Because he endured torture every day, David believed that there was no God. As a defense mechanism, he remained numb and disconnected so that Catherine could not hurt him anymore. He alternated between fear and anger, but he kept his emotions hidden. He stopped dreaming, both during the day and at night, and was exhausted when he woke up in the mornings. He felt nothing was below him now; one day, he even ate leftover pancakes from the dogs’ bowls.
David hated everyone. He wanted his mother to suffer before she died so she would understand the pain she was causing him. He ceased to feel that the other boys were his brothers, as they too began hitting David. He hated his father for having no courage, and he resented everyone who knew about his abuse and did not help him. David even began to hate himself for allowing the abuse to continue. He wanted to be tough, but he could see no way out of his situation, and he did not have the nerve to fight his mother.
By the time he started fifth grade, David wished to be dead. School was no longer the escape it used to be. His classmates were ruthless in their torture. Clifford beat him up regularly, and Aggie and John taunted him, sneering that the only way out of his situation was to kill himself. One day, David ran out of class screaming in anger; he punched the wall in the bathroom until he fell, exhausted, to the floor, “praying for a miracle. It never came.”
His homeroom teacher, Mr. Zeigler, was the only positive person in his life. The teacher encouraged David to enter a contest to name the school newspaper, and when David won, Mr. Zeigler told him he was proud of him. David felt good that someone was treating him nicely. Mr. Zeigler sent a letter home to tell David’s parents about the results of the contest, but Catherine was not happy. She screamed at David that she would never be proud of him. She called him an “It” and said, “I wish you were dead!” She tore up the letter and threw it on the floor. David was shocked because “she had stripped me of my very existence.” After trying desperately to piece the letter back together, David finally gave up and threw the pieces in the trash.
He began to wish that his mother would kill him and believed it would eventually happen. He tried to purposely provoke Catherine by performing his chores sloppily, hoping that she would “end my misery.” One day at the grocery store, David disobeyed every one of his mother’s instructions and yelled at his brothers. Although she could do nothing in the store, Catherine later allowed the boys to beat their own brother, then nearly killed David with a gas mixture. He returned to his obedient former self.
Baby Kevin was David’s joy at home. Before Kevin was born, Catherine had tried to choke David, but he kicked her in defense. Catherine then told people that David had kicked her out of jealousy over the baby. Truthfully, David loved seeing his brother smile, but he worried that soon Kevin would learn to hate him, just as the others had.
Catherine fought with her mother, who tried to help David, and treated her husband horribly. One day, Stephen came home drunk and apologized to David, saying that he couldn’t take it anymore. David’s parents fought at Thanksgiving, and David noted that his brothers seemed to feel the same fear he felt about...
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his parents’ marriage. By Christmas, it was clear that the couple would split up. When Stephen moved into a motel, David knew there was no hope. Catherine told him,
You are all mine now. Too bad your father’s not here to protect you.
David prayed to God that his death would be quick.
An adult David stands watching the ocean’s waves roll toward the shore. He picks up a piece of driftwood and marvels at how it reflects his life: like the wood, he was pushed around without any power to decide his direction, but he was finally able to break out. David feels fortunate to be alive, and he intends to make something out of his life. The first step is letting go of the past and taking responsibility for his own life. He reflects on what he has learned: to survive hell, to be self-motivated, to adapt, to appreciate everything, to stay focused, to be strong.
He thinks about his time in the United States Air Force, where he learned pride and love for America, a place where he could overcome anything. He drives toward the river, his “secret place” that he always loved as a child. He breathes in the scent of the redwoods as he stops the truck and surveys the tree stump where he and his brothers used to play.
David is with his son, Stephen, and together they watch the birds in the sky. They agree that this is their favorite place to be, and they say aloud that they love each other.
Happy tears run down David’s face, and he says,