The sides of the highway were loitered with patches of wildflower. Nearby, the overtly religious billboard – the one that had hosted an image of flames and the question Do You Know Who Jesus Is - has been whited out & I watched my brother’s head sway in sleep. My mom is driving, her ring casting flashing refractions across the leathered backseat. We are going to drop him off at something she calls The Old Vineyard. She’s then dropping me off at bible camp.
On a day like that day, something seems garishly out of place. Might the storm clouds littering the Western skies be filled with acid rain? It felt like there was a possibility of crime or accident, but, somehow, I knew that was unlikely. Mom lights a cigarette and rolls down the window completely. The air is sharp with the fragrance of blossoms and burning. My brother snores softly. I roll my window down behind him, watch ash fleck away in the opposite window.
Now that I look back on it, I knew beforehand a vineyard was supposed to be beautiful. I knew it was filled with muscadines and wooden vats full of grapes you could step on to then store and ferment. I knew that, when we pulled up, we were not at a vineyard. We pulled up to a building where a serious looking font read “Acute Patient Entry” on a door with glass you couldn’t see past. It looked like a door that always stayed locked.
My brother woke. He left the car with mom. He turned and smiled: where half of his face remained calm and snide, but the right corner of his mouth sheepishly curved up. I was told to wait (in the heat, the windows rolled down, under the shade of an elm tree). Mom returned thirty minutes later, but without mascara and with puffy eyes. As she walked by, dandelion seeds the size of push pins floated by her. I wanted to believe, maybe, there were angels here, watching. Or maybe there are only devils hiding: the like my brother stores in his head and inside closed fists.
Mom drove me to camp making minimal conversation. She would pick me up after the final camp service. I was no longer in the mood to sing though. I was no longer in the mood to read though. I was no longer in the mood to put my trust in some white bearded prick in the sky whose son turned water into wine. What good is God if he doesn’t even know my brother’s name? What good is wine if it only makes you thirst for more?
When we were to be baptized, I walked forward. Mom was late. The minister sprinkled water across my forehead. My mind stayed foggy, my brother’s grim demeanour and walk filling it. I was told to repeat after the minister along with several other children with droplets clinging to their hair. I mouthed them. No one noticed that my voice stayed behind my tongue as though padlocked.
Somewhere, my brother was sedated and confined. Somewhere, he was being drugged up with pharmaceutical cocktails like a shot in the dark for balance. Here, the only Lord was a metal symbol on the altar who hadn’t been seen in 2000 years. Here, cameras started flashing while us kids were being saved for heaven. Here, I suddenly realized heaven was only a word: like love, like sanity, like safe. There was no way to get to it unless you created it.
Samuel J Fox is a queer essayist/poet living in the Southern US. He is poetry editor for Bending Genres and frequent columnist/reviewer for Five 2 One Magazine. He appears (or will appear) in Vagabond City Lit, Figure 1, and Soft Cartel. He enjoys coffee shops, graveyards, and dilapidated places depending. He tweets (@samueljfox).