"Yes, ma'am," I automatically respond.
Mother's face turns beet red as the muscles in her neck tighten. Her upper body begins to shake. I'm not sure, but I think Mother is having a violent seizure. I want to yell out, but I'm too scared. I stand in front of Mother like a helpless fool. I don't know what to do.
After a few seconds the redness from her face disappears. She lets out a deep sigh. "I just don't know anymore . . . if I'm coming or going. I don't know . . . I didn't mean for things to happen this way; no one did. You can't blame me, I did my best . . ."
The sweetness in her voice fades. I want so badly to run and hug Mommy before she completely slips away, but, like always, I know in a few hours Mother won't remember a single word of our conversation. I back away from the kitchen table and resume the position of address.
"Oh, Jesus!" Mother snaps. "Now look what you've done! I've got to drive my boys to school! Forget the dishes; you can finish them after school. And listen up: I don't want to hear a peep from any of those nosy teachers today, so you keep that carcass of yours the hell out of trouble! You got me, mister?" Mother raises her voice to her usual evil tone.
"Yes, ma'am," I mutter.
"Then get the hell out of my house! Run!" Mother bellows.
"What about lunch . . . ?" I ask.
"Too bad. You took my time, then I take your lousy sandwich. You'll just have to go diggin' for food today. Now get the hell out of here! Don't make me get the broom! Now run!"
In a flash I race through Mother's house. I can hear her evil laugh as I slam the front door shut before sprinting off to school.
Minutes later, after running to school at top speed, I stagger into the nurse's office with my hands slapping on my knees. With every breath I take in, the muscles around my throat tighten. An enormous pressure from behind my eyes begins to build. I slap my knees as if that will somehow make air rush into my lungs. The school nurse spins around from behind her desk. My mind fumbles to yell, but I cannot form the words. But I try again. "C-a-n-'t b-r-e-a-t-h-e!" I finally sputter, pointing at my neck.
The nurse leaps up with lightning speed, grabs a brown bag, turns it upside down spilling its contents onto the floor, and kneels down in front of me. Through my tears I can see the terror in her eyes. I want to cry out, but I'm too scared. The nurse pulls on my hand, but I slap her away as I continue to pound my knees. The more I try to draw air into my lungs, the more the invisible bands tighten around my chest. "No!" the nurse shouts. "David, stop it! Don't fight it! You're hyperventilating!"
"Hipper ventle . . . ?" I gasp.
"Slow down. You're going to be fine. I'm just going to put this bag over your--"
"Nooo! I can't . . . won't be able . . . to see. I . . . have to see!"
"Shh, I'm right here. Close your eyes and concentrate on the sound of my voice. Good. Now slow down. Take tiny puffs of air. Breathe through your nose. That's it," the nurse whispers in a soothing voice. With her I feel safe. "That's much better; tiny breaths. Reach out, take my hand. I'm right here. I'm not going to leave you. You're going to be fine."
I obey the nurse and shut my eyes. As the nurse places the bag over my face, I can instantly feel warm air circulate. It feels good, but after a few breaths my exhaled air becomes too hot. My legs begin to lock up. By accident I jerk the nurse's hand.
"Shh. David, trust me, you're fine. You're doing better. Much better. That's it, slow down. See? Now, lean your head back and relax."
As I tilt my head backward, a rush of air escapes from my mouth. The pressure is so intense that I fight to keep myself from throwing up. I rip the bag from my face before my legs buckle, and I fall to the floor gasping for more air. Within seconds the bands around my chest begin to ease.
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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