I do believe in the Devil. I’ve seen him. Live. Twice. Maybe a third time but it’s one I can’t remember at all and no one in the family will confirm my fear that something scary happened to me in Peru when I was ten. In any case, I have been afraid of the Devil for a long time. It started with a forbidden screening of The Exorcist when I was six years old. I had to sleep with a nightlight until I was eleven. Even now, nothing soothes me quite like light, be it a bright bulb in my bedroom painted like the sky or my favorite light, the sun. Being a good Catholic, I acknowledge the presence of evil in the world and I accept the existence of the Devil. Call it superstition or my trademark hysteria. But I know him. This week, I spent thirty minutes talking to him in my office.
The last time I encountered the Devil, I was ready to send a heavy glass ashtray into my monstrous ex-boyfriend’s skull. When his eyes burned into me with hatred, they were his cocaine-fueled glare but also the stare of someone else. Possession isn’t always about spinning heads and pea-soup vomit. We take evil into our bodies by choice. I know because to this day, I believe God kept me from giving in to that same awful presence. Had I surrendered, I might have assaulted Monster. I might have been taken away in handcuffs or on a stretcher and my life would have been different.
This week’s meeting with the Devil was different in many respects. I was not poised to attack anyone. The eyes that looked into my soul were filled with a mixture of fear, anger, pain, and sadness. There might have even been tears or perhaps those were mine. This time, I was talking to a child, one who was terribly defiant and loathsome, violently aggressive to everyone but me. I made every effort to convince him that his life of violence would end badly. I became a woman of great compassion. I truly felt love for this child who had threatened other lives. But I also felt the fear of something even more malevolent. In my heart, I begged for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In my mind, I thought of Mary. Through my voice, I tried to be human to this boy–and to the evil. Because no matter how scared I was, I know that my tiny, weak humanity is my greatest strength.
I’m sicker than I have been in years. I can’t keep food down. It could be a virus, bad food, stress, all of these factors. Or it could be the aftermath of surviving yet another harrowing encounter with darkness.