There Are No Demons

Heads up to those reading this: I mostly use this website to talk about my creative efforts. This isn’t that. This is a personal piece of writing I’ve done in solidarity with others speaking up. I wan’t to make sure you are jumping into this from an informed space. I’m also including links to the RAINN helpline, the Trevor Project helpline, and this list of global crisis lines, in case they are needed.

TW/CW: Child sexual abuse, homelessness and precarious housing, homomisia, suicide, neglect, religious abuse, exorcism (yeah, it gets weird).

With all that in mind, I’ll begin.

When I started to write this, I was sitting in my backyard. Small birds danced in and out of my yard-sale bird feeder. Like most of the objects in my personal sanctuary, the bird feeder had been lovingly sanded down and given a fresh coat of paint. I find satisfaction in rescuing discarded things and offering them another go round. I believe—maybe to my own detriment—in second chances. When I was very young, I believed in infinite chances. Circumstances have required that I pare that down. 

Between bird visits, I was reading articles about restorative justice on my phone. I sought answers to the not-yet-fully-formed question that (my partner pointed out) was taking up far too much of my bandwidth.

The question is nebulous and too broad to ever answer: What is the right thing to do?

Here’s the deal (and this is where those trigger warnings I mentioned above start to kick in):

A grown man who was a once a precious child shared a recounting of a church leader abusing him.

(I find, already, a challenge in communicating this. There are so many adjectives that we use to describe the sexual abuse which adults inflict on children. Devastating. Horrifying. Heartbreaking. I don’t think any of them nail it. Is there a word big enough, and yet precise enough, to describe what a recounting of abuse is?)

A grown man who was a once a precious child shared a devastating, horrifying, heartbreaking recounting of a church leader abusing him. He also talked about the church’s response and the further devastation, horror, and heartbreak it caused. The church is Rexdale Alliance Church (RAC). It’s part of The Alliance Canada, formerly The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada.

When I think about Rexdale Alliance Church, I’m suddenly inside a red brick building that smells like lemon soap and everyone’s best Sunday perfume. I’m walking on the orange carpet to find a seat in the section where the youth group sits. There are hymnals, but most of the songs we sing are projected on a screen using overhead slides. No PowerPoints yet. This was the 90s.

You know it’s a cool church because they have a band. You know it’s a serious church because the head pastor used to be a scientist. You know it’s a patriarchal church because all of the elders (like a board of spiritual directors) are cis men. That’s still true. They recently voted, again, against allowing anyone of another gender to serve in this role.

For a most of my high school years, I loved this place. My first visit came when a classmate invited me to a youth event. When she moved across the country the next year, I just kept going. They couldn’t get rid of me. My home was full of abuse and chaos, but here there was a promise of found family and of shared goodness. Here there were cookies for snack and sometimes concerts in the sanctuary. Here there was an all-powerful something-or-other that could hear my prayers.

My question—what’s the right thing to do?—they had an answer for that. And it was a magic answer. It was an instant answer. It was an answer that I could get for a few words, though I’d have to commit for my whole life. And I wanted to.

This is all part of the puzzle as I try to figure out the right thing to do. 

I’m not going to drag this out. I’ve known since that very brave man spoke out what the right thing to do is.

It’s to state unequivocally that I support him. It’s to make sure he knows he’s not alone. And it’s to share parts of my experiences at RAC, in the time and way that I’m able, so that other people can see that there are more of us.

I don’t know why numbers change things when it comes to organizational and institutional abuse, but they do. We know that the more people come forward, the less folks get to act like nothing happened.

Something happened.

(Look at me, using the passive voice.)

The something is abuse. And it didn’t just happen. An individual chose to do it and others colluded to cover it up. It’s part of the history of that building, that organization, and that community.

To clarify: I’m not a christian now. I exist in that wonderfully queer space between atheist and pagan that allows for ritual and wonder but doesn’t require promising bits of myself to folks who wont take care of them. One reason I’ve been slow to respond is that I know non-christians, like myself, who challenge churches are easily dismissed. So are queer folk. We don’t exist in their moral hierarchy. They’ve got a holy edict and I worship good karaoke and bad thrift store finds. I’m a very different human than I was when I sounded the alarm about the layperson youth leader who harassed, groomed and solicited me. I can’t fit back into their boxes and they likely won’t be willing to visit mine. We’re at an impasse.

I’ve emailed the organization—The Clergy Abuse Resource Team (CART)—that the larger governing body set up to take in reports of abuse. I’ve not heard back from them. Please know that I am resisting making a CART before the horse pun.

I also have no faith (in the practical, not the mystical sense) in any of the other systems in place to seek something called justice. The police are not a friend to survivors. The courts are not a friend to survivors. The press is not a friend to survivors.

I also hesitate because in the branching history of my existence, this isn’t the most rotten branch. What happened at RAC, it’s not small potatoes, but they’re in a pretty big bushel.

When this potato hit, I was a precariously-housed teenager who travelled from a different city on two bus services. I did it to keep this church in my devastating, horrifying, and heartbreaking life. I mean, it was also a normal life. It wasn’t just me being sad and destroyed. I was in high school when Boyz II Men were a thing. It’s hard to be sad listening to those harmonies. I, with my off-brand walkman, spent way-too-much of my almost-no money taking those buses to RAC. I did it because after losing my home, my school, and my mental health, I couldn’t lose my church too. I couldn’t.

Long story very short, because the details don’t serve me shared here: A layperson youth leader (like a volunteer, but with a degree from a bible college) saw this busted, destroyed, occasionally suicidal child and thought…

Actually, I have no idea what he thought. I used to obsessively read anything I could find about why grown folks hurt kids. There are myriad reasons and I’m not qualified to say what his were.

I can say it sucked. It mirrored my experiences at home. I’m not going to oversell it. I got out of it better than lots of others. But yeah, it sucked. There’s no cautionary tale here. Don’t accept a ride home from an evening church event with a youth leader? Was I any safer on the late night bus? There were no safe options for me. I don’t believe in safe options. They don’t exist. Vulnerable people, especially once someone has abused us at home, get targeted over and over in life. We often don’t have the skills or resources to seek justice. And what even is justice? They (whoever they are in any situation) know that we lack credibility because our society’s metric of credibility also sucks. They choose us precisely because of this.

It all sucks.

(But I have a backyard now and sparrows come to my bird feeder and that doesn’t suck. My current life is full of things that don’t suck.)

But this? This sucked. And what happened after was worse.

Almost immediately, I reported it to the church leadership. I earnestly believed something would be done.

They told me he’d repented and…

That was it. It was over. The head pastor, when I tried to push for more, gave me a look that read disdain. Pure disdain. He was having none of it. There was no sympathy. Not for what my life was like. Not for this added chaos. Not for any of it. I can bring up the look in those eyes. I have a picture of them in my head. If I ever felt the need to remind myself how little I mattered, it’s the picture I’d go to.

The church’s response was to send me to see a counsellor. 6 separate individuals told me I should go see this woman. I thought it was a sign from god. More likely, it was coercion and manipulation. These were folks I trusted, though, so I went.

The counsellor worked out of one of the side offices near the youth pastor’s. By counsellor, I mean a woman who possibly didn’t have any official counselling training. She was your average church lady. Floral dresses. Pageboy cut. Motherly in that way that straddles the line between caring and deeply punitive—heavy on the punitive. She told me the problems with me (yes, the problems were with me, apparently) were caused by demons (no, I’m not kidding). If I wanted to extricate myself from their corruption, I had to take a course from her in spiritual warfare. It’s why, she insisted, this type of thing kept happening to me (hello passive voice, my old friend).

Why is this the worst part? Because it made a sort of sense to me. People did bad things to me because I housed a bad thing. Many bad things. Bad things that might have come to my family eons back that were passed to me via generational sins. And my own, of course. Hadn’t I used a magic 8 ball? Or done yoga? Listened to Prince? Hadn’t I had impure thoughts? If I purged all those things, and let her cut the tendrils the demons had tied to my soul, the bad things would stop. I’d also be saving my future, non-existant children from the same fate. I stuck it out until the end, through an exhaustive, multi-week recounting of every way in which I was bad.

At the end of the course, she prayed over me so the demons would be gone, taking all those pieces of me with them. Years later, I’m still trying to get some of those pieces back.

Sometimes I joke with friends about my exorcism. The idea is bizarre. It’s a shorthand for how different my reality was. I was taught that demons were coming in the cracks—and I was mostly cracks. My emotional well-being was like the San Andreas fault. I could have been a rooming house for demons, had they been a real thing. 

What stood out to me the most was the heat and the wetness of her hands when she laid them on me. That ubiquitous floral dress. The scab where she’s dropped a curling iron on her arm. My discomfort with being touched. I did it, though. I made it through the course (yes it came with photocopied homework). I let them try to get rid of what was wrong with me. I was on board. The problem was me and I was working to fix it.

When I saw the youth leader in church, I learned to turn panic into disassociation. I didn’t tell any of my contemporaries. I performed in plays and sung in choirs and dropped whatever change I could gather in an envelope to tithe for the right to share space with the man who’d hurt me. I even applied for church membership.

I could say something about how hard it is to leave abusive spaces. I could make a quip about Stockholm syndrome. Really, though, I still wanted that family. I wanted a tether, any tether, to stop me from falling away.

Do I need to tell you that they rejected me? I guess I was a liability. I was a problem child and I just wouldn’t go. Remember what I said way back at the beginning about second chances? I really believed that someone, maybe a group of someones, would make it right. They’d make sure I had a place to live and food to eat. They’d make sure I was treated like what they’d preached I was—a child of their god.

Shoot, I wasn’t anyone’s child. I was no one. I drifted off into being no one.

Within a year, I was living in a group home. That summer, I went to my first Pride event. That’s where I started to find my family, in bits and pieces. The PFLAG tent had a hug-a-mom section and suddenly there were hands around me that felt loving. I still had issues being touched, but this was like coming home. I drank. I danced. I lauged. I celebrated everything I’d been told was wrong in me.

I’m solidly middle aged now and that year feels like a death. I’ve had a few years like that. Trauma survivors often do. A version of me that believed in demons died. There were no demons. There were only people playing the part. There were only systems that tied sex to shame and holiness to gender and I had to exorcise them. I did it with theatre and sunshine yellow wall paint. I did it by slowly figuring out how to engage in community without anyone steamrolling each other. I’m still working on how to be a friend. I’m still trying to figure out what the right thing to do is.

In this case, the right thing to do is to say to my very new friend these words:

You are not alone. You are precious and brave and hilarious. I respect you so damn much. I’m glad you kicked at this door. I’m sorry you had to, and I’m sad that so many people will probably be walking through it. But we’re here together now. You. Are. Not. Alone.

And I guess that means I’m not alone either.

The Unexpected Period of Grace

by H. E. Casson
First published in Room of One’s Own, Issue 29:2, 2006
(CW: Child abuse, religious extremism, violence, blood)

The clenching, hollow stomach pain that Grace had become accustomed to — though she had never adjusted to the spontaneous diarrhoea that sometimes followed — had returned. She leaned forward on the toilet, pressing her forearms against her stomach. Looking down, Grace examined the long, thin stain that ran almost perfectly down the centre of her white cotton panties. It had a pumpkin orange tint and had dried slightly, hardening the usually pliant fabric. Grace scrunched up her face — lowering her eyebrows, wrinkling her nose and puckering out her lips. This is what Grace did in situations where most girls cried. 

Grace could smell her period. It was musty, like communion grape juice gone slightly sour. She had not expected her period to come while she was at Crusaders Pentecostal Camp. In fact, after six months, she had convinced herself that its untimely arrival at her older sister Rachel’s fourteenth birthday party had been a mistake or an illusion. Assuming this, she had not brought any pads or belts with her.

She could not stay in the washroom forever, she reasoned, yet she could think of nothing she could substitute for pads. She dismissed the idea of approaching Rachel. Conversation involving any bodily area below the shoulders or above the knees was taboo. She did not know if Rachel’s period had even come. Besides, Rachel was prone to giggles and Grace feared this response, and the possibility that her request would get back to Mother. Grace would ask advice, she decided, of the camp nurse, whose station marked the line between the boys’ area and the girls’.

Choosing discomfort over potential embarrassment, Grace wrapped three layers of toilet paper around her underwear and, for extra safety, stuffed a few sheets, wadded together, into her vagina. She pulled her socks up as high as she could and stood up, careful not to let the hem of her blue and white print skirt fall into the toilet. She waited until the girls’ washroom was silent and exited the stall. 

The ball of paper, foreign between her legs, forced Grace to perform a stilted penguin walk, which she did with as much dignity as she could spare. To her relief, she passed no one.

It must be time for chapel, she thought, and prayed that Jesus would forgive her. 

The nurses’ station was gleaming white, save the painted sign above the door. The station, like every other building on the grounds, was named after a biblical reference or noted Pentecostal. Grace’s cabin had been christened Grace. It did not occur to her that the administrative staff took pleasure in arranging such coincidences. The nurses’ station was called Simon Zelotes. 

Simon the Zealot, thought Grace, from Acts. The name deepened her guilt concerning her absence from chapel. Grace had come to Crusaders Pentecostal Camp with a goal or, more accurately, a biblical passion. Grace was desperate to be filled with the Holy Spirit. She wanted to hear words that she did not understand pour from her mouth like water from a fountain. She wanted to be a medium through which worship could be pure and untainted by her own limitations. Grace’s guilt graduated to fear. What would she do if, because of her period, the Holy Spirit did not fill her — if, as Leviticus 15:19 said, she were unclean? She felt unclean, waddling toward the station door, a mockery unto God. 

Grace had chewed away all of the white from her left thumbnail as she had waited for the nurse. Now it stung, distracting her from the large box of pads and belts the nurse had given her. Accompanying the box had been a lecture in period cleanliness and etiquette.

Scrunching her face again, Grace left the nurses’ station and crossed through the girls’ cabin area to the washroom (called Martha, after Mary Magdalene’s sister). The good sister, thought Grace. Under her arm, clutched to disguise its shape, was the wretched box, wrapped securely in a brown paper bag. 

* * *

Dutifully and full of purpose, Grace walked with her five bunkmates and her counsellor, Dixie, to evening chapel. What remained of the August sun gently baked her skin. She inhaled the scents of grass and dinner and idle sweat as the campers converged in front of the tallest building in the camp. The Tabernacle stood at the centre of the entire grounds. The sight of the bleached-wood structure, steepled with a large driftwood cross, focused her mind while lifting her from her unpredictable body. She was light-headed, expectant, standing on her tiptoes lest the word of God drift, like a radio signal, over her head. 

She did not listen to the girls around her laughing and behaving foolishly, though she could hear them. Rachel’s voice rose above the rest, playing saucily, instigating more laughter. Grace swallowed her sinful jealousy and slowly refocused on her goal. She was different. She had never found her niche, so said Grandmother, among children her own age. She did not belong. God had chosen her for something more important than play or friendship. After all, she had read the Bible straight through three times, and every time she had read the Gospels and Acts twice. She had kept her eyes closed through Grandmother’s prayers, though they were long and repetitive, ending the same way every night. Forgive us, oh Lord, we vessels of sin and wrong.

Grace sat down three seats from the centre aisle, which led up to the carpeted altar. She shifted to settle her bulky pad and lifted her spine as straight as she could. Not yet five feet tall, Grace found it necessary to lean to one side or the other to see over the taller eleven- and twelve-year-olds who sat in front of her.

The younger children, called Junior Camp, had completed their chapel earlier in the evening. This allowed them to buy candy at the tuck shop and make it back to their cabins for evening devotions, prayers, and lights out. Grace remembered her younger years at camp. She wondered if they still performed Proverbs with puppets, made fresh each year from gleaming white socks. Junior Camp chapel was short, composed mostly of Bible stories, simple cautionary tales and music. While Grace had enjoyed the songs, some silly, others sweet, she preferred Senior Camp chapel. They sang songs with meaning, like “It Is Well with My Soul” and “At the Cross.” Their sermons were biblical seminars, not Good Samaritan tales. Best of all, Doctor Goody gave the Senior Camp sermon himself. The Junior Camp had to settle for members of the Women’s Ministry club. 

Doctor Goody, who Grace knew both by reputation and by chance encounters over her many summers, had been a missionary in India and Africa for over twenty years. Now God had called him, he said, to tend to the lambs at home. 

Grace liked being a lamb. She was ecstatic when he spoke of his faith, as though his passions were hers to share. She imagined Doctor Goody comforting her when she foresaw all of her friends, non believers, in hell — when she imagined the worms in their flesh and the loneliness in their souls. He would tenderly explain God’s will to her. He would not declare, as Mother did, that sinners would earn their punishment and the righteous their reward. 

Grace experienced his words, feeling an unholy pride at the speed with which she found the passages in her oversized leather-bound Bible. When Doctor Goody spoke quietly, Grace leaned toward him for fear of missing a single intonation. When he mourned the wages of sin, she cried. When he shouted, she felt a rush of devotion, divided evenly between God and Doctor Goody.

“Jesus-uh,” shouted Doctor Goody, “did NOT-uh!” he slammed his massive Bible on the decorated pulpit, which shook fervidly in response, “leave us alone-uh, when he returned-uh to his Heavenly Father-uh!”

Slam! Again the Bible crashed down, jolting fear into Grace’s stomach.

“Children-uh,” he growled, “some of you are not saved.

Grace felt like a singer preparing to go onstage. Anticipation tickled her insides as she watched the children, former non-believers, stumble down aisle and fall, prostrated, onto the stairs of the altar. Doctor Goody prayed — a sweeping prayer that encompassed all of them. He then blessed each of them with oil, consecrating their acceptance of Jesus into their hearts. Grace could see it, like a movie show above their heads. She saw a heart, like a gothic valentine. She saw Jesus, the Jesus of paintings and the illustrated New Testaments, moving peacefully in, lighting their hearts with his blue and melancholic eyes. Respectfully, she prayed along with Doctor Goody, finishing with John 3:16. She shivered when the prayer ended.

“…shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Each word was a marker on her Marathon to the Holy Spirit.

Finally, Doctor Goody led the campers in their final hymn, “Just As I Am.”

“All of you,” he looked out over the Tabernacle wistfully, “who do NOT-uh wish to stay-uh, may go to Tuck.”

He said the last word as though it were a sin or, at least, a sinful indulgence. 

“Those of you seeking-uh God’s holy blessing-uh may come up to the altar-uh. Moreover, remember, ask and it shall-uh be GIVEN (slam!) unto you. Seek-uh and ye shall FIND (slam!). KNOCK and the DOOR-uh shall be OPENED-uh unto you (slam!). Hallelujah.” Doctor Goody spoke the hallelujah so quietly that Grace wondered if she were the only person who heard it.

Grace waited rapturously for the people beside her to file out. She walked with purpose down the centre aisle. When she reached the front of the Tabernacle, she did not turn right to join the masses of impatient campers crossing the moonlit grounds toward the Tuck. 

Grace, eyes pressed tightly shut, heard the counsellors swarm around her. She felt their hands rest on her shoulders, back and head. She heard them cry out, many of them speaking in the stunted language that Grace had heard her whole life in church, at Women’s Ministry meetings and at Missionettes. 

“Asee-bah-hubanala…”

“Kugana-see-a-hamma…”

“Jesus, Jesus-jeegala-jahafalla…”

She could envision the Spirit-filled women of her home congregation, their large Sunday hats askew, their bodies twitching frantically. She could see Miss Aussich, sixty-five years old, falling to the floor and rolling under the front pew in incomprehensible bliss. She could see Mother and Grandmother, standing regally in the family row, speaking without stammer or hesitation, in voices that were not their own. In the Tabernacle around her stilted young voices joined the multitude in her mind. Some campers merely muttered hallelujahs, unready to release all to the Spirit. Others burst into sound, the floodgates not opened, but obliterated. 

Her breathing sped up as she thrust aside her pride and howled, calling to God. Her small fists slammed the altar and the sounds of praying around her grew. She tore at her hair and threw her body forward until she lay, folded in two, like a broken doll.

Then everything was gone.

The hands on her lifted and condensed, shrinking away as she slid down a tunnel, backward and upward. There was no voice but her own.

“Maranaka-sah-nama-arakabera-secca-ramasanana…”

Grace did not hear the counsellors rejoice, thanking God for his obscured communications. She did not feel the space around her empty as the moved on to the next disciple. She did not feel time. She did not feel the sticky August night. She did not hear the voices around her, one at a time, stop and retreat.

* * *

Seven hours later, Grace opened her eyes.

Her legs stung where she had crossed them, one over the other. She was swaying backward and forward, in a precise, automatic rhythm. She forced herself to stop as the last few syllables dripped down her chin and landed on the orange carpet that covered every low surface in the Tabernacle. Her back, hips and chest ached. Her arms, which she slowly lowered to her sides, were pale and burned as blood returned to them. Grace could not move, except for the involuntary shaking that seemed based in her very bones.

For a moment, everything was still.

An uncontrollable fear overwhelmed her. 

Looking up she saw Dixie, stretched out, asleep on the highest step of the altar. For a moment, Grace thought they were alone. 

“And it shall come to pass,” croaked a weepy voice over her head, “in the last days, sayeth God. I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath: blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood. Amen.”

With effort, Grace raised her head and focused her eyes, blinking against the florescent lights. Doctor Goody sat, where he always did before his sermons, in a chair left of the pulpit. He was slumped forward, his shirt rumpled and his face slack.

“You have been blessed.” Doctor Goody added no extra syllables. “And what a gift I have brought out of you.”

His words unloosed her mind. She did not feel blessed. She knew this immediately. She did not feel holy. She did not feel right or fulfilled or, finally, as though she belonged somewhere. She had lost time and it petrified her. Doctor Goody’s brazenly euphoric gaze confirmed it. He had used her up. He had tricked her. Now he was satisfied and she was spent. Grace looked away.

Her head turned from side to side looking at the empty, oversized cabin called the Tabernacle. It looked worn and ugly. It smelled of too many summers. The building was not a friend of hers.

Grace looked at Dixie, who the male counsellors called Dixie D-Cup. Dixie who claimed Jesus as a cheerleader claimed a football player boyfriend. Dixie was not a friend of hers.

Finally, Grace looked directly at Doctor Goody. Doctor Goody was an old, tattered, sun-ruined man with a righteous, tear-smudged, ignorant expression. Doctor Goody was not a friend of hers.

Grace, stunned by the measure of her revelation, stood and walked carefully from the Tabernacle, meeting Doctor Goody’s gaze and willing him not to follow. She stepped out into the late, cool August night; her heavy legs were the after-effect of her Marathon. 

She ran and her legs ripped with pain. She liked the feeling. She ran across the grounds toward her cabin. She saw, suddenly, how silly the camp staff had been to put her there. Grace, the cabin, was not a friend of hers. Still, it was safer than the night and it had walls which Grace, the girl, needed desperately. 

Once inside, Grace changed into her pyjamas, along with a new pair of  underwear and a fresh pad. She hid her used pad, soaked through, underneath the stairs leading up to the washroom. She returned to her bunk and lay very still, listening to her bunkmates breathing. When Dixie came to bed, she did not speak to Grace. She fell into her bunk and began snoring almost immediately. Eventually Grace slept too, though, that night, sleep was not a friend of hers.

No one spoke to Grace during morning devotions, though a few of her bunkmates watched her furtively, waiting for a sign that the Spirit still filled her. No one spoke to her during prayers or at breakfast, though Rachel gave her an uncharacteristic hug before jogging over to the cereal line. No one spoke to her as she walked to the scheduled morning activity, swimming in Lake Ontario. 

Grace was not wearing a bathing suit, which the rest of the campers were. She had opted instead for her brown corduroy jumper and her Crusaders Camp is for Kids T-shirt, turned inside out. She sat back and watched her campmates splash and throw sand and ignore stern looks from the counsellors. 

“Grace,” she felt a hand rest gently on her head, “why don’t you go play with the others?”

She could tell that Doctor Goody had not slept well either. She did not speak, but continued to watch the others, hoping her silence would return her to devoutness. 

“Grace, a part of devotion-uh,” he slipped unknowingly into his sermon voice, “is enjoying his blessings-uh.”

She looked up, meeting, reluctantly, Doctor Goody’s eyes. They were boyish, filled with a need to please her. He needed to preserve her, his greatest heavenly accomplishment since leading sixty converts in their first English prayer in a church that he’s helped build.

He tugged her to her feet and began to pull her toward the water. Grace resisted, leaning her body backward in an effort to balance his strength. She felt the softness of his hands, a result of the recent years of speaking and thinking, and little else. 

He stopped for a moment and Grace hoped that he had abandoned the idea if forcing her to belong. Instead, he gripped her hand harder.

“If you won’t join,” he smiled, “I’ll just have to throw you in the lake!”

Grace imagined him, young and pretty, pale and hopeful.

He swung his right arm under her legs and lifted her, pressing her face into his button down shirt. She heard the rustling crinkle if the belted pad, thick under her jumper. I can’t get wet, she suddenly realized. The pad would swell up. It would weigh her down and she would not be able to swim away. She would sink in the surf and disappear, forever baptized by Doctor Goody. 

She struggled against his eager happiness. He carried her closer to the water, staggering through the sand. The campers laughed at Doctor Goody’s spontaneous show of fun. Grace inhaled deeply.

“FUCK OFF!” The words poured from her mouth like water from a fountain; they were pure and untainted by her own limitations.

Doctor Goody dropped her in the sand and took three quick steps backward. Some campers fell silent and others switched from laughing to cat-calling. She stood, scrambling against the sand, and ran.

She ran past the Tabernacle, now hosting the Junior Camp pre-lunch service. She ran past the washroom, where two repugnant squirrels fought, chirping loudly, over the unearthed remains of last night’s pad. She ran until Doctor Goody, Dixie, the campers, and the Holy Spirit all disappeared. 

Grace finally stopped where the train tracks separated the camp from the cottages of the summer locals. She imagined the punishment that surely lay behind her. Mother would be called to pick her up. When she came, she would whip Grace with the leather strap until she had expunged her shame and anger. Beyond the tracks, Grace would find no better salvation. She would be alone and lost until somebody found her and took her home. 

Grace knitted her brow and tightened her jaw, but she could not stop tears from coming. She would not make this decision. She would sit on the other side of the tracks, outside of the camp but not quite in the world, and let the unavoidable find her.

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The End

by H. E. Casson
(CW: Religious extremism, environmental anxiety, mental illness, medication)

“Good morning.” I wave to my neighbour, a man who does not seem to have a job – or perhaps he just works as I do. Part time. Slip shod. Between depressions and times when my brain runs tickety-tock smooth.

He makes the inhale face that real smokers have mastered. It says that, despite what we have learned, smokers are cooler than the rest of us. He nods. He does not talk very often, just glimpses over the fence as we garden, or half smiles when his son plays.

“Morning.” He mutters, shifting the cigarette in his mouth.

“It’s a nice day.” I say, and it is. It is March and it is atypically temperate. Blue crocuses spot neighbourhood lawns, defying the nightly chill.

“Too nice. I guess this is the beginning of the end.” He says without humour.

I can feel my heartbeat in my neck. I try to count the beats to calm myself as I keep walking, now reduced to my own silent, nodded reply.

The beginning of the end. Did I bring my medication with me today? The little, white, powdery pill that dissolves on the tongue like old Popeye cigarettes and takes the panic with it?

I want the calm or, at very least, the numbing. I know if I think too long, if I linger on our warming planet and our disappearing resources, I will lose myself, maybe for weeks or months.

I pull the pill out of a small plastic container that is always in my bag and slide it under my tongue. I know that in fifteen minutes, the panic will start to fade and I will be able to work my job. I will be able to watch the children and smile and play and give no sign that I am imagining the end of the world while I prepare cheese and crackers.

The end of the world is not new to me.

I first met it in church, between choruses of hallelujah and bible verses memorized for pencils or candy. My earliest memories involve the end; films, humming through ancient projectors, showing flames and death, dragons and monsters, chasing us because we did not love god properly. The only way to avoid the end was to escape to somewhere else, up in the sky. A heaven that was perfect and sinless. A place that our human mistakes could not destroy.

When I would run childhood fevers, I would hallucinate the end so vividly that I would scream and wake my sisters.

Even when I walked away from the god that never was, I could not walk away from the end. When my doctor asked me how a teenager develops ulcers, I did not tell him the truth. I did not tell him about television reports of global warming and deforestation. I did not tell him that I had read John Wyndham and Margaret Atwood and William Golding. I did not tell him what I knew – that if the planet did not devour us, then we would surely devour ourselves.

Then I lost my mind and the doctors pondered whether it had been broken all along or whether it had collapsed under all the thoughts that I could not exorcize. They gave me the little white pill, smaller than a sunflower seed. It ate away the edges until I could be cynical, rather than terrified.

I went to protests. I beat on empty oil drums and took pictures of girls with flowers in their hair. I met a boy and smiled sometimes and imagined a future of gardens and kisses and essays and babies. I saw only beginnings and pretended it was not following me.

Some men from England drilled a hole in the ocean floor.

“This may be the one.” Said my good friend. “If they kill all the fish, we have maybe a year. It’s the beginning of the end.”

He kept driving, using one hand to sip the gift I had brought him: soda pop in a glass bottle. He seemed oddly pleased that they were so very obtuse; pretending it could not happen. Perhaps, like me, the end had followed him and it was a relief to stop running.

He was still the person I had know for a decade, but suddenly I could not breathe the air. Suddenly there were not enough little white pills in the whole world.

I was gone for a year that time, buried underneath the fallen supports I had so carefully built. I chose ignorance, until I could learn to tell the voices apart – the ones who preached hell and the ones who preached hell on earth.

I did not want to be obtuse and pretend it was not happening. I did not want to be smart and fall apart.

We have started looking up, they say on the news (even Mr. Hawking says it.) Looking for other planets. Other places to make a home. Somewhere else, up in the sky. A heaven that will be perfect and sinless. A place that our human mistakes will not destroy. We have given up on earth.

To try to save it would require us to change and we do not change.

I try to change. I do yoga. I read books with happy endings. I distract myself with friends whose questions I do not answer. How are you? What’s new?

I am afraid of the dark, I do not say. I am afraid to close my eyes. I cannot shake the ideas. I cannot sheep-count them away. I save the pill for bedtime so that I do not remember my dream-filled sleep with its earthquakes and fires and buildings falling in.

I do not read the news, though it follows me. Headlines discarded on bus seats, radios tuned and turned up loud, click-throughs on Facebook feeds. Do you want to be ignorant? I ask myself. Oh god yes, I answer.

I do not want to live in interesting times.

Originally written in 2014 for Centennial Reader, a literary magazine that ceased to exist just as this was due to be published.
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