In her scientific research, Gifty usually starts with an answer—a hypothesis—and then tinkers and experiments until she confirms or disproves it. Answers are easy, but finding the questions is hard. And it’s hard to know if she’s approaching an answer or a dead end.
Gifty’s approach to science illuminates her earlier approach to faith. Above all things, it seems, she craves certainty. She waited until she was certain she heard Jesus knocking on her heart to answer the altar call. She wanted to be certain that she was properly following God’s rules, like praying continually. Yet, one of the tragedies of life that she must contend with as an adult is that life is far from certain. And the farther she gets in her research, the more she must admit that the same uncertainty is also a feature of science.
Gifty remembers her mother hitting Nana over and over, until Gifty stepped between them and took one of the blows. This shocked her mother enough to stop and leave the room. Gifty settled Nana to the couch and sat with him through the night, watching as he came down. In the morning, their mother packed him off to a Christian rehab program. Nana protested and promised to stop. But she packed him some food and escorted him to the car.
In placing herself between her mother and brother, Gifty takes yet another step into the role of familial caretaker. This night marks a moment of continuity between mother and daughter as Nana’s caretakers. But it also marks a profound shift, as Gifty’s mother removes herself from the caretaking process, first by letting Gifty watch Nana overnight and then by sending him to rehab in the morning. Nana’s departure also highlights a shift in the siblings’ relationship. Previously Nana and Gifty were a pair, with their mother on her own. Now, Gifty and her mother are together, and Nana is the isolated one.
It took Gifty a while to settle on her thesis project. She wasted time trying to avoid her true question: can an animal stop itself from seeking rewards, especially to avoid risks?
As Gifty thinks about Nana’s stint at rehab, she can no longer deny the connection between the events of her childhood and her current research. As a child, she wanted to know why Nana could not stop himself from doing drugs, or why God didn’t stop him. As an adult, she locates the source of answers in brain chemistry, but the question remains: why did what happened to Nana happen?
The rehab program lasted for 30 days. After detoxing, Nana could call home on Fridays. These talks were as stilted as ones with the Chin Chin Man, because he felt angry and betrayed. When Gifty and her mother picked him up at the end of the program, they stopped at a Chick-fil-A for lunch. It’s seared into Gifty’s memory, and she still loves Chick-fil-A’s food out of nostalgia. Nana described morning prayers, learning meditation, and group therapy, where the residents had to talk about their hopes for the future. Nana wanted to “get right…play basketball, spend time with y’all.” Gifty knows that she’s trying to understand if it’s possible to change an addict’s behavior. Because Nana relapsed 14 hours later.
The growing distance between Gifty and Nana manifests in this shift in their conversations while Nana is in rehab. On the phone, Gifty feels less like she’s talking to her brother and more like she’s talking to their absentee father. But the intimacy seems to be restored when the family eats at Chick-fil-A after Nana’s graduation from the program. But Nana’s hopes for the future don’t seem to be particularly well-formed or deeply-felt, which perhaps explains why his relapse happened so soon after he got home.