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The Family: 1956-1959
CAUTION: The following contains explicit descriptions of physical abuse, sexual abuse, deprivation, and child abuse. If you are a survivor of similar abuse, the following may cause abreaction and flashbacks.
Feed the Birds
October 12, 1956 through early November, 1959 - a little more than three years. Three years of being a possession, an object to be leased, used as the adults saw fit; three years of systematic physical, sexual, and mental abuse designed to mold me and my siblings into their image.
Training - programming - that undoubtedly would have continued well into our teen and adult years had they the chance - had the authorities not intervened in early December of 1959.
Outwardly, to the public eye, we seemed a typical lower middle-class American family: Mother, father, three children, two dogs, and several cats. My Mom and stepfather made a point to be friendly and helpful to our neighbors in each place we lived - and invariably, my maternal grandmother, Sara, would locate us - and we'd move.
There were some good times in those years too, even tender times during those years; but not many.
My mother was (and is) a good artist in her own right, and fiercely defended her time with me, time spent teaching me the basics of art - color, shadows, blending, perspective, and much more. Peggy showed no interest in artwork, and after a few attempts at including her, our mother no longer tried to teach her.
She also took time on a weekly basis to make home-made bread with Peggy and me - and always made sure that we always got to make, bake, and then eat our own quarter-sized loaves right out of the oven - warm, fragrant, dripping fresh butter and honey.
Sometimes, our baking sessions were expanded to making pies from scratch - the crust, filling, toppings; all made from scratch with our own hands; our mother's hands and gentle voice guiding us, never becoming angry when we made mistakes.
Once in a while - after my stepfather had gone off on a trip - our mother would make pancakes in the shape of letters for dinner, spelling out our names, for Peggy, Danny, and me. This did not happen often, and I and my siblings looked forward to our stepfather's infrequent trips, because we knew it meant those pancakes with plenty of butter, honey, jelly, and syrup to go with them.
It was during one of his earlier trips, before Christmas of 1956, that mom gave me my first cup of coffee - half canned milk, half coffee, and a little bit of sugar - to go with my pancakes. I've been drinking coffee ever since. Sometimes, she would add a half teaspoon of Ovaltine.
Our stepfather, Lester, also had a gentle, even instructive side: His hobby was assembling and painting models of knights in armor and World War II aircraft. Once a month, he'd buy one model for me - usually a plane - and direct me as I assembled and then painted it. On two different occasions, he bought a knight for me, and he and mom instructed me as I assembled and then painted that.
Another time was in spring of 1959. Mom wanted a garden in the back yard - and I was put to work manually plowing, weeding, and mulching a 20 by 20 foot section of the yard. She couldn't help much, because she was pregnant. Late that afternoon, I had completed the major work; all that remained was the raking and planting. I was very tired, hot, and weak - weak to the point of trembling; and mom had told me to take a break before continuing.
That's when Lester got home and came in the back yard. Mom told him that I had done all the work - which I had - and Lester inspected my work, quietly nodding his head. He then walked over to me, crouched down, and said "you did a man's work, you get a man's break" - and went in the house. He came out a couple of minutes later with a hard salami and two cans of ice-cold beer, sat down next to me in the shade, and handed me one of the beers. He looked at me and said "drink up, it'll put back some of the water you've sweated out" - and then he cut the salami in two and gave me one half of it as he told me I needed salt too.
Salami and beer is still one of my most favorite kick-back-and-relax combinations.
There were other pleasantries - picnics and barbecues at Alum Rock park, day trips to the beaches at Santa Cruz, trips to the San Francisco Zoo and Palisades Park.
One consistent treat was the annual three trips a year - summer, Christmas break, and Easter break, timed very carefully not to interfere with the other ceremonies thanks to Art's manipulations - down to the Mojave to visit my paternal Grandparents and cousins. Peggy and I were dropped off with Grandma and Grandpa; and mom and Lester would leave for their own "private trip", as they expressed it, taking Danny with them. My cousins - my age and older - remember those visits well; good times for all of us.
They also remember our black eyes and bruises, as well as my constant protection of Peggy. They knew, their parents knew, Grandma and Grandpa Davidson knew of at least the physical abuse - yet nothing was done to save us by my father's side of the family. To this day, I and my cousins wonder why their parents and our grandparents did nothing.
So - what was life like in Mom and Lester's household?
Hell any time Grandpa Art was around... and he lived with us during the last year I and siblings were with my mother and stepfather.
Grandpa Art's favorite "disciplinary" tools were a six-inch wide leather strop that had several rows of metal grommets, his fists - and cigarettes. There were so many infractions for which we were disciplined. If we curled up on the floor to avoid his rage, he'd sayl "you want to lay down? OK, you will lay down!" - and he would punch us with his fists in the stomach and groin.
If we cried out any louder than a whimper, he would get a kitchen towel, and gag us with it - all the while telling us that the more we cried, the more we would get beaten - and he proved that over and over again by gagging us so we could not be heard; all the while calling us sissies, telling us we had to be tough, that he would teach us to be strong.
Crying was something he could not and did not tolerate from any of us - including my baby brother Danny.
I saw how grandpa Art "trained" Danny not to cry. He covered Danny's mouth and pinched his noise shut - suffocating him; releasing his hold only when Danny started turning blue. He said he was doing what the American Indians did to keep their babies quiet, to "train" them to be quiet so that "enemies" could not find the tribe by following the sound of an infant.
I made it a point after that to run to Danny's side anytime I heard him start to cry, to hold him and comfort him and find out the best I could why he was crying, and do something about it - but I wasn't able to be there all the time.
Where were my mother and stepfather when this was happening? She was either working outside to make additional money for the family, and he was either at work or school - and Grandpa Art was "baby sitting" us.
Art occasionally used that same method of "training" on me and Peggy; both of us lost consciousness more than once as a result.
Another of Art's methods for teaching me to endure pain was to burn me with cigarettes for "minor" infractions - ones that he did not consider severe enough to warrant a beating. "Minor" infractions included not saying please or thank you, not closing a door quietly or completely, not cleaning off the dinner table the minute he got up from it; not getting home from school within a specified amount of time - the list is endless.
He was careful where he burned me; my arms and upper back were his favorite "targets" . Twice, Art stripped me, pinned me, and applied the cigarettes to my testicles - I cried out, and was beaten for "not being a man, not being able to take pain."
It did not take long for me - and Peggy - to learn how to remain silent; to remain completely still as we were beaten. I somehow turned off my nervous system, detached my feelings, shunting them deep inside - and simply absorbed the punishment; almost like I was no more than an observer inside my own mind, no connections at all to the child being beaten. My immobility and silence always resulted in him ending the beating quickly and praising me for "being a man" - thus reinforcing and making it easier for me to shut down in order to minimize the abuse.
We also learned to stay out of the adults bedrooms unless ordered to enter. I learned this the hard way; Peggy learned it because she saw what happened. I wanted to ask my Mom a question, and walked into their bedroom. Mom and Lester were dressed, laying on the bed reading a newspaper; the paper raised in front of their faces such that they did not see me enter the bedroom.
Before I could say anything, Art grabbed me from behind with his hand over my mouth, took me outside, and punched and kicked me while fiercely, quietly growling "You stay out of grownups bedrooms!". He continued punching and kicking me about the abdomen and groin, then leaned back against the wall - and kicked me one more time in the groin. In a very quiet voice, he then told me "You do not come in unless we tell you to - understand?" I nodded, and he walked away.
I had a severe nose bleed, couldn't move, and had trouble breathing. Mom found me and told me to get up, and I tried to - and passed out. I woke up in incredible pain as Lester put me in the back seat of the car; Peggy was already there. Mom and Lester got in the front seat, and took me to the hospital emergency room. I knew I dared not say what had happened, and told my parents and the doctor that some neighborhood kids had cornered me and beaten me up, using their fists, feet, and a baseball bat. I believed with all my heart that if I told the truth that Art, or Mary Anne, or Ray, or someone else in the cult would kill me after killing my sister.
The doctors took us quickly, and while two doctors were examining me, a policeman came in to ask me what happened. I was terrified, and told the policeman that I had been beaten up by some kids in the neighborhood - he repeated his questions, and I stuck to the story. As he turned to go, Mom and Lester came up to the door, and the policeman told them that if they wanted to keep me and Peggy alive that they had better move, since the Mexican-American gangs would keep on beating me up until either I was killed, or my family moved.
The policeman left, and one of the doctors told Mom that I had a concussion, several severely bruised bones, testicular damage, and bruised kidneys; and that they would keep me in the hospital overnight for observation.
That night, one of the doctors - and later two of the nurses - asked me what happened; again I stuck to the falsehood. Looking back, I think they knew I was lying - maybe that is why they extended my "observation" to three full days. I wish I'd had the strength then to tell the truth - then again, I wonder if it would have done any good. I found out years later that my mother also found the story suspicious.
I ended up in the hospital as a result of beatings from Art - and Ray - three different times - and each time it was a different hospital; each time the "reason" for my injuries was different - and believed by the hospital staff.
Not surprisingly, I started wetting the bed.
That resulted in driving my stepfather Lester nuts; on occasion he would be so upset to find me in a soaked bed in the morning that he'd apply his belt to my behind. Once, he was so frustrated that he turned me over and rubbed my face in the urine-soaked mattress. A large part of the time, he would just throw his hands up in the air and exclaim "I don't understand; he's done it again." and he would turn around and walk away. Mom and Lester stopped letting me have the last glass of water at night, and also set the alarm for 3 AM so they could wake me up and take me to the bathroom. It didn't always work.
That in turn eventually resulted in a trip to the hospital to see if the doctors could figure out why I was wetting the bed. The doctors discovered the damage to my groin, which was explained to them as being caused by me falling astride a limb as I fell out of the oak tree in the backyard. The doctors didn't question it at all. To this day, I have problems with my bladder because of the nerve damage - I get about a 45-second warning.
I also learned to stay out of Lester's chair. He was in the dining room talking to Mom, and I walked over to his chair - a big overstuffed chair - and curled up in it to read a comic book. Lester saw me, ran over and hit me along side the head with his fist, knocking me out of the chair, and then proceeded to give me a spanking. That was his chair, period. My mother did take him to task for hitting me with his fist - something he had learned from his own parents.
By the end of the second year, all my emotions were gone except two: Love for my brother and sister, and deep hatred for my Mom and Lester - because she wasn't doing anything to help us, and nor was he - and he did use his belt on me. It was not until 2004 that additional information was obtained that showed how thoroughly the cult, through Art, manipulated and controlled my parents, using drugs to achieve a lot of that control.
One time Lester leaned backwards against the stove - and the tail of his shirt caught fire. I said nothing, and just watched; entirely emotionless - almost like a scientist watching a lab experiment. The shirt went up pretty fast; he ended up with second-degree burns over most of his back, and a small area about the size of a tea-cup saucer of third degree burns.
I was disappointed that he didn't die.
Another incident ocurred when we'd gone to see my maternal grandmother, and my grandmother was going to give Danny his first haircut - Danny was not quite two years old yet, and kept wanting to grab the electric clippers to see what they were, and my grandmother lost her temper and hit Danny with the clippers just below the left ear as hard as she could. Mom and Lester took Danny to the hospital, and told the doctors what happened. Danny was unconscious, and the doctors were able to save Danny - but Danny had received damage to his brain, and when he came out of his coma, he had regressed to original infancy. My grandmother was not prosecuted.
A factor that the cult used to their advantage was the fact that there often was not enough food for all of us because Lester's work was seasonal and low-paying, and my mother made very little on the side; so most of the time all of us were hungry - not starving, just hungry. The cult used food, naturally, as a reward and bribes.
Because I felt responsible for my siblings, and they often mentioned their hunger, I felt tremendous guilt that I could not provide for them, take care of them, feed them.
One of my "chores" each week was to go to the store and bring back milk, eggs, and bread. During one of those trips, I tried to make friends with a kitten, following it behind the store where it ran under a dumpster.
I glanced in the dumpster - and forgot about the kitten. Loaves of bread, blocks of cheese, heads of lettuce, lots of vegetables, packages of meat; all sitting there. Moldy, mildewed - but still food. There was also a lot of other garbage in the dumpster - some generated by the store, some dumped there by local residents.
I ran home with the groceries - and as hoped, got the "reward" I wanted: I was told to take Peggy and Danny and go outside and play.
We went to the dumpster. I knew that some food would be dangerous, particularly the meat - but I also knew that the mold on the bread and cheese could be trimmed off, as could the mildew and soft spots on the vegetables. We rummaged through the dumpster, and found a large tin can lid that we used as our knife - and we ate our fill - that time.
Finding enough food to fill us was the exception; most of the time there was only enough to take the edge off our hunger. Still, dumpster diving became a lifeline for us during the few months of that year. Peggy had mentioned to our mother that I had found food; my mother asked Peggy if I had stolen the food and where I found it; Peggy told her I didn't steal it, that I had found it behind the stores. My mother told her fine, and that we weren't to say anything to anyone about it.
The hardest part though was stopping Peggy and Danny from trying to eat the meat that had been thrown out. I told them about food poisoning (having been taught about that by my mother) - and even though they listened to me and obeyed, they cried quietly, asking me, begging me to get them some good meat - and that tore me up inside; it still tears me up.
Then, during one of our rummaging runs, I found an old soft-leather purse and almost threw it aside - and I remembered.
Grandpa Davidson had shown me at one time how to make a hunting sling, the same kind that David of Biblical fame had used. Grandpa also had me practice with it; showing me how the size, shape, and weight of each rock affected its flight and impact.
We dug through the dumpster and found some old rusty razor blades and discarded laundry line - and I made a sling. I told Peggy and Danny what kind of rocks to find - then, with pockets full of rocks, we went into the field behind the store to hunt ground squirrels and rabbits.
I failed miserably, and the three of us trudged home - Peggy and Danny's soft crying tearing into me - I felt I had failed them, failed to protect them, take care of them.
The sling became an obsession - I bent over backwards to be "good" for Mom and Lester - with the result I was rewarded with more play-time than ever before. Mom and Lester did not care where I went - as long as I stayed inside the boundaries they had defined, and was back by the specified time.
I practiced every chance I got; practiced until my arm was sore, and kept on practicing. Hunger and guilt are powerful motivators - my first kill occurred about three weeks after I first made the sling - a squirrel.
I felt no grief at having killed it; nor did I feel any joy - only a sense of satisfaction. I hid the squirrel's body, went home to get Peggy and Danny, brought them back - and showed them the squirrel. We took it down to the bottom of the creek bed, and as Peggy and Danny watched, I used the salvaged razor blades to skin and prepare the squirrel; spitting it on a long thin branch from a willow tree.
Remembering what Grandpa Davidson taught me, I showed Peggy and Danny how to look for aged, very dry wood - and then built a small pit-fire beneath the branches of the willow tree. The old dry wood smoked very little, and the smoke that did rise was dispersed by the branches and leaves of the willow tree.
That first squirrel was delicious; the smiles on Peggy's and Danny's faces were wonderful.
Hunting became a way of life for me, and as my skill with the sling increased, so did our menu. Squirrels were the easiest, rabbits were not quite as easy; robins, crows, and pigeons were harder. During the warmer months, we caught and ate snakes. During the cooler months, hunting was harder.
The peak of my hunting skills occurred when I bagged a jack rabbit and two cotton tail rabbits; more meat than Peggy and Danny and I could eat. Excited and very pleased with myself, we went home, for I finally had passed the standard I had set for myself. I ran into the kitchen where my mother was cooking carrots and potatoes and making some poor man's gravy and said "look mamma!" - I had the two cotton tails in one hand, and the jack rabbit in the other hand, and the sling in my pocket - with Peggy and Danny right behind me with sheepish grins on their faces - and I headed straight for Lester - who then, with a grin on his face, taught me the proper way to skin rabbits. We ate very well that night.
Yet, in the background, unseen and unknown to everyone else except me and Peggy was the cult; Art, Mary Anne and Ray; always watching, taking me and Peggy at any time, it seemed, as they pleased.
Life for me distilled to pure survival. My primary motivation was to stay alive so I could take care of Peggy and Danny, and that meant doing whatever it took to stay alive. As said elsewhere, the cult knew this, and used this to control me.
My secondary motivation was my vow, my hatred: To memorize all they did, learn all I could as I grew up - knowing some day, if I could stay alive, I would have my revenge.
Revenge against them - and against the pedophiles and the cult.