I can’t seem to get away from long titles. They call to me because often the long title is a string of thoughts, of thoughts, of thoughts that don’t make any sense until I put them in or with a story. For “When It Gets Cold in the South, You Get a Jesus, You Get a Jesus, Everybody Gets a Goddamn Jesus,” the case is both.
As someone with OCD, and a maladaptive daydreaming complex, I don’t think there’s ever a time when I’m not thinking. Just bites of bits all blending together. All the time. And so, a few months prior to CRAFT opening their 2021 Flash Fiction Contest, the words You get a Jesus! You get a Jesus! Everybody gets a goddamn Jesus! echoed and stood against all the other thoughts. Shouting, imprinting, and unforgettable.
I thought about a mom simply trying to put her children to bed. I thought about Jesus, and praying, and the underlying threat of receiving (getting) a Jesus. What that meant, exactly.
In Black culture, Jesus has always been a Black person’s best savior, our biggest bet on receiving any kind of goodness in life. With this piece, I wanted to explore Black family dynamics in the south during the early 1970s, as well as the security of religion (how this often became our solace against a world that did, and sometimes still does, not like us), mothers and fathers (and minding them), and of course, Black mental health. Specifically, in strong, Black male leaders.
The father character, Devilish-Daddy, suffers from schizophrenia, succumbing to its insidious grip in a household that he has help to build. Untreated and definitely unacknowledged as an illness (just a devil), it soon begins to become something beyond management. However, because the priority of keeping our Black male leaders in the household safe is usually upheld over all else, he becomes a problem to be patched-up, not treated, nor dealt with in a way that would indefinitely exclude him. In the end, Devilish-Daddy is saved over his own children, and his wife.
This piece honors the often-innocent sacrifices made in Black households. It is a testament to my ancestors who could have never dreamed of acknowledging their own traumas as issues to be healed. It is because of these sacrifices, and my ancestors’ persistence, that I may go on to become aware of my own, and I constantly recognize this as a privilege to treasure.
I wrote this story from the perspective of the children because for me, it felt like the safest place. In spite of what happens, in a sense, they are the ones who are truly saved when set against the realities of the characters who are left behind.
EXODUS OKTAVIA BROWNLOW is a Blackhawk, MS, native. Her piece “Chicken-Girls and Chicken-Ladies and All the Possibility of Pillowcases” will be included in Best Microfiction 2022. Her debut fiction chapbook—Look at All the Little Hurts of These Newly-Broken Lives and The Bittersweet, Sweet and Bitter Loves—is set for publication with Ethel Zine and Press in April 2023.