I was so nervous that I even dressed up that morning. This bright purple suit that was loose on me and hid my tits. Made me look like a two-hundred-fifty-pound man.
Our oven was so hot I had to watch I didn’t sweat into the food. Wiped my forehead with my tie. I pulled butter from the fridge to set next to a plate of toast and if this didn’t make them happy then I was out of ideas.
But they didn’t appear. I waited a long time….
They’d hid in the bathroom. Mom leaned against the sink while Grandma rested on the toilet and my sister, Nabisase, sat on the rim of the tub. Three versions of the same woman — past, present and future — huddled in one room. With the door partway shut I was unseen and apart from them.
Mom whispered, –We should go to him.
— Yes. Grandma agreed, but they stayed there.
My family was afraid of me.
I expected more sympathy, actually, because I wasn’t the first one in my bloodline to go zipper-lidded. You should’ve seen when my mother tobogganed naked through Flushing Meadow Park in 1983. Four police carried her to the hospital wrapped in their jackets. Parents on the hill thought Mom was a hump-starved fiend out to abduct their children. Her illness often made her frenzied sexually. Whenever she relapsed the woman was an open womb, but Haldol had stabilized Mom’s mind for years.
There was my Uncle Isaac, too, who walked from New York to the Canadian border in 1986, and emptied out his brain pan with a rifle. So when they discovered me in that Ithaca apartment Mom and Grandma recognized the situation. Their boy had become a narwhal.
At the end of his novel, LaValle offers this explanation of the title:
An ecstatic is a term once used in places as diverse as seventeenth-century London and nineteenth-century Bengal to describe people whose actions were impossible to understand. The average person saw a man or woman who suddenly spoke gibberish or refused to bathe; a person they knew became a stranger. Seemingly overnight. Some saw these transformed people as possessed, or touched by God. Calling them ecstatics was a way to explain the unexplainable. Now, it seems likely that many of the ecstatics were mentally ill. I learned this curious history long before I finished my novel, but in the way it intertwined religious faith, the human need to know the unknowable, and mentall illness, it fit….
Unfortunately — or, because of the deadline, fortunately — I’m going to have to put The Ecstatic to the side for a while, because I think there’s a little too much overlap with the concerns of my own book.
I should mention that LaValle is a friend of a friend, and someone to whom I once spent an hour evangelizing about The End of the Affair, but it was only recently, when I happened across his comments on Kenzaburo Oe’s 1958 novella “Prize Stock,” collected in Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, that I realized I had to read his fiction