The clock on the nightstand read 3:59 as I lay in bed, restless and sticky from the sweat that had moistened my nightshirt and sent me to the sink to refill my water glass. It was March, but the heat that choked the room and constricted my throat reminded me of Independence Day. Only then, it was customary to swelter on the grass, blanket to blanket, among the crowd of others waiting for the fireworks to begin; staring into the sky, convinced the bombs bursting in air were meant for us too.
I turned onto my left side, watched as the red illuminated numbers increased by one digit then closed my eyes. When I opened them again, the room’s tropical air was accompanied by thick smoke. The fieriness was more intense than before. My bearings were askew as I leaped from the bed and found no floor beneath me. The next day’s clothes that I had laid across a chair, the dresser, and the mirror were barely visible through the haze. I saw the reflection of a woman I recognized vaguely, hands out in front of her body, searching for a safe path to take.
“What’s this about?” I asked. The woman did not answer. She disappeared, and I heard wood crackling from somewhere inside the smoke that threatened to asphyxiate everything I had an obligation to live for. Without using words, muffled voices dared me to go where my son lies, helpless beyond my current reach.
“He’s innocent,” I pleaded.
“Yes, but his blackness,” something replied deep inside the darkness.
The hallway walls closed in on me as I made my way through the mist of judgment toward a room I had painted blue and adorned with symbols of innocent maleness. As I got closer to where the voices escaped, they morphed into a muffled roar that grew in power and decibels. Perhaps they were the world cheering on my son.
I touched the doorknob and burned my hand. I opened the door and entered nevertheless. Inside, no signs of encouragement were present. The callings were violent, angry, ghastly. They were the combined catcalls of the downtrodden, the helpless, the discarded. The forgotten, the given up on. The marcher, the kneeler, the locked up. All of whom had concealed themselves within the beasts that claim victory, despite futile wars of those willing to lay down their lives in battle.
I forced myself to enter the room, entirely black except for the white haze that obscured my view but not my courage. I never bothered to consider the strength I would need to conquer the beast once I faced his inalienable rights. It never occurred to me how unprepared I was to engage a monster that refused to fight fair and had inherited the privilege not to do so. A beast so diabolically evil that it has twisted declarations millions believe in and used the result to convince the rest of us that it was right and we were hopeless.
The monster’s gruesome roar gripped my chest, frightened me, but I had no choice but to raise my sword. If I did not rescue my son, there would be no one else to do it. I would perish either way. The last time I had felt fear so compelling, I was my son’s age and had happened upon a small boy’s body sprawled at the bottom of a crystal clear pool. I wanted to save his life too, but could not swim nor overcome the fear of drowning along with him. One never forgets the sensation of profound helplessness.
This time would be different. My son was different. I was willing to hold my breath as long as it took to save his life. I pushed hard on the bedroom door, hoping to crush the beast waiting on the other side. My son was in his bed. His body was contorted by the gravitational pull of the world yet impervious to it. Something invisible had a firm grip on his limbs, but his mind had not yet been taken. I grabbed my son’s left arm and leg and tried to hold on. I wanted to pull him back from the depths of where the beast wished to bury him. The invisible monster pulled him from one side of the twin-sized bed, and I held on from the opposite side. It was an intense game of tug of war. My son’s life was the rope.
“Let go of my son,” I demanded and fought what I could not see. Heat scathed my skin from what undoubtedly was the beast’s mouth as it spewed venom.
“This one’s mine. I’m not letting him go. God wants to take everything I deserve.”
I couldn’t see my opponent, but I realized who and what he was. He never identifies himself, but he’s always there and always will be. Waiting in the wings when no one’s watching or when everyone is watching.
I struggled to maintain a firm hold on my son, determined never to give up.
It was a fight for life, a fight to the death. As long as I could feel the rough pounding in my chest, I was alive, and that was all I needed to keep fighting. The beast would not let go, and I could give up. My muscles twitched and ached from holding on. My eyes burned from the stench of the beast’s entitled breath. I gasped, lungs devoid of oxygen, heart still determined to beat.
When an enemy you cannot see appears to have the upper hand, they can be rendered powerless when fought with a weapon that takes many forms. An instrument that becomes one thing to someone and something entirely different to another. This weapon is free, inanimate, and replenishable. Unaffected by the monopolistic ownership of other weapons and therefore available to anyone for the taking.
I rebuke you, Satan, in the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, a gentle spirit proclaimed in a tone that reminded me of my long-gone grandmother. I mouthed the words as the demon snarled and growled. My hands stung from his fangs gnawing into my skin, but I held on, and the gentle spirit blew a cold breeze to ease my pain.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” It was the only line I could remember from the verse I’d been taught to say when all hope was lost.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” I held on tight and pulled with renewed strength. I was prepared to repeat the mantra as many times as needed to win. But then, the beast released its grip, my son and I slammed to the floor, and the gentle spirit’s cool touch erased the burning in my hands.
The smoke dissipated, and the beast was gone. Hidden but still there, waiting to pounce again at a more opportune time. I carried my son to my room and laid him beside me on the bed. I watched him as he slept. I vowed to protect him for the remainder of the night and his life.
The phone rang, and I picked it up.
“Hello.” I heard a snake hiss before the line went dead. It rang four more times, and each time I answered. I will never ignore the ringing, although I know the beast never speaks honorably. His only intent is to ensure I never rest.
The phone rang one last time, and I opened my eyes. I awoke panting, alone in my room, and the clock read 4:04, the reaffirming angel number.
The glow from the dawn moon spilled through the small opening between the curtains. I ran to my son’s room. The floor was steady. I pulled back the blanket and examined his black body. It was as pristine as it had been when I tucked him in the night before. I leaned over, felt his breath, then kissed him without waking him up. I would let him sleep for two more hours, then wake him and help him into the new suit and tie I had bought. He would exchange them for a white robe later in the day.
He was unchristened, but after that morning’s Easter service, I would escort him to the front of the church and instruct him on how to tell the pastor he wanted to be saved by his Christian experience. The pastor would wade with him into the baptismal pool beneath the glistening stained glass window, lower him into the tepid water, then declare my son a child of God forever.
The thought comforted my never-ending angst as much as feasibly possible. I understood the beast would never give up his quest for my son and that his evil pursuit would come in many forms. Nevertheless, I would fight for my son by any means necessary and teach him to recognize the weapons that have been crafted to destroy his mind, body, and spirit. I would employ countermeasures rooted in faith, the most reliable weapon mothers have at their disposal. A weapon that can be dampened for seasons but rarely extinguished forever.
For the remainder of my life, I was prepared to do battle with a force that would never abandon its need to conquer. That is what mothers must do in a world occupied by beasts that exist among us.