Upon reaching the top of the stairs, I automatically assume "the position of address": my body stands perfectly straight, with my head bent down and my hands glued to my sides. I am not allowed to move a muscle, blink, look at her or even breathe without Mother's direct permission.
"Tell me, tell me I'm stupid," Mother whispers as she leans over. I cringe as I imagine her taking a bite from my ear. It's part of the Game. She's testing me to see if I'll flinch. I dare not look up or back away. My heels hang over the edge of the stair. I pray Mother doesn't push me . . . today.
"Go ahead, tell me. Please," Mother begs. The tone of her voice changes. Mother's voice seems calm, non-threatening. My mind spins. I don't understand. Did Mother just give me permission to speak? I have no idea what she expects of me. Either way, I'm trapped. I focus my energy on the front of my shoes. The more I stare, the more my body begins to sway.
Without warning Mother thrusts a finger under my chin, lifting my face to hers. Her rancid breath makes my stomach coil. I fight not to pass out from her stench. Even though she does not allow me to wear my glasses at home, I glance at Mother's puffy, reddened face. Her once gleaming hair is now oily and matted against the sides of her face. "Just how stupid do you think I am? Tell me, exactly: How stupid am I?"
I sheepishly look up and reply, "Ma'am?"
A raging fire stings the side of my face. "Just who in the hell gave you permission to speak, let alone look!" Mother hisses.
I snap my head back down as I quickly bury the pain inside. My God, I say to myself, I didn't see it coming. What's happening to me? I'm always able to see her arm swing back before she strikes me. I cannot figure out why I am so slow. Dammit, David, stay focused! Think!
"When is It going to begin Its chores?" Mother bellows. "What is it with you? I bet you think I'm stupid! You think you can get away with whatever you damn well please! Don't you?" Mother shakes her head. "I'm not the one hurting you. You are. You choose your actions. You know who--what--you are and what your purpose is in this household.
"If It wants to be fed, then it's simple: It does exactly as It's told. If It doesn't want to be punished, then It stays out of trouble. It knows the rules. I don't treat you any different from anybody else. It simply refuses to obey." Mother stops to take a deep breath. Her chest begins to wheeze. It's time for her fix. I know what's coming next. I wish she'd go ahead and hit me. "And what about me?" Her voice rises. "I should be asleep, but no, I have to be here with It. You pathetic piece of filth! You little bastard! You know your function. You're not a person, but . . . a thing to do with as I please. Do you understand? Am I making myself clear, or perhaps It needs another lesson?" Mother thunders.
Mother's words echo inside my soul. For years I've heard the same thing over and over again. For years I've been her human robot to do with as she pleases, like some toy that she can turn on and off whenever she wishes.
I break down inside. My body begins to shake. I can't take it anymore. Go ahead, I say to myself. Do it! Just kill me! Come on! Suddenly, my vision sharpens. My insides stop shaking. Rage slowly begins to fill me. I no longer feel ice cold. I shift my head from side to side as my eyes creep up Mother's robed body. The fingers to my right hand tighten around the wooden broom handle. As I slowly let out a deep breath, my eyes stare directly into Mother's. "Leave me alone . . . you bitch!" I hiss.
Mother becomes paralyzed. I focus every fiber of my being on piercing through her silver-framed glasses and reddened eyes. I will myself to somehow transfer every moment I had to carry for the last eight years of pain and loneliness into Mother.
From A Man Named Dave : A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness, by David J. Pelzer, Dave Pelzer. © October 1999 , David J. Pelzer, Dave Pelzer used by permission of the publisher, E.P. Dutton.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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