|From Chapter One
|Winter 1970, Daly City, California—I'm alone. I'm hungry and I'm shivering in the dark! I sit on top of my hands at the bottom of the stairs in the garage. My head is tilted backward. My hands became numb hours ago. My neck and shoulder muscles begin to throb. But that's nothing new—l've learned to turn off the pain.
|I'm Mother's prisoner.
|I am nine years old and I've been living like this for years. Every day it's the same thing. I wake up from sleeping on an old army cot in the garage, perform the morning chores, and if I'm lucky, eat leftover breakfast cereal from my brothers. I run to school, steal food, return to "The House" and am forced to throw up in the toilet bowl to prove that I didn't commit the crime of stealing any food.
|I receive beatings or play another one of her "games," perform afternoon chores, then sit at the bottom of the stairs until I'm summoned to complete the evening chores. Then, and only if I have completed all of my chores on time, and if I have not committed any "crimes," I may be fed a morsel of food.
|My day ends only when Mother allows me to sleep on the army cot, where my body curls up in my meek effort to retain any body heat. The only pleasure in my life is when I sleep. That's the only time I can escape my life. I love to dream.
|Weekends are worse. No school means no food and more time at "The House." All I can do is try to imagine myself away —somewhere, anywhere — from "The House." For years I have been the outcast of "The Family." As long as I can remember I have always been in trouble and have "deserved" to be punished. At first I thought I was a bad boy. Then I thought Mother was sick because she only acted differently when my brothers were not around and my father was away at work. But somehow I always knew Mother and I had a private relationship. I also realized that for some reason I have been Mother's sole target for her unexplained rage and twisted pleasure.
|I have no home. I am a member of no one's family. I know deep inside that I do not now, nor will I ever deserve any love, attention or even recognition as a human being. I am a child called "It."
|I'm all alone inside.
|Upstairs the battle begins. Since it's after four in the afternoon, I knnow both of my parents are drunk. The yelling starts. First the name-calling, then the swearing. I count the seconds before the subject turns to me—it always does. The sound of Mother's voice makes my insides turn. "What do you mean?" she shrieks at my father, Stephen. "You think I treat ï¿½The Boy' bad? Do you?" Her voice then turns ice cold. I can imagine her pointing a finger at my father's face. "You ... listen ... to ... me. You ... have no idea what ï¿½It's' like. If you think I treat ï¿½It' that bad ... then ... ï¿½It' can live somewhere else.
|I can picture my father—who, after all these years, still tries somewhat to stand up for me —swirling the liquor in his glass, making the ice from his drink rattle. "Now calm down," he begins. "All I'm trying to say is... wellï¿½ no child deserves to live like that. My God Roerva, you treat ... dogs better than ... than you do The Boy."
|The argument builds to an ear-shattering climax. Mother slams her drink on the kitchen countertop.
|Father has crossed the line. No one ever tells Mother what to do. I know I will have to pay the price for her rage. I realize it's only a matter of time before she orders me upstairs. I prepare myself. Ever so slowly I slide my hands out from under my butt, but not toofar—for I know sometimes she'll check on me. I know I am never to move a muscle without her permission.
|I feel so small inside. I only wish I could somehow ...
|Without warning, Mother opens the door leading to the downstairs garage. "You!" she screams. "Get your ass up here! Now!"
|In a flash I bolt up the stairs. I wait a moment for her command before I timidly open the door. Without a sound I approach Mother and await one of her "games."
|It's the game of address, in which I have to stand exactly three feet in front of her, my hands glued to my side, my head tilted down at a 45 degree angle and my eyes locked onto her feet. Upon the first command I must look above her bust, but below her eyes. Upon the second command I must look into her eyes, but never, never may I speak: breathe or move a single muscle unless Mother gives me permission to do so. Mother and I have been playing this game since I was seven years old, so today it's just another routine in my lifeless existence.
|Suddenly Mother reaches over and seizes my right ear. By accident, I flinch. With her free hand Mother punishes my movement with a solid slap to my face. Her hand becomes a blur, right up until the moment before it strikes my face. I cannot see very well without my glasses. Since it is not a school day, I am not allowed to wear them. The blow from her hand burns my skin. "Who told you to move?" Mother sneers. I keep my eyes open, fixing them on a spot on the carpet. Mother checks for my reaction before again yanking my ear as she leads me to the front door.
|"Turn around!" she yells. "Look at me!" But I cheat. From the corner of my eye I steal a glance at Father. He gulps down another swallow from his drink. His once rigid shoulders are now slumped over. His job as a fireman in San Francisco, his years of drinking and the strained relationship with Mother have taken their toll on him. Once my superhero and known for his courageous efforts in rescuing children from burning buildings, Father is now a beaten man. He takes another swallow before Mother begins. "Your father here thinks I treat you bad. Well, do I? DO I?"
|My lips tremble. For a second I'm unsure whether I am supposed to answer Mother must know this and probably enjoys "the game" all the more. Either way, I'm doomed. I feel like an insect about to be squashed. My dry mouth opens. I can feel a film of paste separate from my lips. I begin to stutter.
|Before I can form a word, Mother again yanks on my right ear. My ear feels as if it were on fire. "Shut that mouth of yours! No one told you to talk! Did they? Well, did they?" Mother bellows.
|My eyes seek out Father. Seconds later he must have felt my need. "Roerva," he says, "that's no way to treat The Boy."
|Again I tense my body and again Mother yanks on my ear, but this time she maintains the pressure, forcing me to stand on my toes. Mother's face turns dark red. "So you think I treat him badly? I . . ." Pointing her index finger at her chest, Mother continues. "I don't need this. Stephen, if you think I'm treating It badly ... well, It can just get out of my house!"
|I strain my legs, trying to stand a little taller; and begin to tighten my upper body so that when Mother strikes I can be ready. Suddenly she lets go of my ear and opens the front door. "Get out!" she screeches. "Get out of my house! I don't like you! I don't want you! I never loved you! Get the hell out of my house!"
|I freeze. I'm not sure of this game. My brain begins to spin with all the options of what Mother's real intentions may be. To survive, I have to think ahead. Father steps in front of me. "No!" he cries out. "That's enough. Stop it, Roerva. Stop the whole thing. Just let The Boy be."
|Mother now steps between Father and me. "No?"
|Mother begins in a sarcastic voice. "How many times have you told me that about The Boy? The Boy this, The Boy that. The Boy, The Boy, The Boy. How many times, Stephen?" She reaches out, touching Father's arm as if pleading with him; as if their lives would be so much better if I no longer lived with them—if I no longer existed.
|Inside my head my brain screams, Oh my God! Now I know!
|Without thinking Father cuts her off "No," he states in a low voice. "This," he says, spreading his hands, "this is wrong." I can tell by his trailing voice that Father has lost his steam. He appears to be on the verge of tears. He looks at me and shakes his head before looking at Mother. "Where will he live? Who's going to take care of ... ?"
|"Stephen, don't you get it? Don't you understand? I don ï¿½t give a damn what happens to him. I don ï¿½t give a damn about The Boy.
|Suddenly, the front door flies open. Mother smiles as she holds the doorknob. "Okay. All right. I'll leave it up to The Boy." She bends down, just inches in front of my face. Mother's breath reeks of booze. Her eyes are ice cold and full of pure hatred. I wish I could turn away. I wish I were back in the garage. In a slow, raspy voice, Mother says, "lf you think I treat you so badly, you can leave."
|I snap out of my protective mold and takke a chance by looking at Father. He misses my glance as he sips another drink. My mind begins to tumble. I don't understand the purpose of her new game. Suddenly I realize that this is no game. It takes a few seconds for me to understand that this is my chance—my chance to escape. I've wanted to run away for years, but some invisible fear kept me from doing it. But I tell myself that this is too easy. I so badly want to move my legs, but they remain rigid.
|"Well?" Mother screams into my ear "it's your choice." Time seems to stand still. As I stare down at the carpet, I can hear Mother begin to hiss. "He won't leave. The Boy will never leave. It hasnï¿½t the guts to go.
|I can feel the inside of my body begin to shake. For a moment I close my eyes, wishing myself away. In my mind I can see myself walking through the door. I smile inside. I so badly want to leave. The more I envision myself walking through the door, the more I begin to feel a warmth spread through my soul. Suddenly, I can feel my body moving. My eyes pop open. I look down at my worn-out sneakers. My feet are stepping through the front door. Oh my God, I say to myself, I can't believe I'm doing this! Out of fear, I dare not stop.
|"There," Mother triumphantly states. "The Boy did it. It's his decision. I didn't force him. Remember that, Stephen. I want you to know I didn't force him.
|I step through the front door, knowing full well that Mother will reach out and yank me back in. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I quicken my pace. After stepping past the door, I turn right and walk down the red steps. From behind me I can hear the sounds of Mother and Father straining themselves as they lean outside. "Roerva," Father says in a low voice "this is wrong."
|"No!" she replies in a flat voice. "And remember, it was his decision. Besides, he'll be back."