1993: Bad Checks

 “Come on Jenny, let’s go see if there’s anything good in the garbage this week.” Dad finds an old Hoover. There’s no way he’s taking a used vacuum. Is he?

 Dad flips the vacuum over on the pavement near the dumpster. “Look at this, Jenny. It’s just as Daddy suspected. Some asshole never cleaned all the hair out of the brush.” I feel my stomach turning as he shows me the wiry wound strands covered with goop.

Dad pulls out his trusty boot knife and begins to slice through the matted mane. Between cuts he pulls with all his might. I can tell he feels prouder every time a new chunk gives way.

While he concentrates intently on rescuing our new vacuum cleaner, I see a police officer walking toward us.

Dad, crouched over the broken Hoover, doesn’t realize the officer is now standing over him, “Mr. K?”

Dad, a bit startled, replies, “Yes. I’m Tom. I’m the manager of this complex. How can I help you officer?”

“Actually, I’m here to speak to you sir. We’ve been looking for you for a long time. It seems you wrote some bad checks several years ago.”

Dad doesn’t miss a beat. “There must be some mistake.”

But the officer persists. “I’m afraid not, sir. In fact, I’m going to need you to come with me down to the station.”

“Officer, what about my daughter? I’ve raised her since she was four days old. She has no mother and we have no family.”

“Well, I guess she will have to come down to the station with us, for now.”

For now? I feel myself quiver all over. Tiny goose bumps appear on my legs and arms. Are they arresting me too? Are they going to take me away? Where would I go?

 Reluctantly, Dad takes my hand and squeezes it. It feels like we will never arrive at the police station, but we’ll be stuck in this police car purgatory for the rest of our lives.

When we arrive, the officer seats us in his office. My stomach begins to grumble while turning over. I realize that I haven’t eaten all day.

Officer Jones pulls out a book of checks and shows them to my father. “Tom, do you recognize your signature on these checks?”

Dad points to two authorizations and apologizes, “I’m sorry officer. I never knew these checks were bad. I think what happened here is that I closed out my account at First National Bank and these companies never informed me that I owed them anything.”

I lean forward slightly. I recognize Dad’s handwriting. One is made out to Sears for $37.12.

But then Dad points to another two checks, and says, “Officer these are not mine. This must be my crooked nephew. I never had an account like that. Only the one at First National. You can check that information out.”

Officer Jones doesn’t respond but he informs us that he will be back in a few minutes.

As we wait, Dad appears to be calm, but I see beads of sweat forming on his face. Why is it taking so long? They’re going to arrest him. Put him in prison. I’ll be sent off to a foster home and they’ll hurt me like they hurt my mom.

 When the officer returns, he informs my father, “Listen, Mr. K., this is a very serious offense. And since these bad checks have been out for years, we could arrest you for this. But I talked to Sears and the other company on your behalf. They said that when you pay them the money you owe, they would drop the charges. We also verified that the other bank account does not belong to you.”

Dad is ecstatic. “Yes of course. Thank you officer Jones. I always pay my bills. I don’t want to owe anyone anything. And if you need any help contacting my cheating nephew, I’d be happy to supply you with his contact information.”

I breathe for the first time in 2 hours. When officer Jones brings us back to the complex, I’ve never been so happy to see the fly-infested dumpster. God, I’ll never complain again. About anything.

The used Hoover is right where dad left it. Relieved of his newfound freedom, he carries the vacuum cleaner to our apartment.

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1993: Rabbit Ears

It’s October. My favorite time of year to rustle through the leaves as I walk.

Dad turns on the news before school as usual. He watches Katie Couric discuss the day on a grainy screen. The rabbit ears fail Dad today because I see him adjust them several times. A quarter-turn clockwise. An inch to the left. How does it help to fiddle with them constantly?

 We had cable last year, but Dad didn’t pay the bill for a few months so they shut us off. “It’s better this way, Jenny. We don’t need to be watching so much television anyways. Your Father never really liked T.V. I miss the days of radio—the Lone Ranger and The Shadow!”

Then why are you always the one watching it and who cares about the stupid Lone Ranger! We’re the only family this century that has rabbit ears!

 As I choke down my scrambled egg and orange juice, ugh too much pulp, why does Dad buy this kind, I realize that it’s going to be a worse than usual day.

Another child kidnapping case! There was already one over the summer and then one from a couple years ago that Dad still obsesses over. Now I’ll never have any freedom!

 Right on cue, Dad flips out, “Goddamn motherfuckers! Another baby kidnapped. Do you see this bullshit, Jenny?”

I nod in his direction.

“You see now why Daddy can’t let you just go out and ride your bike alone. It’s a different world than it was twenty years ago. Plus your Father is a single parent. A single Father…no less! I have to be even more careful. If anything happens to you, they’ll blame me.”

He continues, “I’d like to catch every one of these sons a bitches, and torture them slowly for hurting these innocent babies. They taught us how to torture people in the military, you know. Burn their skin slowly with hot oil, rip off every finger nail, gouge out their eyes…”

He goes on for a while. My stomach turns. I hope he doesn’t see me throw the last bit of egg in the garbage.

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.