"You," she continues, "oh, you were so cute! At parties everyone loved you! Everyone wanted to take you home. Always polite, always with manners. Wouldn't speak unless spoken to. Oh, I remember whenever you couldn't sleep, you'd crawl up into my lap and sing me Christmas songs, even in the middle of July. Whenever I felt bad I could always count on you to `croon a tune."' Mother smiles as she remembers the past. She can no longer control the tears that stream down her cheeks. I've never seen her like this before. "You had the sweetest voice, David. Why is it you don't sing for me anymore? How come?" Mother stares at me as if I were a ghost.
"I don't . . . I dunno." My grogginess vanishes. I realize this is not one of Mother's sinister Games. I know, deep inside Mother, that something is different. She's reaching out. Mother's never been this emotional about her past. I wish I had a clear head to analyze what she's trying to tell me. I know it's not the booze talking, but my real mother, the one who's been trapped inside herself for so many years. "Mommy?"
Mother's head jerks up as she covers her mouth. "Mommy? Oh Lord, David, do you know how long it's been since I've been someone's Mommy? My God!" She closes her eyes to hide her pain. "You were so fragile, so timid. You don't remember, but you were always the slow one. It took you forever to tie your shoes. I thought I'd go crazy trying to teach you that damn square knot for your Cub Scouts badge. But you never gave up. I'd find you in a corner of the room trying to tie knots. No, that's one thing about you, you never gave up. Hey," Mother asks with a wide smile, "do you remember that summer when you were seven or eight years old, and you and I spent forever trying to catch that fish at Memorial Park?"
With perfect clarity I recall how Mommy and I sat at the far edge of a giant fallen log that hung over a small stream. I couldn't believe she had chosen me--over my younger brother Stan, who constantly fought for Mother's attention. As Stan threw a temper tantrum on the beach below us, I thought Mother would realize her mistake. But Mommy had paid no attention to Stan's commotion; she simply tightened her grip on my belt, in case I slipped, and whispered encouragement into my ear. After a few minutes of fishing, I deliberately kept the pink salmon egg bait just above the water. I never wanted my adventure with my mommy to end. Now, as I shake my head clear of the memory, my voice becomes choked up. "I, ah, I prayed we'd never catch that fish," I confessed to her.
"So . . . we could spend more time together . . . as mother and son."
"Oh, your brother Stan was red with jealousy, stomping up and down beside the creek, throwing rocks into the water, trying to scare off that fish of yours. My God." Mother tosses her hair back, revealing a rare smile.
I'm not sure if she failed to hear or understand the true meaning of what I said.
"David?" Mother pleads. "You do remember, don't you?"
"Yes," I cry, shaking my head, "I do. I remember everything. Like the first day of school when the teacher had us color a picture of what we did that summer. I drew you and me sitting on that old tree with a happy-face sun shining above us. Remember, I gave it to you that day after school?"
Mother turns away from me. She clutches her coffee mug, then puts a finger to her lips. The excitement from her face drains away. "No!" Mother states in a strict tone, as if our fishing adventure were a hoax.
"Oh, sure you do--"
"I said no, goddammit!" Mother interrupts. She clamps her eyes shut and covers her ears. "No, no, no! I don't remember. You can't make me! No one can force me to remember the past if I don't want to. Not you or anybody else. No one tells me what to do! You got that, mister?"
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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