1993: Santa’s Sleigh

Dad flops an issue of Better Housekeeping on the table. “Daddy stole that from the doctor’s office a couple weeks ago.” I raise my eyebrows, disapprovingly.

He responds, in a way, to my silent protest. “Listen, I only took it because I want to bake a recipe they have in here. Besides they don’t need this anyways. They have fifty magazines laying around that office.”

He fans the pages successively, back to front, until he finds our new quest. He spreads the magazine in front of his chest and points to a gingerbread Santa Claus, complete with eight reindeer, Rudolph, and a sleigh.

I try not to roll my eyes, but it’s too late.

“Daddy’s serious about this. We’re gonna make this today. You know your father loves a challenge…but we’re not gonna use their gingerbread recipe.” Of course not. So why did you need the book?”

“Go get Daddy my father’s book. You know…the grey one.”

Now I know he’s serious. Grandpa’s grey cookbook only comes out when he means business. As I feel for Dad’s box in the cavernous credenza, I wonder about my imaginary grandfather. Dad always says that he was a cheap Greek who only gave Grandma a dollar a week to feed sixteen kids—stern, a chef, a gambler, and dead from smoking unfiltered cigarettes before I was born.

I hand over the tattered book with care. I watch as one of the hand-stitched threads breaks free from the cover—while Dad makes his way through—the individual pages sliding in opposite directions. “Good. This book is eighty years old, you know? My father was lucky he didn’t come over on the Titanic because he came around that same time. Early 1900s.”

Dad shakes his head. “Of course. You might know it’s Daddy’s bad luck. I always find the recipe I want, last.” I scan the lined ledger; marked with a dark blue numeral 55 and the title, Ginger Bread, the recipe contains few ingredients. Let’s hope this is simpler than the baklava.

“So you’re probably wondering why I needed the book if I wasn’t going to use their recipe, right?” I don’t dare give him the satisfaction of a nod.

“Daddy just needed to see how they assembled the sleigh and what they used to make the road and the reins. I’ve been thinking, and I have a great idea for all of it. Come on. Get your coat. We’re going to the mall.”

What’s at the mall for baking?

When we arrive, Dad makes a beeline for the coziest confection shop in town, The Candy Kitchen.

While we wait our turn, Dad scans the cases. “Okay, Jenny, this is what I want. Three pounds of that rocky road candy, and then I’ll get some of that shoestring licorice for the reigns…”

I look at the prices, confused. $10.95/pound? Did he win a horse? The smell of sugar and chocolate wafting into my nostrils makes my mouth water. Well at least we can eat this crazy gingerbread Santa! Merry Christmas!

He nudges my shoulder. “Daddy hasn’t told you the best part yet. We’re not going to eat this, naturally…” I feel my heart sink. Then, I’m out. We better not be giving it away.

“We’re going to mount the whole thing to the coffee table for show.” Someone call a doctor. My father has officially gone off the deep end; he’s not going to eat candy—his favorite food in the world.

“But that doesn’t mean we can’t get a couple chocolate covered marshmallows while we’re here—for ourselves.” I instantly forgive him a little.

After the clerk bags all of Dad’s goodies, she informs him of the $54.07 bill.

What in the fuck? That’s seriously a month’s worth of food!

Dad pull out his rubber-banded money wad and forks over the dough.

At least you’re getting two marshmallows out of the deal. Be thankful.

After getting out all of the ingredients, flour, baking soda, ginger, molasses, butter…and four more hours of labor, Dad is ready to assemble the whole thing on the coffee table.

He approaches the job as if he’s been called in for open-heart surgery. “Goddamn mother fucker. Rudolph’s leg snapped. Quick, Jenny, hand me the confectioner’s glaze. Dad uses the white substance to mend Rudolph and adds his red button nose.” Pheww, that was a close call.

I roll my eyes again, and smile too. Santa’s sleigh and reindeer look even better than they did in Better Housekeeping.

After two weeks pass, school dismisses early for Christmas break.

I see crack marks where the gingerbread has dried out. Gross. What are we going to do with this thing after Christmas?

Dad doesn’t seem to notice. “Come on. Dad got us some cheap candy at the dollar store. Let’s watch some Christmas movies or some shit.” For real? Is this like a trick, and we’re going to end up at OTB? Why is he so happy? It’s Christmas. He hates Christmas.

After Dad powers on the T.V., I wait for him to adjust the rabbit ears. But the picture broadcasts completely clear. Where am I? I pinch my arm. Oww. Not dreaming then?

“Haha. Daddy tricked you for Christmas! The cable company had a special for new customers signing up. No money down. Free HBO. We probably won’t pay the bill and they’ll shut us down in a couple months, but who cares!”

My mouth drops open as Dad changes the channel to reveal Dudley Moore dressed as Patch, the elf. The Santa Claus. Yes! While we watch John Lithgow float into space, the chyron reveals that Home Alone is next! Woohoo!

Dad catches me eyeing the gingerbread sleigh while Kevin sleds down his stairway. One day, you’re going to have a house just like that. “Hey, Jenny. You can eat that if you want to. We had it up long enough.”

I sniff Santa’s reindeer, realizing that they don’t smell like gingerbread anymore, and the once cherry red reigns have turned a cotton-y pink. Gross. Aw, screw it! Probably the best meal you’ve ever had on Christmas. Go for it.

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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?

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?

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.

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.”

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.