Featured Essay   

Questioning

by Paige Towers

Let’s say that your sister is a born-again Evangelical Christian. And let’s say that she got married and had four kids. Let’s say that it’s also possible you feel that she’s replaced you with so many others: a constant group of like-minded followers who host each other for dinners, baby-sit on weekends, and pray with their arms raised high. You do not belong.

Let’s say your sister lives in the suburbs in Iowa, and you secretly judge her for that, because you left and lived all over. Shall we say that you felt the need to leave in order to understand the world better? That you crave new experiences. Total acceptance of something higher is naïve, even dangerous: this is what you’ve come to believe. (By the way, that judgment that you hold is no secret. She always knew.)

In all those places you have traveled, whenever there was a face that caught your eye on the street, it was almost always because it looked like hers. Small face, thin lips and pretty eyes—those features were everywhere. Which is to say that your sister is everywhere, but that’s just you being a writer.

Or maybe a fool, if you can point out the difference.

The distance between the two of you serves only as a stubborn reminder that you aren’t about to accept that she accepts any of this. You’ll come back when she comes down. But until then, her image is shadowing you, popping up on every continent.

I read an essay once in a writer’s workshop on my peer’s experience of accepting Christ. The writer was sixteen at the time and was staring at a patch of blue carpet, hands and knees on the sanctuary floor, waiting, hoping, praying, that she would have some sort of breakthrough and finally join the unquestioning minds around her. She was a “late bloomer,” according to the Evangelical church’s pastor.

And when the moment came, she said the feeling was incredibly warm and euphoric. It was like being cuddled in a blanket, but a blanket that was the size of the universe. She at last felt, or knew, what everyone else felt, or knew.

That is until she began to question this experience. Once she did that, it faded away and all that was left was her ability to scrutinize and write about it.

I can only relate her experience to my experience of getting high.

But my experience is stunted, because this is what I know about getting really, mind-altering high (as opposed to just, you know, regular high)—it requires a total acceptance on the part of the consumer. This is something that I’ve never been able to do. I can trace the steps for you, which already signals that during these times I’m still conscious of reality and in-control.

First: There’s that drop in your stomach that occurs right when the acid seriously kicks in.

Then: It’s like your blood has gone cold and your body is weightless.

Last: Everything begins to tingle so hard that it hurts. It feels like you’re frozen in that exact moment of when the rollercoaster starts to tip over the edge of the top of a steep incline.

Then what comes next, in my experience, is a choice. You can choose to fall into the pain and let your mind go. This often occurs while being in a mass of moving people, loud music, and colorful lights. You join into the universal high that exists in that moment in some club in Berlin, or Amsterdam, or New York City, or wherever you may be. The feeling is apparently exquisite.

Or, you can choose to fight it, swallow the pain down, and get off the rollercoaster to nervously watch everyone else ride the ride. With masochistic determination, you can closely monitor the rapidly firing synapses in your paranoid mind and question the effects that this drug is having on your body and everyone else around you, which is what I’ve always done so as to avoid landing on the floor, or in someone else’s bed, or in a cab that I can no longer direct the way—

Home.

But where is home? Well, this one city block, at least until the next leasing year. And I’ll admit it. It becomes exhausting to play the part of the lone foot soldier. What’s even more exhausting is when you try to see everything with your eyes wide open, skeptically examining every person and thing you meet along the way. A stranger is always reason to suspect. An overly passionate piece of advice gives you reason to doubt. A place where everyone is content and in agreement is dubious. You often use words such as “misgivings,” “evidence,” and “caution.”

You even told the peer in workshop to take out the paragraph at the end, the one where she mourned the loss of blissful acceptance and debated whether she really knew anything at all. You were satisfied with the narrator having successfully eluded such hallucinations: the end.

Yet, spotting the face of that person you love in a busy crowd in a foreign place like Bangkok or La Paz or Tokyo does not raise a red flag. You are certain, in that moment, as much as a person can be, that it is your sister. And you’re truly elated to see her.

What if you could have that moment of overwhelming joy last past its initial two-second rush? If that rush enveloped you, would you need to keep searching, or would you be content to stay?

Let’s say you love your sister, yet you won’t accept her and her beliefs, and you can’t figure out why and thus keep questioning. Let’s say that she closed her eyes once and suddenly lived everywhere, but that you kept walking, and couldn’t find a damn thing.


 

PaigeTowers_Pic.jpgPaige Towers earned her MFA from Emerson College and her BA from The University of Iowa. She taught Creative Writing and Composition at Emerson, but currently lives and writes in New York City. Her work can be found in McSweeney's, Honesty For Breakfast, Spry Literary Magazine, and is forthcoming in So To Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art.

 

Do you enjoy the work you read at bioStories? Are you a regular reader? Please consider donating to the magazine. Every little bit helps us continue to present the work of remarkable writers weekly.