After I count her steps, making sure she’s gone, I breathe a sigh of relief. The act worked. Mother can beat me all she wants, but I haven’t let her take away my will to somehow survive.
The police officer and I walk outside, past the cafeteria. I can see some of the kids from my class playing dodge ball. A few of them stop playing. They yell, "David's busted! David's busted!"
From above, I felt someone hug my shoulders, I thought it was my father. I turned and became flushed with pride to find Mom holding me tightly. I could feel her heart beat. I never felt as safe and as warm as that moment in time, at the Russian River.
Mother would simply grab me and smash my face against the mirror, smearing my tear-streaked face on the slick, reflective glass. Then she would order me to say over and over again, "I'm a bad boy! I'm a bad boy! I'm a bad boy!"
While I was cleaning the bathroom, I overheard an argument between Mother and Father. She was angry with him for "going behind her back" to buy me the paintings. Mother told Father that she was in charge of disciplining "the boy" and that he had undermined her authority by buying the gifts. The longer Father argued his case, the angrier she became. I could tell he had lost, and that I was becoming more and more isolated.
Standing alone in that damp, dark garage, I knew, for the first time, that I could survive. I decided that I would use any tactic I could think of to defeat Mother or to delay her from her grizzly obsession. I knew if I wanted to live, I would have to think ahead. I could no longer cry like a helpless baby. In order to survive, I could never give in to her. That day I vowed to myself that I would never, ever again give that bitch the satisfaction of hearing me beg her to stop beating me.
When I returned from school the next afternoon, Mother smiled as if she had won a million-dollar sweepstakes. She told me how she had dressed up to see the principal, with her infant son Russell in her arms. Mother told me how she had explained to the principal how David had an overactive imagination. Mother told him how David had often struck and scratched himself to get attention, since the recent birth of his new brother, Russell. I could imagine her turning on her snake-like charm as she cuddled Russell for the benefit of the principal.
Sometimes at the grocery store, if I felt things weren't just right, I didn't steal anything. As always, I finally got caught. The manager called Mother. At the house, I was thrashed relentlessly. Mother knew why I stole food and so did Dad, but she still refused to feed me. The more I craved food, the more I tried to come up with a better plan to steal it.
I knew no one could help me. Not my teachers, my so-called brothers or even Father. I was on my own, and every night I prayed to God that I could be strong both in body and soul. In the darkness of the garage, I laid on the wooden cot and shivered until I fell into a restless sleep.
The more I tried to focus on my options of what she might do to me, the more my inner strength drained away. Then an idea flashed in my brain: I knew why Mother had followed every step I took. She wanted to maintain a constant pressure on me, by leaving me unsure of when or where she would strike.
I stuttered, "Father . . . Mo . . . Mo . . . Mother stabbed me."
He didn't even raise an eyebrow, "Why?" he asked.
"She told me if I didn't do the dishes on time, she...she'd kill me."
Time stood still. From behind the paper I could hear Father's labored breathing. He cleared his throat before saying, "Well . . . you ah . . . you better go back in there and do the dishes."
I willed the wound to heal. Somehow I knew it would. I felt proud of myself. I imagined myself like a character in a comic book, who overcame great odds and survived. Soon my head slumped forward and I fell asleep. In my dream, I flew through the air in vivid colors. I wore a cape of red … I was Superman.
To survive her new game I had to use my head. Lying on the tiled floor I stretched my body and, using my foot, I slid the bucket to the door. I did this for two reasons: I wanted the bucket as far away from me as possible, and in case Mother opened the door I wanted her to 1et a snoot full of her own medicine.
At times when I laid in the tub, my brothers brought their friends to the bathroom to look at their naked brother. Their friends often scoffed at me. "'What did he do this time?" they'd ask. Most of the time my brothers just shook their heads, saying, "I don't know."
Mother's hand on my shoulder brought me back to reality. "'Well, tell her, sweetheart," Mother said, smiling again. "Tell her that I starve you and beat you like a dog," Mother snickered, trying to get the lady to laugh, too.
I looked at the lady, My face felt flushed, and I could feel the beads of sweat forming on my forehead. I didn't have the guts to tell the lady the truth. "No, it's not like that at all," I said. "Mom treats me pretty good."
As I sat alone in the garage, or read to myself in the near darkness of my parents' bedroom, I came to realize that I would live like this for the remainder of my life. No just God would leave me like this. I believed that I was alone in my struggle and that my battle was one of survival.
It was a comforting thought that promised an escape from Aggie, her friends and all that I hated in the world. But my better senses returned, and I looked up and fixed my eyes directly on John’s eyes and tried to hold my stare. After a few moments, he must have felt my anger because he turned away taking Aggie with him.
"Get one thing straight, you little son of a bitch! There is nothing you can do to impress me! Do you understand me? You are a nobody! An It! You are nonexistent! You are a bastard child! I hate you and I wish you were dead? Dead! Do you hear me? Dead!"
Father shook his head and said in a sad voice, “I can’t take it anymore. The whole thing. Your mother, this house, you. I just can't take it anymore.” Before he closed the bedroom door I could barely hear him mutter, "I . . . I'm . . . I'm sorry.”
As Mother drove out of the McDonald's parking lot, she glanced back at me and sneered, "You are all mine now. Too bad your father's not here to protect you."
I marvel at the wood how it reminds me of my former life. My beginning was extremely turbulent, being pushed and pulled in every direction. The more grisly my situation became, the more I felt as if some immense power were sucking me into some giant undertow. I fought as hard as I could, but the cycle never seemed to end. Until suddenly, without warning, I broke free.
I'm so lucky. My dark past is behind me now.
Even now, as salty tears run down my face, Stephen smiles, letting me maintain my dignity. But be knows why I'm crying. Stephen knows my tears are tears of joy. "Love you, Dad."
"Love you, too, son."
Once exposed, the causes of child abuse can be understood and support can truly begin. Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.
My mind returned to the Thomas Edison School in Daly City, California, September, 1972. Enter little David Pelzer as one of my fifth-grade students. I was naive back then, but I was blessed with a sensitivity that told me there was something terribly wrong in David's life. Food missing from other students' lunches was traced to this thin, sad boy. Questionable bruises appeared on exposed parts of his body. Everything began to point to one thing: this kid was being beaten and punished in ways far beyond normal parental practice.
But now I know that I can help;
I can make a difference, too.
I'll stand with you; I'll shout with you,
And the rest can't say, "I never knew."