In January 2005, three-year-old Ronnie Paris III slipped into a coma when he fell asleep on a neighbor’s couch while his parents, Ronnie Paris Jr. and Nysheerah Paris, studied Bible verses with friends from church. The thin and unconscious child was on life support for six days before he was taken off when medical professionals decided there was no hope.
After further investigation by Tampa police, Nysheerah revealed her husband had beaten their child on the back of the head several times and slammed his body against a kitchen wall the month before his death. Nysheerah told the court Ronnie Jr. would beat and slap the child because he didn’t want the boy to grow up to be “a sissy.”
This is a dance with daddies black boys know all too well. The bloodcurdling cadence of mad dad’s blows replaces splendid rimshot and boogie. Virile thwacks on Little Ronnie’s back scrawl raucous songs into the bastard night. Oh, he writhes and shimmies and bawls, but sobs will not shield this
limp-wristed son from his papa’s waltz. Only this time, father will jostle his bouncing baby boy just a little too hard, will fling the itsy-bitsy hindrance just a little too far. Morbid portraiture will occur between this dismal trinity of hardened father, bleary-eyed wife, and oblivious son. This will be dad’s
last dance with his first and only born, baby boy’s final kaboom. Big Ronnie releases a canned slap. The wall spits the hurtled burden back, the way he bangs and bursts like a tiny tambourine tapped by some church sissy. But Big Ronnie is no church sissy and his son won’t be either. His son won’t
be anything but drooping effigy. The slumped thud of runt is the wrong kind of alive splayed here like Christ. And yet there is nothing sanctified about this scene: a mother turned Pietà at the sight of her lurched boy, her husband’s only begotten clutter. The oops of her ovaries slackens, forced
to forfeit the spring in his nimble spine. Nysheerah is not allowed to touch her struck progeny— any indication of mothering could mean more trouble for the sport. She prays for a sign: a wink or anything from her bashed baby, but Little Ronnie hasn’t entered that spooky womb of death
yet so he jerks, shifts, slants, tilts. The teeny-weeny not-god resurrects only for his reedy anatomy to catch up with its failing clockwork. He omens the comatose: his body, a weary engine, sluggish at every second and wetting itself. Lethargic serum lulls the little one into an immutable slumber.
He has fallen asleep forever in the red upholstery of a neighbor’s couch during Bible study. Once the makeshift church has bid amen, Nysheerah attempts to wake her already-vanished child from listless stupor. She nudges the little guy hard, but the boy is flimsy again. Lil’ Ronnie, Lil’ Ronnie,
c’mon, get up p-please, baby. But there’s no use. Little Ronnie is now a languid saint. There’s no psych in his spine that can be undone this time. There’s just the dragging lax of unconsciousness. Big Ronnie scurries to his slack son, scooping the dizzied mystic into his arms, but it’s far too late for delicacy. Little Ronnie’s stoical doze is a habitual hide-n-seek from which there is no waking.