1997: The Opera

Rap at the door. Don’t open it. Peek through the blinds. As if the Crypt Keeper’s out there. Nope. Just our neighbor, Jim.

 I call upstairs, “Dad! Jim’s knocking. Do you want me to let him in?”

His voice reverberates downstairs. “Yes. Tell him that I’ll be right there.”

After Dad gives me permission, I open the door and greet Jim. He’s a tall man. Dark brown hair and scraggly beard. The densely flecked pockmarks on his cheeks trigger me me to touch my own face. Dad said you get those from having pimples. Does that mean you’ll have them too?

 I inform Jim, “Dad will be right down.”

He laughs mischievously, “Okay.”

“Jim! Hey-a buddy. You want a cup of coffee?”

“Always!” Mischievous grin again.

 “I’ve got some Swedish meatballs, too!”

Amused, Jim says, “Sounds great.” You never get offered Swedish meatballs. Not that you’d want them, but shit.

 While I watch dad load a plate full of sweaty mystery-meatballs, I grab a mug and pour myself a cup of coffee. I don’t have to ask permission anymore, though I see Dad glance in my direction. He nods a little, as if to say, Getting bold are you, now? Okay for today, kid. But don’t let it go to your head.

 “Tom. These meatballs are fantastic!”

“Thanks. The secret is in the spices. And of course not letting them dry out. I always buy a ground 80/20. Just the right amount of fat.”

After Jim finishes sucking another one down, he offers Dad a gig. “Hey Tom, I’ve got a fantastic opportunity for you.” Oh Lord. What now?

 Dad interrupts Jim as he notices his empty mug. “Jim you want a some more coffee?”

“That’d be great.”

“Jenny, go get Jim some fresh coffee, would you honey?” How about you go and get it for him yourself? I thought you didn’t want me retrieving ‘no man’s beer’ someday! Jerk.

I listen carefully to Jim’s scheme as I serve his coffee with a polite smile.

“Well, Tom. They need a baker for the opera festival. The other guy pulled out at the last minute.”

“Oh Jeez, Jim. I don’t know. That’s quite an undertaking. How many days? How many people are we talking here?”

Jim shakes his head, “Nah. There’s plenty of time. It’s this weekend. About five-hundred people.”

Fifteen hundred cookies! For fuck sakes. Jim better be the one staying here and helping him bake.

 Dad glances at his wrist where his watch left a toasted outline, “Jesus. That’s a lot of people. So I’ve got three days to get all the shit and bake fifteen hundred cookies.”

Please say no. For once in your life, please.

 “Ah shit, Jim. Looks like Jenny and I are going to be busy motherfuckers for the next few days.”

Contort hand into gun shape. Point at temple and shoot.

 Jim leaves on a full belly and Dad’s promise.

Meanwhile Dad plots the menu. “Jenny, I’ve got to make my brownies, and my famous chocolate chips. I think I better make the nut and date bars, too. And of course my Greek butter cookies.”

I shrink at the mention of Dad’s butter cookies. The worst. Well no, the baklava is the worst. Because the ‘fucking phyllo dough.’ But four different colored glazes, plus a dark chocolate glaze, plus shredded coconut, plus ground nuts….

 “Hey, Goddamn! What’s wrong with your Father? I almost forgot my award-winning baklava.”

Reeling with rage, I abandon my usual guarded post and stare at him through beady eyes.

“Oh, and I think we’ll make whoopee pies. And snicker doodles too.”

What the fuck is a snicker doodle?

 For the next three days, we mix, we fold, we spread, we layer, we brush, we dip, we cut, and we rinse. Repeat.

During tasks, Dad swears. Sometimes at inanimate objects. Sometimes at me. They blur together.

Can the neighbors hear him through the walls? “Jenny, Jenny, Jenny. Open your fucking eyes. You have to dip those cookies faster. You’re not making out with your boyfriend!” I blush at Dad’s allusion. I don’t have a boyfriend.

 “Jesus, Mother Fucker. I knew this brand of flour wasn’t going to be any good.”

Or maybe you’re no good? Do all bakers swear like this?

Despite Dad’s tantrums, everything turns out perfect.

“Jenny, come here. I want to show you your Father’s secret.”

You know that I know this already, right? Since about 1988. But please, continue on…

“See, most people, when they make baklava, they water the honey way down. No! Cheap bastards. The real secret is half honey to water. That way it’s thick.”

Dad demonstrates the magic as he brushes the honey mixture on top of the painfully constructed baklava.

“Daddy’s got all this in his special recipe book. You know, the grey one that was my father’s. And you’re going to get all that after Daddy’s dead. It will make you rich one day.”

While he brushes another layer on for good measure, I try to imagine not hearing Dad’s voice one day. Yeah, right.

 Even though we’re done baking, loading the car and setting up prove to be just as daunting.

At intermission, our first customer approaches.

He points, “What are those cookies, there?”

Before I can answer, Dad interjects, “They’re snicker doodles. Excellent choice. Very delicious.”

Instead of ordering the man stands quizzically for a moment. “I’m sorry, but those aren’t snicker doodles.”

“What do you mean, they’re not snicker doodles? I’m a world-class chef and baker. I ought to know what a snicker doodle is!”

“Well, sir, I’m sorry, but my grandmother and I used to make snicker doodles when I was growing up. And these are most certainly not those.”

One day, when you’re gone, you’ll never be weird again. Snicker doodles will always be snicker doodles.

 But Dad pushes back. “Sir, I’ll make you a deal: if you buy one of my snicker doodles and don’t tell me that their the best you’ve ever had in your life, then I’ll refund your money myself.”

The man buys two. I watch his eyes as the first bite melts in his mouth. He grins oddly at my father. “Well, they’re still not snicker doodles, but they are the best cookies I’ve ever eaten in my life.”

Dad grins from ear to ear, nearly forgetting his absent top teeth.

As the customer walks away, I stand motionless with an odd sense of confusion. So should I be something other than a common snicker doodle?

 Stay Weird.

1985: Poor Man’s Steak

 

I spy an angry woman behind us in line at the Grand Union. I turn away as her eyes meet mine.

Dad busily chats with the cashier. “Honey, my name is Tom, but you can call me Uncle Tom.”

Dad wraps his arm around my shoulder; “I know you see me in here every week with my daughter.”

The curly-blonde cashier stares at Dad while she holds his change in her outstretched hand.

“Anyway, I’m a psychic. I’ve wanted to tell you this for two weeks, but I didn’t want to scare you.”

Her eyes widen. We both wait impatiently for Dad’s premonition.

He continues, “It’s about your boyfriend. He’s cheating on you.”

The cashier starts to tear up. Dad tries to comfort her. “Don’t ask me how I know these things, but I just do. Don’t worry, honey. You’ll find someone much better. Mark my words. You’ll be married within a few years, and you’ll have two sons.”

I glance back. The customer behind us walks to another clerk. Hurry up, Dad.

While Dad leaves the clerk, sniffling, we walk toward the double set of automatic doors.Today, he asks me, “Jenny. What’s your favorite number?”

“That’s easy Daddy. It’s three and four.”

“Hey that sounds like a great late double.”

“There’s something else I want to tell you Dad.”

“What is it?”

“Someday, I’m going to own one of those fast bikes I saw on T.V.”

“You mean a motorcycle?”

I nod. Yes a motorcycle.

 Dad makes a vroom vroom sound.

“What a strange child you are. What five year old tells their father they want a motorcycle one day?”

I shrug my shoulders as he pulls our hotel room key from his pocket. The oval key tag is made of orange plastic with a braid around the edge. The golden number, 23 catches my eye even in the dark hallway.Dad doesn’t usually cook, because we only have a kitchenette with what he calls, “a piece of shit stove.”

 But today, Grand Union had his favorite meat on sale.

I watch as Dad heats the pan, vigorously swirling the butter in the bottom. “See Jenny, I want you to pay attention to Poppa. This is the mark of a first class chef. I’m the only human being I know that can sauté chicken livers to taste like filet mignon.”

I’ve never had filet mignon but it must be really gross. Why would anyone want to eat that?

 The liver meat expands as Dad slices through the plastic wrap, cutting the price sticker in half, 49 cents. Eeek! The smell. Don’t breathe. Don’t look.

 “You see this, baby girl? The butter has to brown first like this. Gives the meat a nutty flavor. And the heat has to be very high so you can flash this in the pan so quick. Yummy! Pretty soon you and Poppa are going to have this delicious, first class meal.”

As the livers hit the pan, they sizzle. The steam rising from the pan turns my stomach immediately.

I stab the spongy meat and lift it toward my mouth while holding my breath. Spit it out! Posion! No wait, he will kill you.

“This is why Daddy loves you. Because you eat my delicious chicken livers, and you gobble them up! Daddy’s been feeding you these ever since you were a baby, you know.”

I fit as many pieces in my mouth as I can without swallowing. Then I excuse myself to use the bathroom, promptly spitting them into the toilet. And flush!

It’s better to be hungry tonight than eat these. It’s ok. Tomorrow we’ll be back to pepperoni and soda.

1987: Night Terrors

It’s 10:00 pm. I put my Barbie’s to bed for the night, and kneel by my bed to say my prayers.

Dear God,

Please help all the little kids in the world who have less than I do, you know the ones who are starving or really sick—the ones I’ve seen on T.V. Thank you, God, for hearing my prayers each night.

After prayer time, I saunter into the living room on my wooden scooter wearing an oversized green “Luck of the Irish, Guinness” t-shirt.

“Jenny, come sit next to Poppa. You’re just in time. A really good movie is about to start.”

I join him on the basket-weave brown and orange sofa.

The movie is called “A Nightmare on Elm Street”

“Jenny, you’re really going to like this movie. It’s Freddy Cougar. Lots of hacked-up killing and good shit in this movie. Daddy knows you have school in the morning, but our deal is still the same. You stay up as late as you want. So long as you never complain about getting up first thing in the morning. I think that’s a good deal, don’t you?”

I nod, as razor sharp claws emerge on the screen.

 

 

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.”

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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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.

2001: Running with a Cordless Phone

“Let me tell you something, Jenny, I don’t give a shit if you’re 20 years old. You’re still my daughter. You’re my fucking property. I will kill you myself first! Do you hear your father? You’re not going to see these two boys at once and have one of them kill you. And don’t tell me it doesn’t happen. You know as well as I do. You see it on the news every day.”

I’m not “seeing” them both at once. I broke up with my boyfriend to see someone else and if you’re so worried about one of them killing me, stop calling my ex and stirring the pot, asshole!

Dad continues as veins bulge from his neck, “Are you listening to me, you no good, cock-sucking whore? Here’s what’s going to happen. Give me your cell phone. Right now. Right fucking now. Good. And from now on you do as I say, when I say.”

I want him to drop dead. You bastard! You got away with talking to me that way my whole life. But the day I turned 18, I swore you would never threaten me again. Never again.

Per protocol, I immediately retreat to my bedroom and lie on my bed. I dig my nails into my arms so I won’t tear up. Waiting. Always waiting. Later that night, he makes his way up the stairs, grunting and snorting all the way. I can hear every breath he takes as though he is standing over me. I pretend to be asleep, but I have one eye open. I am lying on my side because I feel most vulnerable on my back. He uses the bathroom and then goes into his bedroom. It approaches an eternity before I can hear him snore.

You know he is the lightest sleeper ever. Fucking Marine Corps training. And he will make good on his promise to kill you if he hears you. Still, you’ve got to do this, or you’re better off dead.

I pretend I am a samurai wearing a black body suit, moving so quietly no one can hear me. I know where all the spots are in the floor that creak because we have lived in this apartment for seven years. I don’t stand. I crawl. I scoot my behind down one step at a time, skipping over the 8th step entirely. Okay big shot, you made it down stairs, there’s no turning back, and you’d better stop wasting time thinking. He could wake up at any time and then you are DEAD. I think I hear something, so I stay very still for a moment but nothing happens. Maybe you’d better take the cordless phone because you don’t have your cell and you need to call your friend when you make it outside the apartment. I grab the handset with reluctance since it makes a little beep when you pull it from the cradle. I stop to see if he stirs. Nothing. But I can’t be sure since I am shaking so badly, my heart is pounding in my eardrums. Now I am at the front door. I stand there for several seconds. Oh shit. This is the worst part. He’s going to hear it open. He will jump out the second story window, thereby cracking the earth open to its core and you will die drowning in molten lava. Stop it. Just focus. See the door opening slowly. You can do this. You’re a woman now. I grip the door knob and turn it slowly. As I open the door, I hear sirens in my head. They are so loud, and I have to open it faster now. I can’t take the pressure anymore.

I am outside. Pitch black. What time is it anyway? I can’t shut the door. Shaking too badly. Oh God what if someone comes right in and kills him because you left the door open? No. He brought this on himself. You have to run. You have to save your life. And that’s it. I bolt. I don’t just run. I turn into a gazelle. I cut clean through the apartment complex and make it to a street. I look back twice. Maybe three times. By now he could be in the car looking for you. Time to hide. Run faster. No, fly. Now I am two streets over hiding behind other people’s houses. I turn on the cordless phone. No dial tone. Of course! You’re an idiot. You’re “out of range.” Sometimes I wonder why people think I am smart. No time for this. You have to find a way. It’s too late to turn back. I construct a mental map of back roads all the way to my friend’s house. My Father’s voice is in my head now. Jenny, you’re a very foolish little girl. You want to run away from me…fine. But now you are putting yourself at risk. You’re vulnerable. Predators, they always know when someone is weak. They will find you. You know Daddy taught you better than this. Just then, I notice someone’s light is on inside their house. I sneak under the window. It’s their kitchen. A woman is doing dishes. Late to be doing dishes. What time is it anyway? She looks young and nice. A woman won’t hurt me. You just have to take a chance. I begin waving at the kitchen window, mouthing, “help me please and I’m sorry to bother you.”

She motions for me to go to the front door where her husband greets me. He looks nice too. I hope they are not killers. Sick psycho married couple that lures you in then… stop being paranoid like your Father. I am tearing up as I say, “I am so sorry to bother you this late at night.”

Warmly, they both motion me inside, “Come in honey. It’s okay. What happened to you?”

“It’s my Dad, I’m 20 years old but I had to run away because I am afraid he is going to kill me.”

They look at me with odd understanding. They told me their names, but I forgot already. “I won’t need to bother you for long. I just need to call my friend to pick me up, if you have a phone you are willing to let me use to make a local call.” The wife sends her husband to go retrieve the phone. Meanwhile she explains, “Don’t worry honey. You know what? There is nothing to be sorry for. I came from an abusive family too. I understand what you are going through. Really, I left home much younger than you are now, but I’m glad you got away. And I’m glad we had our light on to help you tonight. Really, it’s no imposition.”

Her husband hands me the phone and tells me, “you can go in that back bedroom if you would like some privacy.” Then I realize there is a baby’s basinet in the other bedroom. Oh no, you’re going to wake up their baby. They are so nice. My dad is wrong about people. They are not all evil. Some people can be trusted, and that’s the way you will live my life, trust until someone gives you a good reason not to. I dial my friend. Oh please let him answer and not his parents.

 “Hello?”

Shakily I stammer, “Hi, it’s me. I ran away tonight. He threatened to kill me. I need you to come and get me. I’m at these people’s house around the corner from my dad’s place. They were really nice to let me use their phone but I have to get out of here quick before my Father wakes up.”

Silence.

“Sweetie? Ummm…okay this is a lot to take in. I have to go ask my parents if it’s okay if I bring you here to stay. Be right back.”

Please let it be ok. I’m out of options.

“Sweetie, they said yes. You can sleep in my room. I will sleep in my sister’s old room. Where are you exactly?”

I talk to the couple for a few more minutes, thank them for all their help, apologize one last time, and then stand by the door looking out the front window. My friend’s light blue Chevy is the only car on the road at this time of night. I run as fast as I can and hop in.

He asks me, “What’s going on?”

“Just get out of here. I’m still afraid my Father is going to find us. Also I think it’s best if you take me to the police station so I can tell them I left of my own free will. I know my Father. He will report me missing.” Oddly, he taught you to go to the police so no one could ever hurt you. It’s crazy to be following his directions at a time like this.

 We drive downtown. I’ve been to the police station there before when my Father was the manager of the apartment complex where he lives. We walk inside and there is an officer behind a glass window.

I say into the speaker, “Hi my name is Jenny Kamburelis. I am here because I ran away from home tonight and I don’t want my father to report me missing.” He beeps the door so we can come in. Another police officer asks me several questions and files a report. Name, age, address, reason I ran away…basic information.

The officer asks, “Who is this person with you?”

I reply, “It’s my friend who came to pick me up.”

The officer responds, “Okay, you’re all set. And good luck. I want you to know this is not unusual. We see these types of family disputes all the time. I hope you can work it out with your Father.”

“I’m not sure that I can. He is very violent. You don’t know him. I go back to college in a week. If I need help retrieving my things, could a police officer be there?”

“Sure. Just call us if you have a problem.”

We drive back to my friend’s house. I love his family home—neatly tucked away behind so many trees that you can’t see it from the road. Anonymity. Each minute that passes I become less afraid. I am exhausted emotionally. I fall into bed, but I can’t sleep. Sleep you overtired zombie.

“Sweetie, sweetie wake up!”

“Huh what’s happening?”

“It’s your dad, he’s on the phone right now. He wants me to help him come and find you. He says you are missing.”

“Did you tell him that I am here?”

“No, not yet. But I think I have to tell him the truth at this point. I mean he is a wreck. He is crying, and he’s asked me to come help search for you.”

Holy shit. He’s crying?! He’s never cried over anything. I saw him tear up once when his sister Nellie died in a car accident. But he doesn’t cry. Ever.

Nervously I tell him, “Uhhh, ummm, okay. I guess you have to tell him that I am here.”

My friend retrieves the phone, “Here you go. Your dad wants to talk to you.”

“Hello.”

“Jenny. Honey, you scared Daddy. Come right home now.”

“Well you scared me…and, no, I am not coming home right now. I just got here and I am tired.”

“Well, when are you coming home?”

“In the morning, I guess.”

“What time?”

“I don’t know. Uh, about ten o’clock. I need to go and get some rest now.”

He says in his most charming voice, “Okay, you and Poppa will talk about everything when you get home. Oh, and why ten o’clock? It’s so late.”

“I will see you at ten.” You bastard, pain in the ass. You are lucky I am coming back at all. God, I am such a wimp.

My friend drops me off at the apartment door that I had become so intimately acquainted with less than 10 hours ago. Fuck. You’re back. He’s probably doing that whole Don Corleone thing—luring you in last night with the “I love you and come home” crap. Now he will just kill you. I’m so tired; I won’t even fight him.

 I walk in to find Dad sitting in a white rocking chair. Rocking methodically.

He addresses me, “I’m so glad you’re home. Pretty sneaky you are. Boy, you scared Poppa good. I got up in the middle of the night to check on you, like I always do, and you were gone. I said to myself, boy, she must be pretty pissed.”

Blank stare.

“So tell daddy all about what happened.” Ummm ok…he’s not mad and he thinks this is some kind of great adventure?!

“Well I just ran out after you went to sleep. Then Gary came to pick me up, and I told him to take me to the police station so I wouldn’t be reported missing.”

All the while he continues the rocking motion while snorting. Then he grins and says, “That’s my girl. Just like Daddy taught you. This is the proudest Daddy’s ever been of you, and you’ve got some balls like your old man too. So tell me more. What happened at the police station?”

Wow. I thought I was going to never see him again. Now he’s proud? No matter how much you think you know him, you don’t.

 Oddly, I am happy that he is proud of me. Finally! “Well, Dad they just took a report, and wrote down all my information. I figured you would have called them first thing when you found me missing.”

He nods, shaking his head “no,” but wants to know more. “Dad, I’m pretty beat. I can tell you more about it later.” This is sick. Just sick.

“Okay, Daddy will let you rest. I just can’t believe you went to the police like I taught you to do. He’s actually proud of himself, and, by extension, you. “All right. You and Daddy, we’re gonna work this out. I told you I will always have your back. Whoever you like for a boyfriend, Pops will support you on that.” Utterly confused, I climb the stairs that I just crawled down the previous night and lie on my bed with an odd sense of relief and a feeling that, maybe, I am loved.

1991: A Glorious Summer

Dad and I rumble up to the First National bank in the red and white Chevy Malibu.

“Jenny, the bastards owed you and Daddy this ten-thousand. It’s retroactive, you know. Poppa will never forget the look on the judge’s face when I took my shirt off right in court to show him these bumps all over my body.”

Glad that I was in school that day.

 “That judge said to your Father, ‘Mr. K, I’m granting you your social security disability because I can see that you’re not fit to work.’”

Not because of the bumps, though!

“And that’s what Daddy’s trying to teach you. Never say you can’t. And never ever give up!”

After we open a checking account and get a wad of cash, Dad heads to the apartment complex where we were supposed to live with my mom.

Dad phones the rental office, “Hi, this is Tom. I called about moving to a two-bedroom apartment with my wife. Well, she left, so I’ll only need the one-bedroom now.”

We pick up the apartment keys at the construction office near the airport. Dad enjoys flipping off some crisp hundred-dollar bills for the apartment manager. $700.

“Well, Poppa’s little girl. Looks like we’re going to need some furniture. Better go blow some of this cash. Then, maybe Daddy will still have time to bet the late double.”

Furniture? Oh yeah! We’ve never owned that before.

When Dad pulls into the most expensive furniture store in town, I know he feels like celebrating.

We stay for an hour, and spend a couple grand.

“Well Jenny, Pops thinks you did good for your first time picking out furniture. That Broyhill set we bought for your bedroom is excellent quality. You’ll have it for your whole life.”

I have my own bedroom furniture! It even has a matching desk and chair set. This is my favorite part.

Dad, realizing the time, blurts out, “Shit. We haven’t eaten all day. Let’s get our asses to Wendy’s and get four of those 99-cent junior bacon cheeseburgers. Maybe even a milkshake, if you want it. No cheapening ourselves today, Jenny Leigh!”

I pinch myself to see if I’m still alive. It can’t be happening. We’ve never had more than two 99-cent cheeseburgers and a Coke to share.

 I wonder what else is going to change now that we are rich?

 The next week instead of stocking the fridge with frozen mystery meat, dad buys real fruit, and chicken breasts, and lettuce.

We get cable, but not just any cable. HBO. The first night the new couch and entertainment center arrives, we stay up until 2 am watching Pet Cemetery. That night, I’m too scared to sleep.

 Okay, so some things never change.

 The following month, I turn 10. Dad throws me my first birthday party. It’s at East Field, the park across from our new apartment. The theme is Barbie. My friends from school are invited. Even the girls that I don’t like. But that’s only because they’re snobby.

“Jenny, you have to invite everyone because that’s the way Daddy’s raising you. You’re no better than anybody else. You might be raised better than them, and have more respect for yourself. But, I always want you to do what’s right.”

The next day he takes me to a marching band concert in the park. When we get to the gate, they say, “That will be $30 each.”

I see Dad’s eye flicker a bit, but he hands over the $60.

This time I don’t pinch myself. You’re living in a fairy tale. I fully expect Cinderella’s mice to appear and break out in song at any moment.

This is the most fun thing you’ve ever done in your life. And this is the best summer ever.

 I feel like the puppet, Pinocchio, except I was just turned into a real little girl.

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.