My dad rushed the truck like a rabid animal, grabbing the door before she could slam it shut. Screams filled the cab. As the ignition turned over, he hit her again. Blood splattered everywhere. Her head flung back like a rag doll. I blinked, bewildered. She threw the truck into reverse, and the sound of screeching tires seemed to mimic her screams. They echoed in my ears all the way to the ER.
But she pulled herself together. My grandma is always saying, “You girls come from good stock,” as if Mom and I were prized animals at the Del Mar Fair. My mother’s shapely figure — 5'8" and 125 pounds — caught the eye of more than a few good men. She could have been Miss San Diego: blond hair, blue eyes, and a surfer-girl tan. She was intelligent, too. After she left Picnic ’N Chicken, she worked in nutrition at Sharp Memorial Hospital, the one with the stork. After work, Mom jogged around Lake Jennings. One day, a police officer took notice. His badge gleamed gallantly as a knight’s shield. The squad car was his steadfast steed. This is where my life gets weird. Not long after she divorced my dad, Mom got engaged. Almost overnight, I went from a drug addict to a career cop for a father figure.
Mom and the detective got married, much to the dismay of my disillusioned daddy. He lost all hope of reconciliation, of even being in the same room with Mom again. The detective wouldn’t have any of that. He was so controlling that phone calls between my parents were forbidden. Frustrated and powerless, Pop launched a meth-fueled war to win whatever custody he could. The result was visitation on every other weekend and alternating holidays. I wasn’t old enough to testify in the ongoing court battles and felt helpless to determine my own fate. The court-appointed shrink interviewed me to determine whom I loved more. Each legal appearance became irritatingly memorable; when I went to court, I wore the same blue dresses that Mom chose for school pictures. Looking through my childhood photo album is like a snapshot chronology of custody hearings.
It’s amazing what traumatic memories I blocked out, just to survive. My yearning for normalcy overrode common sense. I wanted to spend time with my dad. I trusted him blindly, though I was never quite sure of his motives. He took advantage of my naiveté one day at the Methodist preschool on Genesee.
High on crystal meth (according to the police reports), and loaded with his customary overdose of bravado, Dad sidled in and sweet-talked the staff so he could pick me up early. An hour later, Mom showed up. For the next 48 hours, half of SDPD canvassed surrounding neighborhoods, as my dad convinced me that we were playing an elaborate game of hide-and-seek with the cops.
“Okay, honey, it’s really important that you stay low. Let’s both sink down in our seats. Hide your head. Here’s a blanket.”
It reeked of pot and bonfire smoke, but I did as he said, because I wanted to win the game. We rattled around in his wood-paneled Jeep Wagoneer, stopping at 7-Eleven for Slurpees and Big Hunks. He would hand me some money and send me into the store, while he used the pay phone outside to taunt my mother. The clever bastard told me he was giving her clues. Dad could make the transient lifestyle seem like a week at the Hotel Del. Somehow his delusions became reality. He was great at getting people to participate in whatever demented game he wanted to play. He was the master of make-believe.
Other stops on our adventure included his drug dealer in North Park and a sex shop in University Heights. He brought me into the store, where, at age four, I learned what pasties were. I looked up and saw huge breasts on a mannequin with sparkly blue sequins over her nipples.
“Ooh, Daaad, those are pretty. Can I wear them on my boobies?”
During the day, we hid in plain sight at Mission Bay, movie-hopped in Point Loma. While stopping at a liquor store for more harassing phone calls, flashing red-and-blues filled the parking lot. When I ran outside, he grabbed me, and we ducked behind a car.
“This is SDPD. Let the child go, and put your hands above your head,” boomed a voice over the old-school megaphone, the kind with a pistol grip.
We whispered and strategized. I tried to convince Pop that if they didn’t find me, then we wouldn’t lose, so I started to crawl under the Wagoneer. That’s when officers surrounded us and wrestled him to the ground. He was laughing hysterically.
“Oops, I guess they got me this time, Kiddo. We’ll play again real soon.”
His crystalline blue eyes were wildly psychotic. He never seemed to blink. The cops arrested Dad and charged him with kidnapping. He would attempt to whisk me away several more times, once from a Baptist church parking lot. He was smart and persuasive, but my mom was married to law enforcement now, so he was forced to fight for me through the legal system. Our world revolved around Dad and last-minute court appearances.
“He’s playing the system like a three-ring circus,” the detective said. “I can’t believe the judge doesn’t see it!” I think the courts became sick of us clogging up the calendar, because Dad was awarded an extra day of visitation a week.
The holidays were comedy noir. My favorite Christmas morning was when we played tug-o-war and I was in the middle: Mom and the detective grabbing hold of my right arm and dear ol’ Dad with a death grip on the left. Still groggy and half asleep, I didn’t cry out, until I felt the pain of my shoulder being dislocated. Pop was the first to let go. I love the irony: my meth-addicted father had the common sense to release me. Eventually, he disappeared again. I wonder sometimes if the detective paid him to leave San Diego, but I think it was the meth. Dad fled to Spokane, where the drug scene was exploding. I wouldn’t know where he was lurking until years later.