David begins to tell his story of how his relationship with his mother changed “from discipline to punishment that grew out of control.”
Whenever he did something wrong, Catherine gave him “time-outs” in a corner of his room. He began to fear his mother, whose behavior had become drastically different. She drank, stayed in her bathrobe, and watched television all day. She was no longer the caring, loving mother she once was; instead, she became a “wicked witch.”
Catherine’s behavior became even more erratic, and David’s punishments moved from the corner to the mirror. Catherine would smash his face into a mirror and force him to repeat, “I’m a bad boy.” She frequently yelled at the boys, and when she lost something, she’d make them search the house until they found it. Eventually, only David had to conduct these searches. One day, he forgot what she had instructed him to find, and Catherine hit him, causing his nose to bleed. She shoved a piece of napkin up his nose and screamed for him to find the item. He made loud noises so she would think he really was searching. David was never able to find any of the things she claimed to have lost.
David noticed that his mother was different when his father was home. He saw his father as his “protector” and frequently tried to stay wherever Stephen was. One day Stephen told David to be a good boy; Catherine’s smug expression told David that his father thought he was bad. At one point, David thought his mother was changing for the better because his parents would drink together and dance happily. He was mistaken.
A month later, a drunk Catherine beat David repeatedly. When he reached up his arm to protect his face, she grabbed it and lost her balance. As she fell backward, David heard a pop and felt severe pain in his shoulder and arm. Catherine seemed surprised, but she returned to watching television as if everything was all right. At dinner, David was in agony and could not lift his arm. He was unable to eat, so Catherine sent him to bed, instructing him to sleep on the top bunk even though he usually slept in the bottom bed. Awakening him later, she brought him to the hospital and claimed that David had fallen out of bed. The doctor did not believe her story, but David was too afraid to tell him the truth. Later, David also remained silent when Catherine told Stephen she tried to catch him as he rolled off the bed. He was terrified that if he told the secret, the next “accident” would be worse.
School was David’s refuge, and he enjoyed playing and making friends there. One day after school, his mother berated him because she had learned he would not be promoted to second grade. David was confused because he thought he was doing well: he had received more “happy faces” on his papers than any of his classmates had. Catherine told him he had brought shame on the family and punished him by banning television “forever” and not feeding him dinner. She beat him and banished him to stand in the garage until bedtime.
That summer, David was sent to his Aunt Josie’s house. Shocked and hurt about being sent away, David attempted to run away to find his family, which only resulted in another beating from his mother. When he tried to explain that he had only run away to be with his family, she forced soap into his mouth and banned him from speaking unless he...
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was told to.
David enjoyed his second year in first grade since he already knew the work. He played with his brother Stan, who was also in first grade, at school, but at home they did not interact.
One day, Catherine rebuked David, claiming she had received a letter from Santa telling her that David was a bad boy and did not deserve gifts that year. For Christmas, he received two paint-by-number kits. As he completed his chores instead of participating in Christmas festivities, he heard his parents arguing because Stephen had purchased the presents for David.
David was a Cub Scout and Catherine became his den mother. Since she treated the other children so nicely, they told David they wished they had a mother like his. However, Catherine quit after several months. One day, she smashed David into the mirror, dragged him into the car, and drove him to a Cub Scouts meeting, forcing him to tell the den mother he was a bad boy and could not attend. At home, Mother accused David of having played on the grass and of playing with his brothers at school, which she had forbidden. She told him to remove his clothing and punched his face, then scared him with a story she had read about a mother who forced her son to lie on a hot stove.
David’s terror increased as Catherine gripped his arm and held it in the flame of the stove. She ordered him to climb on top of the stove because she wanted to see him burn. He refused, knowing that the only way to save his own life was to stall for time. Mother continued to beat him for disobeying her until his brother Ronald came home.
David grabbed his clothes and fled to the garage, where he realized he had finally won a battle by using his brain. It was the first time he recognized that he could survive the torture, and he resolved to never cry or give in to Catherine’s abuse again. Anger and fear overcame his body as he tried to cool his burnt arm by licking it. He kept quiet, refusing to give his mother the satisfaction of hearing him cry about his pain. As he had this epiphany, David overheard Mother telling Ron that she was proud of him for not being a bad boy like David.