Raye Hendrix


I am absolutely repulsed by bathing. Not the act of cleaning my body—taking a shower or washing my face in the sink—but being in a bathtub. The thought of any skin but the soles of my feet—and sometimes, even that—touching the bottom of a tub, even when it’s empty, is revolting. It rocks me with nausea. Thinking about being submerged in bathwater gives me full-body chills, and not the good kind. Sometimes, even the slick, cool caress of the shower curtain against my ankle makes me feel like vomiting, and I will never, ever, sit down. It’s illogical. It makes me feel dirty. Even more absurd is that I don’t mind being in water that is actually dirty. I love swimming in pools, lakes, the ocean. I grew up splashing in questionable rivers. I’ve sunk easily into hot tubs left uncovered all winter, full of insects, deceased amphibians, and mold, to unclog a filter or drain. If I must attempt to make some sense of the disparity, I suppose it’s that dirty water isn’t trying to be something it isn’t, and the tub or shower floor is where contamination goes in the act of getting clean. And I love being clean—as they say, it’s within spitting distance of God.

My writing and rhetoric students love (or, more realistically, don’t seem to hate) Logical Fallacies Day. I teach logical fallacies during a unit on counterarguments, and after I go through a presentation describing and defining some of the more common logical fallacies they may encounter, I have them come up with their own examples. This is the part they appear to enjoy most, their examples typically full of pop culture and political references, occasionally even light-hearted jabs at each other, and sometimes me. It’s the kind of learning I love best: learning that happens with laughter, learning that happens as a community. And even though it seems like we’re mostly having fun, the essays that come after these lessons always reveal that the lesson stuck. I, on the other hand, always come away feeling like a fraud. Not as a teacher—I know I’ve given my students good examples and correct definitions, and their work proves it. I feel like a fraud because what I haven’t told them is that my way of being in this world as someone with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is full of logical fallacies I can recognize but, despite my best efforts, cannot seem to ever fully escape. The lessons I teach are lost on me.

Definition: Causal Fallacy – also known as the Questionable Cause, False Cause, or in Latin, non causa pro causa (meaning “non-cause for cause”) Fallacy; a category of logical fallacies in which a cause for an outcome is incorrectly identified.

After spending many days unresponsive in the hospital following a major heart attack, my grandfather died the day before I turned fourteen. His death was quick, but not altogether unexpected, so my family had enough time to plan the visitation for the following afternoon. I had been to a funeral before but was never brave enough to even approach the general vicinity of the casket, which means the first time I saw a dead body was my birthday. For hours that day, I stood with my family beside the casket, inches from my grandfather’s body, while friends and relatives came up and touched our hands, whispering versions of “sorry for your loss” to everyone and occasionally tacking on an awkward, but well-meaning, “happy birthday” to me. I was horrified when, after all the guests had gone, my grandmother leaned over to stroke my grandfather’s white hair, kiss his powdery skin, and curl her fingers around his stiffly folded hands. “He looks so peaceful now,” she said to us. “Just like he’s sleeping.”

I can fall asleep on my back, but only with caveats. If my legs are both straight, my hands cannot be at my side or folded across my stomach. If my hands are at my side or folded across my stomach, my legs cannot both be straight; one knee must always be bent so that, from above, I resemble a horizontal flamingo. This is because I’m afraid of accidentally tricking whatever God is out there. If I’m lying like I’m in a coffin when I fall asleep, God might mistake me for a corpse, think I’m dead, and take me before my time.

Definition: False Dilemma Fallacy – sometimes called the False Dichotomy Fallacy; refers to a situation in which only limited alternatives are considered when there are actually more options.

Once, on the short drive from my apartment to a book release reading for one of my MFA professors in downtown Austin, Texas, while watching the sunset glint off the high-rise buildings in the distance, singing along to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” and generally feeling good about my life, I crossed the bridge over Lady Bird Lake and was struck by the sudden urge to drive over the side. In the real world I kept driving, but in my mind’s eyes I watched the scene play out like a seatback, in-flight movie projected onto glass: I saw the road before me—the real road—but I also saw my hands jerk the steering wheel hard to the right, saw the black hood of my car warp as it hit the guardrail, saw the world tilt through the windshield as my car careened over the edge, headlights piercing dark water. At the moment of impact, the scene went black, then began again. On the real road, my hands were still at ten-and-two, “Crocodile Rock” was still blaring through my speakers, and I was still meandering over the bridge, slowed by a bit of dinnertime traffic. Though still firmly earth-bound, my stomach felt the imagined fall, and the scene replayed itself as nausea crept up to burn in my throat. I could come up with two options to stop the loop: keep driving and live, or drive off the edge and die, fulfilling my mind’s invented prophecy. I missed the book launch. I drove around the city for hours, convinced that if I stopped before I ran out of gas, I’d die. It never once occurred to me that I was allowed to just go home. It took months for me to drive across that bridge again.

What’s the difference between fallacy and superstition? My father and I, like millions of others with any kind of team loyalty, wear our Auburn University gear on college football Saturdays. If we’re at the game, we bring our orange-and-navy shakers and scream the cheers in unison with thousands of other fans, as if it’s a prayer or spell. If I’m watching from home, I drink out of my Auburn mug, hold up my arms in “touchdown” position anytime my team is kicking an extra point, or when the referees are reviewing whether or not a player actually made it into the endzone, just for luck. If, for some reason, we can’t be at the game or watch it on tv, we listen to it on the radio. If we can’t do any of those things, we check the scores on our phones, obsessively refreshing ESPN and Twitter, like our knowing what’s happening will somehow impact the score. My “lucky mug” doesn’t do anything. My father’s and my Auburn-branded t-shirts have no effect on the outcome of the game. We know this, of course, but it still feels wrong—dangerous, even; like tempting fate—to abandon these traditions. We’re not unique in this. What’s the difference between drinking from my lucky mug on gameday and checking my locks three times before I leave my office or my home? What’s the difference between an incantation and a cheer? Why is checking the score not the same as checking my pulse with my fingers? What makes one delusion more acceptable than another?

Definition: Appeal to Authority Fallacy – insists that a claim is true simply because an authority on the issue said it was true without offering evidence.

I am the authority in my classroom. I stand up in front of my students, term after term, year after year, and lie. Not openly, but implicitly; not about the content, but about myself: I, teacher, learned, rational; answerer of questions, follower of rules. I attempt to teach them something I don’t know how to teach myself. I highlight moments in their arguments where they succeed in picking out the logical fallacies in their source material, or times they fall prey to a logical fallacy themselves. Then I leave the classroom, close my computer, pack my things. My students see this happen. Sometimes, one or two will walk with me to my office, and I can keep up the charade of certainty. Then they leave, and don’t see what happens next: I lock and unlock and relock my office three times, just to be sure. Try to make it home without imagining my death. Shower with water so hot it burns my skin, stand on my toes and curl my shoulders inwards to avoid touching the wet curtain or tiles. I don’t pray, but I do something like it: I repeat affirmations—I am okay, my friends are okay, my family is okay—a minimum of twenty times each, because once a Conjure woman in Bayou La Batre told me that the universe listens after seventeen seconds, so I add three to be safe, in case I miscount. I lock and unlock and relock the front door three times. I floss until my gums bleed. I touch every stove eye to make sure it’s cool, even if I didn’t cook. When I finally go to bed, I fall asleep with one leg crooked, convinced I have outsmarted God.

Read Raye Hendrix’s poem, “From a Dark Place Waking,” in this issue of Wordgathering.

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About the Author

Raye Hendrix (she/they) is a writer from Alabama. Raye is the author of the chapbooks Every Journal Is A Plague Journal (Bottlecap Press) and Fire Sermons (Ghost City Press). Raye is the winner of the 2019 Keene Prize for Literature and Southern Indiana Review’s 2018 Patricia Aakhus Award, and her work has been featured in Poetry Daily, 32 Poems, Shenandoah, Cimarron Review, Poetry Northwest, Zone 3, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. Raye is the Poetry Editor of Press Pause Press, and she holds degrees from Auburn University and an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin. Raye is currently a PhD student at the University of Oregon studying Deafness, Disability, and Poetry. You can find more of their work at rayehendrix.com.