Chapter 4: New Beginnings
Dave begins to get used to his new life with Aunt Mary, and at his new school. He is shy around his classmates and finds it hard to make friends. Another foster child tells him not to mention that he is in a foster home because some people are prejudiced against such children. Dave becomes apathetic, losing interest in his classes.
At home, however, he is lively and popular with the other children. He is allowed to go out with them in the afternoons and he follows their lead in stealing candy bars from grocery stores. He feels accepted by the group. He steals at home, too, items such as bread and cupcakes. Aunty Mary blames Teresa, one of the other foster children, and Dave remains silent. Aunt Mary soon finds out who stole the food, however, and after that she keeps a special eye on Dave.
Ms. Gold takes Dave to his first permanent foster home, with Rudy and Lilian Catanze. Ms. Gold tells Lilian that Dave is to have no contact with his mother unless she initiates it, but he may see his father at any time. Lilian explains the house rules to Dave.
In the kitchen, Dave meets three other foster children: a tall blond teenager named Larry Junior, a girl named Connie, and an older boy named Big Larry. Big Larry offer to take Dave to the movies that night. Dave finds Big Larry childlike and shy, and he likes him. They see the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die.
The next day Rudy and Lilian take their foster children for a July 4th picnic at Junipero Serra Park. There are many people in their group, both adults and children, and all of them either are or have been in the past, Rudy and Lilian’s foster children. Dave meets one of them, a woman called Kathy, who is now married and has just had a baby.
Dave takes a walk on his own, remembering how he had come to this park with his family a long time ago, before the abuse started. He wishes he know why things had gone so wrong.
The next morning Dave encounters Larry Jr. in the kitchen. Larry is hostile to Dave and wants to know what it was like to be beaten by his mother. Dave does not know how to deal with him and runs back to his room.
The next day Lilian takes him shopping for new clothes. He asks her if he is a wimp for not fighting back against his mother, and she tries to reassure him that he is not. He comes home with many new clothes, and he is thrilled to have new clothes for the first time in his life.
Several days later, Dave’s mother comes to visit, accompanied by her other sons. His brother Stan brings Dave’s bicycle that his grandmother had bought for him the previous Christmas. Dave does not know why his mother has decided to let him have it. His mother seems more relaxed but she does not speak to Dave.
After the brief visit ends, Dave complains to Lilian that he is tired of being treated so badly by his mother. He recalls the time when his mother made him eat dog poop, and when she stabbed him, although he insists the stabbing was an accident.
Lilian is shocked, and she sobs at Dave’s tale of horrific abuse. She did not know all those details before. She tries to comfort him.
Dave then sets about earning some money so he can buy the items that are necessary to repair his damaged bike. Lilian pays him 30 cents to clean the bathroom, and he manages to accumulate enough money to buy what he needs to repair the tires on his bike. He rides down the street on his bike feeling exultant, and he remembers the exact day: August 21, 1973. For the first time, he feels like a normal boy, and he stays out until after dark, to Lilian’s annoyance.
Things are looking up for Dave, and at the end of the chapter he is optimistic. It is as if his long nightmare has come to an end. He has made great progress in only a few months. At his first temporary foster home he had problems adjusting and developed the habit of stealing. At the home of Rudy and Linda, however, he seems to settle down more, although he still frequently thinks back to his awful life with his mother and wonders why it happened the way it did. He manages to make a friend for the first time in Big Larry, and he goes to a movie theater for the first time, also. Repairing and then riding his bike gives him a sense of empowerment. But there is still a long way to go. He cannot possibly be expected to recover from eight years of horrific abuse in a few months, and difficult times lie ahead, although Dave, feeing a newfound sense of freedom because of his bike, does not know it.
Chapter 5: Adrift
One day Dave returns from one of his daily bike rides. Lilian is not at home, but Larry Jr. is, and he acts aggressively toward Dave. Then Chris, another foster child who has cerebral palsy, tells Larry to let go. Larry insults him, calling him “retard.” As Larry continues to be unpleasant, Dave gets angry and decides that this time he will fight back. He challenges Larry to fight. Larry elbows him and Dave hits his head on the kitchen countertop, but then Larry rushes out of the kitchen, threatening both Chris and Dave as he does so.
Chris rushes off to his bedroom and Dave follows him. Chris is in tears but he soon recovers and puts some music on his stereo. He tells Dave that he was abandoned by his parents as a small child and has lived in over a dozen foster homes. Now he is seventeen, he has only a year to go before he must move out and find a way of supporting himself.
After this, Dave tries to avoid Larry, but they have some tussles together whenever they do encounter each other. On one occasion Lilian returns and wants to know what is going on. Dave blames Larry.
A few days later Rudy and Lilian take Dave to see a “special doctor,” a psychiatrist. Dave feels uncomfortable, and the session does not go well. Dave gets the idea that the psychiatrist thinks he is crazy, and the psychiatrist gets Dave’s name wrong, calling him Daniel. Dave does not understand the point of the psychiatrist’s many questions. He leaves the psychiatrist’s office feeling confused.
His next session with the psychiatrist goes no better. The psychiatrist still calls him Daniel. He tries to get Dave to talk about the incident in which Dave’s mother deliberately burned his arm on the stove. As he recalls the incident Dave finds himself crying and shaking.
After this session Dave tells Lilian he thinks the psychiatrist is the one who is sick because of all the weird questions he asks.
A few days later Dave and Big Larry go out on their bikes. They pass Dave’s old school and then go to the grocery store that Dave once used to steal from. Dave is nervous that he may be recognized, but nothing happens. Then they go to the bowling alley. On the way they ride down the street where Dave used to live, and two of Dave’s brothers see him from a bedroom window. Dave pedals off madly, fearing his mother will come and chase him.
When they return home, Lilian is angry with them. Dave’s mother has called and told her that the boys passed by her house, which Dave is not supposed to do., making a nuisance of himself. His mother is threatening to take Dave from Lilian’s custody. Dave protests that all he did was ride down the street, but Lilian tells him he is grounded. She adds that he has to be very careful as a foster child, because if he gets into trouble, they could lose him. He could be sent to a place called juvenile hall.
Dave wants to call his mother, and Connie dials the number for him, but the number is no longer listed. The following morning, Dave is expecting his father to visit, but he does not come. Dave had known all along he would not, since he never did. Dave gets frustrated and angry and accidentally strikes Rudy in the arm. Rudy and Lilian know that Dave is becoming a problem for them.
Dave’s volatile and unstable emotional condition becomes obvious in this chapter. He is still dealing with the effects of the past abuse. Quarreling with Larry Jr. does not help him (although it is good that Dave does learn to stand up for himself), and it is unfortunate that the psychiatrist seems, at least in Dave’s eyes, to lack all ability to relate to the boy in a way that would inspire his confidence. It seems that what Dave needs is not psychiatry but some years of stability and love.
This chapter does give valuable insight into the world of the foster family. All the children Dave lives with at Lilian and Rudy’s home—the two Larrys, Connie, and Chris—are badly damaged in some way or another, and must also carry the stigma of being foster children. As Lilian tells Dave, “You’re a foster child. . . . And because of that, you’ve got two strikes against you” (p.142). In his essay “Perspectives on Foster Care” printed as an appendix to The Lost Boy, Pelzer writes a passionate defense of the foster parent system and of foster parents themselves. He points out that some people refer to foster parents as “F-parents, as if the words foster parents belonged to a deadly epidemic” (p. 308). Pelzer points out that cases of child abuse by foster parents are rare and the press makes too much of them, with the result that the general public has no idea of how much good work foster parents do, and that many children thrive in such homes. The stigma Lilian mentions to Dave is wholly undeserved—but in the early 1970s, when this part of the story is taking place, Dave must learn to live with it.