2005: Cutting Ties

Bzzt. Bzzzt. Bzzzzt. The phone’s ominous vibration knocks me off balance. I lurch toward the wall scratching our fresh paint job with the hammer’s claw as my left foot slips off the stepladder. Shit.

I regain my balance. Sort of.

Missed call. Dad. Double shit.

Why is he calling today? Oh triple shit. It’s Tuesday. It’s your day to talk. How can it be Tuesday already?

Bzzzt…Bzzzt…Dad, again!

Jesus. Now what are you going to do? You know how you left things with Dr. V. But what if you can’t do it? You didn’t think out the logistics, did you? Last ring…

My index finger, detached, taps the green call button.

“Dad?”

“Jenny. Where were you?”

“Oh. Sorry. I was just in the ummm…bathroom. Couldn’t get to the phone in time.” At least that explains why you’re out of breath.

“Oh. Well, I heard on the news that you guys are getting some really bad storms there.”

“No.” Oh fuck. Yes there. Maybe they are? How would you know because you’re not there, are you? You’re here. But he doesn’t know that. Nice way to blow your cover. Just buy yourself a little more time…

I nervously laugh off my error. “Haha. Oh yeah, we’re getting tons of rain, but it’s no big deal, Dad.”

“You okay, Jenny?”

“Who me? Yes I’m fine…” Christ. Why would you say ‘fine’ when you know that will tip him off more than anything?

“…I mean I’m great. How are you?”

“Huh. You sure you’re ok? You know you can always tell Daddy anything. I can always tell when something is wrong—just like I could with your Mother.”

“Thanks, Dad. No it’s good. I swear.”

“Oh okay. Well did I tell you that I think my neighbor is selling drugs?”

“Umm no.”

“Yeah, I mean who has thirty cars come and go all day long. You know your Father, I watch out for everything like a hawk.”

You’re not going to get away with this. He’ll send a police squad. He’ll find you.

“Uh-huh. That’s good, Dad. Listen, I have to go. I’m sorry to cut our call a little short. I think I ate something bad…” Don’t just leave it like that. He’ll worry. Fake worry.

“Huh. See I knew something was up. Hey you want Daddy to come there? I haven’t seen you in going on two months now!”

“Oh…ummm…uhhh…no, Dad. It’s a bad week at work. But I’m going to call you tomorrow. I promise. First thing. I’ll be better by then.”

“Well, okay. But I hope I’m going to get to see you soon. Everyone here always asks me ‘How’s Jenny doing?’ Nothing about your poor old man. Nothing about my heart. Just Jenny. They all want know how you are…”

“Jeez…that’s really great, Dad. Huh? Strange, too. Well, talk soon. Love you. Bye. Love you.”

I see the plan disintegrating like a bad batch of plaster. You better figure out what you’re going to do? What if he just shows up there and finds you gone? How can you keep this a secret? Mom already knows, anyways.

2004: Shrink Session

After my carpet-burned belly incident, I browse online for the name of a good psychologist. One that specializes in childhood trauma.

My first fifty-minute session with Dr. Vee flies by as I hurriedly recount the past 20 years.

My parents had an affair in 1980.

My Father lied to my Mother about having a vasectomy.

Then he brutally forced my Mother to carry me once she became pregnant.

While they were both married with children.

My Father moved my mother in with his family. Not pretty.

She abandoned me after he threatened her life multiple times.

Everyone considers me to be his property. Even she does.

I don’t.

I’m afraid of him.

He’s threatened my life countless times.

I know my fear is not irrational.

I can’t go on like this anymore. What now?

I watch Dr. Vee scribble furiously on a legal pad propped against his knee. Offer him some proof. “Next time, I could bring you some of the letters he’s written to me…if that would help?”

“Sure. That would be very useful. It was a pleasure to meet you, Jenny. I’ll see you in a week.”

During our second appointment, Dr. Vee reads Dad’s letters while I sit across from him on a velvety mushroom hued sofa. I fidget with the pillows to distract myself from the anticipation. Please, please let him recognize that Dad is crazy. Don’t let him be fooled like every teacher, friend, and warm body who thought he was god’s gift as a single father. Just let one person understand

“Well, Jenny, after reading these letters, my diagnosis of your Father is that he’s a psychotic-schizophrenic-paranoid-narcissist.”

Yes! He understands! Wait, he’s what? That’s even worse than you thought…

Dr. Vee stares at me intently. “People, like your Father, with this particular combination of mental illnesses, they are usually very dangerous. I want you to be very careful—particularly in confronting him.”

I take my first breath since Dr. Vee’s diagnosis. “Yes. I’m glad someone finally understands what I’ve been coping with for twenty years. Believe me, I have always been cautious around him. A few weeks ago he let himself into our apartment without knocking. The next day, my fiancé changed the lock. Before that, we got into a fight over the phone—which by the way, I’m sick of talking to him five times a day—and he threatened to kill me because I don’t believe in his predictions or whatever. This has to end!”

“Jenny, I understand your frustration here. I want you to know that I don’t see any qualities in you that are like your Father. You understand what happened to you very deeply, and you’re far more normal than you might realize. Next time we will discuss the possibility of limiting contact, or cutting ties completely. Though I caution you, that can be a very difficult thing to do, psychologically.”

After wringing my hands the whole session, I rise from the couch and sling my purse over my right shoulder. “Thank you, Doctor. This is going to help me. I’m so glad I came to see you.”

As I make my way across the narrow hall, and down two flights of stairs, I feel lighter somehow. Progress! You can do this…you can face your fear. Just you wait until next week, Doctor Vee.

 

1993: Ante Up

A crisp fall breeze quivers up my spine as we exit Price Chopper supermarket.

Dad waves to someone in the parking lot. Who is that? I squint harder into the blinding afternoon sun. Nothing. Maybe you need glasses?

The mystery man yells, “Hey, Tom!”

Dad bellows back, “Ozzy! Hey-a buddy.”

Oh fuck. It’s Ozzy. What day is it? Wednesday! How much worse could your luck get?

Ozzy leans against his silver Oldsmobile waiting cheerfully for Dad and me to approach. I don’t smile as the grocery bag digs into my scrawny hand. You know what’s coming next. Glare.

“Jeez, Tom we haven’t seen you in forever. The boys ask me about you every week.”

“Ah, sorry Oz. It’s been very busy getting Jenny back to school. Tough being a single father, you know?” Yes we’re very busy. No time for games.

“Well, there’s going to be a good game at my house tonight, if you want to come. I was just picking up the cold cuts and hoagie rolls for later.”

Dad hesitates. Please let him say ‘no.’

“Yeah, I’ll think about it Ozzy. Hey, is the Greek gonna be there?”

“Yes, the Greek, Porky, Jonesey. Everybody. Full house.” So what do they need him for then?

 “Yeah, well, I guess I’ll be there then. Still Eight-o’clock?”

Ozzy shoots back, “Like always!”

I shrivel inside. It’s a school night. A fucking school night!

 As we speed toward home, Dad asks, “Hope you don’t mind if I go to Ozzy’s tonight? You know Daddy hasn’t been in over two months.” Why ask? It’s not a real question. You’re going no matter what I say.

“You’ll just have to do your homework fast when we get home. I won’t have to feed you. Ozzy always has plenty of good food there.” I look out the window to roll my eyes. Yeah. Gross sandwiches.

Defeated, I nod. Yes, yes, yes…to all the bullshit until the day I turn 18.

When we pull into Ozzy’s driveway, a familiar feeling of apprehension encases my body. I wonder how many times you’ve been here in your life?

We walk in the middle of the first game as Ozzy yells, “I’ll take that and raise you a dollar.” The Greek glances up from his hand and announces, “Tommy! Hey guys! The Big Kahuna is here!” Why do they call him that? I guess ‘the Greek’ was already taken.

Dad smiles and nods making his way toward the trays of food. He whispers, “Take a lot. Ozzy won’t mind. He buys way more than we ever eat.” I grab two slices of ham, a piece of provolone cheese and slap them on a hoagie roll. Pass on the crusty yellow mustard.

“Jenny. You’re going to eat it dry like that? God. I don’t know how you do that.” You can’t control everything, can you jerkball?

After all these years, Ozzy doesn’t escort me into the back living room. Instead he calls over, “You know your way, right kiddo?”

Dad answers on my behalf. “Yeah, I’ll just get her settled in. Be right back for the next one guys.”

I fumble for the TV remote in the pitch-dark. “Alright, Jenny. If you need anything, just come and get Daddy.” Don’t worry. I won’t need anything except a new Father.

The light from the TV illuminates the room just enough for me to make out Ozzy’s bumpy tweed sofa. You’ve never actually seen this room in daylight. Weird.

I sit rigid on the sofa at first, waiting for Ozzy’s cat, Muffin to appear. Damn cat gives you the creeps.

After a few minutes, I turn to the guide channel. Ooh! Reruns of Bewitched followed by your favorite, Quantum Leap.

My eyes flutter a bit after two episodes. No. You can’t fall asleep before Quantum. At least Ozzy has cable. I look at the soiled pillow. It’s not like you’ve never laid on it before. Why do you hesitate every time?

Finally, I surrender and lower my head back.

In my right ear…Purrr Purrrr. I jump up. Oh Jesus, Muffins. You almost gave me a heart attack. Now please don’t come near me, sweet little kitty. Muffins and I come to a truce. She brushes past my leg twice and then she retreats to Ozzy’s bedroom once again. Good cat.

I hum the theme in my head as Quantum Leap begins. But Dad roars louder than the music. “Goddamit, I have a fucking full house. Right here. Jesus Christ. Slippery Tony—you son-of-a-bitch! That’s what they ought to call you.”

Shivering, I pull the crochet throw over my legs. Measured, Ozzy tries to calm Dad. “Tom. It’s okay. No need for that. We’re all friends here. Just enjoying a good game of cards.”

“Ahhh, fuck all of you is what I say. I’m the best card player here and you’re all just jealous.”

Shut up. All of you. I just want to watch one show. That’s all I get out of this. Do any of you pigs realize there’s a 12-year-old girl back here who has a history test tomorrow?

I groan as I wake to Dad rocking my shoulder. “Jenny. Jenny. Wake up. It’s time to go. These motherfucking bastards cheat like crazy. I got to get outta here before I punch one of them out cold.”

Eyes still bleary, I fumble for the TV off button. The time stamp reads 2:37 am. He’s leaving early, tonight. Must have been bad.

The boys groan faintly as we exit Ozzy’s. They’d probably kill him if you weren’t here.

The cool afternoon air, now piercingly frigid, slaps me in the face first. Then proceeds to paralyze my muscles one by one. Fuck this. As we get in the car, Dad scrapes some frost off the inside of the window. He peels out of the driveway, and races for home.

“Bastards think your Father is dumb, Jenny. But I do that on purpose. I won about fifty-seven dollars tonight, but they don’t know that. They are all so dumb. Your Father cheats like crazy, but they will never catch on to my system.”

Yeah pretty sure that all the ‘fucks’ and the ‘get the fuck outs’ confirmed that they’re on to your system. Fifty-seven dollars isn’t bad, though. Does this mean we will eat this week, or will you find some other way to blow it?

1997: Cold Hard Winter

Through tears against the bitter cold, Burger King’s logo flickers in the pitch dark. Thank you, God for this beacon. Never thought we’d reach the end of this frigid desert.

 Inside, I unzip my jacket immediately as the heat vents blast against my face. Can’t breathe! Dad turns and asks, “What do you want tonight?” My usual. “Breaded chicken sandwich. And Dad, can I get fries too?”

“Of course.”

Dad orders his traditional bacon cheeseburger with a large Coke.

Even though the place is empty, we plod toward the tables in the back. Room to spread out. Dad hoists my loaded backpack off his shoulder while I unsling my ski bag and stuffed Adidas gym tote.

I rub my shoulder where the straps dug in. Jesus. This has to end.

 My stomach growls as I gaze at the night sky through the arched glasshouse style windows. I unwrap the silvery paper from my sandwich as soon as the tray comes. Fuck yes! Food never tasted so good.

I don’t look up until Dad startles me. “Jesus, mother-fucking Christ! Jenny! You ate that whole sandwich in under a minute!” Hungry!

 He continues, “You must be starved. And why not? You skied in the freezing cold for two hours. And then we walked here three miles. Your fucking mother really pisses me off…” Don’t blame her. You have to start taking responsibility for your dragon-plan bullshit sometime.

“…You want Daddy to order you another one? I’ve still got five dollars in my wallet.”

I ponder his offer seriously. Get it. You need it to live. Yeah, but that’s the last five dollars for the week. And what about tomorrow night?

 “That’s okay, Dad. I’ll be okay. Thank you.”

I resume rapidly firing fries into my mouth. You’ve been hungry many times, but this must be the worst ever.

The next morning, Dad wakes me at 6:15 sharp. Brushing my teeth makes me gag. Too early. What is wrong with you?

Today is worse. Dad’s voice pierces through the bathroom door. “Goddammit, Debbie. She’s your daughter. If you’re going to say no to giving your own daughter a ride to school so she doesn’t have to walk over three miles to school with three giant packs, then just say, ‘NO!’ Don’t give me a thousand fucking excuses of why you can’t do it. You’ve never done shit for our daughter, anyways.”

I cringe looking at the brass doorknob. I ponder turning the lock and never coming out. Yeah, sure! That’ll last about five minutes. Remember what happened to her when she locked herself in the bedroom. He’ll come with the meat cleaver.

Before my foot grazes the last stair, Dad begins rehearsing his fight with Mom. “Can you believe your fucking mother, Jenny? She’s worried about having to get your brother ready and in the car. Something about getting his fucking shoes and coat on. That’s why she can’t give you a ride to school. I told the bitch to stop making excuses!”

I know. I already heard you the first time. My stomach turns over. I’m thankful Dad’s too angry to offer me any breakfast today.

“Oh, and I told your fucking mother that our neighbors and friends treat us better. Mary has let us borrow her car for weeks. But I know she can’t do that every day.” No she can’t. So how about you get a job and buy a car…like a real Father who wanted another daughter.

 I heave both packs on my sore shoulder and glance back at Dad. Time to go! Let’s go get this over with. And thank God, it’s Thursday already.

“No, Jenny. We’re not walking today.” My eyes widen. What are we doing flying on Zeus’s back?

“While you were in the shower, Daddy called Mrs. Cranshaw.” Judy’s mom? “…You know, your good friend Judy’s mom? Well, she’s going to drive three miles out of their way to pick you up today. Now those are good people, Jenny! That’s how your Father is raising you to be one day, too.”

Mrs. Cranshaw’s headlights pierce the window blinds. My eyes well up. Why the hell are you crying? Why is it so hard when people are kind?

Judy smiles up at me as I climb into the back seat of her forest green Ford. My voice shakes, “Thank you, Mrs. Cranshaw. This is so kind of you.”

“Think nothing of it, Jenny. We were happy to do it.” Shit. More tears. You’ll never know how thankful I really am. And you’ll probably never know what a bastard he really is, either.

Judy and I giggle in the back—plotting our next moves to survive high school—for the remaining ten-minute ride.

1998: Silence is Not Golden

I barely get in the car when Dad asks, “So did you find out about your report card?”

I know I’m in the wrong here. But could you give me a break? For once!

 “Yeah they said they are mailing them out next week.”

“Oh okay. I know they’re all A’s, like always! But you know Daddy. I like to save them.”

 Enjoy your last couple days of life…

 Monday morning comes faster than usual. I don’t have an appetite for breakfast.

“Jenny, Jesus! Eat your scrambled eggs.” I would but the smell makes me sick. And I don’t want scrambled eggs for my last meal.

When Dad lets me off for school, I walk toward the door with a series of foreboding steps. Today I have more important things to sulk over than the fact that I’m the last loser with no license and no car.

Why did you have to fuck up? Why didn’t you just write those stupid Spanish journals? You know why! Yeah, but he doesn’t buy excuses. Fuck it. Just tell him the truth tonight. He’ll be angry, but what choice do you have?

 I stand at my locker with my backpack propped up on one knee. I reach for my report card. Too bad no one was willing to forge a fake. Bastards.

What? I know it’s in here somewhere. I pull everything out. Ruffle through every folder. Shake out every notebook. Oh come on! You lost it? After all this? So you’ll just tell him that you lost it. But that you had trouble in one class because the teacher wouldn’t work with you. So maybe he’ll just pop you in the nose and ground you for the rest of the year.

 My stomach turns a little more with the passing of each class. Someone help me! Can I live with you, Lauren? Your parents seem nice. They let you date. And get a fake tan. And drive.

 I look up at the clock in 8th period. 2:04 pm. Dear God! You know that he’s already parked outside. Waiting for you.

 I walk with my head held low toward Dad’s blue Dodge Caravan. Fucking world is unfair! I’m sure none of these other parents would give two shits. So I got a C. So unlike me. Big Whoop. Maybe I’m more complicated than people think.

 I try sucking up to Dad a little as I buckle my seat belt. “Hi, Dad. How was your day?”

“My day? Where’s your report card, young lady?”

I don’t dare look at him. “Well, I didn’t want to tell you because I lost it.”

Dad groans.

My speech is hurried now. Dammit. Learn to lie better. “I talked to the office. They are going to give me a new one tomorrow. Let’s talk about it when we get home, okay Dad?”

He’s curt. “Yes let’s.”

As Dad pulls in the driveway, I can hear each stone pop as the tires roll over them. Be brave. Tell him the truth. He always says you can talk to him no matter what.

 He barrels through the door. “Dad, there’s something—

He cuts me off. Veins bulging. “No! No more talking or chances for you. I’ve given you enough chances you goddamn motherfucking lying whore. You’re no better than your slut of a mother.” I wince.

“I called the office today. They said, ‘Oh Tom we gave Jenny her report card last week.’” I try to interject, “That’s what—” He raises his hand. I wince again.

 

“Didn’t I tell you to shut the fuck up? Some things are going to change around here. First of all. No more of this boyfriend shit for you.” Fuck off. That’s been going on for two months. I’ll be out of here next year!

 “I’ll never trust you again. And to think, after all your Father has done for you. I’ve been telling you since you were little that you’re my last daughter. My last baby. You have to make something of your life or all my sacrifices are for nothing. And I’m not going to let some boy take all that away.”

I brace myself for him to hit me. Come on you sick bastard.

 “I’m not going to hit you. You’re too old for that now. Even though I’d like to rattle your ass.” Bullshit you’re just afraid of the authorities. Child protection. I should have told them the truth three years ago.

 “So here’s how it’s going to go. You lied. So your punishment is that I’m not talking for a whole week.” That’s a punishment? There must be a catch.

 Just then, a knock. Saved by the bell.

 Dad flings the door open. It’s Mary’s mom. She asks, “Hi Tom, can I borrow some sugar?” But he stands there silent. She asks, “Tom are you okay?”

Dad points to his mouth. My face grows red hot. Mary’s mother looks at me for guidance.

Furious, Dad points toward me several times. And then back to his mouth.

I mumble something to Mary’s mother. “He’s mad at me.” I consider running. Do you get the punishment now idiot? He’s not talking to anyone. And you have to tell them why.

 The phone rings. He won’t talk.

 Our neighbor, Bob stops by. He won’t talk.

He slaps me in the back of the head if I don’t tell everyone that I caused his silence because I lied. No one dares to ask me a follow up question. They know he’s a psycho freak.

 Five and a half days later. I nibble on a chocolate donut for breakfast. The icing sticks to my fingertips a little. I always thought silence was golden. It’s not.

 Dad walks toward me. Just leave me alone, would you?

 “Well, Jenny. I hope you learned your lesson. You better never lie to your father again. It’s just us, you and Daddy. Like I’ve always told you, we rode the dragon’s breath to get here, and Daddy’s going to make sure you have everything in life.”

I feel myself exhale for the first time all week. Jesus. Thank god he’s back. I muster a smile through beady eyes. Six more months and you’re out of here.

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.”