Image found at: https://imgur.com/gallery/y69io
Consequences - most of the time, when we take an action, we know precisely what the reaction will be. If you jump up in the air, you will fall back to earth. If you eat a dozen cupcakes in one sitting, you will cry when you step on the scale the next morning. If you hug your loved one, they'll more than likely return it. There are some actions, however, that you only thought that you had experienced the reaction to, only to learn that you were woefully mistaken.
It happened in the spring of 1991. I was your typical teenage boy. My hormones were in overdrive, I was doing well in school and I had just kissed my first girl. I lived with my family in a nice 4 bedroom apartment in the Allerton Avenue section of the Bronx, on Wallace Avenue. Even though I was relegated to the bottom bunk of the bunk bed that I shared with my little brother, Matthew, by a coin toss, I was happy as a clam. Life was good.
Then, one night, as I was falling asleep, I felt a strange sinking feeling in my gut. It came out of nowhere and I couldn't say why it was happening. Dread. Waves upon waves of dread crashed over me like a breaking wave. It took me a few moments to realize that I was feeling a presence, almost right on top of me. The hairs on my arms and neck stood straight up. I felt like I was being submerged in ice-cold water. I couldn't help myself; I opened my eyes, expecting to see something out of my worst nightmares. Though my vision swam as though I had been spun in a centrifuge, I saw... nothing. Only the darkness of our bedroom.
The feelings of dread and icy cold continued for a brief moment that seemed like forever. Then, as suddenly as it had started, it simply vanished. It was as if a switch had been flipped.
I found myself shaking like a leaf in my bunk, drawing ragged breaths while trying to steady my nerves through sheer force of will. I tried to make sense of what had happened. The human mind always attempts to seek answers. Maybe I had actually fallen asleep, and this was just a vivid nightmare. No, that didn't feel right. It wasn't a dream. I was awake. Horribly awake.
Fear set upon me even more strongly than when the presence had me in its thrall. What happened? What could have caused that? I hadn't done anything... to... cause...
Suddenly, a third-person image appeared in my mind: that of a slightly younger me, arms raised dramatically to the sky, that insanely reckless challenge issuing from my lips. That image then became the image of me doubled over in pain, desperately muttering prayers. Strangely, that image was closer, and from the perspective of someone standing over my right shoulder. The presence that I had felt back then had come back to find me. It was like a vanishingly thin, greasy layer of malevolence that had stained a part of my being, but I hadn't realized it. This attack brought it bubbling back up, like a gas pocket released from decaying detritus in a bog. That feeling settled into me, suffused me, and I knew I was in trouble.
I managed to fall asleep that night, though I can't say how. Exhaustion, both physical and mental, must have overcome me. I fancy myself an optimist, and even in the worst situations, I try to find the bright side. This attitude is exemplified by my futile hope that the incident that night was a one-time occurrence; that this entity had done well in frightening me half to death and considered us even. I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
The attack the next night was even more intense than the night before. It was as if the entity was only dipping its toe in the water, and now that it found it nice and warm, it jumped in gleefully. Images of inhumanly warped faces and contorted bodies sprang into my mind. Things that I don't want to even write about ran through my mind, scenes of torture and butchery, suffering and pain. Things that not even my worst enemy would deserve to experience. I could feel my sanity cracking like an egg shell.
These attacks lasted for three weeks. After the first few nights, the presence didn't go away. It became my constant companion. In school. At family dinner. At church. Everywhere.
I asked several members of my family if they remember these attacks. Almost none of them do Why do so few of them remember this period of torment? Well, as my sister Trish so sagely put it, “You were a teenager. Teenagers go through mood swings. Who wants to deal with moody teenagers?”. Fair enough, I suppose.
And so it was that in a very real sense, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helped to save my life.
One of the only things that I found joy in during that time were cartoons. I don't know what it was about them, but when I was sitting in front of my T.V. watching shows like TMNT, Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers, and other classics in that vein, that my fear abated. When I realized that, I decided to try an experiment. Anyone who was raised in the 70s through the 90s knows that after 5 P.M., cartoons end and grown-up shows start. After that, when the fear and anxiety would start back up, I tried to replay episodes of Ninja Turtles in my mind's eye.
Confusion. Frustration. Dismay.
It worked! An image of a decayed human head, half severed from a twisted body appeared in my mind. I immediately replayed a scene from Ninja Turtles in which Michelangelo was hitting on April O'Neil. The presence retreated briefly.
Two days later it returned, more grimly determined. I continued my technique, which I came to call a “media screen”. Sounds of torture were met with songs from Metallica's Black Album. Scenes of ghoulish torment were met with Disney cartoons. I managed to piss this thing off so much that after a week of media screening the worst of it, getting more sleep than I had been a week, that a change occurred.
I was in bed, eyes shut, playing a scene from Duck Tales into the void within my mind where it seemed to like to play. That too-familiar presence just kind of... swelled. If it was only inches away before, it was now less than a hair's breadth away. I heard something. Something that can only be described as a guttural growl. Right. Next. To. My. Ear.
My concentration failed. Uncle Scrooge was replaced by a twisted abomination. I can't describe it, nor would I want to. Grim satisfaction flowed through the horrific bond that we seemed to share. Sleep escaped me again, and my sanity was starting to follow suit.
Salvation came from the most unlikely of sources – my brother Michael.
Michael had been a vocal critic of organized religion for years. Quite frankly, I agreed with him. I only continued to go to church because I was underage, and because my parents made me go. I suppose that, at that point in my life, I was on the fence about the existence of God as it was taught to me in the Catholic faith for my entire life. I was at my wit's end though, so even though I hadn't told anyone else exactly what had been happening to me, I told Michael. Maybe it was because of his staunch criticism of those institutions that I did so.
After he had listened to what I had to say, he asked me a simple question.
"You still believe in God, don't you?" he asked.
"Well, I guess so," I replied, a bit disconcerted by his question.
"There is no 'I guess so'. You either do or you don't." he chastised me.
"Then I do." I replied glumly.
"You look so down about that. Yeah, you're a real Catholic alright!" he chuckled.
"Why do you ask?" I inquired.
“Well, if you believe in God, then imagine that your faith is like a shining suit of armor that envelops you in its protection. Invoke your faith to push this thing out of your head or wherever it is."
It was so crazy that it might even work!
That same night, as I got into bed and prepared to try this experiment, I was almost knocked out by the malevolence pouring from this thing's now-customary position at my side. But that would have been too easy, the game over too soon. I shut my eyes tightly and concentrated with all my might on the image that Michael had suggested – a shining silver suit of armor covering me from head to toe, engraved with Christian icons all over it.
Again, that sense of confusion and frustration flowed from it. Sensing my advantage, I pushed on it with this image. I don't know how else to explain it. In my mind, I heard a pained yelp. It retreated. I felt the presence disappear for the first time in weeks. I couldn't even take the time to exult in my victory. I fell asleep like I'd been hit over the head.
It returned the next night, only to be pushed away again by my armor of faith. After one more attempt the next night after that, it seemed to give up, and this time, I somehow knew that it was actually gone. I had caught up on sleep somewhat over the previous two nights, but still had lingering doubt about the long-term effectiveness of this method. Unburdened by that doubt now, I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. One of the best of my life.
Well, mostly dreamless. I seem to recall one about an unlikely team-up of the Ninja Turtles and Uncle Scrooge chasing away a cartoonish monster.
I'd love to tell you that all incidents of demonic oppression ended after this, that my faith in God had been restored and fortified, that I lived the rest of my days a devout Catholic and was untroubled by the supernatural again.
It didn't. I didn't. I wasn't.
It did give me a 12-year reprieve, though. Consequences always catch up to you.