“I want to date you.”
Those were the first words she ever spoke to me.
She was the sort of girl whose path I didn’t cross often. She majored in some softer discipline like English or Theater, and they mostly kept to their own social circles. There was nothing extraordinary about her that I knew of. She was pretty, but some were prettier. She was smart, but some were smarter. She was quiet, but some were quieter. Though not many.
Whether it was by conscious effort or natural talent, she could fade into the background of a room. We shared only a few classes (math, history), and I’d never heard her ask a question. I’d never seen her be called upon. It was amusing to imagine a TA’s surprise when he had one more test to grade than expected.
But, this. This is the sort of event that one only expects to happen on television or in a movie. The shy, quiet girl somehow finds the courage to say how she feels. She expresses her innermost emotions in some compact way. All is neatly wrapped up into very few sentences. She removes her glasses and lets down her hair, and the entire audience falls in love with her at the same time as the male lead. Because, in the end, all the corrective lenses and bobby pins in the world can’t hide the fact that she happens to look just like a movie star.
Movie stars are easy people to fall in love with.
And maybe that’s the reason that no one ever thinks of what is, to me, the obvious question.
“Why?” I asked.
She let out a shaky breath and averted her gaze.
“Because the voices in my head tell me not to.”
A particular pattern of scuff marks on the tile floor held her fascination for several seconds.
She spoke again.
“I feel like you should be more surprised.”
“Well, you’re definitely the prettiest crazy person I’ve ever interacted with.”
“Oh, I’m not crazy—”
“Which is what crazy people say.”
Her courage appeared to falter, as though saying something three times made it true.
“It’s demonic possession.”
A bold assertion. But the kind that a crazy person would, in fact, make.
“I didn’t know demonic possession was real.”
If it isn’t, then the world is still simple. I’m talking to a person who thinks she is possessed by a demon. The course of action is clear. Get help for her, and get distance from her. Clear, but opposing, to an extent. Details to be worked out as the situation develops.
But a simple world is a boring world. Everyone has, at some point, wished that there was more complication to the world than the steadfast laws of physics allow. That a pair of glasses can separate man from superman. That the mind can interact more directly with physical matter. That our decisions have impact beyond the monkeysphere we inhabit. Wouldn’t a world like that just be more interesting?
I took a leap of faith. “So, a demon wants to date me.”
“It’s not that kind of possession. I still have free will.” A pause. “Or so I choose to think.”
I stopped myself from pointing out the contradiction.
“I don’t know what kind of demon it is, though,” she added.
“Well, demons come in all kinds. If we restrict ourselves to Christianity, they’re typically fallen members from the classifications of angels.”
“I thought angels were just angels.”
“You’ve heard of them, even if you didn’t know they were the same thing. Seraphim, for example. And there’s cherubim, ophanim—”
I was interrupted by laughter.
“Whoa, whoa.” Her hands waved wildly. “You’re way out of my league. ‘Offenim’?”
“They’re usually called thrones. I just like the parallel construction. Other mythological systems have other demons. For example, the Greek have the succubus.”
She let that response hang like a silent exclamation point before continuing.
“What I do know is that demons are evil. So I pretty consistently do the opposite of what mine tell me. And they tell me to stay away from you.”
“Very strongly telling you not to date me… They seem to know me well.”
“Even though I don’t.”
Doing crazy things is always a risk. Because one day you might run into someone who’s even crazier than you are.
She pushed back a strand of hair.
“I have pretty strong faith.”
“Yeah, but not in me.”
“In myself, of course.”
The way she said it made it easy to believe. But…
“I don’t think that’s quite it. Not in this case.”
“You have faith in… in doing the opposite of what your demons want. It’s not a lack of faith, it’s faith in a lack. It’s the opposite. It’s counterfaith.”
Which would make faith its own opposite. If it were a particle, it would be light. There’s something pleasing about that.
I dug into my messenger bag, pulling out a chemistry notebook and a pen.
“All right, let’s take a leap of counterfaith. Come to my apartment tonight, and we’ll see if we can’t find out more about whatever is inside your head.”
I tore out the page on which I had written my name, address, and phone number.
As I handed it to her, our fingers brushed.
She peered at my scratchy handwriting.
“Andrew. Well, nice to meet you, Andrew. But I have you at a disadvantage.”
She took the notebook and pen from me.
As she did, our fingers brushed again.
Her face scrunched up while she wrote. It made her look a little like a squirrel, and the quick scratches of the pen did nothing to soften the impression. But squirrels can be cute.
She handed the notebook back. Above her phone number, she had written Imogen. But in capital letters. If her name weren’t a giveaway to her gender, her loopy script would be.
“It’s nice to meet you, too, Imogen.”
“Then I have accomplished my primary goal for this conversation.”
Being nice to meet is an admirable goal.
“So I guess I’ll see you around eight o’clock,” I said.
“Great. Then it’s a date.”
She turned, and walked away. I could read nothing from her body language. It was as though the quiet girl who’d disappeared only a few lines into our conversation had returned even more quickly than that. And the girl with so much confidence in herself was just… gone.
As though she’d never been there at all.
As though she’d never existed in the first place.
A girl possessed by demons.
A girl with a mental illness.
Caught up in religion.
Caught up in myth.
As Imogen rounded a corner, I called back to her.
“It’s probably not!”