Chapter 1 - HARD TIME - Summer 1970
The handcuffs locked around my wrists. I had been tried, convicted, and sentenced.
I was twenty-one-years old, as I stood shackled and ready to be transported to the Camp Lejeune Regional Brig of the US Marine Corps in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
This military prison was where I wanted to be. My entire focus for the prior three years had been directed toward getting me to this point. This place was the only one where I could end a bad beginning. Silently, I searched for that quiet center of my being that gave me the strength to get this far. My heart pounded. My swirling emotions calmed when I focused my attention on my hands. The handcuffs threw me; they were not part of my anticipated scenario. After all, I had been back on the base and in uniform for several weeks. In a weird way, I had become a curiosity, a minor celebrity. I had a temporary job. I went to chow. I socialized with fellow marines.
My sorrow was deep. Not for myself, but for others for whom I caused pain and suffering through my actions. I asked myself, “My God, why hadn’t I grown up sooner?” The answer was unknowable to me at that time. It was what it was.
I could barely squeeze my swollen feet into my unlaced sneakers. After a two-day bus ride from Los Angeles, we reached St. Louis. I walked stiffly to a telephone booth in the terminal. I plopped onto the seat and closed the door. My heart pounded so hard that my ears throbbed. I felt the beginnings of a tension headache.
In all the time I had been gone, I never forgot the number: NE 6–5512. It was Nana’s phone number. I learned my grandmother’s phone number when I was a child in New Rochelle, New York. Her phone number had been my only safety line. Whenever I thought I might be completely lost from my family, I remembered that number. The last time Nana saw me or heard my voice was January 1967.
“William Lloyd, is it you?” she cried, not quite wanting to let herself believe it. “Where are you? Are you all right?”
“Yes, Nana,” I said. I heard my voice break and tasted my tears. “I’m okay. I’m at a bus station in St. Louis, but I’m on my way back to Camp Lejeune to turn myself in.”
I could hear the muffled sound of the loudspeaker, announcing boarding times in the background, so I rushed my story. I heard myself say I would be all right. I told her that I had grown up, and I was turning myself in for the punishment I deserved. I said I was sorry I deserted everyone, and that at this point, there was nothing I could do except ask for forgiveness. It was time to put this episode behind me. I couldn’t talk too long, because the bus would be leaving soon. Yet, I had one more call to make before turning myself in. I asked grandma for the other phone number I needed.
The number Nana gave me was unfamiliar. She knew my mother’s latest phone number, because she helped get the service restored after ma missed a payment. The phone rang once, and before the second ring, the receiver was snatched from its cradle. I heard a familiar voice say, “Hello, Mary Rose speaking.”
Her greeting threw me for a second. With all the kids around, it seemed unlikely that ma would answer the phone herself. “Hi, ma, it’s William,” I said with a shaky voice. At first, there was total silence; and then, screaming. She was shrieking like only a mother, whose child had been missing for more than three years, could make.
As we spoke, her tears flowed freely. I knew they were tears of joy. (Only she knew the bittersweet taste of those tears.) Her prodigal son had returned, at last. I spoke to this woman through my own tears. I grasped how much we were alike, how much she was a part of me.
Over the past three years, through prayer and greater understanding, I learned to love her. In the future, I planned to love her with the calm and patient love she never had—from any man—in her life.