The Boy Who Killed Cats – a short story

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Joy2MeU Journal

In my Joy2MeU Journal I tell the story of my Spiritual Path in a series of articles entitled “The Path of one Recovering Codependent ~ the dance of one wounded soul.”  It includes a sub series of articles about how my recovery unfolded to lead me to 30 days in a treatment center in Tucson Arizona for codependency in my fifth year of sobriety.  It was an incredible gift that came about because my recovery led me to having an emotional breakdown/breakthrough while working as a therapist in a treatment center in Van Nuys California in 1988. This is an installment of that saga in which I included a heart breaking short story I wrote about working with adolescents in a treatment center in Pasadena California almost 20 years ago.

The Path of one Recovering Codependent ~ the dance of one wounded soul

“Working in the treatment center put my issues in my face every day.  The program included both an adult section and an adolescent unit.  It was the adolescents that tore me up.  Kids from horribly abusive homes that would lie to the social workers to keep from being taken out of their homes because their fear of the unknown was greater than their fear of the known.  And I couldn’t in good conscious tell them that going into a foster home would be better for them because the system was so screwed up and dysfunctional.” – 30 Days in the Desert – Falling Apart and Breaking Through Part I

Writing the last installment of The Recovery of one Codependent – the dance of one wounded soul took me back to the days when I was working in a Chemical Dependence Treatment Unit in Pasadena, California.  As I mentioned in the quote from that article above, working with the kids was very hard.  It still is not easy.  I am working with a 16 year old right now that is out of control behaviorally – drinking, drugging, having indiscriminate sexual experiences.  She is a magnificent being, very intelligent and obviously an old soul with great wisdom – but she is trapped in a dynamic with her parent that keeps her acting out.  And the parent will not grow up and be a responsible adult – so it is very hard. (This girl and her mother showed up in one of my Update Newsletters a year or so later and that update to the story is included in a blog about God Shots / Goddess Strokes I shared in February 2014)   It is much harder to let go of kids than it is to let go of adults.

Back in those days in the Treatment Center (1986 and 87) there were many kids that it broke my heart to watch.  One was this amazing girl, about 15 when I knew her, who had actually tape recorded her mother beating her when she was 12 and turned her into the cops – incredible.  Yet, she was still fighting to be allowed to go back home to that same mother when it came time to get out of treatment.

Another was a kid named Johnny.  I do not have any idea what happened to Johnny.  I expected that he would be dead before he was 21 – if he was not it was probably because he was in prison.  Johnny was in such incredible pain.

I wrote a short story about an experience I had with Johnny back in late 1986, or early 87.  In writing my last article, I was reminded of that short story – so I dug it out.  It seems appropriate to add it to the Journal here, in conjunction with the story of my falling apart and breaking through, because those kids were certainly a part of my process of getting in touch with my pain.  I wrote this story while processing my feelings about what Johnny said to me that day.  It is not very good as a short story, but I think it conveys some emotional notes that are meaningful.  I cry today, as I read it and remember that skinny kid.  (And cry again on June 29th, 2015 when I read it as I am creating this blog entry.)


The Boy Who Killed Cats – a short story

By Robert Burney 

He was sixteen.  He sat with his hands trapped between his knees as if he couldn’t trust them to be free of restraint.  He sat slumped forward with his eyes on the floor, only chancing an occasional furtive glance when trying to gauge my reaction, or when he was surprised at something I said.“I love you Johnny.”

His eyes stabbed upward toward my face and then back down immediately to the floor.  There was anger in those eyes.  And palpable pain.  And confusion.

“Do you believe that I love you Johnny?”

His head slumped forward farther and his thin body began to move, twisting and jerking as if a series of explosions were going off in rapid succession somewhere deep inside him.

“What are you feeling Johnny?”

“Nothing!”  It was almost a scream or rather the very beginning of a scream that was choked off immediately.

His hands popped out from between his legs as if some huge force of suction had been released.  He started bringing his hands down on his knees, slowly at first and then rapidly accelerating until his whole body was rocking forward in the violence of the action.  The cast on his right hand made a dull thud as it struck his knee.

I had been sitting on the other bed in his room no more than five feet from him when he started hitting himself.  It took me only seconds to get to him, yet he had probably hit himself a dozen times by the time I got a hold of him.

Cradling his shoulders with my left arm and holding his cast in my right hand, I immobilized him in a way that he wouldn’t feel pinned down or trapped.

“I’m such an asshole.”  The first time he said it there was vehement hatred in his voice.  The second time his voice dripped with tears.  “I’m such an asshole.”

“Sometimes you act like one, but that doesn’t mean you are one,”  I said, rubbing his shoulders with my left hand.  “And you know what – I love you even when you act like an asshole.”

He threw himself down on his pillow and his whole body shuddered as the tears came flooding forth.  The sobs that wracked his body were coming from deep, deep inside of him.

I sat quietly on his bedside, watching him cry.  His broken hand lay at an awkward angle to his head because of the clumsiness of the cast.

He had broken his hand earlier in the day by slamming it into a brick wall in rage.  Underneath that rage was incredible pain.  He had been on the adolescent chemical dependency unit of our hospital for 45 days.  During that time he had no drugs or alcohol to mask his pain.  During that time he had received love and support from the staff and from the other patients.   The love and support confused and angered Johnny.  He had never received any at home, and he didn’t think he deserved it.  Being clean and sober allowed the feelings he had been suppressing to start to come up.  There was only one other outlet Johnny knew for his feelings – violence.

His words were muffled in the pillow so I laid my hand on his back and asked him what he said.

He raised himself slightly, propping his head on his cast.  “Why won’t you just hit me?”

“We don’t hit people, Johnny.  I’ve told you that.”  I was having trouble talking because of the knot in my throat.  “It’s wrong for grown-ups to hit kids – I’ve told you that.  It’s always wrong.”

“My dad only hits me because I deserve it.”  He was wallowing in his self-hatred now.  He swung between incredible self-hatred and defying everyone.  He had become addicted to being beaten regularly by his father.  He was trapped in a cycle of violence – as his feelings built up he acted out and pushed limits until he got the release of the punishment he felt he deserved.  Since we wouldn’t punish him he finally became so frustrated he punished himself by breaking his hand.

“You told me that he beats you with his fists.”

“Only because I deserve it.”  He looked so thin and fragile laying there on his bed.

“If you deserve it, why have you thought about killing him?”

“I only thought about that sometimes, when I was smoking Kools.”

Kools were cigarettes dipped in PCP.  Animal tranquilizer.  A boy treated like an animal needed all the tranquilizing he could get.

“You lied to the social worker about the beatings.”

“I had to, or they wouldn’t let me go home.”  His voice was pitifully small as he spoke.  A little boy terrified of going home, but even more terrified of not going home.

“What will happen when the feelings get all built up again?”

“I won’t use drugs, that’s for sure.”  He laid his head back down on the pillow.  “I’d like to be alone for awhile now, please.”

I rubbed his back for another minute and then walked to the door.  After turning out the light I stood looking at him for a moment.  Johnny was going home in ten days.  Home to a father who beat his son because his father beat him and he knew of no other way.  Home to a mother who was too terrified to protect him.

He was going back to the neighborhood that would see him doing drugs again within a couple of weeks.  He would use drugs again because the pain was too great.  The beatings wouldn’t stop it.  His torture and killing of animals wouldn’t stop it.  He would probably kill or be killed before he was much older.  And there was nothing I could do except tell him as I closed the door, “I love you Johnny.”

Sacred Spiral

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Joy2MeU Journal

The Joy2MeU Journal which contains over 100 pages of content – several million words of original intimate sharing of my recovery / spiritual path and a personal journal of processing through my fear of intimacy issues – is available for sale at special low price on this page.

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