Within minutes Marsha eased me back to normalcy. I almost had a clean getaway but, before saying good-bye, I fibbed that I was getting enough sleep and eating well. Marsha worries about me and constantly lectures me on taking care of myself. After hanging up the phone with Marsha, I dialed one of the only telephone numbers I knew by heart since I was a young teen: the Brazell family. I left a brief message, replaced the phone in its cradle, then lay back on the bed while listening to the howling wind as it seeped through the gaps in the wall of my motel room. Closing my eyes I could see the man who, in an odd sense, had played the role of my father since the days I was a frightened and, at times, manic teenager in foster care. The same man who guided me into adulthood, and who years later held my own son, Stephen, in his mighty arms.
Due to my frantic lifestyle and my own home being hours away from his, I never had the chance to see Dan as much as I wanted to. Our last encounter almost never happened. After leaving my two-bedroom condominium at three in the morning in order to make the drive down to the San Francisco Bay Area to have my unique sports car serviced by the dealer--who claimed they needed the vehicle all day--I was surprised when the maintenance was completed hours earlier. When I phoned Dan, he seemed reluctant to see me. Baiting him, I told Dan I had something to show him. The last time I said something like that to him I was eighteen and showed up in the neighborhood in a brand-new Corvette that the car dealership I had worked for loaned me for becoming salesman of the month.
The first thing I noticed about Dan when I saw him was how tired and thin he looked since our last visit. But his smile for me never waned. In his home, where we had spent so many hours together when I was a teenager, I excitedly ran down the "what I've been up to" checklist that ranged from my son's progress in school, my upcoming marriage to Marsha, and my career as an author and presenter that, after being mismanaged and surviving off of Cup-a-Soups and French bread for years, had recently taken off. I was shocked when Mr. Brazell casually informed me that he had had a bout with cancer. I felt like a complete idiot rambling on about Dave this, Dave that. Dave, Dave, Dave. For years, because of my low self-esteem, I had the tendency to try and over impress without really meaning to. Especially when it came to Dan.
As I was spilling over with apologies, Dan and his wife, Beth, just smiled. Making it no big deal, Dan assured me he had a clean bill of health. More than anyone else in my life, Dan knew how much I hated that disease. It was Dan that I fled to when my biological father had died in my arms from cancer. Then, years later, one of my foster fathers, a man of great courage, became stricken by the same illness. The word itself summoned such dread for me.
Strolling outside with his arm around my shoulder, Dan again assured me that he was in the best of health. In fact he and his wife were about to leave for another semiannual checkup.
"So, this is it?!" Dan exclaimed, as we approached my black sports car. "Who would have thought ... the terror of Duinsmoore...."
For Dan and me it wasn't about the fancy car or the overrated success of a few books I had written. Stopping in front of the Lotus Esprit sports car, we both took in the moment and nodded our heads. I bent down to Dan's ear and whispered, "You." Dan turned back up to me and smiled. "You knew," I stated. "You always treated me like a real person and kicked me in the behind when I needed it. You really cared about me and I can't tell you how much that still means to me. This block was the neighborhood I loved and you were the father I never had but always prayed for."
"Well," Dan said, brushing it off, "you overcame a lot. You did it yourself. And, if we, the neighborhood did anything, well, we just put you on course. You had to carry the load. You drove us crazy.... You had this entire block in an uproar...."
Reprinted from The Privilege of Youth by Dave Pelzer by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © Dave Pelzer, 2004. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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