Almost two years ago, I wrote a post which got me a lot of attention about how I stopped talking to my dad. Last year I wrote a post about coping, about grief, about love. In June it will officially be two years since our last conversation.
It is my hope that this will be the last time I write a post about him.
Growing up, my dad would tell me, if someone someday wrote a book about his life, it would be a bestseller. For many years of my life I believed the person to write that book would be me.
So let me tell you a story. It's a story about a man named Tyrone. A man who doesn't exist.
My dad, Tyrone Davis, was born, probably in the back of a bar somewhere, in a moment of desperation. Or that is how I imagine it. Listening to Miles Davis recordings, getting high and daydreaming himself someone new. My dad re-invented himself in his 20s for reasons that are largely unknown, though there have been many reasons given over the years. None of us know what actually happened. It is impossible to say whether he knows what actually happened. Maybe nothing actually happened. As far as I'm concerned, everything he's ever told me is a lie. From his name on. He became Tyrone Davis before he ever met my mom. Before he moved west. Before.
I do not know the man he was before. I've heard his given name a handful of times, usually in drunken tirades about how I couldn't possibly understand his struggle. But to me, Tyrone Davis was my father. He was dad. And he was legendary.
The man I wrote plays about, poems about. Tyrone. Too big for this world. Too big for himself. A myth. No middle name, no need for one. Ty-rone. He announced himself, stomping his feet. Mr. Davis, he demanded of white people trying to reason with him.
And because he was Tyrone Davis, we became the Davises. Him, my sister and me. The only three in the whole family tree. When my sister got married I was beside myself when she told us she was changing her name. (Selfishly, I liked Davis better if she was a part of it too.)
And then last summer, I got a phone call from my mom. Dad was leaving. Tyrone was changing his name back. No more Tyrone Davis. He decided that story is over.
After a year of us no longer speaking, I suddenly became the only Davis. The only evidence of the lie he'd been telling people about who he was for more than 40 years. The only remaining shred from the life he made up.
It is strange to be a part of a life someone no longer wants. It is painful for someone to constantly be in the business of finding new ways to leave you behind. Once when I visited my dad on a break from school, he'd looked at me and said "I'm surprised you're here. I thought you'd changed your name and told everyone your dad was dead." I didn't hear that then the way I hear it now. How easy he thought it would be to just walk away and pretend a whole life had never happened.
There's a story my grandmother used to tell about my dad as a kid. How he had a reversible jacket, and when it was turned to one side he was a sweet little boy. But when he would turn it inside out he became someone else altogether, mean and destructive. It had worried her then, and when he grew up, when he became volatile and reckless and unrecognizable, it haunted her.
There's a story my mom tells, about when my parents were married. Of how she would explain to my dad that when he was drinking he became someone else. A book they had read had a character named OtherGuy and she borrowed the name. She would tell him that she really loved Tyrone, but she couldn't stand OtherGuy. The alter ego of his alter ego. What a thought.
And now there will be the story I tell. Of how I was raised by a myth. By a fiction so strange, so overgrown it couldn't even decipher itself from the truth. How there is a name on my birth certificate that belongs to no one. How after being so many different versions of himself, my dad decided to live out the end of his life as a version I've never met. The story of how I became the only Davis. And how I have no fucking idea what that means.
People tell me I could always change my name. How funny. I tell them after years of reckoning I finally have no desire to be someone else. That I was born into a name too great for my father to live up to, but I don't intend to have that problem. Besides, my last name has meant too much to me. It's on every play I've ever written. It's printed on my Yale diploma. And the friends I've made thanks to the lucky coincidence of alphabetical lockers and school seating assignments are reason enough to keep it forever.
To me, being a Davis means being tougher than everything asking you to be someone else. Being a Davis means knowing your worth and knowing your limits. It means never settling for less than you deserve, it means hope and courage and resilience in the face of heartbreak and degradation. Being a Davis means saying no to the people who hurt you. It means speaking your mind, speaking your truth, holding your own. In all of the moments when my father tried to break me down, I was becoming a Davis. In all of the times he told me I wasn't good enough and I told him to fuck all the way off, I was becoming a Davis. The day I decided not to speak to him anymore, because I deserve to be loved, not to be lied to, I was becoming a Davis. The times I've admitted I am not strong enough to make it through alone, when I've been brave enough to lean on my friends, when I've been wise enough to call on my family, when I've been present enough to trust in myself, I was becoming a Davis. Every time I have not given up, every time I have kept pushing even when I felt sure I was going to break, every time I've forced myself to be honest, to write, to share, to open up, to pray to whatever semblance of a God might be out there -- I have been trying, striving, to live up to a name, a story, a legend, that I am building from scratch, whether I'm ready or not.
I told a friend once what my dad told me, how someday the book about his life would be a bestseller. And she told me something I have never forgotten. Nicky, she said, I have no doubt that you will write a bestseller. But it will be a bestseller because it is your story, he won't be more than a chapter.
I think there is never a better time to be yourself than when you have absolutely no idea how. Lately, when I give my name to people, it's like I'm hearing it for the first time. Feels funny coming out of my mouth, it sounds different somehow. But I don't think I mind. Maybe I am finally saying it the way it was meant to be said. Proud.
My name is Nicky Davis. And I am the only one.