Sometimes, first dates are memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Before I continue, I’d like to say that a majority of my friends over the years have been non-Christian. I was raised without any overt religious upbringing or membership in any church; I was fortunate enough to choose my own spiritual path if or when I decided to follow one. That led me to educating myself on the myriad of religions, past and present, from a rather neutral standpoint. And one of the most misunderstood of them all is satanism.
What few people realize about satanism (which is actually an umbrella term like “pagan” that covers several different ideologies) is that most people who call themselves satanists are actually atheists with a more colorful title. The devil is more of a nod to their non-Christian beliefs, not a deity to be worshiped. Their tenets are usually both reasonable and sensible: let others live their own life, don’t deliberately harm people (unless they started it), respect yourself and life your life to its fullest… they focus on the here and now instead of the hereafter; post-death rewards are better enjoyed in ones actual lifetime.
But I digress. Back to my story.
Even 20 years ago, finding another gay person in a small town seemed about as likely as finding a palm tree growing wild in northeast Ohio. Finding one with any attraction to an awkward, chubby, cubbish college student with a keen interest in the paranormal was almost impossible. Yet by some random stroke of luck, I was asked out by a handsome man with a penchant for black clothing who lived within a few miles of me. We found a day that worked for both of us, and he invited me to his home, playing everything by ear. It was around that time that he felt compelled to reveal a bit about himself: he had been a Satanist not too long before I met him. Emphasis on the had been. But what did I care? What was important was who he was now. (And, yes, a man who I considered attractive taking an interest in me at a time when I had no self-esteem and considered myself quite ugly did play a major role in my decision.)
The road he lived on—Shepard—was one I was familiar with, though there would later be a bit of screenplay-level irony in its name. In his relatively minimalist living room, perched upon a shelf, was a genuine ram’s skull. He assured me it was simply a leftover oddity from his days as a Satanist. We never really went in-depth about his beliefs; I have always held the belief that not everyone wants their past to become a major talking point and probably unwisely made the assumption that he had taken it about as seriously as teenagers I knew who were obsessed with candles and (crudely and inaccurately) drew pentagrams to appear all dark, Gothic, and edgy.
My date, on the other hand, may have had a more spiritual take on his beliefs. And this all became clear sitting there on his couch, relaxing enough to finally give making out a try.
Though I couldn’t see anything physical with my eyes, I felt there was something dark—pure blackness, in a sense—lurking in a corner of the room, watching us. I did my best to ignore it, disbelieving my own perception (telling myself it was my mind playing tricks on me) and not wanting to sound foolish in front of my date. But then without warning, I “felt” this presence growing taller, reaching toward the ceiling. In my mind, it resembled a tree in winter as it spread branches like a dead canopy across the ceiling, inching closer and closer toward our side of the room. By the time it seemed that those invisible, dark branches could swoop down at any moment and touch me, I couldn’t pretend to be focused on kissing any longer and broke away from all passion.
“What is that?”
“That thing there,” I exhaled, cowering low on the couch and pointing toward the seemingly-normal white ceiling that felt utterly wrong to me.
He lit up a bit, showing both surprise and excitement. “You see it!?”
“I don’t see-see it, but I can tell it’s there. What is it?”
“Don’t worry,” he smiled. “It’s just here to protect me.”
The vibe I was getting from that invisible entity I couldn’t wrap my head around was anything but protective. All that I felt was malice, deception, and a creepy feeling that whatever it was enjoyed my extreme discomfort.
It was all too weird for me. Too weird for a ghost hunter who spent time in cemeteries at midnight and found witchcraft fascinating. Too weird for someone who once watched a hazy monk-like figure follow his ex-boyfriend back to his car and witnessed a softball-sized ball of blue light drop out of the sky just a few yards in front of him on a date with another ex. At least those other times, I could see what I was dealing with; and they were freaky experiences during dates, not creepy attachments to them.
I fabricated the fastest excuse my brain could process and cut the date extremely short. As the Pet Shop Boys once sang, “I made my excuses and left…” And there never was a follow-up date. It was too much.
In all honesty, it wasn’t his beliefs that unnerved me. I’ll date anyone of any religious affinity so long as they don’t force it down my throat and demand that I convert. It was that presence that filled me with such a dreadful panic that I doubted it was like a personal pet you could warm up to over time. And unlike a pet, this thing felt as if it had more control than my date did over it.
I’ve passed by the house a few times over the years but never talked to him again. I do still wonder whatever became of him and if that shadowy thing is still in his life. Those of us in the LGBTQ community often have darker periods in our past we try not to think about. We’ve experienced the invisibility of ghosts, ostracism and unwarranted fear like Frankenstein’s monster, and the need to find a comforting, understanding ear—even an inhuman one. Some of our lives have had moments of preternatural, inexplicable horror. Fear and secrecy often shaped our lives. And demonic entities—if they do exist beyond the evils born from human nature—can make strange bedfellows, all too familiar from our moments of torment… yet this time, offering a queer sort of comfort and protection from the frightening world around us.