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Post Traumatic Faith Disorder

PTFD. Post Traumatic Faith Disorder. I don’t know if it’s a real thing or not.

But I know it’s a real thing for me. I suffer from it. I suffer through it. Every day.

And in no way am I trying to compare myself to those individuals who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those who have served our country or survived a violent crime or a natural disaster. No way whatsoever. The fear they suffered… the fear they still suffer… the demons triggered… the hell they went through… I ache for them.

I know mine is no where near the same.

But I do have extreme fear and irrational anger and horrific flashbacks. And I live in the South. In the Bible Belt. Where faith is everywhere and gets tossed around like holy confetti.

And for a person like me… it’s terrifying.

PTFD. I hate it. I hate that I can’t walk into a sanctuary without feeling a visceral ache in my solar plexus. You think I’m kidding. I’m not. I took the boys to cotillion this summer in the basement of a church and I fought back demons the entire orientation.

I hate that if somebody sends me a text asking me what they can specifically put on their prayer list for me this week my pulse surges and I kind of want to vomit.

I hate that if a friend writes a bible study, I can’t read it. I want to. I really, really do. I’ll read anything else. But not that. I can’t. I feel too exposed. Too vulnerable. Too likely to have my scars crack open and flood my brain with darkness.

When folks invite me to church, I know they’re being kind. I know they’re being genuine. I believe they are true believers. I believe they aren’t trying to control me. Or convert me. (Maybe.)

I know these things. But it doesn’t make it any easier for me to stomach. I still feel queasy and manipulated. It comes from early and aggressive brainwashing. And it has ruined me for life.

I’m a believer. I am. But I am not a believer in organized religion. It won’t get its talons in me ever again. I’ve been eviscerated once. It won’t happen again. I’ve seen the corruption of power. Or the power of corruption. I don’t know which I believe it was… or is. But I believe it’s not for me.

It was rammed down my throat and up my innards until I was raw and wracked and ruined for all eternity.

There’s a John Donne poem, “Batter my Heart, Three-Person’d God” that I first encountered in college. It’s all about being ravished by God — being bent and broken and overthrown completely by the Holy Trinity. And that’s all well and good.

But when you’ve been overthrown and ravished by unholy persons of God, bent and broken and burned by an unholy tribe of them, then that’s another thing entirely.

Now I’ve entered church sanctuaries in the years since my escape. Of my own free will. But I have to be the one who initiates it. Who opens myself up to the possibility. But I taste fear and shame every time. And I never last long.

I read a book a few years back… A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It is an incredibly dense and discerning book about (among other things) a man who was sexually abused in the most brutal and blasphemous ways as a child — and then again as a young adult. Anyone he loved and trusted in his youth raped and assaulted him. His body and brain were bludgeoned by something meant to be so sweet and sacred.

From there on out, he could never have sex again. He tried. He found love. He loved deeply. Profoundly. But he couldn’t have sex. The trauma was too deep. Too damaging.

I can relate. But in terms of organized religion. A church building. A sanctuary (oh, the irony is not lost on this English major), I just can’t do it.

I know Love. I know Christ. But that building… that congregation… that coming together as one.

Nope. Not for me.

So if you’re one of my good friends, my dearly beloved and oh-so-very-dear friends — I love and treasure and value you so very, very much. I do. So please understand if I don’t respond to your prayer request request or I don’t read your parable or I don’t… well, I just don’t.

Even though I really, really, really, REALLY want to be able to — please don’t take it personally. Please.

It’s Post Traumatic Faith Disorder. It’s self-preservation. And it’s the devil.

Cockadoodle Carnage and Bathtub Baptism

I was baptized in a bathtub. The exact same tub that housed the sinewy corpses of dozens of elderly, free-range chickens just one week before.

By this time, our family had moved into a new house in a decent neighborhood — nary a naked hippy or homeless grad student to be found. Plenty of drunks though. It was the era of the cocktail hour, after all.

Ours was a yellow split level, with redwood deck and screened porch and a crawl space just big enough to lock away our Llewellyn Setter, Belle — the second-best quail dog who ever did live. When she wasn’t in heat.

When she was in heat, she was an infernal creature chained inside the crawl space, where she commenced to fumigate the entire house with ripe, gamey smells that drove my mama half-crazy. No amount of Spic and Span could rid the house of that stench.

But back to the cockadoodle carnage and bathtub baptism…

Daddy decided one day that poultry production would be an economic way to feed his evangelical, not-a-cult-yet, bible-study group. That, and he could trade rough-hewn fence posts for a couple hundred Plymouth Rock hens, so why not?

As a newly-ordained shepherd in the Discipleship Movement of the 70s, he took his duties seriously. And one of those duties was to provide for his flock. We had a newly-planted victory garden with acres of okra and peas. And now we had chickens.

Let me tell ya, physicists have no business playing farmer. And in this tale, there are TWO physicists… my dad and his fellow Ole Miss faculty member, Dan. (We’ll call him Dan because he was a no-nonsense Yankee with clipped vowels from Michigan State, so Boaz or Silas as a scriptural pseudonym just never would fit.) So, Dan it is.

Now this was a cockamamie scheme (wink, wink) from the get go, for all sorts of reasons. First off, these were some tough old birds — Methuselah-old in chicken years. To say they were ready for the Purina pet food factory would NOT be an exaggeration. That, plus the fact Daddy didn’t have the proper equipment to butcher and clean poultry were just two reasons.

But a man who understood alpha particles and chaos theory wasn’t gonna let a bunch of chickens get the best of him. So he gathered up his meagre-but-eager flock of neophytes and in no time, they’d assembled a paltry little poultry production line:

  • machete
  • canning pots
  • table for plucking
  • buck knife
  • bathtub

The carnage began in the backyard. It was like Salome and John the Baptist out there — chickens losing heads right and left — with a particularly large and gregarious gentleman wielding the machete. We’ll call him Rufus because, well, he had red hair and lived in a trailer park, so it suits him. That, plus he’s the hunter who taught Daddy to pop off quail heads and feed them to Belle as her point-and-retrieve reward. (The ensuing belches rivaled Hell’s sulfurous fumes.) If a red-haired, trailer-park-living, bird-dog loving southern man ain’t tailor-made for the name Rufus, I don’t know who is.

Back in the kitchen, Daddy baptized the newly-headless chickens in 20-qt speckled enamel pots chock full of rapidly boiling water. (He was always looking to dunk somebody, so this was great practice.) The birds got two minutes each, just prior to plucking. No more. No less. Too long, boiled flesh. Too less, torn breasts.

The plucking came next. In the hallway. With a dagger. (Not really. I just couldn’t pass on the Clue allusion …). But it really did happen in the hallway, only with bare hands.

It was a sticky, heinous job. Rufus (after making mincemeat of the machete business) and Dan-the-physics-man found themselves covered top to toe in soaking-wet, blue and black and white and silver feathers. They looked like fish with fluffy scales. Or Harpies.

Harpies are typically half-bird, half-female creatures, but travel back to Oxford in the summer of ’76 and you’ll find two of the male variety, squatting over a table, fingers puckered from plucking, lashes dripping with downy detritus — one well over six feet; the other, not-so-much.

Last on the production line, the newly-naked corpses were tossed upstairs to the bathroom, where they lost their innards and feet at the hands of Hiram — a former Vietnam chopper pilot. Entrails were dropped in orange paint buckets, birds in the ice-filled tub.

Where they were left in waiting on the womenfolk.

The women were charged with dissection — 200 cadavers at ten pieces each. No small undertaking. Even with steel buck knifes. And once the dismemberment was final, the job was far from over.

Those chickens had come to a sticky end. And my mother soon found herself in the STICKIEST of situations.

Here’s a little-known chicken butchering fact (at least for physicists-turned farmers): If the fatty scent glands of a chicken aren’t excised properly, they leech a stinky, oily grease.

And these weren’t. So these did. All over Mama’s gold fiberglass tub/shower combo…

The clean-up was monumental. Exxon Valdiz monumental. No way Dawn Dishwashing Liquid was taking that grease out of her way. It stucketh to that tub closer than a brother.

Second little-known chicken butchering fact: fatty scent glands are the mark of Cain. They are made of impenetrable stuff.

My mama scrubbed her fingers raw. That grease still probably lingers to this day, haunting all past, present and future tenants.

Which brings us to our baptism side of the story on a Saturday evening a week or so later… when this narrator was washed in the blood of the lamb — and the oil of the fatty scent glands of two-hundred plymouth rock poultry.

I had just walked down the aisle as a junior bridesmaid and is a day that will forever live in fondness and infamy.

For the wedding, I wore a dotted swiss, lemon yellow dress with square neck and white rick rack. The collar just highlighted the tiny raised mole above my right breast — along with my burgeoning need for a training bra.

Those sprouting acorn-sized lumps must’ve constituted an emergency. That, plus the strawberry lip gloss the bride smeared across my mouth like a Sodomite stain…

Whatever the prompting, I found myself sitting in a tub full of water in a scooter skirt and tank, Daddy praying fervently over my soul.

I’m sure I looked wild-eyed and mortified.

I’d attended baptisms before, but never my own. And always at the riverside. Never tub-side. Where was the murky water? The threat of cottonmouth nests? The promise of fried chicken and RC Cola after? This felt all wrong.

Rufus, Hiram, and Dan made it the requisite Two-or-Three-Or-More-Are-Gathered-in-my-Name official. They sang a slightly off-tune “Let’s Go Down to the River to Pray,” which calmed me. A little.

Until Daddy dunked me.

At ten, I was a long-legged filly (maybe another reason Daddy decided he could tary not one second more), so I’m not entirely certain my knobby knees made it under. Which is worrisome. Because it’s total dunk or no deal in Daddy’s nondenominational eyes. On sprinkle or pour, he casts aspersions.

But my noggin knocked fiberglass, of this I know. So here’s hoping it stuck.

I know the grease from the 200 fatty scent glands of the Plymouth Rock hens stuck. My hair had enough oil to light the lamps of the ten virgins in the parable for perpetuity.

I was one prepared virgin, at least. I know this much is true…

(And as for those chickens… chewy and tough as Methuselah’s boots. All Mama could do was grind them down to chicken salad — with a wallop of Duke’s mayonnaise and a half-a-patch of dill weed, you could still taste those fatty scent glands.)

The Southern Gothic Cradle that Kick-Started a Cult

We didn’t have gypsies or midgets living next door to us. Seems that’s always major criteria for living a truly gothic southern childhood.

True Flannery style, though, we did have a bible salesman – my father — selling scripture to anyone he could hold captive. And there was a prosthetic, too. And leg braces, straight-up-Forrest-Gump style. And plenty of twisted scripture. 

Sometimes people with the best hearts can make the worst choices. I heard that line last night and I immediately thought of my father and the choices he made so long ago that sucked him, and us right along with him, into a spiritual cyclone of incredibly destructive dimensions.

Growing up, we lived in a brick ranch on a dirt road just off the Ole Miss campus. There was a carport off the kitchen, a horse shed out back, a fern gully due south, and blackberry brambles as far as the eye could see. Our neighbors consisted of a one-eyed drunk, a couple of naked hippies, a random homeless grad student, and lots and lots of snakes.  I’d say all that qualifies as a veritable cornucopia of southern gothic ingredients.

Technically speaking, the road we lived on was gravel, but I remember one spring it rained 92 out of the 90 days and the gravel all washed away. Front porch mudslides and a mudbound VW bus became our new normal. That season, we subsisted on hot pickled okra and well water until my mother hitched a ride to the local Jitney Jungle atop a backhoe for peanut butter and bananas. 

Now, I told you there’d be a prosthetic in this story, and I don’t lie. (I may embellish, but I never lie.) That drunk next door — the one over the gully and through the mud? He had a glass eye, and any given night, he’d wander up our way and knock on the carport door. If I answered, he’d knuckle his eye out, pop it in his mouth, and roll it around on his tongue like a jawbreaker. Then he’d spit it out and offer it up to me. I had wet-the-bed- night-terrors over it. 

Even though he probably died years ago, for anonymity purposes, I’ll call him Shine – if not for the prosthetic spit-shines, then for his moonshine pilgrimages. You see, Shine would show up looking for liquor or ladies, or both, almost every single night. It got to where Mama was afraid to answer her own door. 

If Daddy was home, he’d carpe the diem and minister to Shine’s soul. I think that’s where his passion for scripture truly set fire. My father was fairly lost himself at the time — his own father having recently passed — and I’ve heard an existential crisis like that makes a body vulnerable to cultish ways. 

Regardless, there in our kitchen, my dad would fire up the Holy Spirit and force-feed scripture and coffee down Shine’s throat till he got a bellyful and went off in search of better spirits. 

Now Shine wasn’t the only strange and suspect man we’d find in our kitchen back then. The grad student Sellers (not sure if that was his first name or last, but I know he’s dead of suicide now, so I’ll name him) studied physics by day and lived in his car in our side yard by night. Every morning, he’d steal into our kitchen to swig milk straight out of the wax carton. 

I was a toddler then, in leg braces (didn’t I promise ya?). Dr. Stone told my folks I had some sort of rotational deformity, I think, so I wore the human equivalent of a leather and metal horse harness every night, and wasn’t allowed in the kitchen until my mother unshackled me every morning. The screws in the feet chewed up the linoleum, leaving Mama in a tizzy. 

So I’d watch Sellers quietly from the hallway as he unfolded the spout and chugged away. (I did a whole lot of watching back then and not a lot of talking. More on that in a moment.) Every single thing about Sellers was disheveled. His head, with its matted tufts of hair, his chest, with its pale, pudgy flesh, his Hanes briefs, with their drooping posterior.

He drove my mother crazy. But he was my father’s most faithful disciple — somehow fascinated with my Daddy’s frenzied spiritual awakenings. As far as my father was concerned, Sellers could do no wrong. 

Those naked hippies though — Dad made it pretty clear they could do no right. They lived on the other side of us from Shine.  Of all the neighbors, they scared me the least and Dad the most. 

To me, the most fascinating thing about them wasn’t their nakedness, but their giant outdoor waterbed. It sat about thirty feet from their back porch, hidden by jutting canna lilies with giant purple stalks and flaming red tips. The flowers sheltered the hippies from view when they laid naked in the sunshine. 

I watched them from a rusted-out Chevy perched among a mess of brambles at their tree line. A sapling had sprouted through the floorboards and crept through the passenger window. It housed a whole lot of spiders and an occasional garden snake. And me. From my vantage point, I pretended I was a member of the Swiss Family Robinson surveying the natives in their natural habitat.  

I don’t remember him much, just that he had long, lanky limbs and hair. But her, she was an Ole Miss beauty queen drop out with caramel skin and honey hair and (according to my father’s definition of hippies) a love of mind-altering substances. A few years later, she was involved in a terrible car crash that left her in a wheelchair the remainder of her days. 

She once gave me a Mrs. Beasley doll from Family Affair fame. It had a blue polka dot body, frizzy blond hair, and a non-functioning pull string. This Ole Miss Beauty Queen was probably twenty years my senior, but at four-years-old, she became my closest friend and the closest thing I will ever know to a goddess. Or a hippie, for that matter, I guess.

There were other people in my life in those early days, too. Every Wednesday night, Dad hosted prayer meetings in our living room where he strummed his guitar with a pick and sang Delta Dawn with my mother. I don’t remember much about the folks there. Just that they were mostly college kids who probably wanted an A in my father’s physics lab. 

My father often prophesied about the end of days and always shouted in tongues. There was also some laying-on of hands and some casting out of demons. It all fell just short of snake handling, though.

So, there you have it. The southern gothic roots that propogated my father’s crazy, cultish curiosity with off-the-grid faith. And it all stemmed from a good heart, recently broken by a father’s death.

Still, it was all a bit much for a toddler in leg braces to absorb. But absorb, I did. And like it or not, it proved good fodder for a future writer.

Who Cares What Men Prefer? You Do Not Need a Man to Translate Scripture or Life For You

I’m not a man hater. I’m not. But I also know (I’ve learned the hard way) that I have the freedom to decide for myself what I like and what I think and what I do.

I’ve written before about the Toni Morrison quote that compels me to write: “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”

Well, yesterday, while thumbing through social media, I came across a blog that slung me so far backwards that the bars of my prison-house were very nearly reinstated. It damn near set me back decades.

And that blog proved to me that I’m not done yet. That I need to keep fighting. To truly free myself from the side-effects of my childhood and to help free others still struggling behind the iron shackles of dogmatic religion. Not faith. Religion.

The blog was a recent post from The Transformed Wife. The title is menacing enough to me — the word “transformed” implying that the author was forced to undergo a dramatic, life-altering change to fit into the unforgiving mold of Wife.

But then there’s the title of her Monday blog: “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos.” As if women should  be driven and controlled by men’s desires. Our minds, our lives, our bodies. Controlled. By men.

Ugh. The title was frightening, but I kept reading.

The entire intent of the blog is to caution women about everything from advanced education to independent living and thought. She strongly suggests in the second paragraph that women be wary of attending university lest they learn to be “independent, loud, and immodest instead of having meek and quiet spirits.”

Are you kidding me?!?

My skin flinched; my lips curled; my eyes rolled. I was sucker-punched backward to my broken and bridled teen years, where I had this exact bullshit horsewhipped into my soul.

I still suffer from the aftermath. I am meek and quiet – at least in person. This computer screen gives me confidence and a voice. But in person, I tend to shy away when conversations heat up. Or when I do speak up, if somebody pushes back hard enough, I back down. I shut down. I was conditioned to avoid confrontation, to keep my head down, and to NEVER contradict a man.

And it pisses me the hell off. (I was also taught never to cuss. That it’s not ladylike. But I’m making pretty good progress there…)

I was also conditioned to believe my sole purpose in life was to submit myself to men and to fear my own thoughts and actions – a notion the author goes on to address: “The husband will need to take years teaching his wife the correct way to act, think, and live since college taught them every possible way that is wrong.”

Vomit. Convulsive. Bile-riddled. Projectile. Vomit.

My father’s church did not approve of women attending college either, despite Dad hailing from a family full of advanced degrees. (He and his brother have PhDs; his sisters have a Master’s and an MD.)

But no college degrees were in my future — only apprenticeship under some elder’s wife where I would learn “biblical womanhood” and how “to serve others” and “live in submission” to my husband.

That was my destiny.

Luckily, I was rebellious. I was really good at being a thorn in the side and a fly in the ointment. And after a long, exhausting struggle I was finally deemed an unfit vessel for husband and church, and thrown out of the fold and into to my grandmother’s arms.

She was headstrong and rebellious, too. And she taught me to believe in myself. Or she tried. And so did my aunts and uncles.

I spent a single semester at UT in a dorm room under their generosity. But the brainwashing from all the biblical bludgeon-ings was too deepset. I clung to the notion that being in love and in a marriage and with child was my one true calling.

I still believe motherhood is one of my truest and strongest callings. I absolutely believe in love and marriage and children.

But I do not believe in submission and ignorance and mind-control. And I never will again.

The author also states the importance and value of having young women remain “under their father’s roof until they get married.”

One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I never lived on my own as a young woman. I believe independent living is one of the most crucial life-skills a woman can glean. The ability to think for herself. Provide for herself. Trust in herself. To believe she is strong. And capable. And worthy.

I learned all of these things. But it took me a long time. I didn’t really absorb them until after I was divorced, when I struggled to survive on rice cakes and peanut butter and struggled to find my confidence and my voice. But survive I did. And more than that, I found my voice and I found my confidence (as confrontationally-challenged as it may be…).

But I am proud to say that both my girls gained independence and self-worth at a far younger age than I. They are strong, capable, autonomous women. One of my daughters, a surgeon with more advanced education than practically any person I know (and will continue her formal education for another four years), responded to the blog’s ridiculous restrictions with the following:

Well, I’m probably the most in debt of any woman out there. And I’m a 31 year old non-virgin. With a tattoo. It seems, based on this grammatically horrifying piece, I’m undesirable. But my brain is worth more than the 300,00 dollars I’ve invested in it, and I will never waste my heart on a man who teaches me how to think or feel.

Well said, my girl. Bravo.

And my other daughter, in honor of International Emoji Day, promptly posted a green vomiting icon. My sentiments exactly, my girl.

So my freedom has resulted in the freedom of my girls. And I take great pride in that. But I’m not finished yet. There are still women out there who believe they can’t exist without the guidance of a man — someone who can translate life for them.

Because the part of the blog that rattled my soul and wrenched my girl parts the most was the sorrow the author felt for women who “have not read the Bible with their father or husband to explain it to them.”

To EXPLAIN it to them?

What. The. Fuck.

What the ever-loving, mind-blowing Fuck?!? (Told you that bridle was gone. I’m the only one who controls my mouth now, thank you very much.)

Let me tell you about the husbands and fathers who “explained” scripture to me. They twisted it. They tortured it. They twisted and tortured scripture and they twisted and tortured me.

And it is taking me a lifetime to free myself from the dogma and the dictators.  Don’t let me be you.

Don’t eat the bullshit. Don’t learn the helplessness. Don’t believe the lies.

You are worthy enough. You are smart enough. You are strong enough. You are important enough.

To think for yourself. To govern yourself. To believe in yourself. To educate yourself.

To love yourself.

So do it. Be it. Live it.

And then help someone else do it and be it and live it too. That’s the function. The function of freedom.

 

 

Why I’m Afraid of the Dark: True Southern Gothic

The summer solstice is here. That means summertime. Where the days are long and the nights are sticky. Pools and fireworks and barbecued weenies. Mermaid days. Firefly nights.

I love me some summer. Always have. As a teacher, I love them even more than ever. They are my chance to relax and recover. They are unbelievably important to my state of mind.

But I remember one summer way back when that totally wracked my state of mind. It was the summer that ended my childhood. It was the summer before my sixth-grade year. It was the summer I heard demons in my living room. It was the summer I learned we were moving to a giant metropolis and leaving my friends and fun and beloved frog pond far behind. It was the summer of my fall.

Up until then I’d been knobby-kneed, sun kissed, and barefoot. I had three sisters, a new baby brother, and more than a mild addiction to lime Kool Aid. I wore my hair long and tangled and crunchy with chlorine. I loved horses and roller skates and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I knew nothing about life but what my small little patch of Yoknapatawpha had taught me: kudzu and snake skins and sandy creek beds; frog ponds and field corn and honeysuckle vines. My own little Garden of Eden postage stamp.

My friends and I – a neighborhood pack of elementary school vagabonds — roamed the backroads and the brambles in search of the most perfect summer. And we damned near found it amidst a syrup of sweat and random scents: deadheaded marigolds, sunbaked magnolia blossoms, warm pine needles, maypops cracked wide open on hot asphalt, and truckloads of mosquito spray, which we rode our bikes behind like we were soaring through clouds in fighter jets.  Those are the smells I remember from that summer. It was a summer full to the brim. Mosquitoes and memories multiplying under a speckled canopy of freckles and stars.

And then came the demons.

It wasn’t what you would think. It wasn’t howling and hissing and holy water sizzling on flesh. I saw that sort of thing later, in some Hollywood versions of possession. No, this to me was, and still is, far scarier. Because it happened. To me. In real life. And it was nothing like in the movies.

It happened in a run-of-the-mill southern den, amid a velveteen sofa, a couple of flame-stitched wingbacks, and a good many, good-intentioned, God-fearing people. There was a laying-on of hands, a cacophony of tongue-speaking… and hissing. I remember harsh, guttural hissings. Lots of repetitive phrases, lots of In the Name of the Lords and Get behind me, Satans.

This is not something your average eleven-year-old should be exposed to. Just saying.

It left me terrified of the dark to this day.

It happened in our living room during a cell meeting – the little home prayer groups that were sprouting up all around our neck of the southeast back then. Led by people dissatisfied with the ways of organized religion. Rather ironic, considering they organized their own, new brand of religion, which ended up leaving me terrified of any and all organized religion.

It was just a small gathering of people I’d grown up around. And they were there, in our living room, worshipping God in the way they thought best. Lots of singing, praying, lifting of hands, and speaking in tongues. I was used to it.

Until it took that turn. That devilish turn. I remember – or maybe I invented — a smile. The biggest smile you ever did see on the biggest, best man I ever knew. A great, big-bellied, big-hearted man with a great big watermelon smile. Only this smile wasn’t his smile. It was creepy and folded in. Like a jack-o-lantern two weeks too old.

As dozens of men surrounded the smile, and dozens of women prayed fervently, that smile broke my innocence. And I can never go back.

To this day, I can’t watch possession movies. I just can’t. Give me all the Criminal Minds and Law & Orders and Sherlocks you’ve got. I lap them up — my adult version of lime Kool-Aid. I am more than mildly addicted. But possession flicks? Nope. Not happening.

And whenever I wake at 3:00 AM – the witching hour, the devil’s hour — I shiver and slide over closer to my sleeping husband, terrified of the knowledge I absorbed way back then.

It can’t be undone. It can’t be dismissed.

Were the demons real? Who knows? I was told once that I was possessed, too. I was pretty sure I wasn’t. Still, it was scary as all get out to be told that. And to witness all that I witnessed. For there were far more exorcisms than just the one.

And this summer, I’ve been revisiting that time — working on a novel that integrates some of those same situations and the ensuing darkness that enveloped me.

It all began with a grinning demon. And it all ended with a damsel in distress.

It took her years to escape. She’s still working on it, actually.

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