Around February of 1987 Daddy started talking about wanting to move back to Atlanta. My parents had lived there during the sixties until we left in 1981. My sister and I were born there and liked living in a bigger city. At that time it certainly wasn’t as big as it had become as it still had a small town feel.
Listen, when my parents wanted to leave Atlanta, their decision seemed sudden. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when without warning Daddy said he wanted to move back to Atlanta. It was why he wanted to move back that baffled me. I was eleven when we first left and moved to a very small town further South. My parents said we needed to move because it would allow us to have more quality family time since Momma’s cancer wasn’t going away. But, that was the cover up. The real reason was Daddy owed a lot of people money and he needed to get out of town and fast. So, for him to tell me he needed to move back to Atlanta didn’t make any sense in regards to his law practice. There were enough people in his circuit who were still living there who would have remembered Daddy. Having thought it through I just knew it had to be because of a woman or two or possibly three. But, hey, I didn’t care if he moved to Atlanta. That would mean he’d be far from me and I could possibly have some level of peace in my life. However, it wasn’t my luck and he had wanted me to move to Atlanta with him.
Here’s the thing. Daddy never could pull off any of his ideas and I knew that fact. However, I couldn’t take the chance that this time could be different because the last thing I wanted to do was to move with him. The possibility scared the hell out of me. I was going to be a senior and I had great friends. I knew my school and had teachers I trusted. I was NOT going to move to Atlanta with Daddy. That would have meant he’d be home more often. And home more often equalled having to endure more of his wrath. I knew I had to do whatever I could to get out of moving with him. I just had to come up with a plan and one that would benefit him so he’d agree. I just had to think hard and think fast for an idea.
As Daddy spoke about moving to Atlanta more and more, I got angrier and angrier telling him I didn’t want to go. I told him I wanted to graduate with my friends. He didn’t care. He tried to tell me how wonderful it would be in Atlanta because there was more opportunity for him to be able to afford more things for me. At 17 years old I was very accustomed to Daddy’s dreams. He always had these quick plans and made promises for a better life. I knew this time was no different. The more he pushed on this issue, the more I pushed back. And because I never relented on voicing my opinion about moving, I paid a high price for it. In many ways though I knew it couldn’t have been any worse than my life had already been.
It was sometime in the Spring of 1987 when Daddy came home one day to tell me we needed to visit Atlanta to start looking for places to live and to look at schools for me. I just kept telling him the same thing over and over again. I did NOT want to move to Atlanta. He ignored me and told me he had already made plans for us to go to Atlanta the very next day. He had called an apartment building to make an appointment for us see one of their flats and he called a school for us to tour. So, I had no choice in the matter and he was done talking about it.
I was so upset because there was a special event happening at school that same day and I had paid my own money to attend it. But, I knew Daddy wouldn’t care about that because it wasn’t his money he wasted. So, I told him I had school the next day. Listen, when it came to my dad I really wasn’t sure he knew I had to go to school Monday through Friday. When it came to Daddy, who knew what he knew and didn’t know. And remember when it came to my dad, he came first. So, me having school was irrelevant to him. And sure enough when I told him I had school the next day, Daddy looked at me and said, “I don’t give a shit. This is about our future and you aren’t going to ruin it for me. This is when we’re going and I’m done discussing it.”
OUR future my ass! It was about his future and I had to go for a reason that benefited him. But, once again, I couldn’t figure out what he was scheming. And why in the fuck would his future be ruined if I went to school instead of with him? Why was it so important I keep him company on a day trip. Who was the grown up?
How insensitive of me to think school was supposed to be about my future! Oh, gosh, how easy it is to forget that it was never about me. MaLea, you idiot! It is NEVER about your future. You are a nothing but a cheap pawn to be used to advance Daddy. Can’t you get it into your forgetful and stupid mind? Why fight it so much? If I had only accepted Daddy’s ways and helped him achieve his goals, then maybe my life would have been easier. But that was a risk. Would they have been easier or better? Probably not and I would have been so unhappy.
I was so angry with Daddy and more than I had ever been in the past. When did he make these appointments? Why didn’t he give me the common courtesy to let me know more than the day before? My brain hurt from all of Daddy’s sudden plans and sudden changes. I felt as if I was falling out of a plane with the land underneath me being moved farther and farther away. At times the ground would be in my reach but quickly move farther away again. The madness of falling without the ground putting an end to it made me begging for the ground to appear even if it meant it would have killed me. In that same way my life was pure unadulterated torture and I just wanted the hell to come to an end at whatever cost.
Now I have to explain something. When Daddy got angry with me I wasn’t allowed to go sit in my room unless he gave me permission. So, that meant I had to sit with him in the den while he watched TV even if I was upset. I was never allowed my own space when Daddy was home and I always felt trapped with no place I could escape. It was the worst feeling and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
After Daddy told me I had no choice and he was done discussing moving to Atlanta, he went into the den to watch TV. Not able to go to my room I had no choice but to join him. While sitting on the couch and pretending to watch what he was watching on TV it dawned on me Daddy had not said what school we were going to tour the next day. I got suspicious. There was no telling what he had in his head at the moment he made the appointment. It was remarkable how easily swayed he was by his women and usually anything Daddy did was the result of what one of his girlfriends said. And G-d help us all if one of his girlfriends challenged him because that was a huge motivating factor.
I knew I had to be careful how I asked Daddy. Plus, he was busy watching TV which was a major no no to interrupt him at that time. See, a long standing rule was as long as his show was on, I wasn’t allowed to make a sound of any kind. Let’s say I had a glass and if he thought I set it on the coffee table too loudly, oy would he would get angry.
During a commercial I asked him the name of the school we were going to tour. He ignored me. I asked again and pretending to be interested in the commercial he suggested I wait to see when we got there. I wasn’t satisfied and I pushed him to give me the name. Finally, he told me and got hopping mad! OK, I went down right ballistic. I was furious and couldn’t believe he was choosing a school that went against every part of my upbringing. What the hell was he doing?
The school he wanted me to attend was the Yeshiva (an Orthodox, Jewish school). The fact that he and Momma had raised me to want more out of my Judaism than the customary women specific roles, I couldn’t believe he wanted me to go to a Yeshiva where I would have had to abide by their traditional ways. Did I get beamed into a different family because that was not the philosophy I was taught? What the hell?
I know what I am about to suggest sounds crazy but come on. You see who I had to deal with. But, I absolutely felt Daddy chose the Yeshiva as a result to an argument he had with a one of his girlfriends. See, he rarely dated Jewish women and usually he dated women who were very Conservative Christians. Because he’d claim he was strong and knowledgeable in his religion (which was a joke) he’d constantly harass and degrade his girlfriend’s on their religious beliefs. I had a feeling he had probably gotten into an argument with one of them by telling them how bad their religion was. They in turn challenged him because they knew he never went to Synagogue. Well, like hell was he going to increase his attendance to Synagogue so in his unique mind he figured sending me to a Yeshiva would show his girlfriend who was right. Listen, I could never rule out the most outrageous ideas when it came to my Dad and because of his outrageousness, it was better sometimes to never know why.
Here’s the thing. Whether Daddy fully agreed or not with how Momma raised me Jewishly, still was a visible supporter giving me very solid roots in the Jewish Conservative Movement. When my sister (who’s 7 years older than me) was an early teenager the Conservative Synagogues around the country where just starting to allow girls to have bat mitzvah’s where they could read from the Torah and women were beginning to have the same responsibilities as the men in the Synagogue. So by the time I started Hebrew school, there was never any doubt I would have the same responsibilities as my male counterparts did. I could stand on the bimah while the Torah was open, even read from the Torah, wear a kippah (skull cap worn in Synagoue), a Tallis (a prayer shawl worn during certain services) and tefillin (worn on the head and wrapped around the arm and worn at certain times too) and best of all be counted in a minyan (for a full service to take place there must be at least 10 men present in Orthodoxy. If there isn’t a minyan certain important prayers cannot be recited. ) At any rate all traditions once reserved only for men, the Conservative and Reform movements allowed equal duties to the women.
In Jewish orthodoxy which was the belief of the Yeshiva school Daddy wanted me to attend in Atlanta I would not have been able to do any of those customs I was used to doing. From my perspective I proudly earned being allowed to do those customs through my many years of studying. Daddy sending me to a school which wouldn’t allow it, he was taking away my own rights as a Jew. And because the yeshiva which rightfully reflected the Orthodox teachings had separate required roles for the men and women, I felt all that I had proudly earned was going to be unfairly taken away simply because I was a girl. On top of all of that Daddy had always told me he had disagreed with the Orthodox belief of the separation of the men and women roles. Why was he taking on another belief? I tried to figure out Daddy’s crazy ways but I should have known better. There was just no way to do it. His decisions and thoughts were dependent on many factors. That being his mood of the day, who he had spoken to who impressed him, who he wanted to impress and last but certainly not least which way the wind blew. With so many inconclusive variables there was never a way to know what he was going to do or suggest at any given time.
The morning we had to leave for our day trip to Atlanta Daddy woke me very early in the morning. And when he did I was shocked he was already dressed and ready to go. There was never a time I could remember when he finished his morning routine so quickly. In fact he barely allowed me time to get dressed and eat breakfast. Oh, G-d Dammit! Why me?
During our 3 1/2 hour trip Daddy tried to convince me how wonderful it would be to live in Atlanta. However, instead of talking about a definitive plan he made, he spoke more about the dreams he hoped would come true. Listen, parts of me really wanted to believe his over the top dreams. I thought if at least one of them came true then maybe he would be happy and get off my fucking back. But there again, I wasn’t too sure Daddy could live life without creating chaos and arguing with everyone. It seemed to be his foundation. As he spoke about what he hoped to happen by moving to Atlanta I just kept quiet and began thinking how in the hell was he going to afford moving if “we” didn’t have money. I had money in my savings account but I needed it to buy my school supplies and food. I knew I couldn’t afford to offer it to Daddy or I’d be really trapped. The thought of having no money and solely relying on him scared the absolute shit out of me. But, I could tell Daddy was hoping I’d offer. I hated myself for not offering.
Finally, we arrived in Atlanta. He told me he needed to first visit someone he knew and he really needed to get there. That was never good. See Daddy had a very bad habit of visiting people who were professionals and were very busy at work. He usually never told them he was coming so by no means did he ever have an appointment. His excuse was always he had urgent business in the area and there was no time to call. And because of his pushiness, I mean persistence, he expected to be seen which wasn’t always possible. But, those people always knew why Daddy was there. They knew because he was so translucent. He only went on social calls when he needed a job and money. Daddy never invested himself in friendships nor could he see how developing a friendship would help. Daddy never invested in any relationship but he expected others to want to invest in him. He never understood why no one would. He’d only say that he was the only sane person in a world of crazies. G-d forbid he recognized it was him who was crazy. I just don’t understand how he could justify the entire world was crazy except for him. That’s just not normal. But even though I continued to think in my head the kind of person Daddy was, my heart was always pulled to wanting to please him. I hated the conflict between knowing he was an abuser and then simply wanting to make him happy. It was a constant struggle which kept me paralyzed from being able to walk away from him for many years to come.
Just as we hit Atlanta we hit traffic on one of the major highways. Daddy had become increasingly agitated. He started swerving in and out of the traffic nearly hitting one car after another. I held onto the dashboard and told him to calm down. He told me to shut the fuck up because he knew exactly what he was doing. When I told him he was scaring me, he yelled I hadn’t seen nothing yet. Daddy was in the far left lane when he quickly started switching lanes heading to the right like a maniac. He needed to get through 5 lanes of pure traffic so he could get off at the next exit. I was terrified and wasn’t ready to die or even worse to be severely injured. Here’s another bit of information about Daddy. He didn’t believe in seat belts. He felt they caused more injuries than an accident so, he would never allow me to wear one. This was why when he was switching lanes my body was being thrown left and right. I held onto the car door with my right hand and the arm rest with my left hand the best I could to keep from possibly hitting my head on the passenger car window. After all I knew what it was like to be pushed into the car window. I didn’t want to know the force of hitting it from an accident. The only solution I had was to hold on, close my eyes and hope for the best. Each lane Daddy forced his way into caused another rash of horns to go off. It felt like an eternity but he did make it to the exit he needed. And when he did he looked at me with a conniving smile and said, “And you had the absolute nerve to doubt me?” He then yelled back at the cars on the highway, “You mother fuckers! You all go to hell!” as he drove off the exit ramp. I yelled at him to stop it and to take it easy. There was a scary evilness to him that I couldn’t understand. I just wanted him to stop driving so wild and to relax. But of course my suggestion just set him off more and he yelled back how dare I tell him what to do. For the next 30 minutes Daddy remained irate and yelled at me until we arrived at the office of the first person he needed to see. Gosh, I can still see to this day his face when he was angry. His eyes were seriously bulging out from the sockets and they’d get very intense. The way he’d look at me was scary and always made me feel he could explode at any moment.
Daddy parked the car and got out. He opened the back car door and took out his suit jacket. After he put it on he started checking his pockets and briefcase for all of his needed supplies before slamming the car door. He never said a word to me and walked into the office building. As usual I had to wait in the car. And because he was mad at me he didn’t leave me the keys to be able to roll down the windows. At least it wasn’t too hot but it was still a little warm. I’d open the car door ever now and then to cool off. I did that for 2 hours when he finally came back. The wait was excruciating for me. I hated to sit and do nothing. Life with Daddy was a total waste of time and it made me want to scream with aggravation.
When he returned to the car he was no longer mad at me but that wasn’t always a relief because as long as he was mad, I was his target. This time though he was angry at the person he had come to meet in the office building. From what I gathered from what Daddy was yelling was the guy would’t see him because he didn’t have an appointment. The weird part was he was in there for two fucking hours! It took Daddy that long to figure out the guy wasn’t going to meet with him? I had guessed by how mad Daddy was this was the person he was relying on to help him get work once he moved to Atlanta. You know, it drove me nuts because he always had all of his eggs in one basket. The sad part about that was Daddy had such a way with people (and usually not good), he was lucky to have that one basket.
As we drove to our next destination in Atlanta I had to listen to Daddy rant about his financial problems. Those were the times I felt guilty and thought I should have offered my own money. However, there was always something that held me back from offering. Regardless, I felt guilty I couldn’t take care of him. I know it’s warped! Daddy was the parent, the adult. It was his responsibility but even understanding that I couldn’t get rid of my guilt.
Our next stop was the tour of an apartment. Just before we got there, Daddy’s attitude changed. He started to get happy. Can you see how crazy a person could get in Daddy’s presence? He was like a yo yo and it was anyone’s guess if he was going to be up or down. When his mood was on the up, he said, “You know Perkison (a nickname my family used to call me and a name Daddy rarely used after Momma died), it will all work out. What’s happening to us is bashert (meant to be) and we can’t change the path it wants us to take. Sometimes it is a hell of a ride and we just have to hold on.”
When we pulled up to the apartments, I was really baffled that Daddy was willing to live in a flat. Let’s just say he wasn’t exactly the perfect fit for communal style living but what did I know. The apartment we toured was neat. It was in the 60’s style I loved but wholly shit was it small. It was two bedrooms and one bathroom. Typically that would have been fine for two people but not for us two people who pretty much disliked one another. OK we hated being under the same roof with one another and then to live in small living quarters on top of that? Were you kidding me? That would be a resounding, hell no!
Daddy seemed pleased with the apartment. I had assumed it was all he could afford. And the fact he was always obsessed with image, he felt he had to live in a certain part of town. However, my dad’s perception of what was considered to be a fine area to live was not usually what was considered fine by others especially by the very folks he was trying to impress. While heading to our next stop Daddy was getting excited about being in Atlanta. It seemed so crazy to me because he had no real plan. All he had was a hope and a dream with nothing to back it up. It really was sad because time and time again he just kept setting himself up for failure.
We stopped for lunch before heading to the Yeshiva for a tour. Because I was wearing shorts Daddy told me I needed to change into a skirt. Um, what skirt did he propose I change into as I didn’t know to bring one. He never said I needed to dress a certain way? If he had, ok, I would have been pissed but I would have just worn a skirt. Why didn’t he say something when we left the house? OY, I knew this wasn’t going to be good.
I told Daddy I did not know I was supposed to bring a skirt. He rubbed his head in total disgust of me and while his face rested in his hands, he asked,”Why in the hell wouldn’t you bring a skirt and why in the hell would you think it was appropriate to wear shorts to an Orthodox place?” OK, so those were two loaded questions that I knew were dangerous to answer. What could I say that would make him not be pissed? Ooh, Ooh, I have the answer! NOT A G-D DAMN THING! So, I just sat there in silence. Well, let’s just say he wasn’t happy with that at all. He grabbed cups, a thermos and other items that were near him in the car and started throwing them at me. Oh, did I tell you Daddy was still driving? Well, he was and as usual like a maniac. As he threw whatever he could find near him at me he screamed,”What good are you? You are worthless! No wonder you stink in school. Your brain is always out to lunch and you can’t do the simplest of tasks. You’re just worthless!” To attempt to calm him down I told him if he took me to a store to buy a skirt, I’d pay him back. He answered,”Damn straight you will pay me back. Maybe then you’ll learn!”
We ended up at a department store that was having a bodacious sale. I found a skirt that I actually liked. It was only $4.00 and I even had enough money in my own wallet to pay for it. I think Daddy had hoped it wouldn’t have been so easy so he could have taught me a lesson. At least something worked in my favor! On a side note the skirt I bought that day I absolutely loved but because it reminded me of that day, I hardly wore it.
It was around 2:00pm by the time we got to the Yeshiva. I was so tired and just wanted to go home. Before we went into the school Daddy told me I was to straighten up and to act thrilled I was there. OMG! Are you kidding me? Act thrilled? How the hell do I do that especially after being yelled at for 2 hours and then being told I was worthless? And now I’m to smile and wave my hand over my head and go, yippee, I’m thrilled to be here? Daddy told me if I didn’t then it would keep me from getting accepted in the school. And because he couldn’t afford to pay my tuition to go there, I’d need to do what I could to make them want me. Now wait a minute. What the fucking hell? We were only supposed to be touring the school not me “selling” myself. And there was no way in hell I could even qualify to get into the school with my grades anyway. Who was Daddy kidding? I felt like I was in la la land with no sense of reality to be found.
An administrator from the Yeshiva took us around for a tour. It was nice. The class sizes were small which allowed the teachers to help each student. However, I could not accept the role I’d have to take as a girl. I had never been told because you are a girl you have this set of ways. It went against every fiber of my being and I resented it. I remember looking at many of the students wondering if they were accepting their roles or if they were screaming on the inside to get out. While we were walking around Daddy would knock me with his fist when the administrator wasn’t looking. He wanted me to ask questions and to show I was interested. But, there was just no way I could pretend. This school wasn’t a world that I felt comfortable in living. I knew I’d fight it and constantly challenge my position in it. That wasn’t fair for me or for the respect of the Yeshiva. It just wasn’t realistic.
I watched Daddy as we toured the school. The way he carried himself and spoke to everyone at the school, he was a different person than than the one I knew. I hated that persona he was portraying as it was oh so damn charming. He even walked differently which made me nauseous just watching him. His attire included his suit and tie, a fancy hat and his shalayle. It was his costume. All of it put together helped him play his part effectively. I often wondered if others really believed him though. I don’t know but I think they knew something wasn’t right. I say that because when we were touring the school and when I wasn’t doing as Daddy wanted he’d hit me with his fist and whisper all kinds of crappy things to me when no one was looking. I eventually started to cry and get angry. I was embarrassed. Daddy looked at the school administrator, threw up his arms and said,”She has been acting so erratic since her mother died. I apologize. This is why I think it’s best to have her in a Jewish school. Her mother would have wanted it for her.” OMG, I could just feel my rage boiling up. Daddy was a fucking liar and he knew it. I knew if I said what I was feeling they would have had to call the police to stop me. And I knew Daddy would have used that opportunity to stand there dumb founded acting innocent to what he called my “crazy” behavior. I didn’t want to give him that power. So, instead, I excused myself and sat on the curve by the car until Daddy was done with his tour.
I was shocked Daddy wasn’t mad at me when he came to the car. Instead he hugged me and told me it was time to go home. His hug pissed me off because I knew he did it because he felt the administrator might have been watching. Why couldn’t he fucking do it because it was the right thing to do? And because the administrator was possibly watching I couldn’t react in the way I wanted. I knew his hug was fake and part of the persona he wanted others to believe. I could feel my insides wanting to explode and yet I was couldn’t let it out.
On our way home from Atlanta Daddy told me I didn’t have to move there. And if I didn’t want to move there, he wouldn’t move there either. But, if that was my decision he would need to “close down” our house and he’d move to a nearby town. I asked him about my beloved dog. He told me I’d have to find her a home because we wouldn’t be able to keep her. I was devastated. Elspeth, who was my lab mix, had stood with me through all of the crap. She was my only constant through Momma’s illness, her death and Daddy’s outbursts and visits home. I couldn’t live without her. G-d dammit I knew Daddy had a catch when he said I didn’t have to move to Atlanta. But, I would never forgive him for making me give my dog away. Not only was she my constant but she was Momma’s too. Elspeth represented so much to me. We brought her to the hospital to visit Momma just weeks before Momma died. As we rolled Momma outside to see her, she swore Elspeth wouldn’t remember her. But, of course she remembered her as she ran up to her, carefully crawled into her lap and licked her all over. It was the only time I cried as Elspeth made Momma laugh for the first time in a long time and for the last time. And because Elspeth carried a piece of Momma in her, the thought of not having her anymore really upset me. How could Daddy do this to me? I had not been able to cry about Momma dying but Daddy taking my dog away broke my heart. I cried all the way home from Atlanta.