2003: Another Engagement Ring

The familiarity of the Northway comforts me.

But my stomach churns, too. Nostalgic fool! Who are you kidding? You’re filled with dread at the monthly visit. A weekend of walking on eggshells. Like you never left.

We lurch into Dad’s driveway. Confronted once again by—“GABAZAR”—Dad’s vanity license plate. You’ve officially arrived in hell. Just tell him, quickly.

With caution, Dad raises the middle-ish blind slat. His eyes beam though his mouth remains concealed. Look at him. He can’t wait to see you! How in God’s name did you end up being the last one? His final victim?

He opens the door before we’ve finished climbing the three cement steps. I shove my hands in my coat pocket—feigning aversion to the late November air.

Bill allows me to step inside Dad’s apartment first. God I can’t believe this man will endure this with me—for me.

“Good. Daddy’s so glad you’re here. Bill too. Hi Bill. How was the drive? Did you find they started driving like shit as soon as you got off the Northway? These fucking drivers around here don’t know their head from their asshole, I swear.”

Jesus. Just shut up and let me show you something.

“Anyways, your timing is perfect. I don’t know how you do that but Daddy was just about to make the gravy. I want to show Bill how I do it. And you both have to try one of my rolls—new recipe your Father just came up with two weeks ago. I’ve been perfecting it because I’m sick of the shit bread they sell, nowadays.”

“Umm Dad, listen, I umm…” His eyes, impatient, scan my face. Stop stuttering. You used to have some guts. You still do. So what if you didn’t ask permission first. You would never do that.

I jerk my left hand from my pocket and shove it up toward Dad’s face. He takes a moment to adjust his vision. I scrunch my face and squint hard so I don’t have to see his hand coming at me when he strikes. “Holy shit! Jenny Leigh!”

I open my eyes. Was that happiness?

Dad takes my hand to examine the diamond more diligently. “Platinum? What is it a couple carats?”

I nod.

“Wow that must have cost at least ten grand.” I glare at him. Does the narcissism ever relent?

He moves suddenly toward Bill. I pivot on my heel, ready to strike, if necessary. But instead, Dad wraps his arms around my fiancé. Did he just hug your future husband?

I jiggle my head to make sure I’m not hallucinating. By now, Dad’s back in the kitchen demanding our full attention.

The combination of Dad’s relentless chatter and the adrenaline drain produce a constant dull migraine. Damn these headaches! Will you ever be rid of them?

With my right index finger, I twist my engagement ring back and forth. This is what Mom deserved. The love. True love.

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1998: Almost Gone

Dad chucks a box of chocolate covered donuts at my head. Whoosh. I duck as the donuts crash-land against the radiator. Scanning the crumbled bits of frosted cake, I shoot him my what now glare. “Fuck it. Your Father is sick of those goddamn boxes. Those fucks who made them must have been morons. They don’t close. No matter what I fucking do.” He slams his hands against the counter. Closing the ephemeral box one last time.

So is this directed at you? Are you in trouble for shitty box construction now?

“And as for you. You fucking cunt. You’re like your no-good mother, and I ought to beat that out of you. I can’t wait until you are gone to college. You ruined Daddy’s life because you are a selfish bitch, and I can’t wait to start doing what I want to do for me. I’ll be glad when you are gone!” I give him my usual blank stare hoping he won’t hit me again like he did last week when he found a rotten apple in my gym bag.

“Oh and another thing, you’re done with the running bullshit until you tell me about the aliens.”

My eyes switch back and forth, searching. The aliens?

“Don’t fucking play dumb with me. I know that aliens came down—motherfucking abducted you—and then sent you back to torture me. You’re not my daughter.”

Hold on a fucking minute. He doesn’t even believe in aliens. Now you were abducted? How do you even answer that? Maybe it was Gabazar, you freak! Leave me alone.

He intimidates me by approaching my chair from behind. I close my hands into tightly balled fists.

“Ah fuck it. I know you’re not going to talk. Look at you. You’re pathetic. Maybe you need to get a boyfriend, if you know what I mean!” I sit motionless.

“Well what are you waiting for? Go brush your motherfucking teeth. It’s almost time to go. I ought to make you walk.” Please! That would be nice. Or how about I drive myself like a normal seventeen-year-old.

I scamper up the stairs and turn the water on. Screw brushing your teeth. You’re going to gag. Maybe you won’t make it to the end? Less than a year, but somehow an eternity. He’s worse than ever. What if you kill yourself?

You’d have to slit your wrists with a knife. One of his knives. I cringe, realizing the water has been running too long. No you can’t. Tell someone. Just run away. Tell someone.

I remember all those zombie movies where no one believes the good guy. The whole town—they’re on his side—he’s conned every single one of them. The teachers. The parents. Your own goddamn friends! You know that’s always been the genius of his plan. And no—you can’t tell anyone.

“Come on! For fuck sakes, Jenny. How long does it take to shit and shower?”

“Coming…asshole.

Grabbing my gym bag at the last second, I fly down the stairs. Don’t come home tonight. Get in coach’s van. Run like the wind. Let him try to stop you.

I smile at him as though I’ve forgotten the last half hour. Dad scans my outfit. I silently wait for his approval. He nods, half winking—half scowling.

When he drops me off at school, I hunker down so other people won’t recognize me. “So, Daddy will be here at the usual time. You tell the bastards they better not keep you late tonight.”

Instead of agreeing, I bolt for the side door. Beeline to my locker. I stuff my bulging gym bag in, while grabbing my Physics book.