Monday, July 6, 2009

The True, Tragic Tale of David Bershad

Text © Robert Barry Francos
Image from the Internet

As I remember it…

[PS 128, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn]
In the Brooklyn elementary school system while I attended PS 128 in the early ‘60s, kindergarten was one big class led by two teachers. At the beginning of first grade, the class was split into two groups, presumably the “academics” and the “trade” focused, until 7th Grade (aka, Junior High School). It was rare for a member of one group to be moved from one to the other, but thanks to an insane and inane first grade teacher, I was moved to the “trade” group at the start of second grade, where I was stuck, despite some outside forces trying to get me back to the academic side. For that one year of first grade, I was in the same class as David Bershad.

David lived in my building, on the ground floor. As an only child born late in life, his parents doted on him, especially his mom.

Mr. Bershad was quite a jovial man, who had an amusing cadence to his voice. Upon seeing me, he’d smile and say, “Wwwhaddya say there, Rrrrrrrobert?!” Bernie Kugel once heard him say this, and has been using it occasionally since. Mrs. Bershad was a chubby woman with only David on her mind at all times, and was, perhaps, a bit obsessed, if not mad.

Naturally, as we were in the same building, we started hanging out together in the first grade. The only problem was that Mrs. B. did not want to let David out of her sight; she was always afraid something might happen to him if she loosened her guard. Her love kept him physically very close. When all the kids were outside playing tag or skelly, he was inside, being protected and coddled.

Around this time, I went to his home to play at least a couple of times (unescorted); I remember twice, though it may have been more. What I recall most however, is just how creepy it all was. We would play, with his mom often poking her head in the room to check in on David, as if to make sure I hadn’t hurt him.

Both times, when it was nearing the hour for me to leave (again, unescorted), she would make me clean up whatever mess we had made, while she took David to the kitchen for some milk and cookies. Seems she felt her David couldn’t possibly have made any of the mess, so it must have been me; thereby, clean-up was my responsibility. Needless to say, I didn’t think it was fair, but I was a kid, and we were taught to obey our parents and our friend’s parents as well.

The next time I went down there to play, I was a bit more careful to be neater. David, however, did not have this need to be so watchful, and he made much more of a mess. It wasn’t intentional, just a kid playing. And yet, the same thing happened. When Mrs. B. told me to clean up and started to take David to the kitchen for the milk and cookies, I very nicely asked if I could please have some, too. Her response took me by surprise: she said, in a very sharp voice, “It’s not polite to ask for cookies, you should wait until it’s offered!”

Even as a young child in first or second grade, I was aware enough to know she was never, ever going to offer. After I left that time, I never went back. She would never let him up to my apartment, so that was the last time we played together.

Because of this obsession with her son, he had little or no friends that I knew of, and he became a loner caught in the web of his mom’s love.

In first grade, it was mandatory that someone drop us off and then meet the students and walk them home. By second grade, we walked to school and then home by ourselves (can you imagine that today?). However, Mrs. B. would meet her son every day after school all through elementary school. Then through Cavallaro Junior High (JHS 281), riding on the city bus with him. Finally she even did it while he attended High School (I believe he went to a special one for advanced students). I heard tales of him asking, telling, demanding, begging her to stop, but she would not do so, even if it meant riding in a different part of the bus. Every day, she was there at the end of classes.

Finally, after High School, David went to college, far, far away, at the University of Texas at Brownsville. He was free of his mother. Or, so he thought.

She rented an apartment close to the college and would stay there for weeks at a time, leaving her husband at home, alone (though at this point, I’m not sure if he was happier with her there or not). David lived in the dorms, but his mother often knocked on his door, bringing him food, while interrupting his studies and generally annoying his roommates. He was once again becoming a loner.

One rare day, when Mrs. B. was back in Brooklyn, David went for a one-way swim out in the Gulf of Mexico. Mrs. and Mr. B. had his body flown back to New York for burial so she could be close.

On the first anniversary of David’s death, Mrs. B. went to his gravesite, as she did many times a week, and she took a bottle of pills, lying on his grave. I am assuming they are buried next to each other.

Mr. B. did his best to be cheerful, but his “Wwwwhaddya say there, Rrrrrobert?” did not have the same snap to it. After a couple of years or so, he moved out of the building, and I never saw him again.

I’ve had at least three friends with wacked-out moms, two of whom were also single children to late-aged parents, but they were never to the same dance as David and Mrs. Bershad.

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