"Oh, what's the matter? Does the little insect have a sore throat? Oh well, that's just too bad!" Mother smiles. I can see her lips moving, but I can barely make out what she's saying. After another quick squeeze, Mother lets go of her hold. Without permission, I rub my neck, gasping for air. Somehow I know she's not done with me--not yet. A second later I nearly lose my balance as Mother snatches the broom from beside me. I automatically tighten my upper body. "This," she says, "this is for cheating on your chores. I've told you a hundred times that you are to get that miserable butt of yours up and working before I get up. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"
I hesitate, not knowing how or if I should respond.
"I said, is that clear?"
"Yes . . . ah, yes, ma'am," I stutter in a hoarse voice.
"Tell me, what is your name?" Mother asks as she tilts her head upward in a show of supremacy.
"`It,`" I answer in a sheepish tone.
"And what is `Its' function?"
"Ta . . . ta . . . ta do . . . do as you command and stay outta . . . outta trouble."
"And when I say, `Jump'?"
"I ask, `How high?"' I reply without thought.
"Not bad. Not bad at all!" Mother leers. "But I do think It requires another lesson. Perhaps this will teach you . . . teach It. . . ."
I can hear a swishing sound. I brace my arms for the impact. My upper body is rock solid, but I have no way of telling which direction the sound is coming from. A jolting thud strikes the side of my neck. My knees buckle as I turn inside the doorway and lean against Mother's body. Without thinking I reach out to Mother. Her eyes shine with pleasure. She slaps my hands away. As my feet slip, my head jerks backward. I can feel my throat collapse the same way it did when Mother had me swallow teaspoons full of ammonia. I fight to swallow a breath of air, but my brain is too slow to respond. My eyes lock on to Mother's. "So, do you still think you can fly?"
I glance down and see Mother's hand in motion. A moment later I can feel myself floating, my arms flung above my face. Suddenly, a rush of air fills my chest as the back of my head smashes against the staircase. I reach out, but I can't stop my body from bouncing backward down the stairs. At the bottom of the staircase, my chest heaves; I want to find a bucket and throw up. At the door above me, Mother bends over with laughter. "Look at you! You're a hoot!"
Her face becomes taut. In an ice-cold voice Mother says, "You're not even worth the effort." With a jerk of her hand she flings the broom at me, then slams the door shut. My only form of protection is to close my eyes. I don't even bother to turn away or cover my face. I can hear the broom topple down the stairs before missing me completely.
Alone in the garage I let go and cry like a baby. I don't care if Mother, or anyone else in the world, can hear me. I have no dignity, no self-worth. Rage slowly builds inside my soul. I clench my hands together and begin taking my frustration out on the floor. Why, why, why? What in the hell did I ever do to you to make you hate me so much?
With every blow I can feel my strength drain away. The whitish-yellow garage light begins to fade as I lose consciousness. Without thinking of Mother catching me, I lie on my side, pull my shirt over my face, bury my hands between my legs, and close my eyes. Before I pass out, I clasp my hands together and mutter, "Take me."
"Wake up! Wake up, I tell you!" My eyes flicker open. I'm trapped in a mental haze as I stand in front of Mother in the kitchen. I have no idea how I got here. And somehow I know it's almost time for me to run to school. My mind struggles to recall why I keep losing track of time.
"I said, wake up!" Mother barks. She leans over and slaps my face. I'm fascinated that I can no longer feel the pain. "What in the hell is wrong with you?" she asks with some concern.
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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