1995: The Martyr

After school, Dad and I stand in mom’s apartment. I peer out the floor-to-ceiling kitchen window that overlooks Glen Street. Someday you’ll live in a real house like one of the lawyers or doctors on this street.

Mom startles me from behind as she grazes my new mulberry-hued corduroy skirt.

“Look at your cute legs, Jenny Penny! Wow, Tommy! I’m surprised you let Jenny wear a skirt that short to school. The boys must love her cute little body.” My face turns bright red as I tug at the edges of my hem hoping it will magically grow longer. Thank God she can’t see you.

 “No boys better be looking at her. They know better because I’ll show up at that school with my bat. Besides, you know Jenny, Deborah. I’ve been letting her pick out her own clothes since she was seven. She insisted.”

 Mom persists a while and I can feel myself growing angry. Actually she doesn’t know me. She wasn’t around, so it’s none of her business what I wear.

Dad changes the subject. “Debbie, listen, forget about Jenny for a moment. I came to talk to you today about something really important.”

I retreat to Mom’s pastel sofa in the living room to give them privacy. But you’re still within listening distance. As Dad begins to talk, I trace a line around a light blue leaf so that I won’t bite my nails.

“Debbie, they’re going to kill me someday. Very soon. And I need to make sure you’re ready for that day. You and Jenny.” Who is going to kill him? Oh no. Not this again!

 “Tommy what are you talking about? Someone is out to kill you?”

“No Debbie. This is very serious. Once I get Gabazar’s message out to the people, I’ll be killed. You know like President Kennedy. And all my other predictions. I’ve already seen the future. God gave me a job, and I have to finish it soon.”

“Jesus, Thomas! That’s crazy talk. How do you know this Gabazar is God anyways? I mean couldn’t he be the devil trying to trick you?”

Dad explodes and walks out to the living room. Shit you can’t hide any longer.

 He continues making vigorous hand gestures, “Of everyone Debbie, how can you question me when you’ve witnessed so many of my predictions?” Pointing to me, Dad charges, “Jenny, you better tell your mother that I’m not joking around. You and Daddy have talked about this many times already. You tell your mother about the cross and all the other signs.”

Instead, I tear up. My fingers are still tracing the stitching in the couch but the room appears blurry. Don’t let the tear drop fall. Don’t! I clench my fist now, but it’s too late. I bury my head in Mom’s pillow. Crybaby!

Mom comes over and gently places her hand on my back. Why can’t she comfort you like this all the time? Why did she have to leave? She’s the normal one. Why does she hate you so much?

 “Thomas! Look at what you’ve done! You’ve upset our daughter. You can’t talk about being shot or killed or whatever right in front of her like that.”

I let time stop to record this moment in my mind. Has she ever stuck up for you before? Does this mean she loves you?

 “I don’t care, Debbie. She has to get used to it sometime. And so do you. My whole family, too. I’m not lying to protect you people any longer.”

For some reason I feel safe as Mom continues to rub my back so I let go and cry some more. The pillow beneath me soaked with tears. Are you crying because he’s going to get killed or because you want him to get killed?

 After a few minutes I sit up. He’s going to kill you on the ride home before they ever kill him, anyways.

 But Mom offers, “Hey, why don’t you two stay for dinner. I’m making spaghetti. Plenty for everyone. And I know you love my meatballs, Thomas.” She used his full name again. Oh please let us stay.

 Dad shrugs and accepts. He can’t resist the attention. The rest of the night she butters him up with compliments and pays him plenty of attention to take his mind off Gabazar.

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1989: An Engagement Ring

Today at the mall, instead of walking past the toy store so I can visit Malibu Barbie, we immediately walk into Littman’s jewelry store.

Dad says to the clerk, “Hi. My wife wants a marquise diamond. Could you show me something nice?”

While we’re waiting, I notice that Littman’s is special because you don’t have to walk in a door. The store carpet and mall tiles join together. Separated only by several large rectangular marble pillars. I lean against one of the cool pillars and notice how the white grey marble swirls together with the darker grey parts. One day you will build your whole house out of marble. It will be a castle. And daddy can live there too because he loves marble so much.

The salesman pipes up, “Okay sir. This is a one of our most popular one carat settings in 14 karat gold.”

Dad nods his head, “Beautiful. How much does that one run?”

“It’s $8,188.”

Oh my gosh. I’ve never seen $8,000. How could we ever get that? Is that what my mom needs to be happy? Will this make her love my dad and want to live with us?

Dad assures the man, “That’s not bad. I could buy it today.” Patting his pocket, dad says, “ I have the cash on me now, but I want to make sure this is the one my wife really wants.”

Later that night, Dad calls California from our motel efficiency room. It’s another temporary place to live while Dad waits for an unemployment check. We’ve been here for a month now after the owner of a motel a few miles up the road kicked us out for not paying rent.

I lay belly down on the bed beside Dad while I color on the back of a hotel brochure so he won’t realize how much I want to listen to their adult conversation.

Dad pulls the beige rotary motel phone from the nightstand to the bed, “Deborah? It’s Thomas.”

Mom’s high pitched voice is easy to make out. “Tommy? Where are you calling me from? Where’s Jenny Penny?”

“We’re here in Lake George. I got us a nice efficiency.”

After doodling all over the brochure, I pull out a picture taken 2 years earlier, when I was 6. It’s the only picture I have of my mom; she’s holding me and beaming. We are seating around the convent kitchen behind 3 enormous lemon meringue pies that my dad baked.

“Oh ok. Well I hope you are not feeding Jenny Penny candy and soda.”

I glance back at our small table where dinner awaits: two Slim Jims, a pack of Twizzlers and a Crunch bar. We don’t drink anything but soda. Usually grape, cream, or root beer. 

Dad assures her, “Nah. Don’t worry about that. I called to tell you that I found the diamond ring that you want today…the marquise.”

“Thomas, get real. You don’t even have the money to buy a decent car. You’re not going to buy me a diamond ring.”

“No Deborah, listen to me. I know that you still love me. I can always tell by your voice. I took Jenny today and we saw the ring. I already spoke to the man about it. It’s $8,188. But don’t worry, I will have the money.”

I turn the picture over. I take a black felt tip pen from the nightstand and write 8188 on the back of the photo. This is our new goal.

Silence.

“Come on Deb. Come home and I promise to make everything right! See you’re crying. I knew that you still loved me.”