Chapter 2: An Angel Named Ms. Gold
On March 5, 1973, Dave is finally rescued from his terrifying situation. Teachers and staff at his school in Daly City notify the police of the abuse he is enduring. On that day, Dave says goodbye to his teacher, Mr. Ziegler, who tells him to be a good boy. He leaves the school without having made a single friend there.
At the police station, the police officer calls Dave’s mother and tells her that Dave will not be returning home that afternoon. Is she had any questions she was to contact the county juvenile authorities. The policeman assures him that his mother will never be able to hurt him again. Dave is driven to the local hospital, where he is examined. The doctor is concerned about the bruises on his arms and the condition of his hands. His fingers are raw and numb because of all the strong cleaning chemicals he had been forced to use to complete household chores. The doctor seems shocked by Dave’s condition and seeks assurances from the policeman that he will not be sent back to his mother. Dave overhears this and finally feels safe.
The officer then drives Dave to his new but temporary foster home, which is run by an elderly woman who introduces herself as Aunt Mary. After dinner, Dave is introduced to the seven other foster children who live at the house. The other children ask him some questions and then quickly accept him. Overjoyed, he runs wildly around the house, joking and laughing, jumping on mattresses. He stops only when Aunt Mary restrains him after he has knocked a lamp over in the living room.
That night Dave is afraid his mother will come and take him back, but Aunt Mary assures him this will not happen. He has a nightmare in which his mother threatens him with a knife. When he wakes up he thinks that he will soon be returned to her. On following nights he refuses to sleep because he does not want to encounter his mother in dreams.
He meets Ms. Gold, a social worker with the county’s Child Protection Services. The first day she stays with him for five hours, and he has many subsequent long sessions with her. He soon begins to trust her and considers her his best friend. She keeps assuring him that he did not deserve to be treated the way his mother treated him. But Dave worries when Ms. Gold tells him that the county was going to use information he had supplied about his mother against her. Dave worries she may be thrown into jail, and then what would happen to his brothers?
One Sunday afternoon his mother comes to visit him, with her four other sons. Dave is terrified that she has come to take him back, even though Aunt Mary assures him this is not so. His mother does not talk to him directly but inquires of Aunt Mary how he is. She refers to him as “the Boy.” She warns Aunt Mary that Dave does not get along well with others and can be violent. Aunt Mary replies that he is doing fine. Her tone is sharp, and Dave is happy that finally someone is putting his mother in her place. He starts to feel confident, but then Aunt Mary goes to the kitchen to answer the phone, and Dave is left alone with his mother and brothers. She talks aggressively to him, about the trouble he has caused her. She says she will get him back.
Aunt Mary returns. Dave looks at his brothers, knowing that they hate him for disclosing the family secret. He hopes that they will not be abused in his place. After the family leaves Dave is upset. He fears his mother is right, and that she will get him back.
The next day Ms. Gold tells Dave they will be going to court in two days. Frightened, Dave retracts all his statements about the abuse. He was the cause of all the problems, he says. He beat and starved himself. Frustrated, Ms. Gold tells him how important the case is, but he is too frightened of his mother’s anger to respond. She tells him he must make a major decision, but still he resists. Ms. Gold leaves, angry and upset. Dave is confused. He has protected his mother by lying, but he also knows he has put Ms. Gold in a difficult position.
It is not surprising that when released from his prison, Dave becomes rambunctious at his new home with Aunt Mary. He is able to let off steam for the first time and to fear no punishments. For once, he does not have to retreat into his shell.
The main character in this chapter is the social worker Ms. Gold, one of the many adults who now begin to help rather than abuse Dave. However, he is still haunted by the abuse he suffered, and if he no longer has to deal with his tormentor in person, he dreams of her. Pelzer presents his mother in this chapter as a monster. On the one occasion that she visits, her “heavy, rasping breathing” (p. 52), makes him quiver. Her face is dark red and “her eyes were on fire” and her teeth are “dark yellow” (p. 53). She is like a creature from hell.
It will be a long journey for Dave before he can become a normal boy, but he is making the first steps. He has to deal with his feelings of unworthiness that have been instilled in him since he was four years old, and in this chapter he alternates between periods of relative calm and confidence and times when he accepts his mother’s version of events—that what he suffered was all his own fault. It takes him a while to learn to trust Ms. Gold, for example. At first he will not let her touch him; he cannot believe that an adult is really showing him kindness and understanding. It is Ms. Gold who begins his rehabilitation, but as the last pages of the chapter show (when he refuses her help and recants all his statements about the abuse), she has embarked on a very difficult case.
Chapter 3: The Trial
Two weeks later, Ms. Gold drives Dave to the county courthouse for the trial that will determine whether he will remain with foster parents or be returned to his mother. Ms. Gold says there is a possibility that he will indeed be returned to his mother, a prospect that Dave dreads. Ms. Gold says that he is the only one who can decide his fate because he must make a decision.
They arrive at the courthouse and wait. Mother and her other sons are already there. While he waits Dave writes a note to his mother saying he was sorry for telling the secret and asking her to forgive him. He gives the note to his mother. She does not acknowledge him but reads the note and then tears it in half.
They go into the courtroom. Ms. Gold presents the case to the judge, saying that the county recommends that Dave be made a permanent ward of the court. The judge asks Mrs. Pelzer if she has anything to say, and she replies that she does not. The judge speaks, saying this is a very disturbing case, and Dave daydreams. Then he is asked to stand, and the judge tells him that if the court desires, and if he also believes that his home is not where he wants to live, he may be made a permanent ward of the court. After some moments of confusion, Dave blurts out that he wants “to live with you!” (p. 72), meaning the court system. The judge agrees, and rules that Dave will be a ward of court until he is eighteen years old.
Ms. Gold hugs him and tells him she is proud of him. As they leave the courtroom, Dave sees that his mother is crying. She hugs him, and Dave believes her feelings are sincere. To his astonishment, she gives him some new clothes and toys. She says she will miss him, and he says he will miss her, too. He says he is sorry for betraying the secret, and she says that it is all right. She says she wants him to be a good boy. He says he will try.
As his mother and brothers drive away, he waves at them all, and his mother returns his wave.
Ms. Gold takes him to the cafeteria for an ice cream. He knows that his life is going to be quite different now.
This short chapter seems almost like an epic struggle between good and evil, as represented by the two women, the good Ms. Gold with the “pure” eyes—the savior—and the evil mother. Ms. Gold loves Dave and wants only the best for him. Although she is nervous about the court proceedings, she gathers her courage and stands up in court before the judge to do battle on behalf of the abused boy.
Dave’s feelings, however, are mixed. Severely abused he may have been, but the abusive woman is still his mother, and she still has a hold on him in the sense that he feels bad he told the secret, and he tries to make it right with her. This is the last the reader sees of Mrs. Pelzer, and she comes across as an enigma. Just as in A Child Called It, the reason she turned so abusive on her son is never fathomed. It is a mystery, although alcohol certainly played a role in it. In this chapter Mrs. Pelzer seems like a Jekyll and Hyde character. Dave can feel her hatred for him as he first sees her. His attempt to write her a conciliatory note is cruelly rejected. She reads it but says nothing and then tears it up in front of him. But when the decision is made she seems to be genuinely sad that he is leaving. She presents him with gifts of things he never had while he was living at home, and there seems to be a spark of goodness in her feelings toward her son.