James told me I’m was sad because I had a demon living inside of me. I wondered what the demon did in there all day. I thought how boring and lonely he must be.
“You need to pray more,” James said.
I looked around the makeshift youth room. The church purchased the building a year ago; it was a large garage. Unlike the Baptist megachurches in the center of town, the Morley Center for Christ lacked the funds for a large, sprawling building that resembled Walmart, so a garage had to do.
James scavenged junkyards for busted up van seats and couches. He found old gas station signs and bolted them to the walls. The lighting was perpetually too dim, like a cheap Italian restaurant intent on keeping you from getting a good look the surface of the table.
In the winter, it was bitter cold; in the summer, James stole industrial fans from his job to move the hot air around the room. James could see demons.
“What do they look like?” I once asked. He smiled and shrugged.
“They each look different, like people.” His smile always made me uneasy; it was full and constant, revealing a perfect set of teeth—no doubt willed into place by braces during his teens. I wondered what the demon inside of me looked like.
I attempted to draw the demon on paper, but I wasn’t really an artist. In the back of my New Living Translation Bible in thick, dark, permanent marker, I drew a circular object with gaping, white, empty eyes. His arms extended past the page, but I knew the reach of his grasp.
I added to the drawing each Sunday.
I imagined the demon taking up more space inside me; it started in my stomach, creeping into my lungs, taking over my hands. I drew chains for arms, imagining those chains wrapping around my body, holding me hostage in my bed for hours.
When I came home from school, I laid in my bed listening to Billie Holiday and counted the rotations of my ceiling fan. I understood from antidepressant commercials this is what sad people did.
“How many demons have you seen?” I asked James.
His cheeks were flushed and his eyes darted around the room. There was only one exit in the youth garage.“Hundreds.”
I began to see them in my everyday world: an army of hollowed-out people, hunched-over and transparent. I would soon be like them; my demon was carving me out.
“The more you let them in, the further you get from God,” James said.
I read the Bible for three hours each night. I wrote “pray continuously” on my arm at the start of every day, the words never completely fading from my skin, traces of the words remained after each wash. As my teachers read from textbooks, I pleaded to God to rescue me from my demon.
The constant murmur of my prayers became the background noise for my life; I never experienced silence. At times, I had good days. I was able to breathe; the chains holding me down to my bed loosened.
I thanked God.
I wondered if James would see the demon leaving me on Sunday. As I sat in the pew, I watched James as he played the bass on stage. Could he see I’m not all dark inside? My demon resisted leaving my body as I matched the swaying motions of the singers possessed with the Holy Spirit, and I prayed louder in my head; I felt the sadness disappear for a second, and I almost felt like I wanted to be alive. With each prayer, each spiritual, I imagined the demon leaving me.
James told me maybe I was sad because I wanted to be sad. “Have you considered it might be what you are reading?”
“You are reading too much Sylvia Plath again,” he continued. “Only fill your head with Godly things,” he told me. That summer I stopped reading Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Stephen King, and everything ungodly.
Nicholas Sparks is a terrible writer.
“Are you feeling better?” he asked me in July.
I said yes, but it was a lie. I knew lying made it easier for the demon to take more of my body; I had to erase my sin. I tried boiling the demon from my body. I would turn the water hotter than I could stand. The steam reminded me what was at stake. As I sank into the boiling water, I felt the sin cling to my body like sweat, then dissolve in the water. I watched the water spin down the drain, and, with it, my demon. My skin was red when I was done, but it felt clean, untampered, and holy. My own daily baptism.
I stopped praying; it never seemed to help in the long term.The elders in the church said it was because I let the demon take over my spirit. “The righteous cry out and The Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles,” one of them told me.
One day, while sitting in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly, I told my mom I didn’t believe in God. When I told her I wasn’t happy, she asked me if I was praying; I shook my head.
“You have to ask guidance from God to rescue you. He doesn’t put you through anything you can’t handle.” Her voice was genuine and sweet, soft.
I told her I didn’t pray, because I didn’t believe in God. She cried. Mascara ran down her cheeks. “What about hell?” she asked me.
I wanted to say I was already there. But, I didn’t say anything.
Brittny Meredith was voted "most opinionated" in high school and has since considered it a challenge to remain the loudest, most obnoxious woman in the room. She co-hosts the podcast, Mansplaining, where she analyzes hyper-masculine culture within action films. Her work has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and Graceless.