CHAPTER 1: FALLING
Right after I turned thirteen, I was blamed for my dad’s death.
Losing my father at a time when I needed him the most was extremely difficult. Being blamed for causing his death deeply scarred me emotionally and developmentally. My whole family was affected by his loss, but I was the only one who got blamed for causing the accident. My mother was left a widow and a single mother of seven young children aged two to eighteen years. We went from being your average middle-class family to near poverty overnight. Our lives were divided into two different eras: before my dad’s death and after my dad’s death.
Before my dad died, my family seemed like your average middle-class American family to me. We took a family vacation almost every summer. We usually drove down to Florida to see all our grandparents for one to two weeks. We did this almost every summer, until my dad died.
My dad made decent money. As a non-profit attorney, he didn’t make the big bucks like corporate lawyers and other attorneys do, but he made enough to provide us a nice home for our big family. A big family man, he was very devoted and loyal to his wife and children. He loved my mom so much that he converted his faith from the Baptist he was raised to become Catholic so my maternal grandfather would give his blessing for him to marry my mom. He did everything he could to provide for all of us. She insisted we visit all the grandparents every year, and he made sure we did. When my mom insisted that we needed a pool, he worked tons of extra hours to make that happen. He gave everything he had to provide for all of us and make us feel loved. I learned much of how I know about what it means to be a good man and the importance of family from the example my father set. He had a great sense of humor, and often was the life of the party with his peers and children alike.
He was a heavy drinker, but made sure to take care of business first. He went to work every day, paid all his bills on time, and loved his family. He also frequented local bars or liquor stores after work, and usually had more than just one or two drinks after he got home. On the weekends, he drank more. I often watched him put down upwards of a 12-pack of beer on a Saturday and then again on Sunday. He was a hard worker, which is something that most of us Davis’ pride ourselves on.
Then in August 1987, an event happened that would change my family forever. It was a typical Saturday evening in mid-August in Morgantown, WV. My dad had been home with us all day doing work around the house and he had started drinking beers around lunch time and continued through to the evening. I didn’t know it then, but as a budding alcoholic myself, I always watched and counted how much my dad and everyone else around me drank. I was probably either calculating how much would be left over for me to steal later or observing how much they could consume before they reached the point of oblivion. I was 13 years old and getting ready to start eighth grade. My older brother and sister were both at their part-time restaurant jobs earning their own spending money. We had already eaten dinner, and my mom was giving my three youngest brothers their baths. They were only two, three and five at the time. My little sister, who was 11, and I were playing with my dad. It had started with him playing the big giant and calling out, “Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an English man.” We tried to hide, but he always found us. That evolved into a massive tickle war, just some typical family fun. My dad was quite buzzed already. We had been going back and forth for a while, and he was taking turns chasing us, catching one or both of us, and tickling us a lot.
Sometimes when he was buzzed or drunk to a certain degree, he would tickle too hard and it hurt. This was starting to happen again. He had me on the floor in the master bathroom and was tickling too hard. I vividly remember thinking to myself, “When I get free from this, I am going to run as fast as I can and get away from him so he can’t tickle me like that anymore.” I finally got free, and I ran out of his bedroom. He chased after me, and we were playing chase again. I ran down the hallway yelling, “You can’t catch me!” I ran out through the dining room onto our balcony. Our house was two stories with a large balcony on the back side of it. I ran as fast as I could all the way down the balcony, about 50-60 feet long, then back inside through the master bedroom. My dad chased after me, and my sister was following along behind him. I had run back inside the house, down the hall, and I was halfway down the stairs, when I heard my sister scream one of the most god-awful, heart-wrenching screams of horror I have ever heard. For a brief moment, I thought, “Oh shit, my dad fell over the balcony,” so I continued downstairs and ran outside in hopes that I was wrong. But my fear was correct, and there he was, lying on the ground. A large pool of expanding blood spreading out. He laid lifeless. His head cracked open, his neck was swollen like a fat tire.
I stood over him. I felt a scope of panic I had never experienced. “Call 911! Call 911!” My heart was pounding, shaking, shocked, trying to hold it together.
I had been certified in CPR and first aid with Boy Scouts, but for the life of me I couldn’t seem to remember a damn thing. I tried to pull myself together and assess what to do next. I remembered that you are not supposed to move victims who seem to have suffered severe trauma to the head and neck areas. My next-door neighbor, Roby, heard me, and came to help. “Honey, call 911 now! Bill fell off his balcony!” My little sister and my mom made it outside. I have tried to recall my mother’s reaction - my memory of her, and my sister in this moment is blacked out.
My neighbors tried to calm us down until the ambulance arrived. Waiting outside, each of us in shock, my sister crying uncontrollably - my mother stone silent. The whole scene was too surreal. Did this really just happen? I realized my dad was hurt pretty bad, but he was still my superhero and I was quite sure he’d heal up and get better after the doctors helped him at the hospital. 
The ambulance finally arrived and the paramedics  began preparing to get my dad on a stretcher. My mom looked at me and my sister, and said, “I’m going in the ambulance with your father to the hospital. I need you two to get your three little brothers to bed now, and then go to bed yourselves.” My sister and I were upset. We didn’t understand why we all couldn’t go together. We’re a family - if they take him away - how we will know what happens. I felt an intense need to stay together as a family. The wondering about what the doctors would do, if they could fix him - tormented me. It had gotten dark outside, and things were feeling really dark inside too   . My whole world had suddenly darkened. This just wasn’t fair! Why did this happen? Why would God let this happen to my Dad? I felt the walls closing in on me, and the world I knew ending.
I think back to that night now as an adult, I can see my sister, 11 and me, 13 - alone. We had no adults to make sense of what had happened, no comfort except in each other. We were left with the responsibility to care for our younger siblings as though nothing bad had happened. I tried to put all my heavy feelings of darkness and despair aside. My poor little brothers were too young to comprehend the tragedy that just happened. After we got them to bed, my sister and I cried together for a long time. Close to midnight, we collapsed to sleep in our own rooms.
The seeds to the real trauma had been sown - the critical event that would shape my life was still to come.
A few hours later, I was very forcefully ripped out of my bed by my older brother. I had been in a dead sleep and was filled with confusion. My brother, in a full-on rage, punching and kicking me repeatedly. He was screaming and yelling in repeat, “It’s all your fault! Dad is going to die now because of you!” He blamed me for causing the accident. “How could you be so fucking stupid? You killed dad! What the fuck is wrong with you! Dad and me were just starting to get along! You’ve ruined everything now!” I wanted to get away from him somehow, but he had me cornered in my room.
There was no escape.
I cried and pleaded, “I didn’t mean for this to happen, we were just playing.” It didn’t matter because he was not listening to me.
He choked me and slammed me into each of the four walls of my room. He repeatedly punched and kicked my arms, legs, and torso, he pulled my hair hard enough for it to come out.
I curled into the fetal position, my feeble attempt to protect myself. I believed he was going to kill me, I feared for my life.
Internally, I was pleading with God to save me - make this torture stop. I wished I were dead, anything to make this agony end. Exhausted, my brother tired himself out and left the room abruptly.
I cried for a long time after that. I put my pillow over my head and pressed down firmly, I wanted to die. “Why should I live, if I’m the reason my father may die?” I wished that I didn’t exist, that I had never existed.
That faint first [TD8] attempt at suicide failed. Why can life be so cruel sometimes? I couldn’t make sense of anything then. As a 13-year-old kid, I was haunted by the thought that my Dad’s accident was all my fault for many years, hearing my brother’s voice, “It’s all your fault, you killed dad!”
Before dad died, I used drugs and alcohol for fun, it was about experimentation and toying around with all the different creative ways we could smoke weed with homegrown devises, we drank Milwaukee’s Best beer, laughed over nudie mags. After my dad died, I was in so much pain. I didn’t know how to deal – when I got high, when I got drunk – I stopped hearing the voices, seeing the images, believing I was the cause of the greatest trauma in my family. I smoked to oblivion, I sought escape in what drugs and alcohol could give me. This emotional replacement became my crutch for the next 20 years.
The next day, my mom and sister came home from the hospital and told us what the doctors had said. “Dad’s in a coma, he’s broken the first four cervical vertebrae in his neck, which is almost all of them.” They told us it was unlikely he would come out of the coma, and, if he did, he would have to stay on the full life support machines, most likely brain-dead.
I was young and naïve, my only knowledge of what a coma was came from watching soap operas with my older sister – where comatose characters wake up. I thought for sure dad was going to wake up too.
That didn’t happen.
He stayed in a coma for almost nine months until he died on April 9th, 1988. I lost all faith. How could there be a God who would let something like this happen to us?
I remember during eighth grade I was a whirlwind of emotions. We went to the hospital all the time to visit my father, while he stayed in the intensive care unit. My mom would bring a tape player and play his favorite song to him, ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rogers. My dad never had any music lessons; he just learned how to play music by ear. He was an amazing piano player and he used to play that song and many others all the time.
I remember feeling scared when visiting. My body filled with dread, working hard to maintain a sense of hope while bearing painful witness to the vast changes happening to his body. He entered the hospital weighing 250lb, broken. Over the many months he slowly disappeared into a 100lb man, still broken. I was daunted by the beeping and sucking sounds of the ventilator that he survived on for eight long months… a constant reminder of how fragile his life was.
My siblings and I would sometimes wonder why my mom even bothered to play him his favorite song every visit. He was basically brain dead since the accident. I didn’t think he could hear anything she played for him. I wish I hadn’t thought so negatively back then. I hated that song for a long time. It reminded me of my own failure and despair; that it was my fault my dad was stuck in this coma. Now, after years of therapy, I have learned to love that song again. It no longer reminds me of death. Now it fills me with memories of my dad, how much I love and miss him still.
Things were incredibly stressful for our whole family during that long and depressing year. My oldest sister, an 18-year old freshman in college, withdrew from her classes. She helped my mom sort out all my father’s affairs. There were a lot of things going on that my mom and my oldest sister didn’t fully explain to us until much later. My father had not prepared a will, a living will, or anything for a premature death. My mom was a complete train wreck then, but who wouldn’t be in that situation? Imagine being a stay-at-home mother of seven young children aged 2, 3, 5, 11, 13, 17, and 18, and your husband and their father, the breadwinner of the family, is going to die. She was never the same person after that year. In many respects, we didn’t just lose my dad that year – we lost her too.
Before my dad’s accident, my mom had so much patience, love, and tolerance with us. She was my hero, always there for me. I could ask her anything. She always made time for me to help me with whatever I needed help with. I knew she always had my back no matter what. After my dad died, she disappeared into her grief for such a long time. She didn’t have the patience to deal with the normal shenanigans that young siblings have with each other. She was always quick to rage on us if we misbehaved, didn’t do our chores when we were supposed to, or didn’t get good grades. When I had questions for her, she usually responded with an impatient and angry sounding, “WHAT NOW?!” I didn’t feel like I could talk to her about anything anymore. I had a quiet and compelling fear that maybe I deserved this new mom, that she too felt like I was responsible for our dad’s death. Maybe that was why she never seemed to want to talk much anymore. It would be several years before I said these fears out loud.
I sank into lonely confusion, with no one to talk to, no one to confide in. I felt abandoned – all while I was transitioning into the normal confusion adolescence brings.
I later learned from my older sister that our mom had been near suicidal multiple times during that year.
My oldest sister did the best she could to help. She ultimately had to make some of the adult decisions for my mom with regards to my father’s end of life and funeral planning because my mom couldn’t pull out of her own grief for these things. I have so much admiration for my sister, then and now. In many ways, she was the rock we all needed, the glue holding our family together in this dark time. She did well to keep her internal stress to herself for someone having so much adult responsibilities fall on her at such a young age. 
At the hospital, since my father had no DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order in place, the doctors were doing their job trying to keep my father alive. His heart and lungs would not function properly on their own, so they had him on full life support machines. Eventually, all of our health insurance money was used up. My mom and my oldest sister (and the rest of us) agreed that pulling the plug was the right thing to do. We didn’t want him to suffer any more, and we had come to understand that he would never be him again. We were denied being able to disconnect his heart-lung machines because he had no DNR in place. My oldest sister eventually secretly arranged with one of the caretakers to stop feeding my dad through his IV so he could expire by starving to death. I remember at his death, he looked so emaciated, like a Holocaust victim.