To this petition and appeal by Debby Dernberger of Menlo Park, CA, we add our prayers:
“I am in search of a long lost relative, my brother. His name is Michael Jay Dernberger and he was a vagrant and homeless alcoholic living on skid row in Washington State. It is tragic what happened to him, and he is not the only one. I just want to find my brother.
“Is he alive or dead? Is he in jail, or is he OK? No one has heard from him since 1990. By posting this, it would help get the word out.”
Debby Dernberger wrote this riveting short story to explain how she ‘lost’ her brother, and what changed for her to try to find him again. It begins with a Kodak-moment softness . . . and will quickly move you to deep emotions:
The Broken Boy
The little boy grew up in a most unusual way. Everyone expected him to be perfect. No one perceived that he was a very good little boy, deep down inside. I knew this little boy for many years growing up. I could read his thoughts, and swim through his day dreams with him in perfect bliss. I miss him very much today. Where did that little boy go? This is this is the story: a very sad but true story about a little broken boy.
When I was very young, my first memories are of a little pint-sized person just like me, looking over me in my crib. He’s at it again! He just dumped me over and onto the floor. I loved him even after that. Mom was always very sick and exhausted after work and slept constantly. That’s o.k., we’ll make our own dinner. Hot dogs and cat food actually go well together. The little boy knew of a real secret and tasty treat. So he climbed up onto the kitchen counter and got into the cupboards above the sink. Pretty good for a 3 year old. Mom wakes up and comes into the kitchen and spanks the little boy. Why must he be punished for being hungry?
Mom sleeps more and more lately. What’s wrong with her? Now we are sent to Grandmaa’s and Grandpaa’s house to live. My, what a big and strange house it was with all the cookies in the world to eat. That house closed in on us rather quickly in a short period of time.
He was a wild and reckless boy from the get-go. Constantly getting into trouble was his game. He was punished for making a mess. He was punished for getting towels dirty. He was punished for being too loud. He was punished because someone else was having a bad day. Sometimes I was punished because punishing one little boy all the time was too boring. So he learned no matter what was good or bad, he would be punished — so why even try? By the age of 4 he was hell on wheels.
The little boy loved to throw rocks. Sometimes my eye would somehow get in the way, cut open and bleed profusely. Stitches were not uncommon when trying to get close to, and playing, with the little boy. Punching bouts were the initiation rite for playing with him. If I put up with the onslaught of punches, then I was his instant true friend, and we could then play together. That is until I wouldn’t play it quite his way, which would ignite yet more punching bouts. What I had to put up with to play with the little boy!
We had a vacation getaway; a cabin up in the mountains near Lake Tahoe. What an oasis. The little boy would be reported to run for miles and miles through the pristine meadows, the large full redwood tree forests and all around the abandoned cabins in the local area. We never did get lost, the memorized and fond frontier was an endless and all encompassing frontier. Yes, I admit it, I threw rocks, too. I was tricked though into throwing just one rock over a hill one day and promised it could not possibly do any harm. So, I cast that rock high and over into oblivion with a resounding crash. We both got into trouble for that one.
The endless daily spankings and screaming. We were told how stupid we were and would never amount to anything. These were our constant reminders of how we just didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. We were so lost and hopeless. Love. What did that word mean?
I went out into a field one day following the little boy’s lead. He pulled out a pack of matches and said he wanted to show me a really neat magic trick. I was told to take a match and strike it on a rusty old pipe long exposed to the elements. So, I did what I was told and took the match, struck it and… fire! It burned my fingers.
As I dropped it, a small fire had started right under our feet. The little boy immediately stomped it out and ran back to the cabin to go tell on me. I do have to hand it to him that day: his reflexes were on the ball. There were many many countless antics.
One day at the cabin an unidentified pair of scissors were left vicariously hanging out of an electrical socket. Who did it? We never heard the end of that one.
Finally out of sheer desperation to shut them up I confessed to a crime I did not commit. The little boy asked me why I took the blame for it. I told him I just couldn’t stand it any longer. We were trusted bosom buddies ever since. Or at least for a little while.
Ever the small cold world closing in around us by the dark clouds of degradation and horror. They gathered above us everywhere we ran to. It was a very disturbing time. The little boy would soon learn his place on this planet, if he knew what was good for him.
We were in the parking lot in front of a bank. No one else was around just the little boy and me. Suddenly he falls to the floor of the car and starts screaming, crying and kicking. I am in a panic. What is wrong with him? The broken boy is in complete and excruciating torment. I’ve never heard such terrifying helpless screams in my life. I rush to his side to try to help him. I lean over his body, and as I press down on his chest, a huge piece of his breastplate loosens and cracks apart. I try to put the broken piece of him back together like a life-size puzzle, but it is of no use.
His cries ring more intense than before with my attempts to help him. I am killing him more and more with my vain attempts to help him. His eternal destruction from all unimaginable angles and avenues of life were torturing and cracking him apart.
Those who said they loved him the most were his greatest tormentors of all. Every situation, every humiliating kick in the crotch were tearing that broken boy slowly apart, piece by broken piece. I can still hear his scream to this day echoing through, and turning my stomach and my head. Will we ever find release from this primordial hell?
We both finally found an escape. It was rather a very large and gaping hole right in the middle of our paths. It worked for us then. Just that, an oasis. We didn’t have to feel the pain, the degradation or the rejection. No, this is a new found promise.
I am cool, I am happy, I am fun and I am safe. And especially, I am loved. Or at least appeared to be so at the time.
The broken boy was first in line to this new-found treasure. Yes, he found escape in the bottle and a handful of pills. I remember listening to Led Zeppelin in his bedroom while he told me about a ride that was much better than any roller coaster. As he spoke, he waved a pencil in the air like a magic wand demonstrating the trail he’d left behind. It was really too much for me to grasp at the time.
Actually, it was very scary and I knew it wasn’t safe.
What happened to the good old days when we played with Hot Wheels, Legos and watched the Chiller Diller show on channel 2 on Saturday mornings?
Suddenly, at age 12 the broken boy was years older than me. It was no longer cool to play with Snoopy. It was no longer cool to sleep in his own room at night. It was certainly no longer cool to hang out with his little sister. He would sneak out the window of his bedroom at night to play with his best friend, Davie. Now Davie was cool. He was a wild kid who lived next door and down the street a ways. Or if you hopped a fence or two, was really just next door. Those two were inseparable. I never did find out what they did at night. They must have really gotten into all sorts of mischief.
Of course, the broken boy was beaten down even more for this new-found rebellion. That would only ad more fuel to the flames and out the window again he would go. The neighborhood bully was another of the broken boy’s playmates.
Favorite past times were putting mud in the neighbor’s mail boxes, shooting birds and cats with a BB gun, molesting other kids and ‘playing dead’ in the middle of the street to see if cars would stop. It all worked — every negative, attention-getting prank.
The broken boy received a call one day. It was from the neighbor over the fence. The broken boy’s best friend Davie had just died. He had died by his own brother’s own hand! Apparently, earlier that day Davie and his brother were left alone by themselves in the house again. They had gotten into an argument and the bigger brother Mikey pushed Davie over in the kitchen and left him there going out the front door. Well, he had pushed Davie so hard that when he fell over, he hit his head on the kitchen stove. Davie had stopped breathing. When Mikey returned home Davie was to never wake up again. I’m sure to this day it was the last straw to break an already broken boy. I do not believe he was to ever recover from the shock.
Shortly afterward the broken boy was asked to leave the house he had grown up in. Pressure and demand lay on his father at this time. Would his father indeed take in his son and with a firm hand be able to steer the broken boy in the right direction?
It was destined to be a very short lived partnership.
Once again the broken boy was beaten down and rejected. He was constantly in trouble. Juvenile hall was not an uncommon dwelling as a result of his high-end antics. Something was definitely wrong, and it wasn’t just a phase he was going through. This was his chosen career of chemical dependency and crime.
Where indeed are the great mentors when you need them? The broken boy chose the felons and psychotics to emulate. I suppose it was all alluring at the time. The rebellion, questioning authority and especially escaping reality and pain at all costs.
I do not remember much of this broken boy’s adult life. I too fell into the same sand trap in my 20′s. My addiction and alcoholism reared its ugly head soon after I started using. I was really too sick and too numb to notice much of anything, let alone the broken boy’s disappearance.
By the time I sobered up, I started to wonder what ever happened to that little mischievous boy. I asked my relatives but no one wanted to talk about what happened. My step mom finally told me the broken boy was last seen steeling my Grandfather’s gun and antiques. He took them to sell and buy drugs and alcohol. He was soon asked to leave and to never come back again. I heard from another relative that he had called the house drunk and was told to never call again. That was in 1990.
I started to ask myself a few years ago if this broken boy was still alive. If so, what possible condition could he still be in? I hired a private investigator to find him. He managed to take my $300.00 but did not show sign of anything. I called Social Security but they no longer give out any information about any loved ones, lost or not. Socially Security did tell me 5 years ago that the broken boy had not been reported dead. Another question remains: How do you find a missing person who has been homeless with no address and no phone number for most of his adult life? Still to this day, no word on the broken boy.
I have dreams of him still. They started about 12 years ago. I felt this to be the final ominous sign. I am in the house we grew up in. I am in his bedroom again like so many times before when we were young. Going through a box of old knick-knacks and photos, the broken boy appears to me out of nowhere. He was just sitting there watching me search for him. I go over to hug him only to wake and find I am alone again. I have many dreams where I find the broken boy only to mistaken him for some passer by walking along the street.
I used to be a toy collector a while back. I still watch the old B horror movie on late night TV. So I can still have a little bit of the broken boy when I can. I am left only with prayers for his safety and the hope. The hope is this: he is doing well, and in recovery as I have had the miracle of experiencing. I suppose I can best sum up living without the broken boy is like living without my right lung.
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