In The River’s Current
It was a Thursday in 1946 when the father of my father didn’t come home. This wasn’t uncommon, but that night was one of the few nights he promised he would be. Being the third year my father was in boy scouts, it was a suitable time to travel to Holland State Park with the rest of the troop for the annual father and son weekend.
Robert Williams was born in 1905 to a fatherless father who would leave Robert fatherless for some time, and a woman who would live until she was 92. In twenty-four years Robert will meet Barbara, and they will have four children. Nicholas, the first born, will die in a car crash at sixteen.
I was born in 1961 around lunchtime. Succeeding my brother, my father would not leave us fatherless like himself and his father before him. My mother is Emma, and after a drug-filled fifties she is transitioning into motherhood with grace. I am 8 pounds, five ounces, and I am a happy baby.
Wilson Williams was born in 1932, succeeding his brother Nicholas, and preceding his sister Camille. His father Robert looks at him and sees himself, just as he did with Nicholas, and will with Camille. My father looks up at Robert and sees out of focus shapes and blended colors.
It is 1942, and Robert is whipped with a belt by his drunken father. A biological father isn’t always a father, and just because a mother doesn’t participate, doesn’t mean she isn’t guilty as well. The belt was cheap damaged leather. Tears well up in Robert’s eyes, and his body becomes numb.
On a Friday in 1966, I get glasses. The following Monday I am called “four-eyes” and “nerd,” and get my head pushed into the window of the bus, bending my new glasses. The boy who pushed me I would be best friends with for the next fifteen years of my life.
My father is teaching his second son how to throw a football with more consistency on a warm day in 1975. He doesn’t think his son is putting the necessary effort forth, and begins yelling. He thinks this will make his son better and try harder, and Wilson believes he has such potential, but his son is hurt.
Robert becomes a Williams on a fall day in 1922, adopting the name his father adopted when adopting an American persona while adopting Robert and his mother as his own family. Robert Williams has struggled with his identity his entire life, and he believes this will erase the history associated with his false true father’s name.
It’s 9:00 pm in 1962 at Walt Disney World Park in Orlando, Florida. I am being pushed in a stroller by my mother, and my brother walks a long side of her. I look up to the sky, and am entranced by the lights of the carousel. It spins round and round, and my father films from a distance.
Fishing on a warm day in 1944 is a normal occurrence. John Bailey and Wilson have been friends for a few years, and will be friends for the rest of their lives. The sun pours onto the river through tree branches, and Wilson sees his warped reflection in the water and smiles.
Elementary school children are on Spring Break in early April of 1967. Robert is sitting with his wife Barbara on the couch watching television, awaiting the arrival of his son, son’s wife, and son’s sons. Grandchildren brought a new light into Robert’s life, and he loved that his family still visited him despite being across the country.
February was always my least favorite time of the year, especially in 1978. My grades were always at their lowest during this time, and my parents have extremely high expectations. I would await their return from parent-teacher conferences with a sinking feeling of dread.
It’s a dark Saturday night in 1951, and my father returns home with his girlfriend. He sees his sister and mother crying, his brother and father yelling, and feels the weight of years of turmoil fall onto him. His father looks at him with remorse, and an awareness is shared.
The Christmas of 1967 was not a particularly cold one. I watch Robert conversing with his true false father, but steps away for a minute or two. He awkwardly approaches his daughter and formally greets her. He loves her so much, but will not let himself escape his history, and pulls into himself.
I look at old home movies from 1969 eleven years after. My brother and I look so happy, and whom I remember wants to grow up as fast as possible. Now that I’m basically there, I shouldn’t have been in such a rush. Pictures and memories are only ghosts of my former self, and I never thought I would be haunted by happiness.
Wilson lived in an actual house at the start of 1940, now he and his family found themselves in a trailer park. This wasn’t the first time this has happened. Like clockwork, every two years or so, Wilson watches his home get taken, and his parents lead him and his siblings to a new trailer park each time. He loved it.
Robert walks out of his family’s trailer in the summer of 1940. The business had its ups and downs, and this was one of its lowest lows. He looks at his children and how happy they are. He sees how they are brought joy through less money and more family. Robert’s business then goes on to another up.
It’s 1985, and I’m looking through old photos with my parents. My dad shows me one of his family in front of their trailer when he was young. Despite how inconsistent his life was, despite the stress and loss, he missed it. I watch him get up and go to the phone.
more by TYLER CLIFTON
photograph by Pierre-Olivier Bourgeois