Monday, February 16, 2009

Me, My Mom, Summer Camp, and Satan

I told this mostly-true story last month at the storytelling series I produce w/ some friends. Some of it was changed to make a better narrative.


When I was 10 years old, I got sent to a summer camp for a week. It turns out, this camp was a super-Christian camp. The week was spent doing camp things like making lanyards and grabbing your swim buddy's hand when your counselor blew the whistle. But it was also spent trying to get non-super Christians to testify, to ask Jesus into our hearts. I was a non-super Christian. My family was more culturally Catholic than anything – we really only went to church on Christmas and Easter.

My week at camp culminated with me and several other campers being put in a dark room on a sunny afternoon with a big guy who scared us with stories about Hell and Satan. At the end of that afternoon, I was ready to testify. I did that night at the bonfire. Everyone cheered. I loved being Christian! Two days later we left – me with a bunch of pamphlets, nominally about Jesus, but in reality about Hell and Satan. There was even a drawing on the front of one of some poor sucker falling down a crevice in the earth into the fires of Hades.

Pretty much as soon as I got home, I tried to save my little sister using those pamphlets. It didn't work. My mom found out and she sat me down and told me I was making her nervous. She actually compared me to this evil character named Mitch Laurence on this soap, One Life To Live, who was using Christianity to like build up a harem of unsuspecting virgins and I think rob a bank or something. Anyway. But I managed to convince her this summer camp was the greatest thing ever, so the next year she sent me back.

In the year that I'd not been at camp, I'd secretly kept my fervor for Christianity alive. I prayed almost every night in the way I'd been taught at camp. But the thing that really kept me going was my fascination with Hell. With Satan and demons and demonic energy. I'd spent a lot of that year repeatedly reading the creepier parts of Revelations, and I really enjoyed learning about saints who'd had direct contact with Satan. I was in a Catholic school so I had regular access to the Bible and all kinds of creepy, violent saint stories. So by the time I got back to my Jesus camp, I was really excited to talk about the Devil. I quickly befriended one of my camp counselors, Miss Shelly, with my religious zeal. It was like a matter of hours before I was telling her all about my "research" into Hell and Satan and all things demonic. But Miss Shelly was horrified. She told me that she understood my fascination – she too was fascinated with the same things. But I needed to be disciplined and strong and not give in to my fascination. Because that was how Satan got in, see. You opened your mind to him and he just got in there. He did it in all kinds of ways – from movies like the Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby to games like ouija boards. Shelly told me Satan was very crafty and would use my non-Christian friends and family to try to weasel his way into my brain and heart and take over. I needed, in short, to be constantly vigilant.

Being vigilant at camp was easy. Every night at bonfire we talked about how great Jesus was. One night I even told one of my more skeptical camper friends that I knew Jesus was in my heart because I wasn't getting bitten by mosquitoes that night – it was Jesus' love protecting me. But when the week was coming to an end, I started getting nervous. How was I going to stay strong and not look up things on Hell and the Devil at school? There was a nearly limitless resource at my disposal – a library stocked with books by an ancient nun named Sr. Cortona who liked nothing better than to scare the crap out of us kids. I shared my concerns with Miss Shelly, and she promised to help me. She said we could be pen pals and every time I felt tempted to research Satan, I could write her instead and she'd write back telling me to stay strong. So we did just that for months. And it mostly helped.

As Halloween approached, I got more and more letters of warning from Shelly. But I was feeling stronger than ever. Then, as Christmas approached, Miss Shelly warned me about some of the gifts I might receive that could be portals to Satan. The book series Flowers in the Attic was one I needed to watch out for. I think she was worried about Judy Blume books too. But top of her list was the ouijia board.

Meanwhile, my mom was getting really excited about Christmas – she did every year. And she started dropping hints about gifts she got me. For the first time ever, I was not excited about Christmas. I was actually fucking terrified. I had no idea which gift might knock me off the wagon and send me frantically re-reading our home encyclopedia's entry on Satan again. But Miss Shelly kept telling me to stay strong.

Christmas morning came, and opening presents under the tree proved to be much less stressful than I'd feared. I'd begun to relax as my mom handed me a rectangular box. She had a big smile on her face. "I had one of these when I was a kid!!" she said. "I just thought it was so fun!!" I opened it. It was a ouija board. I don't know what the look on my face was like, and I knew I had to act like I liked it. But my mind was reeling. MY MOTHER WAS CLEARLY AN AGENT OF SATAN.

Later that day, I started trying to write Miss Shelly a letter about what had happened. But I couldn't finish it. I couldn't tell her my mother was an agent of the devil. I didn't know what the consequences of admitting that would be. She might have been a foot soldier for Satan, but she was still my mom. I tried a bunch of times to write Miss Shelly about it, but I could just never do it. And I stopped answering her letters too soon after. My heart wasn't in it anymore. Then I stopped praying every night, and kind of stopped caring about Satan and demons in general. I got into horses and I joined my school's basketball team. And I stopped trying to get my sister to testify to Jesus. So, I don't know if that means that Satan won or what. But there's just no way I was OK with my mom being a servant of the Dark Lord.

1 comment:

McTodds said...

Love the story. When my mom was Mormon, and thus my sister and I were Mormon, we spent the summers with our Dad who was a pot smokin' Buddhist. My sister forgot her Book of Mormon one summer and spent a whole week crying herself to sleep because she was convinced she was going to hell for not reading the BOM every day. I think my dad finally had my mom mail the BOM to appease my sad 7 year-old sister.