Son-of-a-bitch!

Mrs. Smith remains uncertain, but says, “W-e-l-l, okay. But I should call my son about that—–

He interrupts her, “Oh of course, of course, it’s just that she needs something as quickly as possible. She just got a job. And she can’t manage the baby and the job with no car. That poor woman. I was hoping to be able to help her out here.”

Not going so well is it? There’s always a pesky son or friend. Don’t do it Mrs. Smith! Don’t fall for it. Or just hurry up and give him the car. Another car I will be teased about. Oh well, at least it’s not an old cab this time.

 Mrs. Smith wants to return to her afternoon tea. “Uh, how much would I sell it to her for? I’m not even sure if the car is running. My husband always took care of that.”

Dad assures her, “Don’t even worry about that. I know a great mechanic that will do the work for very little. The best thing is to sign the car over to me today for $100—that way motor vehicle doesn’t tax it as a gift—and I then I will repair the car and have it to her in no time. God bless you. You are a good woman to help out in this way. I can be back in an hour with the paperwork from the DMV”

She looks stunned. I’m stunned. This story doesn’t even add up. Why would she sign the car over to him? Why wouldn’t she get to meet the woman? What if she sees us driving the car later… because she can see our driveway from her living room window!

 But despite Mrs. Smith’s, and my, confusion, Dad makes good on his promise to get us a new used-car that day.

The old cement-grey Plymouth starts right up. As usual, I brace myself for the dust cloud that will inevitably blow out of the vents. After it idles for a minute, Dad wastes no time moving the car from its former driveway into our gravelly parking space at the complex.

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.