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My dad would always give my music a bit of a listen. When I was about eleven or twelve, I played him an old death metal tape that I swiped from my brother on a cannibalized stereo. The speakers’ poor output didn’t detract from our efforts to synchronize our limbs to the rhythm of the drums. After a vigorous amount of headbanging that left our necks sore and in disrepair, my father gave me a mischievous grin. 

“That stereo really sucks,” he said. 

He walked out of my room before returning with another smile and a pat on the arm. I saw how grateful he was to share such that moment with me. Despite a 49-year age difference, we would often talk about our shared beliefs and philosophies. Even though we agreed on a lot, my temper often repelled us to opposite ends of the house. I had yet to grow up. I believed that if I masqueraded through life steeped in toxic chemicals and unsavory influences, adulthood would be a mere formality. 

One day, my mom and dad said they’d be gone for a while, I took advantage of my freedom. I called my friend Kenny from down the street. We kicked it in my room, got stoned, and listened to music on my new stereo, which could be turned up so loudly that neighbors would complain. 

In a haze, I stood atop a flimsy office chair in the center of my room and tried to light a pipe with my back towards the door. I tried desperately to produce a flame. I saw panic on my friend’s face. I glanced over my shoulder and saw my father. Shame and regret washed over me. My father staggered in with disbelief and anger. 

I hurled myself past him into the kitchen, where my mother was waiting. My dad gathered his breath told my mom what happened. As I was being reprimanded, I heaved my chest, raised my voice, grabbed a vase of flowers and threw it across the kitchen, where we had shared many meals and memories. I reached deep into my arsenal, and hissed venomously: 

“I wish that you both would die!”

All I wanted to do was to run away, but my dad grabbed the back of my neck to stop me. 

“Son, your mom has cancer,” he said.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Joseph Peterson is a writer incarcerated in California.