Personal demons

I could have used a teacher like Doug.

I miss my friend Doug, who left before we even got to see if his second exorcism was effective. His first exorcism had failed miserably, he said, dejectedly stating that the demon was still in him. I looked closely at him as I always did when Doug talked about his demon, and I tried to see the evil he insisted was inside, but Doug did not seem any more evil to me than he did the day I met him more than a decade earlier. In fact, if you were to ask me, I would say Doug was one of the most demon-free people I know.

But our demons are for us to decide, that I know. Doug has since moved to New York to make a difference in the world by teaching inner-city high-school kids. I was a little worried when I heard he decided to do this, because I fretted that inner-city New York high school kids would tear him up and crap him out if given the chance, but I also felt that Doug was doing the right thing, because often the best way to wrestle with demons is to stop looking inward and start looking outward, which is what Doug decided to do.

"Every day is crazier than the last," he reports. "I had the cops in my classroom yesterday. This is like a trip to Mars!" He sounded happy, though, or at least less dejected about the presence of his demon than he did before.

But we all have our demons to deal with, and believe me, I'd be grateful for my personal demon's presence if I were Doug, because it would mean I wouldn't have to face those kids alone. For example, the kids often, repeatedly, and very loudly tell Doug to suck their dick. I would find that, at the very least, an unsettling element to have to face in my daily life, but these are words that lost their shock value a long time ago for Doug. If he responds at all, it's simply to gasp in mock horror and say, "Such language!" then continue with the daily ministrations of dealing with the demons around him rather than in him. I have to say I admire him for that, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of his students do, too.

Lord knows I could have used a teacher like Doug when I was in high school. If I did, maybe I wouldn't have tried to drop out, or maybe one of them would have noticed during the few months that I actually did. I remember we had just moved to the area and my sister and I were set to face yet another new school, when the administrators had stupidly trusted me with my own school file to hand to my first-period teacher to announce my arrival. But instead of going to the classroom and thereby commencing another period of painful adjustment, I simply walked straight to the parking lot, got in my '69 VW Bug and drove to the beach.

After that I was happily lost in a crack, since my teachers, who didn't know to expect me, could not apprise the administrators and subsequently my mother of my absences. It was an ideal situation, I thought, and one that lasted three months. I would probably still be on that beach to this day if not for my little sister, Kim, who turned me in.

At the time I thought it was because Kim was jealous, as every day when I dropped her off at school she had to go to class while I could U-turn my way to the beach and wallow another day away. But my sister didn't hate school like me; in fact she was almost the opposite of me in every way. Where she was sweet, I was brusque, and while she had the soul of a saint, I had the soul of a sea urchin. She would join chess clubs while I befriended pyros behind the library and made fun of chess-club joiners. In fact, I often made the difficult transitions to new schools even worse for her than they had to be, as sometimes my spikey-souledness would direct itself at her in the hallways.

It wasn't until years later when I finally started to understand the real reason Kim might have turned me in. High school is hell enough when you know everyone, let alone when you don't, and today, when I think of those months I left my little sister to make her way through another new school by herself — as soft-hearted and therefore ill-equipped as she was to withstand the cruelty of her peers — while I commenced my attempted future as a sand hobo, it's about all I can do to keep from calling her to beg her forgiveness. It's like I said: We all have our demons to deal with, and for all of my negative, misanthropic crustiness, I was Kim's own personal demon and she was grateful for my presence, because it meant she didn't have to face those kids alone.

Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (