It’s approaching 8:00 at night, the time a three year old like me should be thinking about settling down in bed with a book. I have no such intention, though. I’m shrieking with joy, running at top speed behind Charlie, our patient Doberman mix who trots just ahead of me at a speed just fast enough that I can’t catch him.
I hear shouting. It’s my mom “Todd! It’s time to go to bed!” A minute later she says it again, much louder.
Charlie is running to the kitchen now and I think I might be able to catch him and hug him tight. But at the last minute he turns straight back at me running back toward the bedrooms past my mom and dad. I’m startled and fall on my bottom with a big THUMP! Fortunately I land on a thick braided rug. No harm done. I start laughing and scramble to my feet.
Now it’s my dad shouting “Dammit, Todd, you have to go to bed NOW!”
I can’t hear him, though, because I’m focused. Besides, I can’t go to bed. Charlie has just jumped up on it, lying in the middle of the crocheted blanket my grandmother made for me. He is crouched, ready to run away at my slightest move. I just need to go catch him.
We stand looking at one another for a few seconds. He crouches lower, inviting me to run and I take the bait. I leap forward shouting “I’M GONNA GETCHA!” but then I feel hands under my armpits and I’m whisked in to the air.
“THAT’S IT!” my dad shouts, “We’re taking you to the Bad Boys Home.”
The bad boys home has always been a threat. Boys who didn’t behave were sent there by their parents, I was told, when they didn’t mind their parents. Once they were there they were put to work. In my mind it was just like the island where Pinnochio ended up. Kids might not be turned in to donkeys but they surely would be treated poorly and forced in to slavery.
I am in a serious situation, just minutes away from losing my parents.
My mom joins us in my room with a small canvas suitcase with blue and yellow flowers on it and tells me to pack it. I start to cry and put in some clothes.
“Do you want to take “The Monster at the End of this Book” to the home with you?” she asks.
I nod silently and put it in to the bag. I ask for a photograph of Charlie to bring and my mom goes away and comes back with one. I put it in the outside pocket of the suitcase.
“OK, let’s go.” my dad says and off we go to the car. I hug Charlie as we walk out the door.
We get in the big green Plymouth. I’m still pleading to go back and promising to be better. Nobody’s listening to me, though. The engine roars to life and my dad angrily revs it a few times before pulling out of the driveway. I cry harder.
“Don’t send me away! I’ll be good!” I shout. But I’m told I’ve had all the chances I am allowed.
The streets are empty and I watch my parents serious faces lit by the lights of the dashboard. Will I have time to read at the home? Will there be school when I get older? Will anyone come visit me? I think.
We pull in to the grounds of what looks like a factory. A tall fence with barbed wire on top wraps around the outside. There are bright lights on all of the towers. The kids must all work here. It looks dark, scary, and lonely.
We park the car in the middle of a large parking lot. Tanker trucks are lined up to go inside through a big gate in the fence. The air smells like sulfur.
My dad gestures at a gatehouse next to the gate where a guard stands. “OK, let’s go, we’re going to go check you in now.” my dad says and turns off the car.
I start to cry louder than I have ever cried before. Between sobs I say “I’m sorry I was so….(sob)…b…b..b…bad. I’ll be good from now on. I’ll go to bed when you tell me to.”
My mom seems to be regretting the decision and is sad as well. She looks at my dad and says “Honey, let’s give him one more chance. I believe him. I think he’ll be good.”
“Really?” my dad says, “I’m not sure I believe it.”
“I’LL BE GOOD, I’LL BE GOOD, I’LL BE GOOD. I PROMISE!!” I shout.
My dad seems to weigh his options. Am I really committed to being a good kid or am I just manipulating him? He sighs, starts the car and puts it in to drive, pulling a U-Turn in the mostly empty parking lot.
“You’d better be,” he says, “or we’re coming right back here again – and no more chances.”