1996: Ripped

 Proudly, I scan over the last paragraph of my English report. You’re writing is really improving. And it’s so much easier when you can do your own work and not have him dictate everything…

Dad interrupts my inner voice as he glances over my shoulder. “Jenny, what are you working on there?”

Nervously, I stammer, “It’s just my English paper due for tomorrow.”

“Huh. Well you better let your Father read over that.” He grabs the loose-leaf sheets from the table before I can hand them to him.

I resent the anticipation. What’s he reading it over for? I’m a better writer than him. Now he will see that for sure and leave me alone…

 But as I glance up, Dad arms move in a mechanical flurry as he rips my report to shreds. The crisp, lined-sheets fall at my feet like confetti from a freshly bashed-in piñata.

You bastard! What are you doing? That took me hours! It’s my best work ever!!!

 “Jenny, I’m sorry, but this is shit work. It just won’t do. I mean, moreover? What the fuck kind of word is moreover! It’s no word that you should be using. Daddy is trying to teach you a lesson the hard way. I know I’m a bastard but you’ll understand one day.”

Fuck you asshole. Hmmm, let’s see. You’re a seventh grade dropout and I’m already in high school. And I’m an A student. And for your information, MOREOVER is a sophisticated word to use. And I’m going to use it all the time. Every day. When I finally get out of this shit hole and far away from you. 

 “Now, Poppa wants you to get out some new paper, and I’ll dictate to you. You can correct the punctuation shit—like you always do.” You mean like how you don’t know the difference between a comma and a period. Motherfucker.

 I see myself punching his face, where an emerging bulging purple veins meets his jaw. Boom.

But instead I try to control my visibly quivering hand as I retrieve more loose-leaf paper from my three-ring binder. As I struggle to copy his diction, the word MOREOVER echoes in my head, repeatedly.

When we are finished, Dad asks coolly, “Hey, do you want to watch Temple of Doom?”

Sure. Why do you bother asking, anyway? Do I ever have a choice? At least we can turn the lights out so I can tear up in peace.

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.

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.

1998: Gabazarians

My first period of the day is English. We’re reading Thoreau. Kind of a weirdo. But I’m intrigued. I walk to my usual seat in the second row.

Matt and Casey are huddled right behind me, whispering. One of them pokes my shoulder.

I’ve had a crush on both of them at some point in the last few years. God, I hope neither of them noticed.

Matt leans in and whispers, “Dude, what’s a Gabazarian?”

I feel my face burn. I can’t help it. Fuck, fuck, shit! I need to disappear from the universe immediately. Or at least to Walden Pond.

 I play dumb. Still red-faced, “Dude, what are you talking about?”

“Umm I called your house this weekend, and your answering machine said, ‘You’ve reached the home of the Gabazarians, God’s new chosen people!’”

Holy Christ! I’ve been verbally bludgeoned to death. It’s over. Give yourself up, freak!

 Shaking, “Umm, I don’t know what you’re talking about, Matt.”

“What religion are you? Don’t you go to St. Mary’s?”

“Yeah, we’re Catholic.” Pheww! Stop glowing asshole, you almost have this smoothed over.

 Matt doesn’t give in. “Hmm, well it sounded just like your voice on the answering machine, and I called it twice and it was the number listed in the school directory for you.”

Because my life is over and our English teacher tells us to stop talking, I just shrug and turn around. But I can still hear them snickering.

Why didn’t you just tell them that your Father is nuts. And this whole Gabazar thing that you hoped would be a phase is all his idea. And you need help. Whatever. It’ll never happen. You’re too embarrassed to even admit it to your best friend.