by Nathan Dixon
There was a boy at my mother’s junior high school, which would become my own middle school, a boy whose parents were Christian Scientists. Which made him a Christian Scientist.
In the ongoing discussions around consent, we tend to leave the children out. Because I said so. The favorite phrase of harried fathers and iron-fisted despots alike.
The boy’s parents did not believe in modern medicine—they shunned materia medica—were fanatic students of the prototypical modern woman Mary Baker Eddy. For a visual of Miss Eddy, imagine Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in black, black, black, with silver buttons, buttons, buttons, all down her back, back, back. Prim and proper in Victorian New England, her getup belied the neon-tubed visions burning bright in her brain. Beyond reality, she was the manifestation of Emerson’s “Divinity School Address.” The word made flesh. Only to transcend the world. Radical. Visionary. Speaking in tongues. Possessed by the spirit.
Mina Loy often wrote to Joseph Cornell about their shared religion:
Whatever anyone else may believe, isn’t it the case that we know what we know, and that creates the surfeit, the wholeness, that we call health? I am sure and unsure. Fullness is theology that we reclaim and revise: all that discarded surplus. Matter may be illusion, but at the same time, we know that theology at its core is illuminated detritus. We, who are scavengers, are faith’s adepts.
Modernists extraordinaire, celebrating faith in the cartwheeling mind. Storytellers are scavengers too. They always have been. Beyond the sign to the thing itself. A blue parakeet named Blue. I myself have not asked consent. “Stories,” writes Donna Haraway, “Stories are much bigger than ideologies. In that is our hope.”
I am sure and unsure.
There was a boy at my mother’s junior high school. A boy who lived in the neighborhood. This boy was birthed at home, perhaps in a cloudy bathtub, perhaps on a bloody bed, perhaps not at home at all, but on the banks of a river beneath the moon. There were no doctors involved. But a practitioner from the church was present. And perhaps this boy was birthed healthy and happy. Perhaps the practitioner held him up—wailing—a silhouette against the enormous harvest moon.
As far as this story goes, he was tow-headed and long-haired by the time he was weaned, then got a buzz cut in elementary school like all the other boys. He played basketball with his neighborhood pals in the afterschool afternoons. Out on the grass court beneath the lamppost where my grandfather had hammered into place the plywood backboard and the bottomless milk crate basket.
He was in junior high, this boy, when his parents let him go to the state fair. For the first time with his friends rather than with themselves. They—the parents—imagined him strolling through the Village of Yesteryear, marveling at the girth of the prizewinning gourds, watching the old women in their starched sunbonnets spin wool into yarn. When, in fact, he was snatching rubber ducks from a lazy river and tossing thin metal rings at the necks of plinking glass bottles. Trying to win. Floored by the razzle-dazzle of carnival capitalism.
Unyoked, he shot a balloon with a BB gun and gave the stuffed teddy bear to a girl on whom he had always had a crush. Neither of them knew what to say afterward, but they stumbled along, and she kissed his cheek, and he swore to himself that he would never wash his face again. He ate so much fried food that night that he vomited after he rode the Zipper. Then ate more to prove that it was no big deal.
It was the fried food, they suspected—later—that led to the calcified stone of feces, the fecalith that floated into the lumen of the vermiform appendix and wedged itself there. At least that’s what they suspected. He had, after all, ever since the fair, been complaining of constipation, hadn’t he? Or perhaps it was lymphoid hyperplasia, a bubbling follicle in the vestigial worm- shaped remnant. Either way, his mucosa continued secreting. Fluid and mucus built up. The swelling thrust into the afferent visceral nerve fibers, which caused abdominal pain. There was a stabbing prick beneath his belly button. The pressure swelled in McBurney’s point, an expanding balloon in the lower right quadrant of his abdominal graph. Gut flora multiplied, E. coli and Bacteroides fragilis blooming. The immune system deployed white blood cells and pus accumulated there.
My mother tells me that her sister—my aunt Carol—had appendicitis two years before the boy. My grandfather—the penny-pinching champion of the family whom I remember cutting coupons and helping me with my algebra homework, whom I remember in the silver Cadillac nodding along to Rush Limbaugh, whom I remember in red suspenders in the retirement home talking about the importance of investing, whom I remember listening to Glenn Gould’s Bach, his hand, always with Band-Aids across the back from his Rat Terrier biting and scratching him, resting on the knee of his long-demented wife—my grandfather refused to take Carol to the doctor on that first night. He was the baby of his own farm family. He had nine brothers and sisters. He embodied the up-from-your-bootstraps narrative that Americans love to love. He thought that his daughter could sleep it off. Just like my own father thought that I could sleep off the pain after I fell from a frozen tree, on the snowy grounds of the middle school that was once my mother’s junior high school, and broke my foot in half thirty years later. Because I said so.
My grandfather cursed himself the next morning—this god-fearing Methodist man—cursed himself as he sped through traffic on the way to the hospital in Raleigh. Repeating to his fever- drenched eldest daughter—doubled up and moaning on the backseat—that everything would be all right. That everything would be all right.
Praying for relief in his own bedroom that afternoon, almost incapacitated with pain, the boy finally crawled on his hands and knees across the shag carpet to the bathroom to try to vomit the sickness out. But there wasn’t much inside of him. Just some green slime turning gray. The porcelain of the commode, though, was cool and smooth to the touch. He wanted to rest his fiery belly upon it, but instead convinced himself that what he needed most—though he wasn’t hungry at all—was some food in his stomach to assuage the pain. This is what his body needed. Though, of course, he reminded himself, of course, his body was not real. So, in reality, it needed nothing. Nothing at all but his belief.
Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Life, Truth, Love.
It did not exist—his body, his belly—but nevertheless it throbbed. He could feel it with his heartbeat. He crawled over the shag carpet, whose fur he balled in his fists, to the smooth cool floor of the kitchen that still smelled of the lasagna his mother had cooked the night before.
Lasagna and a glass of milk. He had scraped at it last night. The prongs of his fork across the plate until his father commanded him to stop. The pressure building. Building. Now he couldn’t get anything down.
Took a gulp of milk and threw it back up. A mess on the yellow linoleum. He flopped around for a minute but was unable to rise. He had never felt pain like this before. It crumpled him. He was able only to scoot way from the mess he had made. Lay supine on the floor. Ashamed. Let his palms rest on the smooth linoleum, hoping his mom would be home before his dad.
And of course she was. She had to cook dinner, didn’t she? This was the 1970s. Deep in the sprawled suburbs of North Carolina’s Piedmont South. She came home from bridge with the Rotary Club wives to find her boy groaning beneath the cupboard. Snoring loudly and obscenely, what looked like blood bubbling from his mouth. The tipped Tupperware of lasagna and the broken bottle of milk—it was not blood after all— did little to ease her mind as she dragged him to his room.
Of course she was home first. But the boy’s fear of disappointing his father was also unfounded. For when his father came home from work to a clean kitchen and a worried wife, he walked down the shag carpet to peek in on his son, to perch at the edge of the bed, to place his palm on the boy’s sweaty forehead, to bow his own head and try to convince himself that it was all an illusion.
The good book says the four fundamental propositions of divine metaphysics are self-evident:
1. God is good. God is Mind.
2. God, Spirit, being all, nothing is matter.
3. Life, God, omnipotent good, deny death, evil, sin, disease.—Disease, sin, evil, death, deny good, omnipotent God, Life.
He whispered silent helpless prayers that denied the existence of the material world. He prayed to their lord. To their all-in-all.
Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Life, Truth, Love.
Through the night, they recited psalms by memory and passages from John the Undeceiver. Read scripture from the Bible and from Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health, whispering almost constantly in the dim room of the brick ranch as the boy clutched at his stomach and writhed in the sheets.
“We are of God,” they said, and “he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”
“There is no life,” they said, “no truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth,” they said, and “matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God,” they said, “and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man,” they said, “is not material; he is spiritual.”
Their boy writhed in the sheets.
Hot to the touch. They thought he could heal himself if he could block the bad thoughts. Out. If he could convince himself that his body was nothing but an illusion. They had him pray along with them—silent, separate—when he ebbed into lucidity from his fever dreams.
Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Life, Truth, Love.
It hurts, he kept saying. It hurts. Vomiting until there was nothing left. It is not real, they answered. This world is an illusion. But it hurts, he kept saying. It hurts.
A former Christian Scientist—acquaintance of my mother—refuses to tell anyone that cancer gobbles up her pancreas. I used to play saxophone with her son in the high school jazz band. We wore sunglasses to the concerts because that’s what jazz cats did. Now his mother sips water from a glass and smiles when we visit. Asks about the Sunday service she missed at First United Methodist. Does the vestigial training, inert in the brain-bottom, play some part in her insistence that all is well? She calls the church she left “the devil.” She has lost one sister and two brothers. They didn’t believe in medicine, she says, as she swallows fistfuls of pills.
On the car ride home, my mother tells me a story—a story that I have heard before. A story whose moral I have never quite grasped. About a boy at her junior high school, a boy whose parents were Christian Scientists. Which made him a Christian Scientist, she says.
Past fields of grass and sweating strip malls, past trim green golf courses and men on riding mowers. Out in the manufactured countryside, Raleigh on the glittering horizon. She tells me the story again as we cruise onto the parkway, the median spotted with fire and gold, bright flowers abuzz with dying honeybees.
I sit in the passenger seat wondering if this is a cautionary tale. Wondering what taboos we are whispering about. Wondering why it feels so conspiratorial to talk about this boy. For some reason I tell her afterward about my professor who insists that valid epistemologies exist outside of reason, who insists that colonists—salivating after gold and flesh—embraced, and embrace still, reason and science both as means to an end. Of course. Of course she is right, I tell my mother. So goes the saying: All hail the gilded penis. She laughs at this, but keeps her eyes on the road. Wondering if I have been brainwashed.
They constructed scaffolding to prop up their worldview. Made an idol after their own image. Called it: FACT.
Birds fly south for the winter. Of course. There are other ways to know. Epistemologies proliferate beyond the angles of the white-washed frame. Progress with a capital P is an illusion—a narrative that we tell ourselves to keep away the boogey man. Time is not linear. But cyclical. Like water. I know. There are other ways to know.
My mother sits nodding in the passenger seat. She is the best listener I know. But in my answer she hears an attack, and wonders if I am trying—as I have tried since adolescence—to be difficult for no good reason. I tell her how I argued with my professor. Tell her how defensive I was. How I must have sounded ridiculous—champion of the scientific method—in a seminar on the multi-ethnic novel. Where are we? the other PhD students asked. Refusing to look my direction. Where are we? Flipping through Silko, Morrison, Ward, Hernandez, Nguyen, Butler, Howe, Linmark, García, Díaz. Where? We need textual reference. Where?
Laughing at myself, I tell my mother that the last time I took a science class, my teacher lit his desk on fire to amaze us. I sat beside my jazz band friend and whispered PYROMANIA. We put our sunglasses on to get the girls to laugh. It was at the same high school that she herself attended. Same teacher. Same trick, she tells me, that he had used on her class. But the boy with appendicitis didn’t make it that far.
They called the practitioner the next morning, the boy’s parents. The practitioner told them to lay their son on a cot in their front yard. The boy dragged his feet between them as they shuffled him through the door. It was late October. The boy had raked the lawn the weekend before, but already there were leaves in the grass. The woman across the street stopped sweeping her carport, and stared at the sick child stumbling between his parents. She started to raise her hand to wave but stopped before it was in the air, the splayed fingers retracting to a limp fist. Then gripped around the broom again. The broom rasping over the concrete—once, twice—then over the brick stairs—once—before the woman disappeared into her house to watch her neighbors through her kitchen window. Acting as if they couldn’t see her behind the glass.
They spread him on the cot beside the crepe myrtle and knelt with their hands on his curled body. They bowed their heads as he clutched his abdomen. The practitioner spoke of the Eucharist:
Our baptism is a purification from all error. Our church is built on the divine Principle, Love. We can unite with this church only as we are new-born of Spirit, as we reach the Life which is Truth and the Truth which is Life by bringing forth the fruits of Love, —casting out error and healing the sick. Our Eucharist is spiritual communion with the one God. Our bread, “which cometh down from heaven,” is Truth. Our cup is the cross. Our wine the inspiration of Love, the draught our Master drank and commended to his followers.
They prayed their silent prayers in the grass, trying to convince themselves that it was not real. Truth, of course, only in letting go. Life only in letting go.
In and out throughout the day, word passed from neighbor to neighbor. There was a sick boy on a cot out on Fairlane Road. They all knew the one. The home of the Christian Scientists.
It’s a shame, they said to one another. That boy should see a doctor, shouldn’t he? Well. It’s not our place to say. I think he should. He should. I agree. Appendicitis, according to the woman next door. Her own son had his removed last year. Did he? I think so. I don’t really know. It’s all hearsay, of course. No it’s not, I’ve seen him. Well. Who are we to say? My wife says it’s none of our business. Well. That may be true. But you can see the boy out in the yard, can’t you? What choice did he have in the matter? That’s right. What choice did he have?
What choice should he have? He’s a little boy, isn’t he? Exactly. That’s my point. You gonna tell me what to do with my kid next? No. I’m just saying his parents have gone and made him a spectacle. They never gave him a choice. Sure. But what does that mean? You don’t think they love him? No. That’s not what I’m saying. You think they had any say in the matter? It’s that church. I don’t know. I guess. You think they’re somehow responsible? No, not at all. But I do think—well. I don’t know. Either way, they’ve made a spectacle of him, haven’t they? Sure. And now what? I don’t know. We’re not supposed to talk about it?
I imagine my grandfather in a red cardigan and brown loafers, walking down the darkling asphalt, his hands behind back.
Once upon a time—after I confessed to him over a bowl of peach ice cream that I wanted to be a writer—he told me that he himself had written a draft of a novel long ago. It wasn’t very good, he said. I was young when I wrote it.
There was a kerosene lamp on the Formica tabletop. We were in a cabin in the mountains. No. There was an electric lamp behind a stained-glass shade. No. I don’t know. It was in the retirement home behind my house. Because I said so. My grandma had not been able to speak for seven years. The funnel of fire in the glass chimney threw shadows across their faces. I was always more of a numbers man, my grandfather said, clutching the knee of his wife.
I scraped my spoon against the plastic bowl. But I want to hear the story, I said.
It was about a white woman, he answered. Who has an affair with a black man. She gets herself pregnant in the process. Gets herself pregnant, he said. But she loved him. I was always sure of that, he said. She loved him. The two of them were in love. My grandmother moaned and writhed in the chair. Singing Southern Gothic in the suburban retirement home. At least I think they were, he said. I can’t remember now. Mythologies reiterated until they become reality. It was a story about impossible decisions, he said. There was never any good answer. Racism and sexism both burned into his brain’s gray furrows.
I imagine he put on his loafers with the aid of his shoehorn that night. But we’re about to have supper, Ed, my grandmother must have said. The last sunlight hanging purple in the kitchen window above the sink. Well? he must have answered. What do you want me to do, Bert? That little boy is going to die out there. What do you want me to do?
Then down the asphalt—ponderous—to kneel beside his neighbors. And bow his head and pray with them in the blue shadows of sweet gum trees. The whole huge globe a toy. Stars pouring down almost spiritual rays. And everyone trying to believe for the sake of the whimpering boy.
The high schoolers heard their parents whispering. They took turns driving by in their pickup trucks and Pintos, in their VW Beetles and Camaros, staring at the bloated boy on the cot. The younger kids rode by on bicycles, straddling their banana seats. None of them stopped to say hello because they didn’t know the proper decorum. They had never been taught what to do about a dying boy on a cot in the front yard. So. They were reduced to the role of spectator, grimacing as they slowly—slowly—slowly. Rolled by. Rictus. Not even pretending not to look. But neither did the boy’s parents notice, so enraptured in their prayers were they. That the world had fallen away behind their pinched eyelids. They believed. There’s no question about that.
“Behold,” they said, “what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.”
The present moment melted into eternity in the autumn afternoon. Was it so for their child? they wondered. As he writhed and whispered. As they hoped and prayed. Other church members came by to kneel in the grass beside them. Along with the paid practitioner. And this world on the autumn lawn, strewn again with yellow leaves, was ground on which the passing students in their cars—the passing students on their bikes—this autumn lawn was ground on which they were wholly unfamiliar.
Holy. Wholly unfamiliar. Holy. Though it was a brick ranch like any other, though the bark peeled on the crepe myrtle like it did on any other, though they knew the boy dying on the cot. He was on the junior high basketball team and could hit a jump shot from the baseline before you knew he had the ball. The high school coach had promised him a position already. Remember? The neighborhood boys had ridden their bikes down Fairlane to Kingston Ridge almost every sunny day the summer before, the sticky air drenched with honeysuckle and magnolia. There was a cutoff into the woods that led to the fort they had built. The boy himself had been there plenty of times. To play at war. With my Uncle Tommy and all the other neighborhood boys.
Just like anyone else. Tumbling through the trees. Just like anyone else. Remember? The house was as familiar as could be.
But now there was strange furniture arranged in the yard.
Bert, my grandfather might have said the next morning, the newspaper spread across the tabletop. Bert, they wouldn’t listen. His cup of steaming coffee in his hand, fresh-baked biscuits on his plate, slathered in butter and fig preserves, the electric clock spinning above his head. I tried to reason with them, he might have said. I tried to tell them about Carol, but they only shook their heads. I don’t know what else I could have done. Across the kitchen, my grandmother might have nodded, her apron splashed with flour, a rolling pin in her hand. Mrs. Mason called the police this morning, she might have answered. But they said the same thing again. They know all about it. Already talked to the parents. Nothing to be done, they said. But sit and wait it out.
In 1902, the cover of the popular Puck magazine depicted a personification of the US Law—an enormous square-jawed female, wrapped in a red-sash with a crown upon her head—holding up a Christian Science Practitioner—an old man in a black coat and a costume halo clinging to Eddy’s text, by the nape of his scrawny neck. Captioned: “The Law Cannot Be ‘Removed.’”
In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled that “Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free . . . to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age . . . when they can make that choice for themselves.”
Although President Richard Nixon signed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974—attempting to help states fund laws to combat child abuse—two of his key advisors who would later serve prison time for their role in the Watergate scandal were lifelong Christian Scientists and managed to rig loopholes in the act to prevent their fellow faith-healers from being charged with crimes of neglect.
Rita Swan, a former Christian Scientist whose child died from meningitis in 1977, founded CHILD (Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty) in 1983 to fight faith-based medical neglect. Although she dissolved the membership organization in 2017, the website lives on in testimony to the fact that “the state cannot always protect children without court orders.” Sing Ian, sing Neil, sing Matthew, sing Austin, sing Amy, sing Robyn, sing Andrew, sing Harrison, sing Nancy, sing Dennis, sing Arrian, sing Zachery, sing Troy, sing Shauntay, sing Rhett.
Ween has a song that goes like this: Smile on mighty Jesus. Spinal Meningitis got me down.
Diabetic coma, a sandwich bag and washcloth tied around his scrotum, bladder outlet obstruction, urine sloshed throughout his abdomen, even in his lungs, God’s will, it’s what we live for, a diabetic four-year-old crawling across the carpet, third-degree murder overturned on fair notice grounds, acid eaten off his lips, so dehydrated his skin stayed up when pinched, complete healing, happily chasing his kitty fifteen minutes before he died, the neighbors shut their windows to keep the screams away, four days of healing, no criminal charges filed, stung 432 times by wasps, lungs filled with fluid, willful intentionality could not be proved, nothing could be wrong with God’s perfect child, malignant lymphoma, never spoken of again, death, like illness, considered unreal, mother published testimony in Christian Science Journal about rearing four children with total reliance on God’s healing, unable to remember any activity missed because of any illness, though of course she omitted the inconvenient death of lucky number five, lymphocytic leukemia, a mature child, a mature child, who made an independent choice to die, unclean, unworthy, Satan’s greatest test, the sanctity of blood, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, ruptured esophagus, she was full of life, a ruptured appendix, anointed with olive oil, he of the blue hands, the law is clear that the parents legally can withhold medical care based on religious beliefs, the four-year-old loved his religion, tonsillitis, pneumonia, sepsis due to Staphylococcus aureus, he loved learning about the lord, he loved attending his church, he loved singing with his brethren. It is all part of God’s plan.
Smile on mighty Jesus. Spinal Meningitis got me down.
According to the Harvard Divinity School, by 2018, at least fifty Christian Scientists had been “charged with murder/manslaughter after their children died of diseases curable by modern medicine,” yet, “despite frequent litigation there has been no judicial consensus over whether practitioners or parents are criminally negligent, or free to deny medical care to children due to freedom of religion.”
The bloated boy finally passed gas in the night and messed himself beneath the sheets. He moaned as it happened. It was sour smelling. His parents carried him inside and gently rinsed him in the tub. But the water from the spigot sent chills chattering through his body, chattering through his teeth until his murmured words were unintelligible.
Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Life, Truth, Love.
The practitioner advised that they take him back out to the cot. Which they did. Back out to the cot in the morning. Where he died a few days later. On Friday afternoon. The ischemic wall of his appendix had burst the afternoon after lasagna night and leaked the diseased insides of the vermiform organ into his stomach lining.
Peritonitis was a word the practitioner did not use.
My professor is always one step away from outing me as a colonist.
If the shoe fits, her eyes say. Another settler with an opinion. We read a column by Daniel Justice before he comes to campus. I think: appropriate surname. All mouth and no ears, he writes. Pale-faced settlers with opinions trailing bloody bullet years.
My mother points out that reason and science are often at odds. Of course. Science able to reveal answers to questions we never thought to ask. Science able to push past what we thought was reasonable. I tell her that not a single one of my undergraduate composition students has chosen to major in the humanities. STEM is the rage these days. And business. Follow the money shout the pervasive rhetoricians. Everything worth saying has already been said. Follow the money. Follow the money. This is the way they have been taught to reason. To surround themselves with security—with comfort—and let everyone else fend for themselves.
We are on the way to the department store so she can buy me, her thirty-two-year-old son, a new pair of black denim jeans that don’t have holes in the crotch. She tells me she believes in the power of prayer as we trot across the parking lot. They have done studies, she says, as we sidewind through Belk. It’s science. I pray for you every day.
Narrative—I’m taught to teach—is not the best way to convey an idea. Draw a map rather than tell a story, I tell my students. Readers crave efficiency, right?
But maps, too, are constructions, complains my professor, when I brag to her about my students thinking outside the box. Designed to keep the powerful powerful, she says. The powerless powerless. She’s right. Of course. Half-full or half-empty, the glass shapes the water. Who named Fairlane Road? I wonder. Who sectioned off the plots?
Epistemologies exist outside of reason. Beyond science, there are other ways to know. Birds fly south for the winter. Faith heals. Of course, of course. Epiphanies peek from eggshell skulls cracked against slippery ice. The yellow yolk of transcendence spills into a convalescent’s bed. “And, behold,” she read, “they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”
Arise believer, and walk again. Our God is an awesome God.
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons, all down her back, back, back.
But should we hold these epistemologies equal on the scales? My mother asks the same question that I asked my professor. And if we don’t hold them equal, I asked and asked again, what labels will we be forced to wear? Racist? Sexist? Xenophobist? My professor answered: beware.
I hear my grandfather’s voice. A bigot who believed in the unanswerable.
The shape of the glass belies its emptiness. Taken to logical conclusions . . . The rhetoricians trail off. Logical conclusions, they say.
But wisdom, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. Lies.
And all the belts we wrap around the waist of the world? Arbitrary. The world itself? Illusion, prayed the front lawn pious parents. Their dead child in the grass. There are other ways to know.
“Theology and physics teach that both Spirit and matter are real and good,” writes Eddy in the preface to Science and Health, “whereas the fact is that Spirit is good and real, and matter is Spirit’s opposite.” The fact is. The fact was. The fact will be. The—singular—fact is always a scary proposition.
After Charles Bernstein refused to take questions at his reading, someone in the audience asked him if his method of “negatively defining” things—his method of defining something by stripping away all the things it is not—if this method was in fact a path toward an optimistic outlook. Charles replied: Yes—of course—that’s an awful easy question. It’s the positive definitions, he said, the ones that tell us what something is rather than what it is not, the positive definitions, he said, that we need to be wary of.
The negative ones allow us to tell story after story. Sings Haraway, chronicling nonfiction fables of companion species. Beyond ideology: cohabitation in community.
According to Eddy, once a Christian Scientist rejects the material world, “sin and disease lose their reality in human consciousness and disappear as naturally and as necessarily as darkness gives place to light and sin to reformation.” The proof of the religion’s utility and goodness therefore inheres in its demonstration. Faith and prayer beget physical healing. Belief manifests as wellness.
This is not a story of condemnation. This is not a cautionary tale. Talking taboo is the only way to approach tongue-twisting glossolalia.
Throw caution to the wind. Add tautology to cliché. I believe the parents believed what they believed. We know what we know, and this creates the surfeit, the wholeness, that we call health. Que será, será. Just ask your therapist. Change the joke and slip the yoke. I am sure and unsure.
Their faith taught them to be skeptical of reality. Of what we call reality. Which is all made up anyway. Which is a word that should always be plural—a cache of slippery fish slipping through our fingers. Reality, Nabokov quipped—sounding like a Christian Scientist—is a word that means nothing at all without quotation marks.
And children cannot conceptualize the concept of consent. We all come into this world crying to be pushed back out again. To be pushed back in again. A gaggle of Michael Finnegans.
Scavengers from the get-go. Craving roadkill stories even though we know—from the very beginning—the way it will all end up. Life only in letting go.
Hungry hands and snapping mouths—the glass half-empty—CONSUMPTION on the mind.
Or—half-full—CONNECTION burning neon our brains. The desire to communicate. To pass meaning mouth-to-mouth. Perhaps we should shoot for purple shadows and bowed heads. For placing our hands behind our backs and taking a knee with our neighbors. Glum through the gloaming. Or gay. Lucky pennies in our loafers and ears where our eyes should be. Ears where our ears should be too. And ears where our mouths have always been. Celebrate this boy in silence. Fecundity spills from the frame. Illuminate detritus. Bright waste in the Progress game.
Because how much does intent really matter?
The fact is . . . because I said so . . . the fact is . . .
The sky was very clear and very blue when the boy died, and squirrels were screaming in the oak tree across the street. The shadow of a hawk glided over the asphalt. A cardinal in a popping fig tree was bright as blood. Fluttering. A mother somewhere down Fairlane who was busy preparing biscuits in her kitchen, opened a window for a little fresh air and hummed a hymn into the burnished blue.
Nathan Dixon is pursuing a PhD in English literature and creative writing at the University of Georgia, where he serves as assistant editor of the Georgia Review. His creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, Georgia Review, Carolina Quarterly, Heavy Feather Review, Ruminate, and Dreginald, among many others. He is a Pushcart nominee and his one-act play, “Thoughts & Prayers Inc.,” was chosen by National Book Award Winner Nikky Finney as winner of the Agnes Scott College Prize. His critical and academic work has appeared in Mina Loy – Navigating the Avant-Garde, 3:AM, Transmotion, and Renaissance Papers, where he previously served as assistant editor. He co-curates the Yumfactory reading series in Athens, Georgia.