I hate demons. A legion of them held my mama captive in her own body a while back. For a long time after that I felt there was nothing I could do. But that particular morning—I’d turned eighteen, the day seemed so full of new mercies and possibilities. I, Emme Vaughn, had no reason to hide anymore.
It took me two lumbering buses and an expensive cab—complete with ogling driver—to get to St. Dymphna’s Psychiatric Hospital. But I made it. I even dressed the part. Of a postmodern, urban-girl exorcist, that is. I wore all black: skinny jeans, a cute scarf dress, and glorious stiletto Prada boots. An onyx rosary hung around my neck.
It was seventy-eight degrees outside. September sunshine warmed my shoulders like a kiss from God. All I had to do was strut into that hospital and kick some devil butt.
There was just one problem: my feet refused to cooperate. The imposing brown-brick building towered above me like Goliath over David, and I was terrified. In these cases, I usually have one of three responses: I plow through with courage, bolt away, or blabber to buy myself time.
I chose courage. But I needed to get myself amped up first.
Got your word, Emme?
My Bible was wrapped in a pair of dark Levi’s and tucked in the corner of my duffel bag.
The jeans protected the good book from getting knocked around. Not that my bag held much, just everything I owned: a few articles of clothing Francis bought me; a Russian icon from his godmother, Mother Nicole; my GED paperwork; my Michigan State ID card; a pair of black Timberland boots.
I fingered one of the shiny rosary beads around my neck to calm my nervousness. “Rosary in place,” I muttered, then trailed my fingers to the St. Benedict Jubilee cross medal dangling from the silver chain around my neck.
This made me think of Francis, who gave me the necklace after a nasty incubus tried to violate me. If I’m ever looking for a reason to pray, the memory of that lust-crazed demon does it every time.
I continued down my mental checklist, hoping to summon a little more bravery.
Kick-butt diva boots for whooping devil head, while still looking fly?
My gaze fell to my feet and beheld the butter-soft Puh-rah-dah on my feet.
Francis gave me those as a birthday present. I had to trash the first pair he bought me. A demon’s host projectile vomited all over them.
I took a long, deep breath and made sure all the hell-busting gadgets I needed were accounted for. Now it was time to move, only fear paralyzed me.
Time to get your act together, sistah. You’re a grown woman now. What happened to your ’tude? These boots aren’t made for walking!
The kicks brought Francis to mind yet again.
I should have asked him to come. It would have only taken us an hour to get here in his Camry. We could have listened to music on his iPhone. Chilled. Maybe I’d have let the brotha hold my hand.
I smiled to think of that.
I might have let him smooch me again, too.
That thought made me blush.
Warm feelings aside, thoughts of Francis were a distraction and did nothing to propel me forward. There I was, standing alone in front of a psychiatric hospital with a million thoughts running through my head. You’d think I’d have sense enough to go in, but no.
I shuffled along, each step getting harder and harder to take. I stopped for a moment, to glance around to see if anyone was watching me. An old man sitting on a bench in front of the hospital looked up from his sandwich and smiled at me.
I gave him a small but friendly smile back, knowing I couldn’t stand there any longer. Shoot, I was beginning to look like someone who needed to be admitted.
I needed to pray. According to my mama, the Lord’s Prayer takes care of everything. It’s worship, petition, confession, and even has an exorcism built into it.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,” I whispered. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.”
I took a step toward the hospital.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
I took another step.
“And forgive us—”
I couldn’t go on. What kind of daughter was I? I hadn’t shown my face in three years. The fear of getting caught was only part of the reason I hadn’t visited Mama more often. The truth is, I didn’t want to see her looking like she did last time. My heart beat wildly as memories of that last visit came flooding back. I recalled with sickening clarity the moment when the orderly opened the door and I saw an emaciated figure lying on the bed. Her skin was the color of caramel, just like Mama’s—a color I knew so well because I used to envy it. I’m dark-skinned. Kids can be brutal.
I was about to tell the orderly he’d brought me into the wrong room when the sickly woman turned her head and looked at me. Her skin looked like it’d tear, it was stretched so taut across the bones in her face. But it was the unmistakable mole beneath her left eyelid that led to my undoing. Mama had always called it her beauty mark.
A scream stuck in my throat.
That thing was not my mama. Mama was lovely, with long, black curls that tumbled down her back. But this animal person—bound by restraints, smelling of urine, and bearing broken teeth at me—looked like an entity straight out of my most horrifying visions.
Her glassy eyes fixed on mine, and something vile and haunting inside of her seemed to stare back at me. Then a voice that wasn’t Mama’s spoke through her: “She’s ours because of you.” I believed it…
Now just feet from the hospital’s entrance, I was doing my best to take another step forward. I shook my head. Tears slipped down my cheeks I hadn’t realize I was about to shed.
I’m sorry, Lord. I’m not ready for this. Not at all.
The old man from the bench walked past me, up the steps and through the automatic doors.
I don’t know if it was love or guilt urging me on, but I followed him in. I had to. Sometimes false bravado and a promise is all a sistah has.
© 2010 Claudia Mair Burney