I have meant to continue this series for quite some time. Due to some technical issues, some physical issues, and having some other higher priority things I have needed to do, I have put it off for a long time. I suppose I have some reluctance to discuss this episode, as well. I mention this not just to explain the long delay for readers, but as a way of documenting the process for myself.
Gary Shapiro had been a close friend of mine for a long time; I’ve known him since we were in second grade together. Certainly by the time we graduated from the same high school, we were very close. We are both members of the same Greek fraternity, from two different universities. Our relationship had become a bit strained while I lived in Geoff’s house on Canton during the “Year in the Dog Park.” We saw each other several times during that year but he was reluctant to associate with Geoff and “his Celtic friends” as he described them.
This episode was not the only time that Gary and I had what might be described minimally as a “strange encounter” but it is the one I want to mention in this space because I think it is the one that reveals the most about the phenomenon of demonic possession.
One particular night, a few months after I had moved to Burnside Avenue, I was extremely distraught. I cannot tell you exactly what was bothering me the most but I know I was trying to put my life back together with extreme difficulty. If, for some reason, you don’t think Jesus could ever feel distraught, then you don’t know me very well at all. I might seem fearless on the outside, but the turmoil on the inside is more than enough to make the average man go permanently insane.
I had called Gary that night because I really need a friend to talk to; I remember that much. He and I had for a very long time been each other’s listening post. A person the other could confide in. Gary seemed to comprehend the need to see a friend I expressed over the phone. I remember feeling relief when the phone rang again and he asked me to buzz him into the building.
I heard the knock at the door and remember smiling broadly as I opened the door and saw my friend standing there. As soon as he started to walk in the door, I realized something was wrong. As someone who was raised in a fairly Conservative household and had been associated with Jewish Temples as student, instructor, and Cantor I know how seriously Gary takes Jewish ritual observance. In fact, it is due to his influence on me that I became more observant of the ritual of properly acknowledging a mezuzah upon entering a home. Gary always did so, no matter how much his personal time was limited.
As he entered, I realized he was not acknowledging my mezuzah which was completely out of character of him. I looked at him directly, looked at my mezuzah, then back at him. I was indicating to him, in a non-verbal way, that he was forgetting something. To my complete surprise he did not touch it and kiss his fingertips as he normally would, but waved at it dismissively, as if he were telling me that it was not of any concern of his. At that instant I realized that although Gary’s body was entering my home, something clearly evil, was using Gary’s body as a vessel.
I grabbed him by the lapels, spun him around against my desk by the door and screamed “Who are you?!” I didn’t think for an instant; I reacted immediately knowing as well as I possibly could that Gary was possessed. Immediately, he came back and shouted “Where am I?” Clearly he was startled and confused, as if I had just awoken him. I released his jacket and told him “You were possessed.” I turned away from him, a bit shaken but convinced I had driven the evil entity from his body.
He then said “I don’t even remember driving over here!” In retrospect, I should have incorporated that into my thinking but considering how distraught I was at the time this point seemed to stun me as well. So many things went through my mind. How can someone drive while possessed? Was his car damaged? What other bad things might have happened on the drive over? When and where did this demon enter into him?
Suddenly, it seemed he was moving quickly. I had made my way over to my couch. I thought he was going to walk over, and sit beside me on the couch. However, he stopped short by the sliding patio door, pointed an accusatory finger at me and asked, “When is Yasser Arafat going to die?” I was stunned, but at the time did not consider that something was wrong again. I responded, “He dies when he dies!” Considering how many times I had answered similar questions in the previous year I had already become tired of what I derisively call “Prophet of Doom.”
Looking back I must have been momentarily unaware something had retaken Gary’s body while my back was turned. He pressed me further about Arafat and I responded, “Who cares? The real problem is the Iranians!” Here, I have to admit, I was having some difficulty keeping my emotions contained as this thing continued to press me on terrible things in the future. I’m sorry to say I cannot remember exactly what words were exchanged. At one point he told me “You just turned into a woman.” I remember reacting sarcastically to that remark and attempted to steer the conversation back to what I had wanted to discuss that evening.
I cannot after all this time remember what was said next by this thing during this nightmare of an encounter but it certainly hit a nerve in me. I had by his time then realized Gary was possessed again and I lunged at him ready to exorcise this thing from my friend’s body. However, he moved out of the way just in time. I yelled at him “Get out of here! Get out now!” and chased him toward the front door. He ran to the door, I opened it, and he exited.
After that, I did not want to see Gary in person. I was so overcome by what had transpired between us I wanted to clear it up before I looked at his face again. In my mind, Gary was the one person I had been counting on to trust no matter what happened. I had believed this type of thing could not happen to him; if it could happen to him then it was possible for it to happen to anyone and I would have a lot of trouble trusting anyone completely.
I started the discussion with an email letter to him because I felt it was also necessary to document my version of this event and his response. I was completely dismayed that he refused, vigorously at first, to even accept that it happened at all. This email conversation went back and forth several times and had us arguing over every detail. We somehow decided to stop the conversation by email when we agreed that no more of it should be exchanged electronically. I printed the email conversation and placed it in an envelope in case I needed to refer to it later. In 2007, when I realized I would soon lose all my possessions, I shredded it along with other papers I did not want to land in any stranger’s hands.
What might be considered a jocular way of resolving the distance between us afterward, we agreed that we would have a coded way of determining if one of us was “inhabited.” No, I am certain it is not possible for this type of thing to happen to me, but in the interest of somehow salvaging our relationship, I agreed to it. It’s a Monty Python reference that in succeeding years we would use just to make sure we both remembered what it was.