The Other Half of My Name | Teen Ink

The Other Half of My Name

June 30, 2018
By liambradford BRONZE, Graham, North Carolina
liambradford BRONZE, Graham, North Carolina
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

My Name is Liam. Just Liam. It is neither longer nor shorter than Liam. Legally. It is in some ways, I think, a stupid joke. My father’s name is William. He goes by Will. He once told me that together, as Will and Liam, we made William. He told me that was why he named me Liam. That we created some kind of whole when together. I don’t believe names have some kind of inherent value, or quality, but I think it is undeniable that names have a special ability to attain value to us personally. Hopefully our own names are meaningful to us because they represent us to ourselves.

I did not have that experience; I have spent the majority of my life trying to escape my name. Somewhere in the middle of my childhood I experienced something akin to whiplash. My mother and father separated when I was three. The three years preceding their separation were spent screaming at each other, and my father would disappear for months at a time to go on tour with his band. And when he got back the screaming would resume. I think a lot of people don’t remember that early in their childhood. Maybe they remember taking a bath, or a hug from their parents. I remember the sight of my fathers van pulling out of the driveway as he disappeared again. I remember focusing far too much on a puzzle with the door to my room closed so that I wouldn’t pay attention to their fighting. I remember trying to comfort one of them after a fight. I don’t remember quite which one, I think it was my father, but I hope it wasn’t.

In the first seven or eight years of my life I picked a favorite parent, my father. I think much of my life has been defined by a desire to please people who don’t really care. If I had to make a guess I would say that my father probably put that in me. It sounds cliche to me to say I wanted desperately to make him proud, but I can’t think of any other words that really describe what I wanted. I took up drumming at age seven because he wanted me to be a musician. I still do drum. I got straight As, not that he ever really cared about my academics. I listened to him more than I listened to my mother.

At this point I think I have run out of things to say that can explain my childhood and my desire to escape my name without simply saying the thing I don’t really want to. My entire life up until I was about 13, my father was a heroin addict. My mother got full custody in their divorce, but she allowed me to live with him on weekends and some weekdays. He would ignore me for the entire time I was there sometimes, sitting catatonic on the couch, staring into space while the drugs pumped their way through his cardiovascular system. Other days he would run out, and he would become a sort of angry; the kind of furious and volatile that no person would normally be. I would hide from him in the closet of my room, or run to the neighbors house where I would sit on the roof of their shed talking to only friend in the neighborhood-her name was Izzy- and try to wait it out.

When my father first told me that he was Will, and I was Liam, and together we made a whole, I thought it was good. Or cool. Or touching. But as I grew older and more perceptive, and my father spiralled deeper into his addiction, I was hit with whiplash. Whiplash of my perspective of him.

I think the day it hit was the day we moved from our house in a neighborhood with some other addicts in it, to a brick building in downtown in an Alley. Chicken Alley, it was called. The building, and the parking lot full of other addicts, and the dealers on the fringes. What I had managed to ignore somehow my whole life was thrust in front of my face> His addiction, the life he was taking me into. That building in chicken alley, I did not have my own room there like I did in our old house. And it was an open door for addicts of all kinds. Bodies upon bodies of drugged out people, if they were even people anymore, filled every room and crevice in that building.

I lied to my mother because I couldn’t bring myself to let go of my father, and I knew if she knew I wouldn’t ever be allowed to see him again. During that time I would lay awake at night, afraid of the bodies in the rooms, and I would think about him telling me we together made a whole, and I would think of his catatonic body laying on the couch. I would rather die than be part of some whole with that body. That is what I would think. When the time came that my grandparents pulled the plug, that is to say they stopped funding his addiction, I hated him. I loved him too, although I didn’t want to, but I hated him. And I would torture myself thinking about how he forced me into some kind of part in his life. The names and how we made some whole became a symbol of the life he pulled me into. I wanted to be no part of his life and I wanted to be no part of whis whole. Desperately.

My grandparents forced my father’s addiction to stop when I was eleven. I have spent every moment of my life since then trying to find a way to prove to myself that I am not a part of his whole. But I can’t escape my own name. I have tried, when I vacationed in Mexico with my mother I lied to everyone on vacation with us, I told them my name was Tristan. I still do the things I started doing to make my father proud. I still lived that life with him, even if it was only as a stand byer. I still feel the pull of his influence in my life, and I still feel his words lingering in my mind, “Will and Liam make William, like a whole.” How can I escape his whole when my name was created to be a part of it. And aren’t our names meant to be us?

The author's comments:

I wrote this piece about growing up in essence. It's about my particular experience, but I think it speaks to the general experience of negiotiating identity in the context and shadow of parents and family, something a lot of people my age experience.

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