1998: Open Wounds

I run through the familiar woods, roots passing beneath my feet, imaginary streamers rippling in the breeze alongside. Now the stinging sensation barely present on my bottom lip. You’re free when you’re here. Safe.

Free from his tyranny. The bully’s reign will soon be over. But you gotta play it cool. Just one last year. You have to graduate. And run. Don’t ever let him stop you from running.

 As I emerge from the towering pines to the expanse of gravel track, someone yells, “Jenny. Jenny Penny!”

Mom?

My feet move with their own rhythm despite my protest. I drop my head toward my knees as the runner’s nausea washes over me. Heaving, I hear Mom’s voice again over my shoulder.

“Jenny, man you can run fast. No wonder you’re the best one on the team. You know I could run like that when I was your age. You got that from me.”

Twirling around, I face her. I expect her expression to be happy, but instead her face contorts to a look of horror.

“Jen? Hun what happened to your face?” She takes a step back to examine me further.

The throbbing returns to my lower lip. Damnit. Get your lying face on. No don’t. just tell her the truth and run away with her.

I run my index finger over the dry edges of the wound. “Oh this? It’s nothing, Mom. What happened is that—is that—I fell.”

I avert my gaze from her penetrating eyes. How many more times are you going to have to lie for him?

As I wait for Mom to hug me, she waves her arms in the air. “Bullshit! You think you can lie to me like all these other fools? I know that bastard Tommy did this to you!”

I shake my head no, but her words run their course. “No, Jenny. Don’t even try to lie for him. I’m your Mother. You don’t think I don’t know?”

If your face weren’t red hot from adrenaline, she would see your shame.

As she continues, oblivious, I scan the exposed track for team members, for coach. Please don’t let anyone hear this. You can calm her down.

“This is a mother’s worst fear. He’s doing this to punish me, that bastard. He’s beating you the way he beat me. You know he kicked me in the stomach the day I came home after giving birth to you? He wouldn’t let me feed you. He wouldn’t let me even hold you. Everything I did was wrong!”

An imprint of my Father’s black shoe lodged in Mom’s abdomen sticks in my mind. He’ll pay for it all one day, but for now you have to stop her.

My eyes boar into my mother. I plead, “Mom, please, please don’t say anything to him. You know what he’ll do to me. He’ll kill me.”

“I knew it! So you’re admitting what I said is true?”

“Yes, because you knew. But I’m begging you, if you care about me, leave this alone. I’m almost out. One more year, Mom!”

“I don’t know, Jenny. I don’t know if I can keep letting him get away with this shit!”

Don’t you get it? You were there once! Don’t you care about what will happen to me? It’s not like you’ll be there to save me. It’s not like you ever have been.

“Mom, please. I need you to promise me.” I reach across my cheek to wipe a preemptive tear.

“Okay, Jenny. But just this once.”

“Thank you, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Coach drops the team off in the school parking lot. I run toward Dad’s car. Shit we’re late again.

I hop in swiftly. Dad smiles and waves at Coach, but when we speed off he launches into an attack.

“Can you just answer your Father one fucking question? What do you people do that makes you so late? Every fucking day you’re a half hour to an hour late. And I’m the poor bastard, the Father, who has to wait for this bullshit! Now do you think that’s fair?”

Yeah I think it’s fair! Because everyone else my age has their driver’s license and a car so their mommy and daddy don’t have to wait for them!

“Well do you, Jenny? You better fucking answer me when I talk to you, or I’ll smash you again!”

I stammer, “No, Dad. It was just some people were slower getting out of the woods today. And I’m not really sure what happened. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry is no fucking good. I’m done with this shit and you’re done running for your punishment!”

I grip my jaw to match my balled fists. You’ll have to kill me first. I’ve given my life to you. Not this. This one thing. It’s mine.

“Speaking of bullshit, and I ought to kill you for this…your Mother called me just before I left. Went on some screaming rant about how I hit you! Fuck that whore. I’ll do whatever I want with my own daughter.”

No, actually. Fuck you, and fuck her, too. She betrayed you? She really did? Why?

His grip on the wheel tightens. “Didn’t I motherfucking tell you what to tell everybody? That you fell. Or are you too stupid to follow that one simple instruction?”

“No Dad. I swear. I told everyone. They all believed me. But then…” Do you really want to take his side? No! But she gave you no choice. Survival. Not much longer now.

“But fucking, what?”

“Ummm, well she just showed up at the track. Causing trouble. She didn’t believe me. She was causing a scene. I kept telling her what really happened. She’s the one who…”

“Your mother is a fucking asshole. Now I hope you see why your Father is raising you. Why I had to take you from her. She’s a horrible woman.”

I lick my wound, literally, to soften the chapped parts, and give him a military nod. You’re a wimp. But wimps get to live. Just keep running. That’s where you’re free.

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2000: Stalker

I bound up the carpeted auditorium steps—making my way to the last row of Chemistry lecture.

My cell phone buzzes against my thigh several times. It better not be him again. He called twelve fucking times yesterday, including our daily 8:00pm talk. To bitch about hot dog sauce! Fucking hate hot dogs…and that smelly dirt sauce. Buzzz…Buzzz…Jesus!

Reaching into my coat pocket, I slide the phone half way out and take a quick peek. Of course. Who else would it be? What were you expecting? A miracle? I consider crushing my phone, but instead hold the power button down. Powering off, asshole. Because I’m a college student. Over the age of eighteen. This bullshit was supposed to end.

 Professor McClellan points to random elements on the periodic table chart. “Can anyone tell me what happens when you combine sulfur with….”Shit. You’re lost. I glance at the clock 1:17. You just wasted 17 minutes in a complete fog. You’re going to fail this course if he doesn’t stop!

 The next 33 minutes zoom by as I alternate between conscious thought and visions of strangling Dad. “Okay, see you next week, class. And don’t forget the assignment that’s due Monday.”

What assignment?

Ambling out of class with the rest of the sophomore herd, I wonder, do any of you people have a secret this big? Or is everyone just thinking about the weekend parties and random hookups?

As I make my way from the science center to Grewen Hall, I consider my options. Run away? Ha! Don’t call him back? He’ll be here in three hours. Just in time for dinner! Call him back later? And obsess all day. Call him back now? Yes, get it over with.

 I flip my steel blue Samsung open and hold down the number 1—Dad’s speed dial. One ring. “Jenny! Jenny, is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me.” Now what the fuck do you want?

 “Where were you? Daddy called four times, already. You know I’d never do that unless it was very important!” I mentally rehearse the childhood lullaby Dad taught me. Lizzy Borden took an axe and gave her father forty whacks.

“I was in Chemistry class. You know I have classes all day every day right, Dad?”

“Oh, well like I said, this is very important. Besides your Father is still so upset that you switched your major from economics to physics. That’s one of the dumbest fucking things you’ve ever done. But it doesn’t matter now. That’s not what Daddy called to talk about. I need a big favor.”

Of course you do! Hint: calling me ‘dumb’ right before asking me for a favor is not a great plan.

“Listen. Remember I told you your Mother was back in town from Connecticut? Well, I was right! You know your Father with my crazy intuition. I could literally smell her.” Luckily Dad can’t see me roll my eyes through the cell phone. Just leave her alone. It’s over.

Dad continues, “Well, your Mother should have known that I would find her—of all people…” Because you’re a violent stalker…

“…Anyways, I put a note on her car. I told her that I would always be in her life because we share a daughter together. I left a few messages on her answering machine to call me back, too.”

I breathe audibly but say nothing. Yeah, so I’m not getting how your creepy shit involves a favor from me. If you think I’m gonna call her…you’re wrong!

“Well, your Mother—that crazy bitch—she called the cops on me.” My jaw drops open as I visualize fireworks! Clearing my throat, “Ah hem…” to hide my elation, “…What!”

“Yes, and that’s not all. The bitch filed a restraining order against me! They delivered it this morning. Said something about how I left 26 messages on her answering machine. That’s bullshit. I might have called her 6 times! You know your Mother always exaggerates so bad.” I think you’ve now called me 17 times in the last 36 hours, so…go, Mom!

 “Okay, Dad. Well, I don’t know what I can do. Maybe…stop calling her. She obviously doesn’t want to talk.” …to you!

 “No, Jenny! You’re missing the point. Your Father has a situation, here. They set a court date. I could be in real trouble.” His voice just trembled. Jesus! What really happened?

 “Anyways, Daddy needs you to write a letter to the district attorney on my behalf—stating what a good Father I am—how I raised you—all my years of community service. Type it up all professional on that computer of yours, and make it look good!”

Hesitating, “Dad, I’m not sure if I can do that. I mean how would a letter from me help? And I wasn’t there, so I just don’t feel comfortable. I don’t want to get involved in the middle of this.”

“Don’t be a fucking asshole, Jenny! Of course, you’re gonna write your Father a letter. How could you ever question me? I saved you! Your Mother wanted to kill you, and you know that. It’s just you and Poppa, and it always will be.” It’s not a favor. It’s a command.

 Filled with rage, I step off the curb without looking. Shit! Car whizzing! The driver slams on his brakes… screechhhhhh…and glares straight into my eyes. I raise my right hand to say, Sorry, dude! If you only knew…

As I enter the main dormitory doors, Dad asks, “Do you have a piece of paper and a pen?”

Curt in my reply, “No, Dad. I’m not back to the room yet.”

“Okay, well Daddy will stay on the phone until you get safely back to your room. I need to give you the district attorney’s info. By the way, you girls keep your doors locked and bolted at night right? And you don’t walk around that campus at late hours, I hope?” Jesus! For the thousandth time…the fucking door is locked. I do what I please, now…at least when I’m not on the phone with you.

 On the elevator ride, I grab my notebook and pencil from my backpack. “Okay, Dad. I’m here. Lie. What’s the info?”

I scrawl District Attorney Morrison’s info down on the back of my chemistry notebook. Bits of recycled cardboard skew my scribbles while the pencil lead snaps under my death grip. “Gotta, go, Dad. Lots of assignments and tests, here.”

“Okay, honey. Poppa loves you very much. Always remember that.” If you loved me, you’d die and leave me alone.

I barely acknowledge my roommate’s “Hello.” Just get this letter over with, and hope they don’t lock you up too.

 Dear Mrs. Morrison,

My Father raised me since I was four days old…

God! Don’t write that shit! You sound like his puppet! I feel to see if my nose has grown.

After signing my name, I fold the letter in three equal parts and stuff it into an envelope. Heading to the basement mailroom, I consider not sending the lie. Oh fuck it. What’s one more thing?

I pause in the hallway as my eyes well up. It’s a lot and you know it! You need to start confronting him again. Play by your rules.

My hands clench into an icy ball as I send the envelope whooshing through the ‘outgoing mail’ slot.