As Garrison was tellng me, at the café, about his bizarre dream the night before, he often allowed himself to be distracted by the looks he was getting from the other patrons there. They were looking at him as if he were mad: indeed, to hear what he was saying, one would be as convinced as I was that he needed psychiatric help; but surely his voice wasn't loud enough to be heard by anyone other than me.
When he finished describing his dream, I asked him to tell me more about his problems; but he, ashamed at how he was getting odd looks from the others at the café, just quickly said, "I don't wanna talk about it anymore." He hung his head down, his shamefaced eyes avoiding mine.
That night, we went to McLean's home, a small house on a hill away from the main city. Lee, Gérard, Corin, and Steven were there, too, and McLean had rolled a marijuana cigarette. He took a puff and handed it to Garrison, who immediately began toking.
Lee brought pills of ecstasy, one for everybody. Steven and Corin provided six-packs of beer; after drinking and smoking the joint for a while, everyone popped a half-pill in his mouth.
Lee, Steven, and McLean were discussing Canadian politics and their dislike of the prime minister. Corin and Gérard were discussing their dislike of the high taxes one has to pay in Canada. Garrison just enjoyed being in a semi-dreamlike state from the drugs.
When the E kicked in a half-hour later, the inhibitions Garrison had felt at the café were wearing off. He resumed telling me about his family, mumbling away softly, though I could understand, through paying careful attention.
"So, your family thinks that when you were an infant, your baby talk was really a mix of languages that you, of course, couldn't possibly have learned the normal way," I said.
"Yeah," he said, belching. He sipped his beer.
"What other 'evidence' did they have that you're possessed by devils?" I asked.
"Well, my mom claims...that I, as a child, used to ask...all these deep, philosophical questions...about the meaning...of life, and about God...She says my conclusions...were all heresy."
"Oh, Jesus," I said, sneering.
"And I swore a lot," he continued, fidgeting in his chair and enjoying his peaking on the ecstasy. "Mom didn't like that, of course...She says I'd get violent, throwing things around...having temper tantrums."
"Apart from 'exorcisms', how did they deal with you?" I asked.
"In the harshest, most hateful ways," he said. "How else? I remember being scolded, restrained, and beaten...My brothers...surely enjoyed that." He then shook, as though remembering one of those beatings, seeming to relive it.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"One time," he said, "my brother Fred...hit me...I was about nine...and in an argument...with my sister, Julia...Fred slapped me hard...several times...in the face." Garrison shook again, as if being slapped at that very moment by a ghost.
"Yeah, but it wasn't...the sting of his slaps...that hurt so much," Garrison explained. "It was the hate...in Fred's eyes...that really hurt."
"I'm sure it was, and I'm so sorry to hear that."
"Mom encouraged the others...to laugh at me," Garrison said. "For Martin Luther...the founder of our church...said you can...defeat the devil...by laughing at him." Garrison turned his head away from me. "I'm so glad...I have that...philosophical mind...It gave me...the brains to...go to university...With my degree...I got work here...far away...from the Five...Now I can...philosophise...in total freedom...worship in a...Catholic church instead...of a Lutheran one...and I can do drugs...My whole body...is tingling...from the ecstasy...it's a...sparkling sensation."
"Garrison," Lee said.
"What?" Garrison asked.
"Shut up," Lee said.
"Yeah," Corin said. "Who are you talking to?"
"Your devil friends?" McLean asked. The others laughed, passing around another joint.
"Yeah, who are you talking to?" I asked, in my usual soft voice. "I'm over here."
"I'm talking to y--" Garrison began, then focused where he was looking. He saw no one there. He looked back at me, chuckling in embarrassment. "Wow, this E is strong."
"Yeah, it is," Steven said.
"I like what Bill Hicks once said about drugs," said McLean. "They make you realize that you are at one with the whole universe."
"Oh, how I've always...wanted to feel that," Garrison said. "I've always felt so isolated...from everything around me...so alone."
"No, that can't be right," said Gérard, smirking. "Don't the demons keep you company?" The others laughed.
"It's not my fault...my family believes in evil spirits!" Garrison said angrily.
"It's your fault you didn't keep such a ludicrous story to yourself, you weirdo," Lee said, sneering.
"Yeah," Gérard said.
"But don't you and Corin believe in devils?" Steven asked Gérard.
"Well, yeah," said Corin. "But not like that."
"Devils just tempt us," Gérard said. "They don't possess us."
"Yeah, you sure resist temptation well, don't you two...good Catholics?" Steven asked sarcastically.
Resisting the urge to get mad at another of Steven's allusions to Gérard's many infidelities, Gérard just said, "Speaking of being good at resisting temptation, it's about time Corin, Garrison, and I left. C'mon, Garrison, Mass tomorrow."
"No," Garrison said. "I wanna stay a little longer."
"What about church tomorrow?" Corin said.
"Don't worry, I'll be there," Garrison said.
"OK, but don't party too hard, eh?" Gérard said, then he and Corin went home, already coming down from their ecstasy high.
"Aw, fuck church," McLean said. "You don't need it."
"I agree," I said. "The church is why your family put those sick ideas in your head, and theology will just reinforce those sick ideas."
"Yeah," Steven said. "Do drugs instead. Get high."
"Forget your troubles by getting fucked up," McLean said.
"Stone the devils out of of you," Lee said, passing Garrison another joint. After everyone smoked it, the second halves of each ecstasy pill were swallowed. "This ecstasy will replace the religious kind."
"Agreed," McLean said. "Dope till you drop."
I wanted to express my disagreement, but I knew Garrison wouldn't accept my objections; helping him free himself of substance abuse would have to come slowly and gradually.
What ensued, from the continuation of their partying until the end of Sunday Mass, I would learn from Garrison afterwards. Whether he actually made it to Mass or not is debatable. His hazy perception of what happened from Saturday night to Sunday at noon again blurred the boundaries between drug-induced euphoria, dream (or, more accurately, nightmare), and mentally unstable consciousness.
Whatever it really was, this is what he experienced.
I, Garrison, am sitting there, still fidgeting on McLean's couch and mumbling...The power of the ecstasy and marijuana we've been smoking make me think my friend is sitting on my left, when really he is to my right...Lee, McLean, and Steven occasionally break from their political conversation to look at me, sneering at my mumbling to myself, the way those people at the café did.
Later, my friend takes me home and lays me on my bed...I begin to dream about life with my family...I'm five, and I go to my mom, who is in the living room, sitting with Dad and watching TV.
"Mom?" I ask. "Why did God make everything?"
"For His glory," Mom says. Dad titters, but when Mom glares at him and his skepticism, he's quiet again.
"I don't think so," I say. "I think we are all at one with the universe, and at one with God."
"That's heresy!" Mom yells, getting up. "That's the devils in you again, making you talk that filth."
"Oh, I'm sick of your goddamn Lutheran church!" I shout.
Mom slaps me, I begin to throw a temper tantrum, then Reynold Jr. and Fred come in the room and grab me. They begin beating me.
"You're right, Garrison," Dad says. Then his voice sounds like McLean's when he says, "Fuck the church. You don't need it."
"Tell us about the 'oneness' of the universe, Garrison," Julia says, having joined the others. They're all laughing at me as my brothers continue beating me. I look down on the floor, then back up again, and instead of seeing the Five, I see Steven, Lee, and McLean looking down at me and laughing.
"That's right," Mom says, laughing in Lee's voice. "Laugh the devils out of Garrison. Stone him with laughter. That will free him of Satan." She passes a joint to Steven.
I then find myself, 39 again, lying on my bed in my apartment in China. I'm still wearing my clothes from the night before...I stagger out of my apartment and down the road to church...My body is only now coming down from the ecstasy...The tingling and euphoria are quickly being replaced by body aches...I see Gérard and Corin sitting beside each other at a pew at the front...I sit next to them.
"I feel awful," I say.
"So do we," Corin says, wincing in pain from the after-effects of the ecstasy.
"But not as bad as you, I bet," Gérard says, also wincing from his hangover. "For we resisted the temptation to go hard, as you did."
"You must learn self-control, Garrison," Corin says.
"But I like partying," I say. "It helps me forget my pain."
I notice the other people sitting behind me; hearing my mumbling, they are looking at me strangely, as those people in the café did.
I try not to pay attention to them; instead, I listen to Father Delacroix, a French expatriate priest here, as he does his homily.
"Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord," he quotes from Romans.
Indeed, I can feel God's vengeance aching through all of my muscles, the after-effects of the ecstasy. The soreness reminds me of Fred's slaps on my cheek, and of his and Reynold's hands beating on me as a child. I shake all over as I relive that old pain, imagining I deserve it for feeling so hostile towards my family.
Delacroix says something funny: everyone laughs except me. Corin and Gérard laugh especially loud. I hear their voices, those of the Five, and those of Lee, McLean, and Steven laughing at me. It feels like they're even looking down at me as they laugh. I don't feel any demons leaving me, though.
"Don't you think it's time you left the alcohol and drugs alone, Garrison?" I asked him.
Still cringing in pain from his hangover, Garrison said, "I don't wanna talk about it anymore."