The Demons That Aren't There

by lauren atkinson

As a child, there are usually one or two places that you're afraid of going -- often times out of some irrational fear. 

For me, one such place was the hallway between my grandparents' kitchen and the backdoor. There's nothing there that's scary nor did anything happen that should make me afraid of it. In fact, looking back, that should have been a place that I frequented -- my grandparents' cat would hide herself there under the floor shelving that held the laundry detergent and cleaning supplies. But anytime I needed to go out the backdoor into the yard, I'd find myself flipping on the light (even in the daytime) then before even stepping into the hallway, contemplating how quickly I can open the doorknob and be outside.

Another place is confidently with reason. It had demons that weren't actually there. 

Growing up, my family attended a small church in suburban metro Detroit. The attending population of the church was about 50-75, depending on the drama going on -- who slighted whom by not inviting the other to their son's birthday, what person talked about the other behind their backs, and more burning: what teen was sleeping with an adult. It was the type of place that due to its size was more of a dysfunctional family than anything else. 

Growing up in the church, you spend a lot of time in the physical building. You take naps between services, under the sanctuary pews. You associate the smell of Foldger's coffee with worship songs and you know which churchlady will give you candy if you're quiet during service. You also hear things and people tell you stories -- but instead of ghosts or urban legends, you get demons and tales of their defeat.

One of my friends growing up was a pastor's son. And one time, he told me that he saw a demon in the basement of the church. We were 7 years old. Even as an adult, it was per that story, I was afraid of the church basement. I spent some time interning there and just like my grandparents' hallway, I'd flip on the lights before stepping down the last stair, and contemplate how quickly I can get to the other side of the basement to the safety of the office. 

But nothing ever happened in that basement aside from memories. Some haunting, some that cause a smile. But none that caused harm. The demons that stuck with me from that basement were not phantoms, they were the gossip of peers and lies. Many things happened there: love affairs between teens and their youth leaders, gossip about divorce, and lies about pastors abusing their wives (never happened, but caused a fuss) Then the torment of growing up a kid in the church, hoping that the teasing and bullying that happened in the schoolyard wouldn't be met at the feet of Christ, only to find that bullying is worse when God is watching.

Looking back and having distance from both places -- from the stories and irrationality -- there is some perspective: 

There are "demons" most places, but they aren't the ones that creep in basements or spook you in the hallway, they're the ones that live inside of people. People do terrible things not phantoms.