David Pelzer, the third of four brothers, grew up in what in the beginning seemed an ordinary home. It was a home where each day was ‘a new adventure’, with life ‘everyday, sprinkled with magic’. It was a life where mum (Catherine Roerva) took her sons on day trips, where Spring meant picnics, and mum and dad ‘seemed happy to lie next to each other on a blanket, sip red wine’ and watch their children play.
Then, almost overnight, Dave’s paradise was lost. His home became Milton’s burning Lake of Hell. His mother became unrecognisable as a human being. She plied herself incessantly with drink, and when she yelled ‘her voice changed from the nurturing mother to the wicked witch.’ From being a mother whose embrace always made Dave feel safe and warm, she became ‘The Mother’-a frightening, appalling and sadistic figure.
‘The Mother’ would grab Dave and smash his face against the mirror. When she hit him, it was with such ferocious frenzy that ‘her punches seemed to last forever.’ She poured ‘ammonia’ and ‘Clorox’ down his throat until his brain screamed. To her he ceased to be a son but a slave and was no longer a boy but an ‘it’. She burnt him on a hot stove and rammed a bar of soap down his throat to stop him from speaking. She roared at him, starved him and even fed him vomit and excrement. ‘The Mother’ even stabbed her child.
Though the school was a haven from domestic torture, he was often so hungry that he stole food-‘Twinkies and other desserts’ from fellow students. Because of this he became a total outcast at school. No student would have anything to do with him. In the playground, he was called ‘David the Food Thief.‘ Every day came with torture and degradation.
Dave’s father, Stephen Joseph, who ‘had broad shoulders and forearms that would make any muscle man proud,’ failed to protect his son. He was a muscle-bound weakling who dealt with the decay of his family by drinking excessively, and cowardly turning his back on his besieged son.
Dave Pelzer’s story is a monument to human courage. Dave’s youth belied his resilience to survive. His mother’s savagery and his father’s indifference notwithstanding, he vowed ‘not to give in, even to death.’ Even after reading the book, it is hard to comprehend how one so young could withstand such an ordeal for so long.
His mother was brutish with a tormented soul. But, she was also cunning and slippery and often managed e to explain away most suspicions of child abuse from outsiders. Like a greased beast, it was often difficult to corner her. But, young Dave was finally rescued from her torture and found a haven with a foster family that loved him.
He went on to serve his country in war and received commendations from three American presidents. He is a best-selling author of five books, and a loving husband and father. He is now a man on a noble mission and an inspiration to thousands of defeated spirits around the world. All this came about following his massive wounding as a child. Out of sorrow came growth, purpose, and even joy.
Unfortunately, a lot of victims of child abuse never survive. When they do, they often continue the cycle of rage against society. Dave Pelzer’s tale is a disturbing and brilliantly written narrative of gratuitous violence. There is almost no sentence that does not contribute to the aggravation of the distress. The depth of Dave’s pain is stamped on every word. As we read the book, we find ourselves nearer, and almost witnesses to the carnage of his childhood.
Once the reader opens the book, it is impossible to put it down. And when completed, this story of sickening violence in Dave’s home lingers in the mind for long. Though Catherine Roerva didn’t murder her son, in some way she killed him many times over: his childhood, his innocence, his trust, but fortunately not his will to live.