In a panic, I kicked the door shut behind me just as her voice reached the second floor. "And don't let me hear you slam that—" Boom! I stared for a moment at the closed door, knowing it would soon be flying open again. I sat in the middle of the room, next to my sister's empty crib, awaiting my fate.

Then, deliverance.

"Joy, you can't get on him like that." My father's baritone voice drifted up through the thin floor. "He's only three. He doesn't even understand what he did wrong. Do you really think he knows what a woman beater is?"

My father was in the living room, ten feet from where the incident began. He was a very slender six foot two with a bushy mustache and a neatly shaped afro. It wasn't his style to yell. When he heard my mother's outburst, he rose from his chair, his eyes widening in confusion. My mother slowly reeled herself in. But she wasn't completely mollified.

"Wes, he needs to learn what is acceptable and what is not!" My father agreed, but with a gentle laugh, reminded her that cursing at a young boy wasn't the most effective way of making a point. I was saved, for the moment.

My first name, Westley, is my father's. I have two middle names, a compromise between my parents. My father loved the sound and meaning of Watende, a Shona word that means "revenge will not be sought," a concept that aligned with his gentle spirit. My mother objected. Watende sounded too big, too complicated for such a tiny baby. It wasn't until later in life that she understood why it was so important to my father that Watende be a part of me. Instead, she lobbied for Omari, which means "the highest." I'm not sure what was easier or less lofty about that name, but I was well into elementary school before I became comfortable spelling either.
FROM: A Rhodes Scholar, A Convicted Murderer: The Ultimate Twist of Fate
Published on April 27, 2010


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