Stephen began to spend more time at work. When he was home, he helped David with the dishes, which gave him and David an opportunity to talk. They had to keep their voices low so that the others would not hear. David still regarded his father as a protector, even though he did not stand up to Catherine. When Stephen was home, Catherine abused David less.
David thought that his father hated being home because of him. He promised he would stop stealing food and be good. Stephen told him it wasn’t his fault. Soon, Catherine stopped Stephen from doing the dishes, complaining that he didn’t spend enough time with the family.
Stephen began to frequent a bar instead of going home. He confided in David that he was planning a way for the two of them to leave, but David could not believe him. One day, Stephen apologized to his son; David noticed how terrible his father looked. Stephen had dark circles under his eyes, his hair was turning gray, and he stood in a slumped position. David hugged his father, not knowing if he would see him again. He cried and wished his father would take him out of the “Madhouse.”
At one point, Mother starved David for approximately ten days. She taunted him with food, lying that he had two minutes to eat but then pulling the food away from him. A weakened David managed to drink a little water from the ice cube tray or the faucet. He resented his brothers, who had everything. He listened as they watched television and cursed them, wishing they would take turns getting beaten. One day, when Catherine gave him food with a time limit, he grabbed the plate and swallowed the food before she could take it away. She told him he ate like a pig, and he laughed inside, cursing her.
Catherine devised new methods of torture. She told David to clean the bathroom and placed a bucket of ammonia and Clorox in the room. Closing the door, she ordered him not to open it. Choking as he watched a cloud of smoke rise from the bucket, David realized he would die, but he didn’t dare open the door. Instead, he moved the bucket close to the door and curled up on the opposite side of the bathroom with a wet rag over his face. He was able to breathe in air from the heating vent. When his mother finally let him out, he weakly coughed up blood.
Another day, Catherine sent David out to mow lawns, instructing him to bring her the money. No one wanted a ragged child to mow their lawn, but one woman made him lunch. Catherine caught him with the food and beat him, then told him to sit outside on the rocks while the family was at the zoo. David wondered why God allowed him to be so miserable:
I felt that He must have hated me.
After the family returned home, Catherine ran a cold bath for David. When he wouldn’t keep his head under water, she nearly drowned him. After that, he remained in the water for hours before having to put on his clothes and sit outside the house soaking wet. This method of torture became more frequent later on, and David’s brothers would bring their friends to jeer at him.
David began the fourth grade with a substitute teacher who treated him kindly. He developed a crush on her and didn’t want to leave school. By October, David was regularly the victim of bullies. His routine was to...
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run home, vomit so his mother could inspect whether he had eaten, do chores, and endure whatever torture Catherine chose—gas, a cold bath, beatings, or whipping with a chain. David stopped praying for help and concentrated on surviving one day at a time.
The school nurse sent for David to ask questions about his bruises and tattered clothing. She documented his answers and told him he could talk to her any time. He began to trust her and confided in her more and more. He discovered that the substitute teacher had gone to the nurse with concerns about David.
On Halloween, after a freezing bath torture, Catherine told David he could sleep in his father’s bed. He did not question why, but was grateful to leave the garage. At Christmas, he received roller skates, which he used to stay warm: he skated for hours in the cold on weekends when his mother demanded he stay out of the house.
The following March, Catherine gave birth to another son, Kevin. While she was in the hospital, Stephen allowed David to play with his brothers and gave him extra food. Even though they usually treated him as a non-person, the boys accepted him. After a few quiet weeks, however, Catherine’s torture began again. She ended her short-lived friendship with a neighbor, Shirley, who asked too many questions about why David was isolated and constantly punished.
One Sunday, Catherine hugged David and apologized for her behavior, promising that she would become a good mother. David joined the family for dinner wearing new clothes, they all went bowling, and Catherine bought everyone a new toy top. David thought it was too good to be true that she had suddenly changed, but he enjoyed eating anything he wanted and watching television with his brothers. The following day, a woman from social services came to ask questions. When she asked David if his mother beat him, he said no, only when he was bad. When the woman left, David was beaten and sent back to the garage.
David was grateful to have had two good days with the family, and he considered his servitude as being “back to normal.” He also noted how sad he felt whenever his father left for work: he wanted to be with Stephen all the time.
I had a cold, hollow feeling deep in my soul.