This is a story about child abuse and the permanent and
ineradicable effects it creates. It is based on true events.
For legal, moral, and personal reasons, all character names
and names of certain establishments are fictitious. Certain
characters are composites of actual individuals, and certain
incidents are constructions for thematic purposes. However,
all content bridged to and centered around child abuse, be it
clinical or personal, is not fictitious. It is true and real.
A Bad Seed
“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”
I have always possessed the faculty of exceptional recall. I did
not deserve this faculty, yet I was given it all the same. Events of
which I was a part I have particularly excellent recollection. These
recollections are not fragmentary images of the events; rather, they are
vivid and detailed canvases of the experiences.
My name is Owen. Owen Nicholas Langley. My first and middle name
came from film stars. This, my mother told me while sitting on a wide
smear of my father’s blood on our living room couch. Who those stars
were she did not say.
My parents were poor. My father was a custodian for a local high
school, my mother a charwoman for a bargain motel.
The first memories of my life were not terrible; they certainly weren’t
good, but they weren’t terrible. It was later—not much later—that my
memories took on the color of night. Those memories were of pain,
beatings, torture, and blood. My blood. Sometimes the blood came
from my face, other times from my chest, other times from my back,
and then others from my legs and feet.
I had one sibling, a sister. Her name was Susan. She was eleven and
a half when she died. I was almost five. She drowned while trying to
save my life.
The year was 1965. It was Saturday, May 22.
My parents took Susan and me to Millcreek Canyon, a popular place
of escape for those who lived in the city. The streams in the eastern
canyons were running unusually high and heavy that year. Parents
were warned not to let their children play in them, as the fast runoff
could easily take a child away.
After my father parked the car, Susan and I raced for the stream.
More for Susan’s safety than mine, my parents warned us to be careful
around the water. At first, I stood back and simply watched the stream
dive, tumble, and roll. Then I moved closer to its edge. It was a hot day,
so the white, rushing current looked cooling and inviting. I pulled off
my Keds and gingerly dipped my feet into the water. The fast-moving
stream was so frigid my heart nearly stopped. But my feet quickly
adjusted to the temperature, which gave me the confidence to venture
farther in. As soon as I started walking, I lost my footing and went
down. My head went under, and my left ear slammed against a jagged
streambed rock. I knew instantly my ear had been cut. My fingers
tried to grasp anything to prevent me from being pulled away, yet
everything below the waterline was slimy and slippery, so my fingers
easily slid away. My left kneecap made contact with a massive, granite
promontory jutting into the freezing water from the south bank of
the creek. The pain of the impact made me scream. Then I swallowed
water—too much water. I choked, then gagged.
The terror of dying temporarily attenuated the solar flares of pain
jetting from my knee.
I was being thrown around like a toy in a dog’s mouth. Then,
abruptly, something took hold of my shirt collar. This time it wasn’t
something from the creek. It was a hand. My head came out of the
water, and I caught sight of my sister. Panic was carved into her gentle,
young face. A smile took the place of fright when she saw my open
eyes. I was alive. Battered—but alive. She pulled me onto dry ground
and hugged me. Then panic suddenly seized her face again. The earth
on which she was kneeling gave way like a sinkhole, and she fell into
the water. I was safe; but now she was the one in peril. The freezing,
charging snowmelt kidnapped her without mercy. She was gone.
Though bleeding and badly injured, I ran after her, but the current
was swifter than my legs. I knew, even at age four, that trying to rescue
her on my own would be futile, so I ran back to my parents. Since the
stream ran parallel to the road, we could quickly get to her by car.
When my mother and father saw me, they screamed in anguish and
shouted, “Where’s your sister!”
“I fell in and Susan pulled me out. But then she fell in. The water
took her away.”
Without another word, my parents bolted for the car and sped
down the twisting canyon road, leaving me alone by the picnic table.
Minutes turned into hours as I waited for my parents to return.
The setting sun was beginning to paint the sky scarlet, and the hour
was turning the air cold. I had neither a coat nor sweater to warm me.
When we had arrived at the spot where my parents wanted to picnic, it
was only one in the afternoon and far too warm for any clothing other
than a short-sleeved shirt.
I was beside myself with guilt and worry over my sister. But after
the sun had surrendered itself to the evening, my worry turned from
my sister to me. The clothes I was wearing, though no longer soaked,
were damp. The polar-like air had made them colder than they would
have been had they been dry. My body was shaking from the falling
temperature. I knew if I didn’t get warm soon, the cold would most
likely take my life. There were several trees lining the stream, so I
chose the largest I could see and sat up against it. At least my back
would have some shelter from the cold. I then elbowed my legs up to
my chin and wrapped my arms around my bare legs to give them some
cover. I didn’t want to, but I started to cry. I was alone, frightened, and
Like an advancing fog, nighttime quickly rolled into the narrow,
winding canyon. Soon I was surrounded by inky blackness. The
darkness frightened me even more, and the fear intensified the pain
from the biting air.
Headlights from a passing car shined on my face. I shielded my eyes
from the blinding beams. My heart leapt—my parents had returned!
Then my heart fell again as I saw the car vanish into the night.
I laid my forehead on my knees, and again I began to cry.
Moments later, I heard footfalls.
“Little boy, what are you doing out here all alone?”
I lifted my head. Standing in front of me was a tall woman. She
was pointing a long, silver-ribbed flashlight at me whose beam was
so bright I had to turn away. Immediately, the woman pointed the
flashlight to the ground.
A short, heavyset man was standing next to the woman.
“My sister fell in the water, and my parents went to look for her,” I
answered, my voice trembling.
Looking down at me in fright, the woman asked, “What happened
“I fell in the water too.”
“Go get that extra blanket out of the back of the car,” the woman
told the man.
The man rushed over to a long station wagon parked off the side of
the road. He came back quickly with a thick, dark blanket. The woman
took it from the man, and she wrapped it around me. The warmth
instantly made my tears stop.
“Thank you,” I said to the woman, looking up at her.
“What’s your name, little boy?” she asked.
“How old are you?”
“What kind of parents abandons their kid out in the cold woods at
night?” the man asked. “What do you think we should do?”
“We can’t just leave him out here in the cold. Let’s get him in the
car and get the heater going. We’ll wait for his parents to come back.”
“What if they don’t?” the man speculated.
“I guess we’ll have to take him to the police. They’ll know what to
The woman knelt down in front of me. “Owen, we’d like to take you
over to our car and put you in the front seat so you can get warm. Is
I nodded. I could sense they weren’t going to harm me.
The woman stood and extended her hand. I took it without
hesitation, and the three of us walked over to the station wagon. The
man opened the rear passenger door and slid into the car. The woman
opened the front passenger door for me, and I crawled onto a supplesoft
bench seat. She gently shut my door and walked around to the
driver’s side. As soon as she situated herself behind the wheel, she
started the engine. In seconds, warm, comforting air enfolded me.
I became very sleepy.
“May I go to sleep?” I asked the lady.
“Of course you may,” she replied.
I laid my head on the middle section of the seat, and my eyes closed
The woman stroked my hair as I lay there.
My mother never did this. Neither did my father. Neither of them
liked to touch me. They probably thought I never took notice of it, but
I did. Susan, on the other hand, was always receiving their touch. They
would kiss her and hug her and tell her how much they loved her. But I
didn’t hold this against her, for she didn’t want to be the chosen child.
She wanted them to treat us equally.
I sensed early on that Susan was the apple of my parents’ eye. Some
parents think children haven’t the intelligence or perception to pick
up on favoritism. But they do. There was always pride and joy in my
parents’ eyes when they looked at Susan. They always smiled adoringly
at her. Never once did they smile at me. The portions she received at
the dinner table were always more than mine. Her food was always
arranged neatly on her plate, almost symmetrically, whereas my food
looked as if it had been thrown on the plate from across the room. But
when my parents weren’t looking, Susan would slip me extras from her
plate. When my sister was younger and brought home clay figurines
she had molded in art class or drawings she had made during recess,
my parents would fawn and gush effusively over her creations. But
when I drew pictures, my parents said nothing. They didn’t even glance
at them. My parents read to Susan every night before she went to sleep.
They didn’t even say “good night” to me. When my tummy was upset
or when I had a fever, it was Susan who made me feel better. Yes, Susan
clearly was the apple of my parents’ eye. I was the worm who slithered
out of it.
A banging sound awakened me. I sat straight up. I was still in
the front seat of the station wagon. The overhead light came on. The
woman next to me rolled down her window. I could tell it was very late.
“Have you seen a dirty, little kid around here?” my mother asked
hatefully. Then she saw me sitting on the front seat. “There you are, you
little bastard! Get out of there and get over here!”
The woman looked over at me and swallowed. “We found him
sitting all alone in the dark, shivering,” she said to my mother.
“Pity you didn’t find him dead! He could give his sister some
company. I said, get out of the car, you little puke!”
Fearfully, I opened the door and walked around to the driver’s side
of the car.
I didn’t even see it coming. My mother hit me in the face so hard
my body left the ground and flew back. My face made contact with the
ground first. I tasted blood, and my left cheek was on fire.
In unison, the couple shouted, “What are you doing!” They leapt out
of the car and raced for me.
“Your sister’s dead, you piece of crap!” my mother screamed at me.
My father came over to me and pulled me up off the ground by
my hair. The other man, whose name I didn’t even know, punched my
father in the stomach. My father collapsed to the ground.
Like lightning, my mother kicked the man between his legs. With
a deep scream, he buckled and fell to his knees. She then kicked him
in the forehead. His body recoiled, and he landed on his side. He lay
there, motionless. I thought he was dead. The woman—presumably the
man’s wife—dashed over to her fallen husband and started screaming
at my parents. My mother, being the loyal wife she was, went to my
father and helped him to his feet. He held his gaunt stomach with both
Glaring at me, my mother ordered, “Get in the car!”
Dutifully, I entered the back seat of our rusty, drafty, and noisy 1951
Plymouth Cranbrook. I was both hurting and numb—hurting from my
mother’s slap and numb from her words: “Your sister’s dead.”
How could Susan be dead? How? Where was she? Her body was not
in the car. Was she in the trunk? Did they just leave her where they had
found her? Surely, they wouldn’t have done that.
After my parents were back in the car, I timidly asked, “Where’s
“Were you not listening!” my mother spat. “She’s dead! Thanks to
“I’m sorry,” I said, crying. “I didn’t mean to kill her.”
Her arm flew over the seat, and she gave the side of my face the back
of her hand. “Shut up!”
The strike almost made me lose consciousness.
My parents wept all the way home. More than once my father had
to pull over. He was so overcome with grief his body convulsed in my
I did not want to be hit again, so I kept completely silent, even
though on the inside I was dissolving. My sister was really gone.
When we arrived home, I sprang from the car and dashed to our
front door. I wanted to get to my room and hide from my parents.
Our apartment was on the ground level, and it was the only one in
the building that exited directly outside. The other apartments were
accessed through a long hallway.
My father slowly walked to our front door and pushed me aside
when he got there. He unlocked the door and told my mother to go
in. When I took a step forward to follow her, he stopped me with
his hand. “You’re stayin’ outside tonight,” he said. “Your sister’s in a
refrigerator right now—stone-cold and alone. Just like you’re gonna be
tonight. You’re gonna feel exactly what she’s feeling. If I find you dead
in the morning, that’ll be okay by me. I’ll throw your worthless carcass
in the garbage can—right where it belongs. If you run away, that’ll be
even better. Either way, you won’t be missed.” With those words, he
closed the door and locked it.
When I awoke the next morning, the sun was peeking through a
cluster of leafy, nutant willow branches. I should have passed away
during the night, but I didn’t. Sometimes it takes very little to kill the
human body; other times it takes everything. The night before, I had
taken refuge under a breezeway of a nearby house. Remembering
what I had done in the canyon, I wrapped my arms tightly around
my chest, curled my body into a tight ball and got as close to the side
of the house as I could. I didn’t think I would sleep, but soon my eyes
became heavy, and they closed. Before sleep took over, I thought
of Susan and all that had happened that afternoon. I so hoped I
would never have to go through another day like that one. That was
my hope. But hope is as evanescent as a mist…it hovers, and then
Susan was gifted with both beauty and brilliance. She was the brightest
star in her class, and her report cards were always cornucopias of A’s
and praise. Glowing comments from her teachers always decorated
the tops of the papers she wrote. Easily, she would have been chosen
homecoming queen and valedictorian had she lived to those ages.
Where her dazzling beauty came from was a mystery to me, for both
of my parents were head-to-heel homely. My father was angular and
hunchbacked, with a face so lined it made a sheet of wadded paper
look like a sheet of glass. My mother was diminutive in both height
and frame, with a visage so bland it made a stick of chalk look like a
stick of gold. It was a wonder she ever got a man to notice her, let alone
impregnate her. Maybe the glamour gene skipped a generation in my
family; maybe it was my grandparents whom Susan mirrored. But I
would never know this for certain, for I never knew my grandparents
or saw any photographs of them.
Susan had radiant, golden-brown hair; her teeth were stunningly
white; her complexion was flawless, and her heart was without hate in
any measure. She was truly perfect. Why my parents loved her so was
not a question that demanded operose rumination: she was everything
they were not. She was the only thing of value in their empty and
But why wasn’t I? What was it about me—before Susan’s death—
that prevented them from loving me?
My parents did not let me attend Susan’s funeral. They locked me in
my room for the day. After her death, I was forbidden to speak her
name in front of them, and they refused to speak her name in front of
me, but I knew her face was all they could see.
Before Susan’s death, I knew my parents didn’t want me. I didn’t
know why—I just knew. After Susan’s death, their unconcealed apathy
morphed into uninhibited antipathy. They hated every cell in my
being, and they had no unease about letting me know this. Oddly, they
didn’t show this contempt until after I was asleep. Before then, I was
left alone; they didn’t even speak to me. But after I went to sleep, this
was when I would feel their teeth, their hate. They both would slip into
my room, not turning on the naked bulb hanging from the ceiling, and
close the door. One would stand by the push-button light switch while
the other would tiptoe through the dirty blackness over to my bed and
awaken me. The one standing by the door would turn on the light, and
the night would begin. They seemed to take delight in what they did
to my body, for they always smiled, even laughed, while they made its
nerves catch fire and its flesh bleed. Their nocturnal visits were always
random, never routine. Two or three nights would pass with never a
sound from them. Then, for three or four nights in tandem, they would
sneak in, with their toys in hand, and make me their playmate.
My face, chest, torso, and abdomen were never without contusions;
some were so dark they almost looked black. Breathing was never easy.
Neither was walking. I wondered, even as a small boy, if I had any ribs
that were not broken.
A bat was my parents’ toy of choice, but they appreciated other
playthings as well. Sometimes my father would have my mother sit
on my stomach while he dropped a hammer onto my kneecaps and
shins and chest. Sometimes they would lash my chest and back with
a notched extension cord. They had cut the PVC insulation every few
inches and then pulled out some of the wiring. When the cord struck
me, the shard-sharp fangs of copper wiring would slice my skin like
pieces of glass. Other times, they would make me stand naked in front
of them while they would whip my torso with a long strand of fishing
line plaited with thin, lead sinkers. (Years later, I would wonder why
they hadn’t just gone all the way and made a cat-o’-nine-tails—they
would have had nine times the pleasure.) Each time the line and sinkers
would strike my body, I would scream as my flesh tore open. So that my
screams would never be heard by our neighbors, they would place duct
tape over my mouth and then wrap it twice around my head. In the
mornings, I would scream into my sheetless and bloodstained mattress
as I pulled the tape from the back of my head. Tufts of bloodied, brown
hair would be bound to the viscous side of the tape.
Though not their favorite, another toy my parents found gratifying
was a mousetrap. Despite my tears and muffled pleadings, they would
set my feet in the mousetrap and tease it until the kill bar snapped
down on my toes.
When my parents entered my room with beer and honey, I knew
blood would not flow, but agony would. My parents would tell me to
get off my bed, undress and stand next to the window. They would
take my place on the bed, tell me to extend my arms and not move.
For hours, in front of a blanket-covered window, I would stand—like
a man nailed to a crucifix—and watch them down bottle after bottle
of Pabst. Exhaustion and pain would eventually send me to the floor.
After I collapsed, my father would walk over to me, and, as I lay on my
soiled and pungent carpet, drip honey over my nude body. “It’s time
to feed your friends,” he would say. Too weakened to rise, I would
remain on the floor and quickly fall asleep. The next morning, I would
still be on the floor, but I wouldn’t be alone: moving over the sequins
of honey dotting my body would be hundreds of small, black ants.
After each visit from my parents, they would turn off the light,
depart from my room, close the door and hook it from the outside. The
hook, or so they believed, would not come off until they needed me for
work…or play. (Fortuitously, the doorframe was out of plumb, which
made it possible for me to slip the end of a wire hanger through the
breach and flip up the hook.)
I was given neither food nor water, and I wasn’t permitted to use the
bathroom. When my parents were home, I would slip out my window
and do what I needed to do. When they weren’t home, I would make use
of the bathroom in the apartment. During the warm months, I would
drink from a mineral-caked garden spigot in the back of the apartment
house. In the cold months, I would get my water from the cleanest
snow I could find. I never took water from the kitchen or bathroom, for
fear I might accidentally leave some trace of my presence. If my parents
discovered I had been letting myself out of my room, I knew I would
face a punishment without equal.
Neighbors’ table-trash and pantry toss-outs were my meals. People
were thoughtlessly (and thankfully) wasteful with their food. They
threw away bread, cereal, peanut butter, jam, cheese, cookies, apples,
bananas, and all sorts of fruits and vegetables simply because they had
mold or a bruise or two. Other men’s trash was this little boy’s treasure.
Endless questions traveled through my head during those months
after Susan’s death. But there were two that kept coming back. Did it
ever transit through the disfigured minds of my parents why I didn’t
die? And how would they explain the many scars and cuts on my body
once I started school? They couldn’t keep me locked away forever. Or
maybe they could. Adults, I was learning, were capable of anything.
The Christmas before Susan’s death was unnaturally nice. My
parents—for some unfathomable reason—were generous, even
magnanimous, to me. From them, not Santa (for there is no Santa, they
told me), I was given Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, Legos, and a G.I. Joe.
However, all of these gifts were placed not under the tree, but against the
wall next to it. The ring of space under the tree was reserved for Susan’s
presents, which voyaged well beyond its tartan skirt. How my parents
afforded this sea of largesse for my sister and me I hadn’t a clue. Maybe
he had taken from the cafeteria register at the school and she from the
guests at the motel. Anything was possible…especially with them.
The Christmas after Susan’s death was the polar opposite of the one
before it. That year, there was no tree in our apartment, no presents, no
decorations, no holiday music, and no crayoned Santa Clauses taped
to the living room window for passersby to see. But more noticeably,
there were no smiles in our tiny home. Only pain.
Friday, December 17, 1965.
A day of lasts.
I heard crying coming from beyond my door. Both of my parents were
weeping. For a brief moment, I felt sorry for them. Why were they
crying? Then I remembered there was something unique about this
day…but I couldn’t remember what it was, which was odd for me, for I
never forgot anything. I heard the front door close. As they did every
morning, my parents left for work at precisely seven-fifteen. (They
might have been anthropoid dragons, but they were punctual and
committed anthropoid dragons.)
If my parents were home for the day, I would hunt for food while
they were still asleep. If they had to go to work, I would start right after
they left. But on this day, I was sick to my stomach, so I decided to start
my search later. Around noon, I left my room and made my way to the
garbage cans. (It was a messy job searching for food, even dangerous.
The day after Thanksgiving, while combing through a can glutted
with holiday throwaways, I accidentally slid my left arm over a broken
mayonnaise jar. The long cut bled unceasingly. I wasn’t worried about
my parents finding out—for the cut would simply look a close copy to
all the others—I was worried about not being able to stop the bleeding.
But after a lengthy compression, the cut clotted. My parents never saw
the laceration, or, if they did, never commented on it. After the day with
the mayonnaise jar, I was constantly tempted to take food from our
kitchen, but each time I stopped myself. I couldn’t risk getting caught.
And yet, robbing garbage cans carried its own risk. If a neighbor saw
me going through the cans, they would ask me who I was, and I would
tell them, for what else could I say? They would then tell the police,
who, in turn, would tell my parents. If that happened, I would be in for
the longest—and possibly last—night of my life.) The air was ruthlessly
cold that mid-December morning, but the sky above was cloudless and
magically blue. I cautiously searched through the badly dented metal
cans for anything edible. I didn’t want to be too eager in my scout for
food, lest I come across another broken jar. While sifting through the
rancid castoffs, I heard something. Something whimpering. Because it
was daylight, it would be easy to discover what was causing the pitiful
sound. I began looking around the cans. Cowering next to the last can
was the tiniest dog I had ever seen. It had adorably large ears, with alert
but very sad eyes. Its cream-colored coat was darkened with dirt, and
small pieces of ice were cemented to two very delicate and frail legs. It
was shivering uncontrollably. I felt my heart break for the tiny creature.
It crouched in fear and turned its small face away as I bent down to
pick it up.
“I’m not going to hurt you, little one,” I said softly. “I promise.”
It slowly turned its face to me as I lifted it into my arms. It was
homeless, friendless, and dangerously thin.
Frantically, I searched the trash for some food for the little dog, not
caring if I got cut again. Finally, I found some edible items: three halfeaten
hot dogs, an unopened can of yams, and a large cube of cheddar
cheese. Small freckles of mold dotted one end.
With dog and food in hand, I ran back to the apartment and locked
the door. Quickly, I washed off the hot dogs and removed the mold
from the cheese. I tore the hot dogs and cheese into small pieces and
placed them on a plate. The little dog, a male, was up on his hind legs
and barking happily at the sight of his meal. When I put the plate down
on the floor, the little dog, without hesitation, ate and ate and ate. While
he enjoyed his lunch, I opened the can of yams, smelled them to make
sure they weren’t spoiled, and spooned a couple onto his plate. These,
too, he eagerly swallowed.
After he had finished, I cleaned the plate and erased all signs of the
food I had given him. I couldn’t let my parents know I had him: they
would surely kill him, or, at the very least, throw him back outside.
I picked him up, put him in my arms and placed him in the kitchen
sink. Carefully, I ran lukewarm water over his back and slowly removed
the dirt embedded in his hair. It took some time, but I was finally able
to make him clean again. He didn’t fuss or squirm while I bathed him.
After drying him and the sink and the plate from which he had eaten,
I took him into the living room and played with him on the couch.
Over and over, he lay on his side and held out his legs so I could kiss
his tummy, chest, and the side of his face. I wondered if all dogs did
this. He was so affectionate. Often, he would leap up and lick my face
or take my finger into his mouth and playfully chew on it.
I picked him up, and the two of us went over to the closet. On the
closet floor was a set of encyclopedias stored in a box. I wanted to find
out what kind of dog this was. Without much searching, I found his
breed. He was a Chihuahua.
“What name would you like, little guy?” I asked him.
He tilted his head in bewilderment.
He barked excitedly and licked my chin. There was my answer. Yogi
Bear was my favorite cartoon, so Yogidog would be his name.
“Yogidog it is,” I said and kissed the top of his head, which felt like
silk. “I sure do love you, little one.”
I looked at the clock: it was 2:55. My father arrived home at three
o’clock every day! I needed to hide my Yogidog somewhere in my room,
I ran into my room, replaced the hook on the door with the hanger I
kept under my bed, and put my new, little friend in the closet. “Now don’t
make a sound, okay? I won’t be gone long. I love you.” I slowly and quietly
closed the door, but not all the way. I didn’t want him to leave him in the
dark. I knew what it was like to be alone and surrounded by blackness.
Sitting on my bed, I waited for my father to unhook my door. Every
afternoon, immediately after he arrived home, he would let me out of
my room to get him his beers. I would go out into the kitchen, open the
refrigerator, take out five beers, open them, set them on an aluminum
TV tray in front of our threadbare couch and wait to see if he wanted
anything else. If he didn’t, I would return to my room.
Shortly after three that afternoon, my father opened my door.
Without a word, he went into the living room, sat down on the far end
of the couch and waited for his beers. When he got them, he downed
them feverishly. This was most peculiar, even for him. Normally, he
would turn on our black-and-white Zenith and drink his beers slowly.
This day, he didn’t turn on the TV and, while he drank, stared straight
ahead. Something had happened, though I didn’t dare ask.
In less than five minutes, he had finished all five beers. He went to
our cracked and yellowing Frigidaire and took out four more beers.
Again, he walked straight past me, sat down on the couch and began
Just then, a piercing bark came from my bedroom.
“What the hell was that!” my father thundered.
My mouth went dry and my heart quickened.
No, please! Please don’t let this happen!
My bedroom door inched open, and Yogidog ran over to me and
stood on his back legs for me to pick him up. I did so.
“Who the hell do you think you are bringing an animal into this
house!” my father roared.
“Please, Daddy. Please let me keep him. Please.” I started to cry.
I was holding Yogidog tightly against my face. He was licking the tears
off of my face. “He won’t get in the way, I promise. Please don’t hurt
him. I love him. Please don’t hurt him.”
My father arose from the couch and staggered over to me. He looked
down at me with glassy eyes. “What have I told you? Don’t ever call me
Daddy! It’s Mr. Langley!”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Langley. Please don’t hurt him. Please.”
“I’m not going to hurt him,” my father said with a reassuring tone.
I wiped the remaining tears off of my face and smiled up at my
father with gratitude.
“I’m not going to hurt him,” my father said again. “I’m going to
kill him.” In the wink of an eye, my father thrust his hand at my face,
grabbed Yogidog by his scruff and, with one swift torque of his hands,
broke his neck. Yogidog yelped loudly, then fell limp. My father dropped
him on the floor in front of me and then stumbled back to the couch.
I looked down at my little one. His once-happy eyes were now still
and inanimate, his little tongue was hanging out of his mouth, and his
tiny chest was no longer moving.
I fell to my knees and buried my face in his side. I couldn’t move.
I couldn’t breathe. Every part of me felt like it was dying.
I’m so sorry, Yogidog. I’m so sorry.
“It hurts when someone kills something you love, doesn’t it?” I heard
my father say.
“Look at me, you little rodent!” my father demanded.
I looked up at my father, my body so heavy with pain I wished he
would kill me as he had killed my Yogidog.
“Get over here, boy!” he ordered.
I no longer cared what he did to me. I wanted him to kill me too.
For the first time in my life, I went to him without fear. I wanted him
to end my life.
“Do you know what today is, you little piece of filth?” he asked me.
“It’s your sister’s birthday. Did you know that? No, I guess not—you
were too busy with your ugly, little rat over there. Do you have any idea
how much I hate you? Do you?”
“And acourse, bein’ the dummy you are, you prob’ly don’t even
know why. Well, I’m gonna tell you why. Before I check out, I’m gonna
I knew why he hated me: I had caused my sister’s death. Both he and
my mother made it clear why they hated me each time they came into
“You’re not mine, boy,” he began. “Not one bit a you. Round about
six years ago, me and your mother wasn’t gettin’ along too good,
especially in the bedroom—if you know what I mean,” he said with
a misshapen smile. “Seems your mom needed more attention than I
was givin’ her at the time. So she paid lots of visits to the bars here
in town. Met some men all too willin’ to give her some attention.
She didn’t sleep with them, though. She just teased them…like most
women do. Seems one man she teased, she teased a little too far. He
raped her in the basement of one of them bars. Hello, Owen. We didn’t
want you, but we couldn’t afford to have you cut out, so, nine months
later, out you popped, alive and well. We was gonna give you away, but
Susan fell madly in love with you while you was still in your mother’s
belly. What Susan wanted, Susan got. I’m proud of that. We gave her
anything she wanted…including you. We couldn’t give to ourselves,
but by Jupiter, we was gonna give to her. Do you know that if you
never came along, she’d be alive today? You wouldn’t be here, and she
would. You know what you are, boy? You’re a rape-child. A sin-child.
A bad seed. A bastard. A bastard if there ever was one. You killed my
daughter, you lousy, good-for-nothin’ pissant! You ruined our lives!”
He moved forward on the couch and slipped his right hand under
the wafer-thin, dusty-rose cushion on which he was sitting. His hand
quickly emerged, and in it was a long-nosed revolver.
I looked at the gun calmly, without fright. I knew the gun was for
me. I was glad. I wanted to die. I was only five years of age…yet I felt
so old, so worn-out. I closed my eyes in acceptance and capitulation,
waiting for the bullet to enter me.
A moment later, a deafening explosion stabbed my ears. The sound
was so intense it pushed me back like a punch from a giant fist. From
the floor, I opened my eyes and saw that my father was no longer
sitting. Half of his body was lying on the couch, and the other half was
hanging over it. Suddenly, his flaccid body fell to the floor, leaving a
wide swath of blood on the center cushion of the couch.
Seconds later, another booming sound assaulted me. But this sound
came from the front door: someone was pounding on it. Then the door
flew open and a young woman whom I had never seen before stormed
into the room. She gasped when she saw my father. She cupped her
hands over her mouth and turned away. A moment later, she turned
back to my father. Then to me.
Blankly, I stared at her.
“Little boy, are you all right?”
I didn’t answer.
“What happened here?”
“He didn’t love me,” I said mechanically. “He loved my sister. He
killed my Yogidog. I wanted him to kill me, but he didn’t. He killed
himself, but he wouldn’t kill me. Why wouldn’t he kill me?”
The woman stared at me in disbelief. It was obvious what she was
thinking: What five-year-old talks like this?
“You stay right here, you understand?” she said. “I’m going for some
help.” She ran out of the apartment.
On my knees, I went over to my Yogidog. I picked him up and held
him against my face.
“What are you doing out of your room!” my mother bellowed from
the open front door. “And why is the door wide open in the dead of
winter!” She paused, and her eyebrows dipped. “What is that you’re
holding?” she asked with a scowl. She turned and saw my father on the
floor. Her scream should have made me shrink in fright, but it didn’t.
I didn’t care anymore. She ran over to my father and tried to sit him up.
His bloody head fell limp in her hands.
“What have you done!” she shrieked. She bolted up from the floor
and charged at me. She hit my face with her fist and then kicked my
ribs. I felt the blasts of pain…but I didn’t care. She then kicked me
again…and again…and again.
“Stop it! Stop it!” shouted the woman who had come in earlier.
“You’re going to kill him!” The woman was trying desperately to pull
my mother away from me. Then, two men appeared out of nowhere.
My mother, though small, could be a frightening force. The two men
discovered this as they tried to hold her back from me.
“He killed my husband! He killed my husband!” my mother yelled,
still straining madly to get at me.
“He didn’t kill him!” the woman shouted at my mother. “Your
husband killed himself!”
My mother went still. “What?” Her voice was barely audible.
“He killed himself.”
“He wouldn’t do that. Why would he do that? Why would he do this
“I don’t know. But the boy didn’t do it. Look at him—he’s just a
Though my mother was now quiescent, the men kept their hold on her.
The woman knelt next to me. She looked with sadness at my lifeless
Yogidog. She kissed my forehead and said, “Everything is going to be
okay. My name is Karen. I live upstairs. I’m going to stay right here with
you until the police come. I’m not going to let your mother hurt you
anymore.” She was a young woman with silky, red hair and the softest
skin I had ever seen…even softer than Susan’s.
The apartment became as quiet as a forest in winter. It seemed
everyone on Earth had vanished, except those in our bloody and dirty
The sound of sirens broke the thick silence.
Multiple vehicles with revolving red beacons affixed to their tops
stopped on the street outside our front door. Soon, people dressed in
all types of uniforms were entering our foul-smelling apartment.
After my father was removed, a middle-aged woman under a white,
pillbox hat and warmed by a pale-green serge coat with huge, round
buttons entered the apartment. She came over to where I was sitting
and knelt down next to me.
“Hello there,” she said evenly. “My name is Donna. Can you tell me
“Owen. This is Yogidog.”
She looked at my dog and tried to smile. She turned her attention
to the other woman next to me. “I’m Donna Mills. Are you a relative?”
“No, I live upstairs. My name is Karen Tozzoli. I’m the one who
called the police.”
“Did he see it happen?”
“I think so.”
“Terrible,” she said, shaking her head. She then at looked at me
intently, oddly. “Owen, may I lift up your shirt for a moment?”
She carefully lifted up my frayed pullover. Both women winced
when they saw my chest, stomach, and sides. Both women shot their
eyes to my mother, who was staring at the place where my father’s
body had been. The woman named Donna shook her head and
tightened her lips.
“Have you or anyone else in the building heard or noticed anything
suspicious going on in this apartment?” Donna asked Karen.
“No, but then I’ve only been living here a few weeks,” Karen replied.
“I didn’t even know this boy was living here. The parents are really
standoffish. What are you going to do with him?” Karen asked,
dropping her eyes to me.
“First, we’ll get him in for a complete physical,” Donna answered.
“Then some food. He’s seriously malnourished. Then we’ll place him
in an orphanage until we locate any relatives, assuming there are any.
Failing that, we’ll try to foster him out.”
“What about her?” Karen asked contemptuously, nodding to my
“If I had my way, she’d be shot.”
“I need to sit down,” said my mother, looking at the uniformed
officer standing next to her. “Please.”
The officer looked at Donna for permission.
After pausing, Donna nodded.
My mother walked over to the couch and sat down on the middle
cushion, in my father’s blood.
I had seen some strange things in my short life, but that was one of
the strangest. Why would anyone sit in another’s blood? It wasn’t like
she couldn’t see it. Everyone in the room saw it. Why would she do
such a thing?
My mother looked at me. “What was your doggy’s name?” she asked
I couldn’t believe my ears. It was the first time my mother had ever
used a tender tone with me.
“Yogidog,” I answered.
“I’m sorry he died. He looks like he was a nice doggy.”
Why? Why was she being so sweet when she had never been before?
Was it an act for the other people in the room? Theater to convince
them she wasn’t a monster? Or was she, for the first time ever, actually
seeing me rather than Susan?
“I think Susan would have liked him,” she said with a brittle smile. “I
don’t think I’ll ever see you again, Owen. After you was born, we—me
and your dad—wanted to take to you, for Susan’s sake, but we couldn’t.
We even named you after two of our favorite movie stars, just like we
did with Susan. We kept you because of her. We tried to love you. We
did. But we couldn’t. It just wasn’t there. There wasn’t anything about
you to love. When I look at you, all I feel is hate. You never should have
“Get her out of here!” Donna snapped at the officer who had been
standing next to my mother.
Karen placed her hand on my back. “Owen, would it be okay if I
took Yogidog?” she asked softly, her eyes brimming with tears, her face
like a mirror, reflecting my own emptiness. “I think he would like to be
in a place where he can sleep…and be happy.”
I kissed Yogidog’s small, angel-soft forehead. I stroked his gentle
face and porcelain paws. “Good-bye, Yogidog. Sleep good, okay? Have
lots of happy dreams. I love you, little one. I’m sorry I let you die. Please
don’t ever forget me.”
I handed him to Karen. Her face was wet with tears.
So was Donna’s.
I was removed from the apartment shortly after my mother was taken
away. I would never see it again. I so hoped life would treat me kindly
in the future. But hope, like smoke, disappears as quickly as it appears.
The days and years ahead of me, I knew, would be anything but kind.
Three weeks after my father’s death, my mother hanged herself.