They Cage the Animals at Night

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9780812443639: They Cage the Animals at Night
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Burch was left at an orphanage and never stayed at any one foster home long enough to make any friends. This is the story of how he grew up and gained the courage to reach out for love.

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About the Author:

Jennings Michael Burch was the author of the bestselling autobiography They Cage the Animals at Night. He worked as a New York City policeman, a chauffeur, a theater manager, a magazine pressman, and a short-order cook. He held a BA in forensic psychology from John Jay College. He passed away in 2013.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

“A VALUABLE AND BEAUTIFUL BOOK which addresses issues of concern to everyone—what really does happen to foster children and what allows some children to survive the same emotional trauma that shatters forever the lives of others.”

—Eleanor Craig,
author of P.S. Your Not Listening

“A DEEPLY MOVING AND INSPIRING STORY.”

—Alan Arkin

“EVERYONE WHO CARES ABOUT THE QUALITY OF LIFE and the future of nation should read this book.”

—William R. Bricker, National Director,
Boys Clubs of America

“THIS HEARTBREAKING, SHOCKING, ULTIMATELY TRIUMPHANT TALE IS AN EXTREMELY IMPORTANT BOOK.”

—Lucy Freeman,
author of Fight Against Fears

“A MUST FOR EVERY LIBRARY...should be required reading for every couple expecting a child.”

—Sally Struthers

THEY CAGE THE ANIMALS AT NIGHT

Jennings Michael Burch

AUTHOR’S NOTE

This is a true story; only the names of the individuals and institutions have been changed.

Table of Contents

PROLOGUE

“Kelly!”

She came away from the rail separating her from the snow leopard. She took my hand.

“Where are your sisters?” I asked as I scanned the area for them.

“Lori took Carolyn to the bathroom.”

“Go and get them, will you? We have to leave now.”

“Oh, can’t we see the seals first?”

“Sure. You fetch your sisters, and I’ll meet you by the seal pool.”

She scampered off toward the rear of the lion house and the bathrooms. I watched her until she disappeared around the corner of the building.

Kelly is my middle daughter. She’s frail and slight, and somewhat shy. She reminds me greatly of myself when I was eight and unprepared. And the moment reminds me of the days when this place, this zoo, was my source of refuge, my home. It may sound strange, but I sought comfort here. I hid from fear and loneliness here. I hid from pain and unkindness here.

I sat on a bench near the seal pool and pressed my hands deep into my pockets. I breathed in the crisp cold air of these last days of autumn, and I remembered....

1

It’s unlucky to step on lines and cracks in the sidewalk, but Mom didn’t seem to understand this. On the long walk from the subway station, she kept tugging at my arm and telling me to walk straight. It had rained for most of the morning, but now, in the early evening, only a light mist lay heavily in the air. The dark gray smoke from the chimneys along this Brooklyn street didn’t have far to travel before blending neatly into the low night sky.

We were on our way to visit with one of Mom’s friends. Since it wasn’t often I got a chance to be with her all by myself, I didn’t mind the wet weather, or her quiet mood, or her tugging at my arm. We walked along at a quick pace. I asked a number of times if we were late, but she didn’t answer me. Her usually smooth-skinned forehead was somewhat wrinkled, and her dark eyebrows were bent into a slight frown.

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

Her answer was another tug at my arm as I tried to avoid the next line. She released the tight grip she had on my small hand to refer to a piece of paper she had pulled from her pocket.

“Are we there yet?” I asked. I looked up for her answer, but there was none. She studied the paper and then the building numbers.

She regripped my hand and trugged again. The wet ground was beginning to make its way in through the hole in my left shoe. I felt my sock sticking to my toes as I tried wiggling and walking at the same time.

She stopped suddenly and leaned down. She brushed back some hairs sticking up from the top of my head.

“Now, be a good boy.”

“I will, Mom.” That was my standard answer whether I planned to be good or not.

We climbed a short flight of worn steps bounded by two wrought-iron handrails. We entered the old red brick building through a highly polished wooden door that squeaked as it opened. We were met in the entranceway by a small nun dressed all in white. She nodded to Mom and smiled at me as she greeted us. Her wire-rimmed eyelgasses sat on the very end of her nose. When she spoke, she looked over the top of them.

“And what’s your name, little fella?” she asked.

“Jennings,” I replied.

“Why, that’s a very nice name,” she said as she turned to lead us down a very dark and narrow hallway. It was so quiet and still, and the smell of burnt candle wax made me think we were in some sort of a church. Mom often took me or one of my brothers to some new church somewhere.

I held tightly to Mom’s warm hand. We reached the end of the hallway and two wooden benches with red felt cushions.

“Be a good boy and wait here,” the little nun said over her glasses. “Your mother and I have a few things to discuss.”

I nodded my head as Mom and the nun disappeared into an office and closed the door.

I was about to sit on the nice felt cushions when I remembered my pants were still damp from the rain. Instead, I stood on my tiptoes and looked out through the colors of a stained-glass window. I closed one eye and moved from one colored glass to the next.

“Jennings!” I was jolted away from my world of pink cars and green buildings by the little nun. I turned and regrasped Mom’s hand. She looked sad and red-eyed.

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

She shook her head and squeezed my hand as we walked back down the hall. We stopped at a door about halfway down, and the nun opened it.

The room was large and blue and filled with noisy children. As we entered, all the children stopped and stared at us. Their silence made me uncomfortable.

Mom leaned down to help me off with my coat, but then hugged me. She kissed my face a number of times. She took one last swipe at my cowlick. I could see the tears on her lower lid as she forced a smile. She frightened me, so I clung to her arm.

“Mom! What’s wrong?”

She brought me close to her once again and hugged me. My coat was still only partway off when she straightened up. She gripped my shoulders to hold me off. In a husky sort of voice she said, “I’ll be right back.”

She turned and slipped through the open door. The nun followed, closing the door behind her.

They left me in the middle of what seemed to be a thousand staring eyes. I felt strange and tingly all over. I couldn’t move. I left my coat hanging from one shoulder. The eyes kept staring while my mind raced: What’s wrong with Mom? Why did she push me away from her? Where is she? Where am I?

Slowly the children began to resume their play. First some and then all. As they played, I felt more and more as though I could move, but I didn’t. When the tension eased, I began to look around the room.

The blue walls were paint-chipped and peeling. Night had now blackened the other side of two very large frosted windows on one side of the room. Above the worn wooden floor hung about half a dozen globe lamps. A high curb ran all the way around the room. I didn’t know what it was for until I saw a little girl nearly run down by a speeding tricycle. The curb was for safety. Around the room, at the edge of the curb, there were four large pillars holding up the whole place. And straight across from me there were two doors with signs over them. One said “Boys”; and the other said “Girls.”

I made my way around to the corner of the room behind one of the pillars. I sat down. I watched the kids playing and fighting. They all seemed to want to ride the few bicycles and tricycles that were there, but only the bigger kids were on them. There was a large purple tricycle I really liked. I wondered how I might get a turn at riding it. Two boys entered the room and headed straight for the tricycle. They abruptly dumped the boy who was on the bike to the floor, and rode off laughing.

I drew up my legs and folded my arms over them. I laid my head sideways atop my arms and closed my eyes. I was getting sleepy.

“Get up from there!” snapped a gruff-sounding nun. She was towering above me and she was angry. “What are you doing down there?”

I was startled and groggy. I tried to get to my feet, when she pulled me up by my coat collar.

“I’m waiting for my mother.”

“Never mind that!” She began dragging me across the floor of the now empty room. I had obviously fallen asleep and all the children had gone home.

“But I’m waiting for my mother!” I garbled out through my tightly grasped coat collar.

In one great sweep she opened the door marked “Boys” and flung me through it. I staggered into a pitch-black darkness.

“Get along!”

“But, Sister...”

“Get along!”

She gathered a large chunk of my coat sleeve and arm and lifted part of me off the ground. I was forced through the darkness into a partially lighted room.

The room was long and narrow. On one side, separated by dark doorways, were small pink lights very close to the floor. They lit the bottom part of the room, making the top part seem dark and endless. Along the other wall, running the entire length of the room, was a row of beds, every two separated by barred windows. I was frightened.

She pushed me through one of the dark doorways. She flipped a switch, flooding the room with light. It was a bathroom, made of a million tiny white tiles. Floor, ceiling, walls, and everything. The first thing I thought of was Chicklets.

“Your number is twenty-seven. Don’t forget it!” She pointed to the far side of the room and a row of hooks with numbers above them. Most of the hooks had clothes hanging from them, some of them only pajamas. “Do you have a toothbrush?”

Thinking of the one I had at home, I said, “Yes.”

“Wash, brush, and change. And don’t make a mess!” She left as quickly as she spoke, and I was glad. I was afraid of her.

I lifted the pair of pajamas off hook number twenty-seven. I sat on the long wooden bench under the hooks and looked around. There was a row of sinks on one side of the room and a row of toilets on the other. As I changed into the pajamas, I couldn’t stop the tears edging toward my eyes. I went over to one of the sinks and turned on the water. It was cold. I wet my face and looked around for a towel. There was none. I dabbed my wet face with my sleeve.

“What are you doing!” she screamed as she reentered the room. She really startled me.

“I want my mother,” I cried.

She slapped my face so hard I felt a million needles of heat rush into my face and cheek.

“She’s gone! Now stop that! Where’s your toothbrush?”

“It’s...it’s...” I was in a race between breathing and speaking. “...at home.”

From nowhere, she produced a paper-wrapped toothbrush and shoved it at me. I took it and brought it to my mouth to tear off the paper with my teeth. She slapped me again.

“That’s not the way we do things around here!”

I held my stinging face. “I just wanted to take off the—”

“Well, that’s not the way we do things around here.” She left in a huff, mumbling to herself.

I found some toothpaste on one of the sinks and put some on the paper-wrapped brush. I brushed my teeth. It was yucky, but that’s how she wanted it. When I finished brushing I stuck the brush in the back pocket of my hanging brown corduroy pants and went over to the doorway. I peeked out. She was at the far end of the darkened room at a desk with a small lighted lamp. I switched off the bathroom light and approached her. I stood in front of her desk. She ignored me. She got to her feet and brushed past me.

“Come on.”

I followed her down the long row of beds. She stopped at bed number twenty-seven and pointed to it. Without another word she returned to her desk.

I gathered up the waist part of the pajamas and with great difficulty climbed up and into the very high white metal bed. There were bars at the top and bottom. I slipped beneath the cold sheets. There was a strong smell of rubber and the blanket was itchy.

I lay faceup trying to see the shapes on the dark ceiling. I could not. I heard an occasional cough and a sniffle. I heard a small voice call out so quietly I almost didn’t hear it: “Sister Frances.”

I waited for the response, but there was none. A warm tear ran down my cheek and into my ear. Where was I and why was I here? A streetlamp somewhere outside cast eerie shadows across the top of my bedcovers. In the gray light I wondered why Mom hadn’t come back for me.

I awoke to the sounds of children’s voices. I opened my eyes and looked around. The room looked different from the night before. It was bigger and brighter and it had a ceiling. Kids were running in all directions. I recognized a lot of them from the playroom. They hadn’t gone home after all. There was a chest next to the bed.

I climbed down from the bed. Sister Frances wasn’t at her desk. Instead, there was a younger nun. She was prettier, with dark eyebrows and a dimple on each cheek. She was fastening the shirt buttons for one of the little kids. She was smiling.

I entered the bathroom. To my relief, all my things were still there. I hung the pajamas on the hook and stuffed the toothbrush into the top pocket. I didn’t feel like brushing again. I dabbed a drop of water on each eye and dried with my shirt sleeve. I was too afraid to ask anyone where they got their towels and facecloths from, and besides, I didn’t care. Mom would be here soon and I could go home. I put on my street coat and followed some of the boys out of the bathroom. They were lining up in front of the beds, so I did the same. I noticed I was the only one wearing my street coat. I guessed nobody else was leaving but me.

“Why not put your coat on your hook?” the nun with the dimples asked as she approached me.

“I’m going home,” I said.

“Well, we’re going to have breakfast first. Why not hang up your coat?”

I left the line and hung up my coat. When I returned, the dimpled nun was gone. I stood by the bed.

Sister Frances entered the room and the line stiffened. She was tall and thin. Her face was shiny and drawn. She spoke not a word, but rather made a clicking sound with a clicker she held down by her side. I remembered having one of those clickers. I got it in a box of Cracker Jacks. With each click the children responded, and I followed. We shuffled down a maze of hallways until we reached a dining room.

It was an enormous room, very much like the lunchroom at school. It had rows and rows of tables, with a dozen or so chairs at each table. As we entered the room, we weaved like a snake around the rows of tables; girls entering from the other side did the same. At the sound of a click, we stopped. On the next, we turned. There in front of me was chair number twenty-seven. I sat. A terrible pain ripped into my left ear. Sister Frances had grapped hold of my ear and lifted me out of the chair. She clicked the others to sit before she let go of me.

“Sit when you’re supposed to, and not a moment before!” She pointed to a spot behind the chair. “Now, stand there!”

I stood where she pointed. I stared at the ceiling, trying not to c...

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780451159410: They Cage the Animals at Night: The True Story of an Abandoned Child's Struggle for Emotional Survival (Signet)

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ISBN 10: 0451159411 ISBN 13: 9780451159410
Publisher: Berkley, 1985
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9780451489517: They Cage the Animals at Night: The True Story of an Abandoned Child's Struggle for Emotional Survival

Berkley, 2017
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9780451138538: They Cage the Animals at Night: The True Story of a Child Who Learned to Survive

Signet, 1985
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9780453004695: They Cage the Animals at Night: The True Story of a Child Who Learned to Survive

Dutton..., 1984
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