D. Gilson


On the night I am born, my mother sleeps soundly. She lies in a hospital bed at Lester E. Cox Medical Center (1423 North Jefferson Avenue in Springfield, Missouri), her body curled around a pillow, the same way I will always sleep, facing the westward window and dreaming, she will tell me years later, of all her children laughing in the backyard, barbecuing sections of her large intestine, chunks cut thick on a diagonal like summer sausage. My birth, her final, was not easy. A breech, an emergency cesarean. Days afterwards a blur of anesthesia then morphine then Percocet.

I suppose I slept soundly, too, in the neonatal intensive care unit. Though I am not the star of my origin story. I am barely present. And not because my parents were neglectful, quite the opposite, but because I was kept in quarantine, for those first few days touched only by heavily suited nurses and doctors.

On the night I am born, Walgreens Pharmacy runs a rebate coupon in the Springfield News-Leader for $3 off any Con-Air hair dryer. On the night I am born, President Reagan tells a crowd on the town green in Waterbury, Connecticut, “There's a new mood in the country these days. Uncle Sam is seeming mighty jaunty.” Gas costs $1.16. Bacon, $1.69 a pound. Average American income, $21,600. On the night I am born, my father can’t sleep. He reclines in a mustard-yellow vinyl hospital lounger and watches my mother sleep beside him. But also, Simon & Garfunkel on the television hung in the corner, crooning live from Central Park in their most famous concert on the night I am born.

At the height of their fame, just after the release of the chart-topping Bridge Over Troubled Water in 1970, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel called it quits. By 1970, Paul, it was clear, had eclipsed Art, both in songwriting ability and in love for the spotlight. What wasn’t, what isn’t, clear: the circumstances or the who or the exact why of their breakup. They’ve appeared together from time to time since then, but also took cheap shots at each other through the media. As late as 2015, Garfunkel questioned Simon through ABC, “How can you walk away from this lucky place on top of the world, Paul? What’s going on with you, you idiot? How could you let that go, jerk?” Paul, this time, chose not to comment.

My father’s favorite song, “The Sounds of Silence” was originally released in 1964 and unintentionally became an anti-Vietnam War anthem. When my father returned from Bien Hoa Air Base, he joined the protest movement, got dumped by his first wife, and sat on his porch in Biloxi, Mississippi, drinking Jack Daniels listening to Simon & Garfunkel, wishing for years, he tells me, that the guys would get back together and that he would have a son. In 1983, he falls in love with my mother on the patio of the nursing home where she works in Aurora, Missouri, a patio facing west to the lilac and pink and bruised-skin sunset of early spring over the rolling Ozark hills. By summer, they marry. By winter, she’s pregnant with me. And on the night I am born, my father smiles in a chair. He can’t sleep. His wife is exhausted, she had almost died, but she’ll be okay. The son he’s always prayed for is hooked up to so many machines and can only be seen through so many layers of plexiglass, but he’ll be okay. My father is happy, delirious with happy, and on top of all of this, Simon & Garfunkel are reunited in Central Park for the first time since the breakup, singing “The Sounds of Silence” to just my brand-new father, he thinks.

On the morning I turn eighteen, my father takes me out to breakfast before school, just the two of us. He begins to slide a square of brown paper across the laminate Waffle House table between us, stops himself, yanks a wad of white napkins from the old silver canister, and wipes up a spot of sticky syrup from the tabletop. Satisfied, my father slides the package into my hands. “Open it.” I open it, a vinyl record of The Concert in Central Park, pristine condition. “I drove to a record store down in Fayetteville to get it. I watched this concert in the hospital the night you were born.”

It was, it is, the sweetest gift I have ever been given. A rare display of emotion from this man who, my mother has always assured me, was so happy to finally have a son.

“Thank you,” I say, “I love it,” and I do. “I love you, son,” my father says, excusing himself to the bathroom as the waitress lays down double pecan waffles, eggs over easy, hash browns and sausage, and asks, “More coffee?”

“Yes ma’am, please,” I tell her, flipping the record over to read the set list. A picture of Simon above a picture of Garfunkel above a picture of crowded Central Park next to the words “Sept. 19, 1981.” My birthday, but not my birthdate. I was born three years later, on September 19th, 1984. The story my father loves to tell of the night I was born is a lie. My origin story is lost, and I am confused. Maybe they did play the concert on television that night, a re-run? Maybe, I consider, just for a second, my parents lied about when I was born? Maybe, or not maybe, I know, my father believes Simon & Garfunkel reunited on the night his wife slept, on the night I was born, and this is the origin story my father chooses, having seen all that he made, and that it was very good on the night I was born, and then there was morning.

Genesis 1 explains God made Adam last, but Genesis 2 claims there was only water and dust and “then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” My father explains that I was born on the night Simon & Garfunkel sang to him alone, but the backside of an original-pressed album claims there were Simon and Garfunkel and half a million people in a park singing three years before a machine breathed into my nostrils the breath of life. If the Bible contradicts itself, the Christian has a serious problem. But if my father contradicts the fact of my birth, am I not yet born?

D. GILSON is the author of the forthcoming essay collection Incarnate: Notes from an Evangelical Boyhood (University of Georgia, 2020) and the cultural memoir Boyfriends (New York University, 2019). His other books include Jesus Freak (Bloomsbury, 2018), with Will Stockton, I Will Say This Exactly One Time: Essays (Sibling Rivalry, 2015), Brit Lit (Sibling Rivalry, 2013), and Catch & Release (2012), winner of the Robin Becker Prize. He teaches at Missouri State University, and his work has appeared in The Indiana Review, POETRY, and The Rumpus.

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