D. Gilson

has an essay collection, Incarnate: Notes from an EvangelicalBoyhood, forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press. He is the author of Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton (Bloomsbury, 2018); I Will Say ThisExactly One Time: Essays (Sibling Rivalry, 2015); and Brit Lit (Sibling Rivalry, 2013). An Assistant Professor of English at Texas Tech University, his work has appeared in Threepenny Review, POETRY, and The Rumpus.

The Feral Boy

We open on Eden laid to waste. The last two decades of the twentieth century and the nation turned against free love. Clothes cover flesh. AIDS in a hospice gown and Nancy Reagan in a sensible wool skirt set suit, walking the halls of Capitol Hill, her patent leather purse filled to the brim with cellophane-wrapped tax cuts.

And yet, nudity was never an issue in our family, in our naked house that calls to me as Eden, even now. That low-slung, nondescript, all-brick ranch in Aurora, Missouri, where “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

My father at the breakfast table with his New York Times and bulging Fruit of the Loom briefs. My mother, often topless, rushing from the bedroom to the laundry room to her sewing room, gathering the pieces of all our lives into the sweep of her arms. My brothers Randy and Mike, sweaty, wrestling on the living room floor, and my sister Jennifer, wrapped in a thick white towel, clearing steam from the bathroom mirror and plugging in her Vidal Sassoon curling iron as I sat atop the toilet next to the sink and stared up at her in awe. On Saturday mornings, we all piled into the expanse of our parents’ bed to watch cartoons, our bodies close and exuding heat, cereal bowls balanced precariously on our laps. I remember my brothers’ bodies in particular. They were athletes, sculpted and so sure of themselves, of their place in this world.

Our Eden was a mixed blessing of a mixed family. Beverly begot Marty and Carla and Randy and Mike and Jennifer in a first marriage to a man who beat her and molested a redacted number of the children. But everyone escaped. Duane begot Diala and Starla in a first marriage buried deep in a closet on an archipelago found on no map. But everyone escaped. Together, Beverly and Duane begot me, a feral boy who surprised them and took to the naked house of shared bathrooms and teenage children always late to football or cheerleading or marching band practice.

I slept under the coffee table naked, save for a pair of my mother’s stolen high heels, and woke up to everyone gone: my siblings to their own marriages or to high school, my father at work, and my mother in the sewing room off the kitchen, bent before yards and yards of silk charmeuse, a local football star turned drag queen’s dress in the making, with a Sony cordless telephone perched in the crook of her neck, one of her many friend’s on the other end of the line holding court.

Now I, the feral boy, was the only one naked, and aware, ashamed of this, wanting to know the bodies of my desire. Maybe I can’t.