“Adulthood”, by Williams Andrews

This essay is part of the “Telling Your Story” program in which prisoners recount profound memories from different stages in their lives. Click play above to listen, or read the essay below.

For a time, I felt that the beginning of my adulthood was milestoned by my father’s tombstone. The day after I was told of his suicide, the world seemed to be a harsher and colder place than before.

Though he and I were not really close or shared a lot of time together, he still tried to show us that he loved us when he was able to, even as he drowned himself daily in a bottle. The news of his sudden death was received with shock since he never spoke of ending his life as many do as a covert plea for help. Nevertheless, there were still signs.

Just hours prior to the act, he called me on the phone. He was staying at a shelter/rehab after recently being released from jail for another DWI. He was not allowed to stay at Mom’s small apartment due to the lease stipulations, and my parents were understandably not on the best of terms at that moment.

I was heading out the door when the phone rang. Being in a hurry, I almost didn’t answer it. I was headed toward the drug dealer’s place, but something told me to answer it. It was dad: “Billy, is your mom there?” he asked in a low, humbled voice.

She was not, so we talked a little, and he may have sensed my impatience, so he got to the point and asked, “Do you want my toolboxes?” When I asked why he would want to give them away, he explained, “Oh… I’m getting too old to do that kind of heavy work.” The tools were a lifetime collection of mechanic tools that were kept in a set of stacked toolboxes. He offered them knowing that I had just went through training at a tech school for automotive mechanics. The strange offer of his most valuable possessions did strike me as odd, but I accepted and hurried off the phone. I was the last family member to talk to him and maybe even the last living being to do so.

As I think back on that call, I can hear the sadness and desperation in his voice. At the time, I was obtuse and concerned with getting high. A few hours later, I was in the small bedroom I called mine at mom’s apartment. A friend of mine named Joe and I were smoking PCP and already quite high. Suddenly, I heard my mom scream from the living room, and it was a wail I had never heard come from her before. I opened the bedroom to find two very large men standing in front of her, and she was sitting Indian style on the couch, hitting her legs and crying “…no…no…no…”

Of the two men, the white man was Woody Peacock. He employed both my father and me over the years. He owned the local gas station and tow company and had seen our small family suffer from my dad’s drinking for many years. This was the final blow to end it all.

The black man was a detective. They had told my mom that my dad hung himself. When I came out of the room asking what was going on, Woody spoke up. “Billy, your daddy hung himself.” I was stunned. I went back into the bedroom and shut the door behind me. I then told Joe the news. He knew my dad too. The dope softened the initial shock, I suppose, but it still registered enough to hurt.

My whole view of life was altered that day. It felt cheap yet very precious. It seemed that nothing was really at face value anymore. What I thought I knew was no longer valid as truth. People looked at me differently, so I thought, as if they could tell I was somehow less of a person because of his selfish choice. A loneliness encumbered me that never lifted, at least not until recently.

I associated that loneliness–that being without succor or a parent’s love–with being an adult. Our family did not stay together. Some families may have bonded with tragedy, but ours only drifted apart. We treasured old resentments and kept a wall between us until it began to crumble with time and effort.

That is when I discovered the real beginning of adulthood. When I was about 44 years old, I began to take accountability for my actions, both past and present. I have forgiven those I once blamed for my trials and pain. Finally, at 50, I can say that I am an adult. I have matured emotionally enough to forgive. I was in arrested emotional development, but as it is said, better late than never.

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