Who Then Can Be Saved

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June 20, 2016 by The Citron Review

by Estlin McPhee


The summer I was twenty-­two I moved back home to my parents’ house to sleep for a while in the room that had once been my older brother’s bedroom and work at a berry stand just outside of town. My second day at the stand, two teenage siblings showed up riding double on an old bike for their shift together. Victor, the older of the two, was skinny as a kite, with curly dark hair that bopped above his shoulders, and he was kind to everyone. Christian—intensely, fundamentally so—his whole life, Victor attended a small religious school and lived out in the country with a big, rambling family. He most often wore board shorts and a hemp necklace, and he was going through a kind of spiritual crisis when I met him. That June was cooler than usual, so on some slow evenings, after the few straggling berrypickers had gone home and the parking lot was empty, Victor and I would talk while he swept the stand and I sorted berries lazily, one­handed.

Victor played the guitar and anyone could tell he was wildly in love with music; he talked about his guitar with the same deep reverence that he talked about God. This, along with other, more mundane teenage concerns, was at the crux of his spiritual crisis. His passion for music was getting in the way of his devotion to God. He wouldn’t say exactly what had happened in his life in the last couple years, just that he’d “strayed,” which I understood to mean that, like most kids his age, he’d flirted with drinking, sex, and some lighter drugs. In other words, he participated in the kind of experimentation that is the stuff of the normal teenager.

Now he was performing his own version of ascetic penance. He told me he was giving away all of his records because he was becoming too attached to them. Of course he listened to music strictly on vinyl.

When my mother was in her early twenties, she tied all of her records up in a garbage bag and threw them out. A pastor she heard once suggested it in his sermon—start fresh, rid yourself of the paraphernalia of your old life, your old self. If my mother could have been born again into a new body, I’m sure she would have done it. As it was, she shed the skin she could, and was dunked below the water.

One evening at the berry stand, Victor told me about a party he had been to the year before, the broom in his hand stilled momentarily. He asked me if I believed in demon possession. Before I could respond, he said, “Because I’ve seen it happen. I was there when it happened.”

I didn’t say anything. He told me about the party, how one of his friends had started acting funny, had fallen down, and when Victor looked in his eyes, he saw a demon looking back at him. He said he knew he was staring down the devil.

“So what did you do?”

What else could he have done? Victor laid his hands on his friend and told the spirit to leave his body in the name of Jesus. He said he could feel the resistance, that struggle under his fingers.

The spirit left, but it seemed that something else lodged itself under Victor’s skin. He had a haunted air about him when I met him, as though he had never quite shaken whatever it was he met that night. Or maybe we all carry around a ghost in our outlines—that thing that calls us back home—and I just happened to recognize his because it had such a similar shape to my own.

That summer comes to me now as a sort of parable. Back home after a long absence, foraging for friendship wherever I could. When Victor handed me a beat-­up Led Zeppelin record, I tried to make him take it back. I thought my heart would break over how the record in his hand was outstretched to me freely in the dusty summer heat that smelled of raspberries. I didn’t want him to feel any fear or shame; I didn’t want him to believe in the devil. Never have I understood my mother so well. I can frame it any way I like, but in that moment what I truly wanted was to save Victor.

Later, we sat together by the river and I wondered if he’d ever thought, as I had, of diving in, swimming away.


Estlin McPhee is a writer, magic-maker and collective organizer, who grew up on Stó:lō land and now lives on Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh land in Vancouver, where they earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Esther’s work has appeared in Plenitude Magazine, Apeiron Review, Cactus Heart Press and SAD Mag. They’re one half of the organizing team behind REVERB: A Queer Reading Series, and can be visited online at emcphee.com.


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