This week's story is part (3/5) of my chapter Asymptote. Alex and Amanda talk about religion and there is an exorcism.
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Asymptote (part 3)
‘Jesus,’ I said, as I looked over at a group of a dozen or so tardy parishioners scurrying up the front steps and in through the large cherry wood door that the bishop held ajar for them.
‘Right?’ Amanda said as she slapped my shoulder with the back of her hand and gave me a cheesy wink.
‘Ha! Seriously, though. Imagine if we were about to go in there right now. Like, if instead of walking around on this beautiful morning, exploring this beautiful city, we were sitting in there, in some uncomfortable-ass pews, Jesus-LARPing with a bunch of strangers for the next hour and a half?’
‘Yeah,’ she shook her head, ‘Thank God.’
‘Hooo!’ I made pistols with my hands and pretending to kind of twirl them around in front of me. ‘She’s got a million of ‘em!’
We walked a little further down the block, across the street from the church. I heard a muffled knock in the distance behind me as the large wooden door of the church came to a close.
‘Seriously though,’ I said. ‘I’m so glad I don’t have this shit in my life anymore. It’s a weird thing to be thankful for, but I’m so thankful that I don’t have to live with this constant fear for the fate of my immortal soul anymore.’
‘Ugh,’ Amanda said, ‘tell me about it. I was into that shit to for awhile too.’
‘Oh yeah,’ she said. ‘I used to go to church for a while. Back in like middle school, early high school. I used to be friends with this girl Carrie. We rode the same bus and I used to get off at her house. Her family was, like, really religious. They would always talk about God and like pray and shit and always talk about how, like, God had blessed them or, ah, punished them or whatever.’
‘Shit. That sounds intense.’
‘Yeah, I mean, they. They were nice people, but they just, that’s how they thought of everything. In terms of, like, God, and God’s will. It was almost like a scapegoat, ya know?’
‘Yeah,’ I said, as I nodded.
‘But Carrie was my best friend. And I didn’t really like going home,’ she said, as she lightly shook her head and strained the corners of her mouth, ‘so I’d be over there, like, all the time. So I started going to their church, and it was fine, and Carrie and I were in Sunday School together and we’d go to church together after with her family.’
‘What denomination was it?’
‘I think it was, ah, Pentecostal or something like that? I can’t remember the name of the church, but they spoke in tongues and the preacher would like have visions and shit that he would share with everyone.’
‘Yeah, then things got really weird one day.’
‘What? What happened?’
‘I don’t know, they had this whole thing where her parents thought I was a bad influence on her or something, I guess?’
‘Not really. Well, I don’t think so. I mean, I was, in middle school. How bad can you be in middle school?’
‘No, I think it was just more about my family life.’
‘Your family? What about your family?’
‘Yeah, I mean, my parents were divorced and my mom, like, didn’t go to church or anything. She just stayed at home in our trailer and collected welfare checks and chain-smoked Marlboro Lights all day. And my sister was, well, my sister was a hot-mess. She’d dropped out of high school and moved in with her drug-dealing boyfriend and got all into drugs and shit.’
‘Damn. You’re like Canadian whitetrash. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.’
‘Oh, my family is totally double-u-tee.’
‘Wait, nevermind. I did know that there was such a thing as Canadian whitetrash. I mean, the Trailer Park Boys, duh,’ I said, as I held up my hands and jutted my neck out.
‘I mean, that’s like a Canadian National Treasure.’
‘Anyway, maybe that’s why we get along so well. I mean, well, let’s just say that the ground around my family tree is littered with empty PBR cans and rusted out car parts.’
‘Ha! Nice.’ She said, as she lightly slapped her thigh with one hand. ‘Uh, where was I?’
‘Uh, you were talking about church, and your friend, uh, Casey?’
‘Yeah. Yeah, so uh, I was like going to church with them and I was, like, really getting into it. I started praying every night. I would pray for my mom and my dad and my sister and pretty much anything else I could think of.’
‘Wow, so you were like, pretty serious?’
‘Oh yeah, I totally drank the Kool-Aid. Anyway, so, like, one day I was, ah, hanging out over at their house. I think it was a weekend night, and her dad came upstairs where we were and was all like "Amanda, can I see you for a minute?" Then he brought me into their office, where Carrie’s mom was waiting, and he was all like "we’re concerned about you. Uh, we think you have a demon inside of you."'
‘Wait. Wait, hold on,’ I said, as I stopped in my tracks and made a time-out sign with my hands. ‘A demon?’
‘Yeah,’ Amanda said as she raised her eyebrows and nodded.
‘Like a demon-demon? Like a Satan’s minion demon?’
‘And you were what, like, thirteen, fourteen years old?’
‘Okay, so, these people are batshit insane. Continue.’
‘So, like, they brought me in there and they’re all like, "you have a fuckin’ demon inside of you, we’re concerned for you soul, we want to help you, blah blah blah." So they had me sitting there on their couch, I’ll never forget, and they were sitting in these two chairs across from me, and then her dad pulled out a Bible and started reciting these verses and her mom was sitting next to him, like rocking back and forth and speaking in tongues and shit.’
‘Are you fucking serious! These people were doing a fucking exorcism on you!?’
‘Pretty much. So, they kept, like, reciting Bible verses and were all like "by the power of Christ I command you to leave this poor girl," and speaking in tongues and then they came and sat next to me and I remember her dad putting his hand on my forehead and her mom rubbing my back and holding my hand. And they just kept, like, praying and chanting the whole time.’
‘Jesus Christ! How long did they do this?’
‘Oh God,’ she said, as she looked up and shook her head, ‘it must have been hours. I just remember Carrie was already in bed by the time I got back upstairs.’
‘Did it work?’
‘What? The exorcism?’
‘Yeah. Did they get it out?’
‘Ha! Well, they got something out.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well they were all like praying over me and putting their hands on my forehead and shit and I was sitting there, rocking back and forth, trying so hard to focus on getting this demon out and I ended up, like, throwing up everywhere?’
‘Are you fucking serious?!’
‘Yeah. Oh,’ she said, as she shook her head and looked down at the sidewalk, ‘it was awful. I remember we had tacos that night and I have this like, deeply engrained memory of seeing little bits of ground beef and tomato chunks splattering out on the floor.’ Amanda made an open-handed motion from her mouth like she was throwing up, ‘bluuuhh.’
‘Jesus. Then what happened?’
‘Then they started hugging me and starting like praying and like thanking God. And then,’ she said, as she raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders, ‘then they let me go upstairs and go to bed.’
‘And that was it?’
‘Yeah. That was it.’
‘So, the next morning, were you all like’ I pointed my finger out in front of me, palm up, ‘ "so, uh, your parents did a fucking exorcism on me last night"?’
‘No.’ She shrugged her shoulders and took a breath in through her nose. ‘We just didn’t talk about it. I remember that next morning we had breakfast at the table with her parents, and they were all, like, nothing happened. I just sat there and just ate my cereal and didn’t say anything.’
‘Dahmn,’ I said. ‘And they just, like, didn’t talk about it again?’
‘No. We didn’t really hang out again after that. I would like, see her in school, and we would still talk and sit together at lunch, but I never went over there again.’
‘Shit. If you think about that shit now, that’s really kind of fucked up. I mean, they take this little girl into their office. Two fucking adults take this little girl into their office - their daughter’s friend - and fucking tell her she has a fucking demon inside of her!? And start scaring her and speaking in made-up languages and shit and fucking putting their hands on her until she throws up?!’ I turned to her and held my hands up loosely to my side. ‘The fuck is that?! That’s fucking insane!’
‘I know. I know.’ She said.
We passed under the black, weathered awning of United Bookstores. They had fans out front and I took in the brief reprieve of the artificial breeze as the little dots of sweat on my forehead sent chills shooting back along my scalp.
‘Yeah, so, I just never went back to church again after that whole thing.’
‘Well, no, that’s not true. I did go one more time with Carrie and her family.’
‘Yeah. It was the following Sunday, a week later, and Carrie asked me if I wanted to go to church and I went. I don’t know. I just remember it being different. Like, I didn’t feel safe there anymore. With all those grown-ups around me.’
‘Damn. So that was the last time?’
‘Yep, that was it.’
‘Jesus,’ I said. ‘I can’t fucking believe that.’
The sunlight made a break for it and shot a bright column between the two buildings ahead, washing across the courtyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral. We took a right onto George Street and walked down toward the waterfront.
‘Yeah, I used to be into that shit for awhile,’ I said.
‘Yeah, you were telling me about that before.’
‘Yeah, I went through phases of varying commitment, but it took me until I was, like, twenty six to completely loose that shit.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, as I puckered in my lips, ‘I’m not too proud of that. But, that’s part of the whole thing. The whole package that makes up me. I’m just a late-blooming atheist and I have to accept that.’
‘At least you made it out,’ she said. ‘I mean, there are so many people in this world who are still hanging on to the dream. I mean,’ she said, as she motioned behind her with her hand, which was still jammed down into the left pocket of her unzipped sleeveless hoodie, ‘all those people headed into that church back there.’
‘Yeah, I know. I just. It’s just this thing were nobody likes admitting that they were wrong about something. And, like, the more serious that something is, the harder it is to admit you were wrong about it. That’s how religion is. I mean,’ I said, as I raised my eyebrows and let my head drop to the right, ‘religion is a pretty big thing. It’s like the biggest thing. If you’re out there, claiming that you know what happens when you die. That you’re fucking certain about it because you have contact with a higher intelligence. I mean, that’s a fucking hard claim to back down from. Right? That’s a fucking hard thing to admit to being wrong about. Trust me,’ I said, ‘I know.’
‘Yeah,’ Amanda said, ‘it’s like, you gotta wonder how many people are sticking with religion just because they don’t want to admit to being wrong. Just to, like, save face?’
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘I mean, just think about your friend’s parents. I mean, there’s, like, no hope for those two.’
Amanda tilted her chin up a little ways and furrowed her brow.
‘Think about it,’ I said. ‘If Carrie’s mom and dad ever wanted to believe that there was no God; like, come out as atheists, then they would have to admit to themselves that they had, at one point during their God-fearing years, terrorized a little girl for no reason. I mean, can you even imagine that shit? Can you imagine having to admit that to yourself? Being all, like, "okay, alright everyone,"’ I said, as I held up my hand in a half-hearted STOP gesture, ‘"okay, so, you remember that whole thing where we permanently traumatized that little girl and we were all like, oh, it’s cool. It’s like totally a God thing. Well, yeah. Turns out we were, ah, misinformed. Our bad." Can you imagine having to admit some shit like that? I mean, it's no wonder people would rather choose to live in denial and take this shit to their graves.’
‘Ha,’ Amanda laughed. ‘I guess I never thought about it like that.’
‘Most people don’t,’ I said. ‘But, if there’s one thing positive that I got, well, ‘ I said, as I squinted my eyes and looked up to the left. I raised up two fingers, ‘two things I got from my years of being a believer; it’s that ay, I know the Bible pretty well, which comes in handy more often than you might think, and bee, that I can completely empathize with religious people. I mean, like, if I was raised in some progressive, new age home where we weren’t forced to go to church or to profess our belief in a higher power, I would have a totally different perspective on the whole thing. I’d be all like "oh, these people are clearly idiots." But, like, I was one of those idiots once. I know what it’s like. I know why they do what they do. I know why they believe. And I know why they stick with it.’
‘Yeah,’ Amanda said, ‘I guess that’s a good thing.’
‘It is,’ I said. ‘Well, I think it is. I feel like it is. I can’t really explain it, but I just feel like I’m better for knowing that. Knowing what it’s like to live with that level of self-denial.’
-- to be continued...