In the early sixties, Dave remembers, his family is perfect. He and his two brothers, Ronald and Stan, have been blessed with parents who love them, and they live in a nice house with a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Dave’s father, Stephen Joseph, is a fireman, and his mom, Catherine Roerva, is a determined, loving homemaker. She’s extremely neat, and spends hours scouring disinfecting kitchen. She’s also a wonderful cook. Growing up, Dave loves playing with his pets, especially the pet fish, Thor.
Having described how he frees himself from Mother in the previous chapter, Dave now circles back to describe his horrific early life. Strangely, Dave’s mother is, at least initially, a loving woman—precisely the opposite of what she later becomes (for example, she cleans the house herself instead of forcing Dave to do it, and cooks big meals instead of starving Dave).
Dave still has vivid memories of celebrating the holidays with his family. The day after Thanksgiving, Mom would begin decorating for Christmas, and Dave loved decorating the Christmas tree and singing carols. Once, Dave sees his mother cry—when he asks her why she’s crying, she says that she’s glad to have a “real family.” Mom also takes Dave and his brothers to the zoo, where she holds his hand when he’s frightened by the animals. He and his family go on vacations to the beach and the redwood forests.
Dave’s early life is happy, and, seemingly, perfectly normal—for all intents and purposes, his mother seems to love him deeply. Pelzer never describes why, exactly, his mother turns from a loving parent to an abusive one—her cruelty is capricious and impossible to understand.
One evening, Dave’s parents take him to watch the sunset. As he watches the sun set over the nearby Russian River, Mom hugs him. He says he’s never felt as safe and warm as he does then.