Mum: What are you doing?
Me: It’s hot.
Mum: You can’t just walk around the house in your underwear.
Me: Why not?
Mum: Because my ladies group from church is coming over in half an hour.
Me: They’ll love it.
Mum: No, they will not.
Me: But I’m made in God’s image and shit.
Mum: Either put on some pants or leave.
As a child, I was taught that magic, spells, séances, witchcraft, and the supernatural all invited the devil to enter your body. The hilarious sexual connotations of this seemed to be lost on my parents, who forbade me from watching Buffy and enrolled me in a private Anglican highschool. Naturally, I spent the bulk of my teenage years drinking over a ouija board inside an abandoned orphanage near my house.
Here is a picture of said house:
It was built by the Masons in 1922 and inhabited by spooky parentless children until World War II, when it was converted to a hospital where many soldiers certainly died horrible deaths. Eventually, the Council purchased the site and the main building was partially burned down by arsonists. A high fence was put around it, and as the century came to a close, I poked a hole in this fence and crawled through with a bottle of vodka tucked under my arm. Then I got blind and talked to dead people.
You can make up your own mind about whether ouija is a reliable channel of communication with the dead, but things happened inside that house and I accepted all of them with fourteen-year-old dutch courage. I was aware that I was tapping into energies I didn’t consciously use, and that alone was enough to bring me back to the Masonics on a regular basis. I was quite blasé about the whole process and did not feel threatened at any time because deep down, I thought it was all bullshit. I continued to go there, because the glass kept moving underneath my hands and I have always been drawn to old buildings, but I slept soundly at night and never worried that I was doing anything dangerous.
Five years later, I watched The Exorcism of Emily Rose and nearly wet my pants. I watched it three more times and became obsessed with the idea of demonic possession. I felt completely vulnerable and was so afraid, I began praying for protection. I told my osteopath about my fear and he stopped massaging my skull and told me to sit up.
“I have a story,” he said, closing the door. I was intrigued, because he told me deeply personal stories about having sex with underage girls while the door was open and his staff were within hearing-range. We’d never had a closed-door conversation before.
“I’m listening,” I said, crossing my legs on the table and reaching for his coffee.
“Dammit, bitch, don’t drink my coffee,” he said, slapping my hand. “Now. You know me, I’m a pretty skeptical guy, right? I don’t even believe in gravity, I think it’s a fucking scam. Anyway, I had this patient a few months ago who had recently returned from Indonesia and needed a bunch of work done on his back. I was treating him one day when I felt a presence move through his body and start to enter mine. I couldn’t move my arm, so I freaked out and fought against this presence, then it disappeared and went back into the guy. My arm was in so much pain afterwards, like it was burning, and it took days to stop hurting completely. I asked him what the fuck had happened, and he said that he had been possessed by entities overseas and he didn’t know how to get rid of them. He called them “foreign energy”. Foreign energy! What a crock. But then it happened again, the next time I treated him. This time, I allowed it to enter me and explore my body. I saw a glow around myself, and then in my head, I said Leave me alone, and it exited through my belly button.”
“Oh my god,” I said, “What were you on and do you have any left? I’m going to this festival next week and my dealer is dry-”
“Nothing,” the osteo interrupted. “I was sober as a judge. On detox. And now there are all these fucking energies floating around and I have no idea whether there might be a goddamn zombie waiting for me when I get home. Everything is possible.”
“So what did you do?” I asked.
“I attended a three-day meditation course in the Blue Mountains,” he replied. “Now I can see the future in my dreams.”
I wasn’t sure if I believed my osteo, because he liked to party a lot, despite his recent stint of sobriety. But I was beginning to realise that maybe I didn’t have everything figured out.
Over the next few months, I tried to avoid anything vaguely spiritual. “IS THAT INCENSE?” I shouted, throwing a glass of water over my housemate’s bedside table. “Get that shit out of my house!”
I stayed away from fortune tellers, gypsies, astrology and pornography. I took care not to say the lord’s name in vain. I put a pot plant in my bedroom and slept with my mouth closed.
Then I went to my brother’s 21st, and sat next to an old church friend who had recently moved away very suddenly.
“Hi Warwick,” I said, “Where have you been?”
“I moved to Penrith and joined a Wicca clan,” he replied. “I can cast all kinds of spells.”
“Bullshit!” I declared. “If you’re so fucking powerful, do something impossible, like make me interested in you sexually.”
“Maye I will…” he replied, and took a sip from a flask concealed inside his jacket.
That night, I woke up at 3am (the Witching Hour) with a bloody nose and a pounding head. My sheets were drenched and my room was freezing. For the next month, I woke up exactly on each witching hour every morning (12:00am, 1am, 2am then 3am) covered in sweat. Eventually I drove to my osteo’s office, distressed, and burst into his treatment room.
“Do you have an appointment?” he asked, surprised.
“It’s happening!” I yelled. “I’m fucking possessed!”
“Good god,” he said, ushering me into the staff kitchen. “Wait here until I finish up with my rational patients.”
I made myself some tea and ate a sandwich I found in the fridge while I waited. When the osteo came back, I explained everything that had happened to me over the last month.
“Wow,” he marvelled quietly at the end of my story. “This is quite amazing…”
“I know, right?” I said. “Somebody is going to make a movie about this.”
“No,” the osteo replied, “I mean you are amazing.”
“Not amazing in a good way. Here, let me break it down for you: there is no demon. But you are actually so impressionable and neurotic that by pure anxiety alone, you have given yourself night sweats, nose bleeds, and the body clock of a soldier. That’s incredible. I want to experiment with you.”
“You mean, I’m not possessed?” I asked, frowning.
“No, you’re just a loose unit,” he replied. “Imagine if you could use all that mind-power for something useful, rather than annoying me with your inane bitching. That would be cool. Hey, have you seen my sandwich?”
When I was fifteen, I worked in the créche at my parents’ church. This meant I had to look after other people’s whining children and sometimes take them to the toilet and wipe their bums, but at least I didn’t have to listen to the sermon.
One Sunday, there was a new kid in the créche who seemed to take a liking to me. We played for half an hour and read some books together, then she said she wanted to draw a picture of me. I was flattered and sat on a beanbag in front of her, posing for my portrait.
“Now you have blue eyes…” she said, selecting a sky-coloured crayon. “And then brown hair… and a yellow t-shirt… and a BIIIIIG belly!”
“Church is finished,” I told her, holding in a scowl. “I’ll mind your picture until your parents are leaving. You can come back and collect it then.”
After she left to find her mum and dad, I scrunched her picture into a ball and threw it in the bin. Then I walked down to the takeaway shop and bought a large tub of hot chips. I decided I would not have children if they all turned out to be such nasty little shits.
I returned home after a leisurely afternoon at the pub to find my parents midway through a dinner party with some Christian missionaries who were visiting their church. My mother was wrapping up a rather touching story about a woman who went camping alone in the jungle and woke during the night to find her tent surrounded by hungry lions.
“So the woman prayed,” Mum said quietly, “She prayed for hours and hours. And then she felt calm and went back to sleep. When she woke again in the morning, the lions were all gone, and there was an elephant sitting outside her tent, watching over her.”
As my mother’s guests smiled with glistening eyes and shook their heads in wonder at the mysterious ways of the Lord, I leaned over the table and grabbed a baked potato from the serving dish.
“Maybe the elephant was just passing through?” I suggested. “Or maybe this woman is going to murder all her children in five years? Maybe God sent the lions to get rid of her before she smothered her babies, except then the elephant came along and mucked up the plan? I don’t really think you can draw any definitive conclusions here. Correlation does not imply causation. I learned that in statistics. At uni. When I went to uni.”
“You failed uni,” Mum reminded everybody.
“No, sweetheart, uni failed you,” Dad reassured me.
“I’m drunk,” I announced and went back out.
This morning a girl who I was once very close to died. I’m not going to pretend to know the particulars of the situation, because I haven’t had contact with her for years, but something about Crohn’s disease and the latter stages of liver cancer, etc, etc, she didn’t make it, please pray for her family.
I’m sitting here trying to come up with some memories of this girl. Pick the pieces out of my brain, look at them with renewed perspective, type them out and embody one small part of her life: the impact she had on me. She and I spent a significant amount of time together during highschool, and in theory, I should be able to recount specific anecdotes, quote directly, dig up old notes and emails and photographs.
But sadly, my brain has wiped most of my memories from early adolescence, and I have thrown away all the physical evidence over the years.
And so, digging deep as possible, all I can put together is the vaguest of pastimes, but a stronger sense of her spirit:
The memory is blurred and non-specific, but I do recall the intense camaraderie I felt from the day I met her. And I remember that at every church-related event our fascist parents dragged us to, she and I snuck away, without fail. We stole biscuits and ran down the street. We hid in parks and bitched about every single person in that church. We condemned their hypocrisy and ridiculed their sensitivity. We were ruthless and nasty, delighting in which one of us could shock the other the most.
Believe it or not, she was a lot more cynical than I am. She was more negative. Less ethical. More bitter. And that’s exactly what I liked most about her.
The scene: my family is out for dinner at a cosy Italian restaurant for my brother’s 25th birthday. His new girlfriend is present. I have been forced to cancel my plans to watch Weeds under my doona in order to attend. I am bored. I have had 3 glasses of wine and I want to stir somebody’s pot. I actually like my brother’s new girlfriend, so I refrain from picking on her as I normally would. I know that I should also be nice to my brother, seeing as it is his birthday and I did not get him a present. And I leave my father alone, because he is my favourite person in the world. That leaves my mother.
Mum: So has anybody seen much of the Walkers lately?
Me: Yeah, I see Tim around the city every now and then, when he’s not hiding in his closet.
Mum: Oh, Annik...
Me: What? That kid’s more camp than a row of tents. Last week I saw two guys having sex in Hyde Park, and that was less gay than Tim Walker’s haircut.
Mum: The problem for Tim and other boys like him is that their faith is so important to them. They want to get married and have families like everyone else at church. But that conflicts with their involuntary desires to, you know…
Me: Fuck other men?
Me: So if God intended for Man to be with Woman, and the Bible specifically states that homosexual practice is a sin, and the church frowns upon gays, then why did God create particular humans with these same-sex desires?
Mum: That’s one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith.
Me: No it’s not. It’s proof that the Bible is a load of horse shit, and every time you people can’t explain something properly, you just use some wanky cop-out excuse like “we can’t understand heavenly matters.” How can you add disclaimers to the entire human race’s ability to differentiate between possibility and impossibility like that? It’s a complete crock. You all disgust me.
Dad: Does anybody want dessert?
Religious people really hack me off sometimes. I live with a bunch of Jesus-praising, bible-studying, grace-saying, hymn-singing, sexless-til-married, loving, caring, forgiving Christians. I look like a pretty shit person in comparison.
Don’t get me wrong. My family are very tolerant of my “heathen lifestyle”, as they affectionately call it. My mum sometimes even spins cute little phrases around it: “If that plumber comes on time, then Annik’s a virgin.”
The thing that gets my beef going is that every opinion I have is immediately tainted in the household’s eyes on account of the fact that I have “fallen away.” When really, my views should be worth twice my family’s because I have lived both as a Woman of God, and as somebody capable of thinking for herself. I gave God a shot and he didn’t come through – as soon as I developed my higher reasoning abilities (about the same time I started smoking pot) the whole thing ceased to make sense.
Even Gilbert Grape could tell you that Christianity doesn’t reconcile with free will. Allegedly, God has graced us with mental autonomy, yet he has total control over every pre-destined whisper of the universe, and then he punishes us severely for exercising our “free will”. Where’s the fucking sense in that? On a similar note, concepts such as infinity and immortality are about as plausible as City Rail arriving on time. Any time I raised these concerns as a teenager, I was told that “mere humans cannot understand that.” Excuse me? Baking powder? That’s the biggest cop-out I’ve heard since Warnie’s mum gave him the tablet. If you undermine the entire capacity of human logic like that, then isn’t anything possible? Pigs might fly, Britney Spears could make a come-back, and Telstra might actually employ real live people to answer their customer care line instead of having a recorded voice that takes you from lengthy menu to lengthy menu before cutting you off in mechanical triumph.
I’ve been surrounded by Christianity my whole life. My entire family are devout Anglicans. 80% of the student body at my highschool and 100% of the faculty were Christians. I was one too for fifteen years. I understand that some people spend their whole lives studying the bible and are still putting the pieces together but shit, if something doesn’t grab me in less time than it takes to reach puberty, I’m not interested.