The Virgin and the Girl-Fixer
Suddenly the whole scene changed in that Exorcism room, like an
eerie and expert theater experience where, in a few seconds, the
main actors change costumes and roles and the scenery is switched on
invisible wheels, back to front, upside down, inside out, producing
a kaleidoscope of change that makes everyone blink in disbelief.
At one moment, Father Gerald, the exorcist, was bending over the
Richard/Rita,” who had sunk his teeth in his own instep. In the next
instant, the glaze
in Richard/Rita’s eyes broke, melting into a lurid gleam of mockery.
teeth loosened their grip on the instep. The mouth opened, baring
gums and throat, the
tongue protruded, quivering on a stream of gray foam bubbles. The
whole face was furrowed in irregular lines, as Richard/Rita broke
into peals of laughter. Great buffeting gusts of mocking, jeering,
Schadenfreude laughter. Laughter pouring from a belly of amused
scorn and contemptuous hate.
In a fraction of a second Gerald understood. The Girl-Fixer,
invisible to his eyes, was on him, two claws clutching at his
middle. His assistants heard the raucous laughter.
They held their ears. But Gerald’s agony they could not know. All
they saw were
Gerald’s - Richard O. is a transsexual. In talking about his life before his
operation, I refer to him as Richard O. or simply as Richard.
Afterwards, until his exorcism is completed, he is referred to as
Richard/Rita. In conversation, Father Gerald frequently referred to
him as R/R. With Richard O.’s permission, I refer to him throughout
this narrative with the masculine pronouns-he, his, him. Today he
calls himself simply Richard O. sudden, violent spasms backward and
forward “as if his middle was caught in a vise”; then the screeching
shredding of his cassock and clothes, leaving him naked from chest
to ankles. After that, all details escaped them in the violent
jerkings and writhings of his body.
Gerald felt one claw was now totally sunk in his rectum. Another
claw held his genitals, stretching his scrotum away from his penis,
jerking at him brutally. Both claws were stiff, cutting like the
jagged edge of a tin can, driving deeper and deeper, impaling him.
He reeled away from the couch where Richard/Rita lay laughing,
laughing, laughing, kicking the air and thumping the couch with
clenched fists in deafening bursts of merriment.
Gerald staggered zigzag across the room, bent like a jackknife,
involuntary screams gushing from his throat. One claw rocked back
and forth within him. Slivers of agony jabbed and pierced through
his buttocks and belly arid groin, as flesh and veins and mucous
membrane and skin tore and ripped irregularly.
A fetid smell wafted up to his nostrils and from behind his head.
The voice of the Girl-Fixer beat at his eardrums unmercifully:
“You’re my sow. I’m on you. Your boar. My snout is giving you the
best blow-job in the Kingdom. Shoot, sow! Spread your legs, sow!
Your boar is mounting your flesh, opening your little untouched
hairs. My prick is taking your virginity. You’re no girl. But I’m
still the fixer of every box!”
Gerald staggered in spasms, stumbling over his feet, doubled up,
flaying the air helplessly, leaving a thin trail of semen, blood,
excrement, and screams, until he bumped heavily into the wall, and
fell to the floor in a twisted bundle. Blood sprang from a thin,
vertical split that opened from the middle of his forehead up into
his hair. Richard/Rita froze into the blazing look again. The attack
had lasted about three seconds. It was over before the others
recovered themselves. Suddenly, Gerald’s screams and Richard/Rita’s
laughter stilled, there was a moment without sound in the room, like
the farthest edge of whispers. The raw silence after raucous,
Then, a flurry of voices and activity. The doctor and the police
captain lifted Gerald onto the stretcher that had ironically been
brought for Richard/Rita. The four men quickly bound Richard/Rita
down tightly to the iron frame of the couch. No one looked at those
eyes. All felt the blazing glance on them, intent, triumphant, smug.
“Like tying down a hot, steamy carcass,” one of them recalled
Richard/Rita’s two brothers, Bert and Jasper, eyes swollen red with
tears, faces dirtied
yellow with panic, carried the stretcher out. As the assistants left
the house, they felt
the stark contrast between the scene they had just witnessed and the
outside world. In
the garden by the pond the thrushes were warbling in the first wave
of the dawn
chorus Richard/Rita had loved so much and which had drawn him to
live here in the first place. The sun was shining.
Inside, Gerald’s priest assistant, Father John, still wearing his
immaculate cassock, settled down in an easy chair to watch and pray.
He was wordless. Just to be sure, he held the crucifix in one hand
and the holy-water flask in the other.
A year earlier, in the ordered life of the seminary, he had known
nothing of all this. Had not even suspected its existence. Evil had
been a definition on the white page of a theology manual. And the
Devil, well, that had been really not more than a mysterious name
for a gentleman thought of in terms of horns, a green face, hooves,
and a forked tail. Now John had the bleached, drained look which
only youth carries when strain and weariness veil its freshness, and
it has neither age lines to show nor makeup to lose, only paled
illusions to shield it. It was 6:20 A.M.
There would now be a delay of four and a half weeks before Gerald
could resume and successfully terminate the exorcism of
Richard/Rita. The violent outcome of the first part of the exorcism
would provoke many difficulties for Gerald. His own bishop
entertained doubts about Gerald’s competency. The psychiatrists
involved in Richard/Rita’s case decided that Gerald, a layman to
psychology, was meddling dangerously with Richard/Rita’s mental
health. Gerald’s own health was a continuing problem. And, as
experience taught, even a partial failure to complete an exorcism
meant that eventual completion of it would be doubly difficult.
Yet-if at all possible-Gerald had to complete the exorcism of
Richard/Rita. For two main reasons. If Gerald were not personally to
do so, there would be no guarantee that he himself would be immune
from at least harassment-if not worse-by the evil spirit that
possessed Richard/Rita. As it happened, Gerald did not survive very
long after his successful termination of the exorcism. Apart from
that, there was now a definite possibility that an attempt at
exorcism by another person would fail.
Gerald’s housekeeper, Hannah, showed me through the house into the
garden and called out to the thin figure in shirt and jeans tending
the flower beds at the far end of the garden. As I crossed the lawn,
he waved to me: “Hi! Come over and chat. I want to finish this job
before sunset.” It was about 5:30 P.M. The sun was beginning to
cool, but its light was still gilding everything about me in warm
“Out here among my tulips,” said Father Gerald to me with a wave of
the trowel in his left hand, “I have great beauty. And peace, of
course.” Still bending over his flowers, as he patted the earth:
“Done much gardening, Malachi, in your time?” I said I had done a
little. I asked if I might take notes of our conversation. He
laughed lightly in assent. From the start, Father Gerald established
an atmosphere of ease: I had been expected; I should take a welcome
The last thing I had expected to find Gerald doing was tulip
gardening. Sitting weakly in a deep armchair reading, perhaps. Or
hobbling painfully on a stick to meet me with a wan smile. But
enjoying life and tranquillity with obvious measures of physical
well-being and quite evident inner happiness-this was almost a shock
There were three tulip beds. He was working the middle one. Beyond
them, a row of yellow azaleas. Then the ground sloped down to
rolling prairie fields and distant mountains. Somewhere in the sky a
small airplane droned.
His casualness was contagious. I asked: “What exactly do you like
about your tulips, Gerald?” I was standing over him to one side.
Without looking up, he went on working, answering me slowly and
deliberately. “No claims. You see. They don’t clamor at you. They
just are there. Beautifully. Just are.”
The slight emphasis on that last word had a faint French roll to it.
“As you apparently
know”-this last with a boyish grin, teasing himself wryly more than
he was teasing
me-“I have had some dealings with beauty. And the beast. After that,
you know beauty when you meet it.” He paused, glancing up at the
twin mountain peaks away to the far left. But the sun was in my eyes
and his features were blurred to me. Then, finishing his thought:
“And the beast.”
After a minute or two, Gerald straightened up with an unhurried
gentleness, facing me for the first time, his arms by his sides, his
back to the sun. Now, four months after he had completed the
exorcism of Richard/Rita, in retirement on the edge of a Midwestern
town, Gerald, according to medical reports, had about five or six
more months to live. At the age of forty-eight he had incurable
heart disease and had already survived two strokes.
The man looking at me was slightly taller than myself.
Thin-shouldered, blond, gray-eyed, he stood in an askew fashion, as
if the center of his torso had been twisted out of shape-a memento
not of the strokes, but of the Girl-Fixer; an ungentle reminder of
his exorcism of Richard/Rita. A scar ran vertically up his forehead
into his hairline. What struck me particularly was his face shining
like a beacon-a light all over it, without any visible source. Then
there was a dark, oblong patch on his forehead between the eyes.
Like a nevus. Mutual friends, referring me to him, had told me about
it. “Gerald’s Jesus patch” they had called it jokingly but
affectionately. The new scar ran through the “patch.”
Gerald, they had said, never looks into you, just at you. Not until
now did I realize
what they meant. Like when you look at a city on a map in order to
find out where it
is. It was your context that mattered to Gerald, where you were at.
Only, I did not
know then what he saw
“I know very little about you, except that I am supposed to trust
you. Your name-Malachi Martin. Where you live-New York. You were a
Jesuit once. Some books to your credit. You wanted to see me about
Richard/Rita.” His tone was level and low. After a few moments and
still looking at my eyes: “Nothing much else, beyond that you appear
to have peace in you, but”-with a quick glance all over my face-“you
strike me as not having paid all your dues.” He must have noticed
some involuntary reaction in me, some unvoiced protest. “No. Not
that. Those dues we hardly ever pay. I meant: you seem to have
tasted beauty’s sweetness, but not its awesomeness.”
He stopped and looked down at the tulips. “I garden regularly. It
relaxes. Tulips-well, I love their colors, I suppose.” Another
pause. The boyish grin again. “Let’s take some tulips in to Hannah
for the dinner table.”
He bent down again. There had been no tension between us, only
briefly on my part, when he scrutinized me for the first time. And
now the tension had disappeared. He had satisfied himself about some
puzzle in me.
“I do want to talk about Richard/Rita,” I said as he set to work
again. “But my chief interest bears on you.” He worked on in silence
for a few moments. An early-evening breeze bent the tulips. The
sunlight had dimmed to a very light gray-blue.
“You realize,” he said matter-of-factly as if to put to rest any
tension I might still have, “you won’t get away with it this time.
Not scot-free, anyway. I mean, if ever you paid your dues, you’ll
pay them now-if you go ahead with your project.”
“I have thought about all that.”
“This is no mere fun and games, Malachi. You’re treading on their
turf. Dangerously. From their point of view. If I can believe my
friends, that is.” I began to notice his staccato style of speaking.
“But I suppose. You’ve calculated all that. Eh? Still set on taking
the risk. Risk there is. Anyway. You have your own protection. That
much I can see.”
“I spent two days with Richard/Rita, Gerald.”
“All going well?” We both were avoiding the sharp-toothed pronouns,
he, she, his, her, and the like.
“As far as I can judge. Of course . . .” Since his exorcism,
Richard/Rita had lived in an in-between land of his mind. There was
disquieting indefiniteness about him.
“Of course. I understand. But Richard/Rita is at least clean.”
“What would you say was the principal benefit to you from the whole
“Before it all happened, I never knew what love was. Or what
masculine and feminine meant. Really did not. Besides, I got rid of
some deep pride in myself.”
It was now getting chilly. I was happy to stroll with Gerald into
the house for dinner. We talked continuously. And, as we did, it
became clear to me yet again that, while true cases of Exorcism take
their toll, they are not simple horror tales for frightening readers
and moviegoers. For all that evening we were delving deeper not into
horror, but into the frame of love that makes it possible to expel
horror. And the case of Richard/Rita was important beyond many
another, exactly because it centered on our ability to identify
love, and on the dire risk of confusing that love with what we can
only see as its physical or even chemical components.
It became clear that for Father Gerald the importance centered on
the same point. Richard/Rita had carried the confusion to ghastly
extremes. But for those who could come to know and understand his
case, there is a lesson to be learned. I was trying to understand
through Gerald and through his entire experience, so bizarre and
violent, what that gentle lesson was.
“Gerald, I want to get back later perhaps to what you meant by
‘clean’-you used the term when speaking of Richard/Rita before
dinner. But just now, something else is on my mind.” We were sitting
in his den after dinner. “Having read the transcript of the exorcism
and talked extensively with Richard/Rita, my questions to you center
around sexuality and love. For instance, why were you nicknamed the
‘Virgin’ in the seminary?” I had learned this from Gerald’s friends.
“I was the only one who didn’t know the nickname for half my
seminary days. As to their reason for it, it seems I gave the
impression of not knowing anything about sex.” “Did you?”
“Not really. I had seen diagrams and pictures, that sort of stuff. I
could distinguish a passionate kiss from a friendly or affectionate
one in the movies. But sex as such remained a hidden thing for me.”
“But didn’t you have the normal feelings about twelve or thirteen or
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘normal.’ I never had one of those
nocturnal ejaculations. Never yet had one. When I started to grow
hair on various places, it sort of wasn’t there one day, and the
next day it was.”
“Did you ever masturbate?”
“Never. Not that I wanted to. I didn’t. Erections around the age of
puberty and later just were taken by me as happening to me. It
sounds funny”-he grinned boyishly-“but not as something about which
I had to do something. Embarrassing. But then my father took me for
a walk and gave me his set speech on sex which he gave to all my
four brothers. It always began with the affirmation: ‘Look, Gerry,
you have a penis. And it is used for two things neither of which it
does very well: urinating and copulating.’ All of us knew the speech
by heart. Then he explained clinically what copulation was.”
I steered the conversation to the time just before Gerald had
entered the seminary: had he gone out with girls or dated them or
done anything more complicated than that?
Apparently he used to take the sisters of his school friends to see
a movie now and
then, usually in a group. He went to some dances, but never really
enjoyed them. He avoided them whenever he could. He was embarrassed
by girls and by women in general.
He was on his feet now. “Let’s take a turn in the garden. It will
help oil the wheels.” We went outside. It was already night. A few
clouds lazed across the stars. There was no moon. The garden was
partially lit by the lights from the house. As we walked down toward
the tulip beds we entered greater darkness. A few lights could be
seen winking on the distant mountainside. There was very little
“Ever kiss a girl?”
“No. Not passionately. Never.” He had been looking away while
talking. Now he glanced quizzically at me. “Why all the questions
about my sexual life?”
“This is my way-perhaps roundabout, but anyhow-this is my way of
finding out what you now understand about love and masculinity and
femininity, and what you learned in the exorcism on this score.”
We stood for a short while taking in the calm of the night and the
distant lights. Then I began again.
“Let me put it like this, Gerald. I take it you entered adult
life-even your life as a priest-with very flimsy notions of what sex
was all about, and . . .”
“There you go again,” he interrupted good-humoredly. We traveled a
few paces in silence. “I suppose basically I was like that once-
minus the experience. I mean: of course, I realized about eighteen
or nineteen that there was a very powerful thing called sex. But”-he
stopped and looked out over the tulip beds-“it was always something
I knew about. In my mind. With concepts. In myself, I felt there was
this mighty urge. Never gave it any leeway. Once a girl tried to
kiss me on the lips. I was frightened by the-uh the-“ He fumbled for
the right word but couldn’t find it. “Look. Something told me if I
let it go inside in me, it would rule me.” Then triumphantly and
raising his voice: “The rawness! That’s it. The kiss felt raw.”
“And dirty for you?”
“No. Lovely raw. But too lovely. Kind of tumultuously lovely. Only I
couldn’t handle that tumult, I knew.”
We turned around to stroll back toward the house. “Well, anyway,
Gerald, what difference did the exorcism make to all this?”
“I suppose the best way to say it is the simple way. R/R thought for
years that gender and sex were the same thing, for all practical
purposes. So did I, come to think of it. Don’t know about you.” We
were coming up to the house, and the light fell on his face. “You
may remember from the transcript. The crux of the Girl-Fixer’s
resistance lay there. [”Girl-Fixer” was the given name of the evil
spirit expelled from Richard/Rita.] And it took all that talk and
pain to let me see it.”
He stood facing the windows, his face and eyes bright and clear. “In
a nutshell, Malachi. As I now understand it since the exorcism, when
two people-a man and a woman-love each other, are making love, I now
understand they are reproducing God’s love and God’s life. Sound’s
banal. And it sounds trite. Even sounds evasive and vague and
feathery. But that’s it. Either that, or here you have two more or
less highly developed animals copulating-rutting, whatever you want
to call it-and the ending is just sweet sweat, a few illusions,
perhaps, and then a let’s-get-back-to-normal-existence sort of
thing. Do-or-die. Now-or-never. Go bust in the effort. Anything you
like. Could even learn from kangaroos, if that were the way with
it.” He turned his head in a comical way and said: “Ever see two
kangaroos courting and copulating? I did. In a documentary.
Extraordinary. Extraordinary.” He shook his head.
“Well, apart from any practical significance that might have for you
now, Gerald, you being celibate and all that . . .”
“And with a few more months to live,” he said gently but not
testily, as if to make quite clear he took into account the deadline
of his life. “Okay. Apart from that, maybe we’ll get back to that
subject. But explain something to me. Isn’t there an in-between
stage? I mean: men and women aren’t just animals. But neither are
they performing an act of worship of God. Or are they? Is that what
“Aaaah! The good-and-natural-act business.” He was mimicking someone
I did not know, probably some professor of his seminary days.
“Well.” This last word was said with sardonic emphasis. “As I now
understand us men and women, we go through this world finding our
way through facts and facts and more facts. Mountains of facts. But
no matter what we do or get to know, all the time we are
experiencing spirit. God’s spirit.”
He looked across to the lights of the nearby town. “And sometimes
it’s an experience in thoughts we think. Or it comes in words we
hear. More often, it’s an experience by intuition. A direct
‘looking-at.’ Some of those perceptions come like messages sent you.
You hear children laughing, or see a beautiful valley in the midday
sun. But you’re mainly passive. At other times, you’re doing
something. And that’s better still. Like when you have compassion
for someone, or forgive someone.”
We were down again at the tulip beds. He stopped at the middle one,
where he had been working earlier, and looked at the silent flowers.
They gleamed with wisps of color in the distant reflection of light
from the house. “But in love and lovemaking, it’s the highest. |
Both are acting. Both taking. Both giving. Nobody’s passive.”
At this point I made an objection, saying I had no concept of how
men and women reproduce God’s love and God’s life when they love
each other. We might say that, perhaps, in a remote and metaphorical
way. But, then, the tulips do the same. And the kangaroos. All
these, including men and women, may not know they’re reproducing
God’s life and God’s love, metaphorically. But they do. Or don’t
they? This was my question.
He turned away from me and faced the mountain range. His voice came
in short murmurs, as if he were reading cue cards visible only to
him. “You remember the Girl-Fixer, and my struggle with it. You J
remember?” The crux of that struggle between Gerald and the evil
spirit possessing Richard/Rita had concerned the meaning of love and
of loving. “Well,” he continued, “on the plateau of love-and I don’t
mean the climax of an act of love only, but the plateau of love
itself-man and woman are both caught up in a dynamic of love. No
past. No standing still. No anticipation. No then, now, and next.
Just the black velvet across which all stars flash. No oblivion. All
. . .”
“But, Gerald, God-where’s God in all this? You started off talking
about God, as if the lovers were locked into an intuitive sharing of
He wheeled around and said almost fiercely: “That’s God! That’s what
God is like.” He turned away again, as if looking for inspiration.
“God’s no static and immutable quantum, as we understand those
words. That’s the God in books. But-an eternal dynamic, always
becoming, without having begun, without going to an end. Becoming
without changing. No then. No now. No next.” As he turned and
started to walk back toward the house, I fell into step with him.
“But there are two in our case. Man and woman.”
“Ah,” he said, tossing his head backward in a slight gesture,
“that’s the condition we’re in. And that’s the price.”
“Yes, the price. In order to have that participation in God’s being,
the two must reproduce God’s oneness. Must love. Truly love. You
can’t fake it.”
“But what part-if you can speak like that-of God does a man
reproduce and what part does a woman reproduce?”
“None. By himself and by herself. Or in himself or in herself. None.
Nothing that is physical. Only in love and loving.”
“Well, in love and in loving, what do they reproduce?” We stopped
halfway up the garden. Gerald was looking at me steadily, as if
searching for something. After a moment, he drew in a deep breath
and said softly: “As far as I know, God is beautiful, is beauty
itself. Beauty in being. Being that is beauty. And God’s will is in
full possession of that beauty, that being. In human love, woman
loving is that being’s echo; and man desiring is that will’s
parallel. In their love, will is locked with being. They simply
reproduce, know, participate in God’s life and love, in God’s self
some way or other. Otherwise, let’s go back to those kangaroos-or
“Well, even granting all that,” I said to him as we started to walk
again, “tell me, what does masculine and feminine mean for you now,
in the light of all that?”
“Remember Richard/Rita’s crux?” He looked at me, knowing I did.
This had been the center of the Pretense in the exorcism.
Richard/Rita had presumed the ultimate source of masculinity and
femininity was the same as that of sexuality-the body, the chemistry
of the body.
“And none of Richard/Rita’s most extreme efforts, even the
operation, worked for him. He wasn’t basically androgynous. No one
is, for that matter. We’re basically and immutably masculine or
feminine. Nature may goof and give us the wrong genitals for our
gender. No matter. Apart from a mutant form of that kind, our sexual
apparatus corresponds to what we are-feminine or masculine.
Androgyny is baloney.”
I laughed at the rhyme and the slang. But I had a real difficulty.
According to Gerald the feminine-femininity-corresponded to God’s
being; the masculine or masculinity, to God’s will. The essence of
God, in our human way of thinking, would be feminine in that case.
“If you are correct, Gerald, God, to speak in human terms, is
feminine rather than masculine.”
“Of course. More powerful. Creative, In her own being, the ultimate
theater-not the object-of human longing.”
“What about the He’s and the Him’s and the His’s of the Bible? And
Israel like a woman God loves and woos? And all that?”
“Just a good dosage of Semitic chauvinism. Plus a lot of ignorance.
And a good deal more of all men’s chauvinism down the ages. Men have
been in charge from the beginning. Even in Buddhism. Just because
the Buddha was a man.”
“So, feminine is something of the spirit essentially?”
“Only of the spirit.”
“And masculine also?”
“Right. A bird doesn’t fly because it has wings. It has wings
because it flies. A man isn’t masculine because he has a penis and
scrotum, nor a woman feminine because she has vagina and womb and
estrogen or whatever. They have all that-if they have it-because
she’s feminine and he’s masculine. Even if they lack some or all of
those things, they are still masculine and feminine.”
We were back on the patio. Gerald was about to open the door, and I
should have left
it at that. It was already late. I had to travel back to the town
and catch a bus to the
airport. Gerald, under doctor’s orders, should have been in bed over
an hour ago. But
chiefly, if I had not gone on talking and probing, I would not have
had, as a
consequence of my probing, to bear an almost intolerable pain on
Gerald’s account. I went on unknowingly: “Gerald, tell me one more
thing before I leave you in peace. With all that we have said in
mind, do you now regret that you never fell in love or that you
never made love and never will make love with a woman?”
As always when you make a mistake, you begin to sense it vaguely and
go on in desperation trying to remedy the situation.
“I know you don’t regret your priesthood. I know your vow of
celibacy is dear to you. But, all that aside for one moment, have
you regrets?” Gerald let go of the door handle gently. His head
bowed as he dropped his eyes. I could no longer catch his
expression. The sudden silence between us was not merely an absence
of words. It was the abrupt severance of all communication. I felt
perspiration on my forehead.
He stood for a moment in the patio light, looking thin, askew,
frail, as if a great weight had been laid on him. I noticed age
lines and a gauntness that had escaped me earlier. His face was
immobile, but the “Jesus patch” was now of a deeper color.
stepped slowly onto the grass, limping, and started to walk with
short steps down toward the tulips. I followed and started to say
something, but he silenced me with a small, slow gesture of his
right hand. A couple of yards from the flower beds he slowed to a
stop. I did not dare look at him, and at first I heard no sound from
him. But I knew he was crying. Then, as the minutes passed, I
realized that this was not a sobbing or a voiced crying. He was not
shaking, but very quiet and still.
His tears were flowing steadily,
ground out of him by some deep sorrow long ago accepted and whose
pain he knew intimately. Merely, on this occasion, I had evoked that
pain and its sorrow beyond his control. I knew he had to finish it
in his own way. Nothing could console him and stop those tears.
Seneca said once: “When a man cries, either he cries on his own
mother’s shoulder, or he cries alone.” Gerald was alone.
It lasted several minutes. Then putting both hands to his eyes and
wiping them, he said simply: “I know you understand the meaning of
these.” His voice was strangely deep and very unlike the tones he
had used all evening. Then it had come from someone alive and
vibrant in his own way, walking and talking near me. Now it came
from very far away; deep, grave, solemn, he was speaking clearly to
me from another terrain where he alone had walked, where his fate
had been decided, and where the very self of him had never ceased to
be ever since. It was an exorcist speaking from the lonely world he
must always inhabit, alone with his grisly knowledge, his bruised
memories, and his blind trust locked desperately on to all-powerful
love for a final cleansing.
“Don’t be sorry, Malachi. No reproaches. It’s just that no one
should have to put up with this in another. These are tears to be
shed in solitude.” He straightened up and cleared his throat. I
could see him take in the whole horizon, turning his head slowly and
meditatively from side to side. “Somewhere in my world,” he said out
loud, but as if speaking to himself, “somewhere, at some time during
the years I have spent in it, there must have been or even now must
be someone, some woman with whom love would have been possible. I
shall never see her eyes or hear her voice or feel the touch of her
I could have tasted God’s eternity and ecstasy with her.
And I could have seen God’s comeliness on her hair and on her
breasts. Somewhere. Someone. But I never shall. Not now. Not ever. I
shall never share in her mystery of God’s self-contained glory.
“And you know well, I am not crying because of missed opportunity or
help me.” He wiped his eyes again. “In one way, I don’t know why I
am crying. And,
at the same time, I do know very well. Once you finger the innards
of a situation such
as R/R was in, I think the terrible fragility of human love becomes
more beautiful and
you are frightened for its safety. Poor R/R and his delicate dreams!
He really, genuinely yearned to be feminine and to love as only
He turned and faced toward the house. His eyes were still wet and
glistening, but washed bright: “Is that why lovers sometimes cry
tears at their happiest moments?” Apparently, at that moment, the
tears started to flow again, because he looked away quickly toward
“Many a woman and many a man must have had R/R’s same beautiful
dream,” he said through the pain, “saw it within finger’s touch,
reached for it, and found it blighted before they held it.” A pause.
“I don’t know why I cry for them. Feeling for them, perhaps. For
only Jesus can mend the fracture of their spirit.”
I waited until he seemed to have stopped crying. There was one last
question I wanted to ask him, about Jesus. But he spoke before I
did: “Of course, I have regrets. I would be a liar if I said
otherwise. The regrets I have are for the intuitions I never had.
Any man or woman I’ve ever known who really loved, all told me that
in really loving, the physical was a couch or bed for a flight of
intuitions. He no longer felt himself merely in her or near her. She
no longer felt herself merely around him or near him. It went beyond
that into-what’s this one woman said?-uh-an ‘allness’ she said. Or,
as one man said to me, ‘full togetherness.’ He meant: with himself,
with his wife, with God, with earth, with life.”
I asked Gerald if, mingled in his knowledge and his partial regrets,
he thought of the loss of children he might have had. He replied
that his having or not having children was something else again. I
pursued the point, however, suggesting that perhaps one lament of
deep pathos and suffering for him in Richard/Rita’s case was
Richard/Rita’s total inability to have children. No matter how much
love Richard/Rita dreamed of and achieved, it could never be a
life-giving love. His would always be a crippled dream.
Gerald reminded me of what Richard/Rita kept screaming at the end of
the exorcism as he thrashed back and forth. He had screamed again
and again: “Life and love! Love and life! Life and love!” until they
covered his mouth with masking tape. “Now,” concluded Gerald, “like
Richard/Rita, I will have to wait until I cross over to the other
side, in order to find life from love and love from life. At
present, I am time’s eunuch for life and love in eternity.” With the
last sentence the timbre of his voice had subtly changed.
He now sounded more or less like the Gerald who had entertained me
earlier that evening. ‘We started walking back to the house. As we
passed out through the hall and front door, he quoted Jesus: “ ‘In
the Kingdom of Heaven, they neither give their daughters in marriage
nor are given in marriage.’ No marriage there,” he commented
musingly. “No need for it.”
“Gerald, about Jesus.”
He broke in on me. “He was-is-God. No woman, no human lovemaking was
needed to enrich him.”
“Can we make love then, do we make love, because we are merely
“Only because we are human. Once possessed of God and possessed by
God, there’s no point in making love. You have all that human love
can give you and much more. Love itself.”
Nobody who had seen Gerald starting off life as a young priest would
have guessed he would end as an exorcist condemned to an early
death. Born in Parma, Ohio, reared in Dijon, France, until he was
fourteen years old, educated from that time in Cleveland, ordained
priest in 1948, Gerald was sent as an assistant to an outlying
parish of Chicago.
There and in other parishes Gerald served as an assistant for 23
uneventful years. During that time he acquired a reputation for
solid common sense. He was unflappable even in the most trying
circumstances. Sometimes he was criticized for being a little too
unworldly- “Not very worldly-wise,” a colleague would remark now and
then. But, whenever a crisis arose, Gerald’s judgments and decisions
generally proved to be the right ones.
One day he was called by the pastor of a neighboring parish and
asked to go there for a consultation. When he arrived at the
priest’s house, he was told the story of. a young man, Richard O.,
an employee of an insurance company, who had recently come to live
in the neighborhood. He was not Roman Catholic, but his two brothers
and some close friends of his had gone spontaneously to the old
priest for help and counsel. Their brother and friend, Richard, had
been deteriorating for some time now. They had tried doctors and
psychologists. Then Richard had been persuaded to visit a Lutheran
minister. After that, a rabbi had prayed over him. But the
deterioration still continued.
Richard’s brothers were quite frank when they talked to the two
priests in the parlor of the rectory. They gave a brief sketch of
Richard/Rita’s life up to that moment. “Father, we are not
Catholics. We don’t believe in the Catholic Church, or in any
church, for that matter. But we will do anything, anything at all,
go to any length, in order to help our brother.” The old priest
excused himself and Gerald for a moment. They went outside.
The pastor had several questions for Gerald. Did he think Richard O.
was a case of possession? Gerald did not know; he had never come
across such a case. Shouldn’t they alert the bishop? Gerald had
already chatted with “young Billy” (the bishop’s nickname among his
priests). There was no official diocesan exorcist. The bishop knew
nothing about it, and he wanted to know less. “Let’s take it step by
step from the top downward,” counseled Gerald cheerfully.
They returned to the parlor and asked the two brothers for Richard
O.’s medical and psychological reports. They could have them
immediately, Gerald was assured. Gerald asked if Richard knew of the
brothers’ visit to see the pastor and himself. Bert said he did not
“He may,” Gerald rejoined. And then he went on to explain that, if
Richard were really possessed by an evil spirit, he could easily
know much more than his brothers told him.
This conversation took place three days after Christmas. The reports
arrived early in the New Year. With the permission of his own
pastor, Gerald went to live temporarily in the rectory of his old
friend in order to be near Richard O. At the beginning of February,
having digested the reports and spoken to the doctors and
psychologists, he accompanied Richard’s two brothers on a first
visit to Richard.
Richard/Rita received them quite pleasantly in his house. That day
he seemed inordinately happy. He spoke to them about himself and
made no bones about his condition. He said that sometimes, as at
that moment, he saw things clearly and knew he needed some kind of
help. At other times, from what people told him, he went all funny.
It was a constant change in him. And it was too painful and abrupt
and unpredictable for him to carry on like that much longer. “Help
me if you can,” he added. “Even if later I tell you to go to Hell,
help me. I’ll sign any documents necessary.”
Willingly, Richard/Rita said in answer to Gerald’s proposal, he
would go to Chicago
and undergo tests by doctors and psychologists of Gerald’s choosing.
day they went to Chicago together. By some happy circumstance the
visit there and
the tests conducted by the psychologists and doctors went off
Richard/ Rita had no lapse into his sudden fits.
While they were in Chicago, Gerald and the old priest went to see
the only exorcist they could track down within reaching distance. He
was a Dominican friar, an ex-missionary, who lived in retirement in
a Chicago suburb. He smiled grimly as they told him their story.
“Better you than me, boys,” he said quietly. “Let me put you through
the rite of Exorcism and give you a few tips of my own for yourself
and the assistants. I learned a thing or two in Korea. It wasn’t all
The old man inculcated the first principles of Exorcism. He warned
Gerald not to try to take the place of Jesus. It was only by the
name and power of Jesus, he emphasized, that any evil spirit could
be exorcised. He schooled him in the various traps that awaited the
unwary: the dangers of any logical argument with the possessing
spirit; the need of strong, silent assistants; and the customary
procedure of an exorcism.
Gerald had to return several times to Chicago with Richard/Rita
after the first occasion. He went by himself to see some theologians
in order to get a more accurate knowledge of what went on during an
exorcism. Richard/Pita himself had to make several trips in
connection with his office work. All in all, it was the beginning of
March before everything was in readiness. Gerald felt that he had
taken all possible precautions. Intrigued as all the medical and
psychiatric examiners were with Richard/Rita’s history and
transsexual operation, they had satisfied themselves that
Richard/Rita was medically and psychologically as normal as any
other person, and that he was not indulging in any strange fun and
games in order to attract attention. This had been suggested by one
of the psychologists. The rite of Exorcism, Gerald decided, would do
For the actual exorcism, he had chosen five assistants. Richard/
Rita’s two brothers, Bert and Jasper, had volunteered for the job.
The old pastor had secured the services of the local police captain
and of an English teacher from the parish school. Richard’s
landlord, Michael S., a Greek-American, a good friend of the old
pastor, had been told of the exorcism and spontaneously offered
himself. Gerald chose as his own priest assistant a young man
recently posted to his parish, a Father John.
Only once or twice in the last month before the exorcism was
shaken. At one moment, the old Dominican friar took him aside as he
and the pastor
were leaving him after one of their visits. He asked Gerald if he
was a virgin. He was,
replied Gerald, but what difference could that make? The Dominican
offhandedly, trying to play down the import of his question. It made
no difference, he said. It was just that Gerald would have more to
suffer. At least, that is what he thought.
Questioned closely by Gerald as to why he thought so, the Dominican
looked at him for a moment; then he said in a still voice: “You
haven’t paid your dues. You don’t really know what’s in you. But”-he
wandered over to the door and opened it-“They do. Now”-motioning to
where the old pastor was waiting for Gerald- “your friend is
waiting. Go in peace. And don’t be afraid. This is your lot.” As
Gerald and his old friend drove back home, they chatted about the
whole matter. It was clear to him, the pastor said, that when one
spent years in a certain type of job-the pastor in his parish, the
old friar in his missionary work-you got a special sense. You can’t
share it with anyone. You don’t want to, really. And what it tells
you isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes you see dark, abiding presences
where others see nothing but light. “It’s all very funny,” the
pastor remarked to Gerald, who had fallen silent and thoughtful.
“Don’t try to understand. You can’t get old before your time. It
would tear the heart out of you.”
The nearer the mid-March date of the exorcism came, the more unreal
it all seemed to the participants, especially to Gerald. This was
chiefly because of Richard/Rita. There was in those last days no
sign of deterioration in him, no fits. All was calm and normal. He
even received them all in his house the night before the appointed
day and served them a dinner he had cooked himself. Afterward, he
helped them arrange the room where the exorcism would be done and
chatted amicably with them before they left. Gerald had brought the
paraphernalia of Exorcism with him-crucifix, stole, surplice, ritual
book, holy-water flask. On the suggestion of the old Dominican, a
stretcher had been borrowed from a local clinic; they might need it
All were to assemble at 8:00 A.M. the following morning. For Gerald
there were some swift seconds with an awry note. He was the last
down the pathway out to the road where he had parked his car. As he
turned back to close the latch on the gate, he saw Richard/Rita
silhouetted in the main doorway of his little house. Gerald could
not at that distance read the look in Richard/Rita’s eyes, but
Richard/Rita’s hands caught his attention.
When the pastor and Gerald had left him at the door, Gerald
remembered clearly, Richard/Rita’s right hand, with open palm toward
them, had been raised slightly in a goodbye gesture. The left had
been resting on the doorknob. But now, as he looked back at
Richard/Rita, the right hand was splayed out like a claw pointing
toward him. The left, palm turned up, fingers slightly curled, was
held stiffly. Gerald felt a shudder in his spine.
“Come on, Gerald! Someone walking on your grave, I suppose?” It was
the old pastor pulling his leg good-humoredly. Richard/Rita waved to
them again and went inside.
The story of Richard O. is only in part, but nonetheless
importantly, the story of a transsexual. He was born physically a
male, but with an ineradicable desire to be a woman. In his
childhood his ideas and wishes were nebulous. In adulthood he firmly
believed that each one of us can be male or female, masculine or
feminine; that each one has an almost equal dosage of maleness and
femaleness, of masculinity and femininity, before culture and
civilization and social environment, as the persuasion goes, make
little boys little boys and little girls little girls. He finally
underwent the transsexualization operation-successfully, in medical
terms. He then took the name Rita.
Richard had a very clear and very early understanding of the
difference between femininity and masculinity, and he was attracted
by the seeming mystery of the feminine and repelled by the
inadequacy of being restricted only to the masculine. From the age
of sixteen on, Richard’s aim was to let the feminine in him emerge,
so that he could supplement his masculine inadequacy with the
self-sufficient mystery of femininity.
From sixteen to twenty-five he actively sought, in full confidence
and trust, to think, feel, and act “androgynously”; he was persuaded
that he could have the union of feminine and masculine in himself.
But the result was a great aloneness (not, at that stage,
loneliness) with none of that desired union. At twenty-five he
sought in marriage the same union. It did not work; he found neither
the unity nor the union of love; and the androgynous persuasion in
From his divorce at age twenty-nine, through his transsexualizing
operation at age thirty-one, up to his exorcism at age thirty-three,
he developed into a “watcher on the sidelines,” jealous of the
supremacy of the feminine, fascinated by the essential function of
The mystery of femininity became something to unshroud; in Richard’s
case his unshrouding of it amounted to blasphemy and a type of
physicomoral degradation which haunts him today. The vitality of the
masculine became a weapon for him; he saw it as a means of death.
By the end of the summer 1971, he had voluntarily become possessed
by an evil spirit which responded to the name of “Girl-Fixer.” This
possession had started many years previously. His violent revolt
against possession ended finally in his undergoing the Exorcism rite
performed by Father Gerald. But, until after his exorcism, Richard
saw his problem as one of chemical substance, of brain modification,
or of cultural adaptation, never as a dilemma of his spirit.
The exorcism was successful. He was freed. But Richard/Rita ended
up, as he is today, in an unenviable position: neither male nor
female; not a sexual neuter, but, nevertheless, in a no-man’s-land
between masculine and feminine.
Not all the details of his life are pertinent for understanding what
happened to him. We need only a relatively few scenes and details of
childhood and early teenage. It is the triple stage he passed
through as an adult which illustrates to some degree his condition
at the time of exorcism.
Richard/Rita presents in vivid outline the classical puzzle of all
possessed people who, though possessed (always to some extent with
their consent), still at some point revolt against that very
possession. And why should Richard/Rita, and not any of the other
transsexuals known to many of us in ordinary life, have been thus
possessed in the first place?
Richard/Rita was born Richard O. in Detroit, Michigan, the third in
a family of six children (three boys, three girls). The family lived
in a semidetached two-story frame house which -stood in a suburban
area, predominantly white and upper-income bracket. His mother was
Lutheran, his father, Jewish; the children were baptized as
Lutherans; but religion did not play a prominent role in the family
life. His mother’s Lutheranisrn was as unimportant to her as
Jewishness was unimportant to his father. It was a family in easy
financial circumstances, governed with a light hand, and no more or
no less self-consciously united than any other on the street.
Richard’s father worked a regular nine-to-five day in an insurance
office, spent most
of his free time with the boys. He was a boating and open-air
enthusiast, and went
fishing and shooting in Canada during
summer vacations. First, the two elder boys, Bert and Jasper, and
then, when he passed his ninth year, Richard participated in these
An ideal held more or less unconsciously by each of the boys was to
be like their father-strong, athletic, outdoor. To be a man.
Richard’s first memories of this ideal include a day in December
when he was in the park with his father walking Flinny, the family
dog. He was throwing a ball for the dog to retrieve. As the dog
leaped, twisted, caught the ball, and returned running to them, his
father remarked that that was how Richard must be-taut, ready to
jump and run and catch. The movements of the dog’s body became a
rhythm of ideal supremacy and independent strength for Richard:
leaping, thrusting, and striving as a well-knit frame in an armor of
self-reliance and resilience that absorbed bumps, knocks, cold,
heat, swift changes in direction, and sudden bursts of energy. “Look
how Flinny throws himself into it all!” he remembers his father’s
cry of admiration and encouragement.
The discordant note in this recollection arises in Richard’s memory
of what happened
when they returned home. When he saw his mother and his sisters, he
felt a struggle
in himself; and without understanding why, he was comparing their
the sound of their voices with those of his father and of Flinny.
But the incident passed as a shadow.
The three boys were tall and dark in coloring. The girls were small,
narrow-waisted, and blonde, like their mother. A family trait shared
by all six children with their mother was the uneven earlobe: the
right earlobe was noticeably smaller than the left one.
The girls gravitated, in younger years, to their mother, who never
lost a certain apparent dourness, even in her smile and affection.
But she had, as well, a hilarious sense of humor sprinkled with
Each child was sent to kindergarten, then public school, and
afterward to college. In their world there was no hint of the social
developments which were to mark the 19605 and 19705. Coast-to-coast
television was just on the drawing boards. Female liberation was
unborn. Later trends such as unisex and bisexuality were hidden.
Homosexuality was still in the closet. Sexual permissiveness and the
wholesale dilution of the family as a unit were unknown. The young
had not yet been seized by the radicalizing passions of 20 years
later. They had not yet started that quick and hazardous trek from
infancy into immediate adulthood without any childhood and youth in
the traditional sense of those words. Little boys were still little
boys, and little girls were still little girls. Nobody had voiced
any doubt about that.
It was Richard himself who felt the first doubts. The first time a
change made itself felt in him always remained clear in his memory.
One afternoon in the late 19405, when Richard O. was almost nine
years old, he had the first remote intimations of another world
utterly different from the one to which he was accustomed.
Until his summer vacation that year on a small farm belonging to his
mother’s brother, some 40 miles outside St. Joseph, Missouri,
Richard had never known a day not spent in the asphalt streets,
among the city buildings, on the cement pavements, accompanied by
the continuous hum of traffic, in Detroit, Michigan. He had never
seen geese, turkeys, or chickens. Black walnuts, hickory trees,
hazelnuts, sweet corn, pumpkins, rabbits, alfalfa hay, timothy, wild
ducks, all the commonplace elements of a farm were novelties that
crowded his mind and sensations for the first time. It was, above
all, the immensities of the place that seemed to awe him-the clear
sky, the Missouri River, the unblocked view of huge stretches of
The incident took place three days before he returned to Detroit. It
was about five o’clock in the afternoon. He had spent most of the
day on the tractor with his uncle sowing soybeans. Now there
remained one more field to be done. It was a long field with a
sloping hump running at an angle across its middle. On one of the
field’s long sides there was a small pond. On the other side there
was the thinning edge of a wood which stretched back for about half
a mile. It was Richard’s turn to rest. He lay down among the trees
at the edge of the wood and watched as his uncle drove the tractor
in long swatches over the central hump from one end of the field to
These were the last hours of what had been a bright and cloudless
day. Across the
field and beyond the pond to the west, Richard’s eyes could see the
sun setting slowly
over the Kansas bluffs. His eyes followed lazily the light of the
sun already beginning
to slant over the bluffs, down across the 20 or so miles of fields
and woods that
bordered the Missouri, then across the river and back to the
black-brown stretch of the
field. He listened to the meadowlarks singing on the edge of the
High up in the
sky, balancing against the wind from the southwest, a bird hovered.
Two sounds, both
with their own peculiar rhythm, filled his ears. The noise of the
tractor, at first
mechanical and clashing, became a lovely thing for him. It rose as
his uncle passed by
where he lay, then sank again as the tractor climbed the hump, went
out of sight on
the other side. Then it started to rise again as the tractor climbed
the far side of the hump, came into view, and rolled down past him
and on to the far right, where it turned and came back to cut
another long furrow.
The other sound was the light evening wind in the elms and maples
around him. At first he did not notice it. Then it thrust itself on
his consciousness as a rising and falling series of lightly breathed
notes. When he lay on his side and looked up, he could see nothing
but the gently moving foliage of the trees and the blue sky as a
dappled pavement beyond them.
Almost with no break in his own sensations, he became peculiarly
aware of his own body as it lay on the moss and ferns at the edge of
the wood. The smell of wild honeysuckle and late May apple flowers
mingled with the sharp freshness of some elm leaves he had been
twisting and shredding in his hands. He became aware that insects,
innumerable to judge from the noise, were droning and buzzing
somewhere above his head among the leaves and branches. Everything
seemed warm and living; and his body and feelings now appeared to
him as part of, not separate from, some throbbing whole, mysterious
with its own hidden voices and its shrouded secrets.
He twisted flat on his back, looking up at the waving leaves,
translucent with sunshine, and watching the birds flitting from
branch to branch, chattering and fighting and picking. He could hear
faintly in the distance an occasional bobwhite calling out its two
notes. A squirrel ran into his view now and then as it scurried from
tree trunk to branch. All his muscles and sinews were relaxed. There
was no tension. He was sharing through body and mind in some
unperturbed softness and wholeness, but not an immobile or silent
wholeness. All and everything was moving, doing, becoming. And, as
he now remembers it, instinctively he listened to the wind in the
trees as a voice, as voices, as a message of this great, whole
softness. The rising and falling ring of the tractor became a
background music. He felt unaccountable tears in his eyes and an
ache that gave him peculiar pleasure somewhere deep in him.
Years later and in much more critical circumstances, he would admit
to himself that those sounds and sensations, particularly the wind,
had been the vehicle of some news, some information. It seemed, in
retrospect, as if he had been told something and later remembered
the secret meaning of the message, but could not recall the words
used or the tone and identity of the messenger.
The tractor finally drew up beside him, his uncle climbed down, and
they both walked slowly back to the house.
Richard had two more days on the farm before returning home to
Detroit. He spent them wandering in the vegetable garden, lying in
the woods, or sitting on the edge of the pond. He was trying to
recapture that magic moment of the previous evening. But he found
only silence. He was, as he put it later, encased again in the hard
shell of his body.
His uncle and aunt took his behavior as a sign of unhappiness
because he would be leaving soon for Detroit. And when he cried as
they turned out of the driveway onto the main road which led them to
St. Joseph and his train, they took his sadness as a compliment to
them: their nephew wanted to stay. The vacation had been a success.
“I will come back. I will come back,” Richard remembers saying to
nobody in particular. “Please, let me come back.”
On his return home, his suntan, the acquired strength of his arms,
his healthy complexion, his new and detailed knowledge of farm and
country delighted his family. His father was proud: “Now, Richard,
you’re becoming a real man!”
But it was his mother and sisters who caught Richard’s attention.
When they talked or
laughed or moved, he had feelings indefinably similar to those
moments on the edge
of the wood. Sisters and mother seemed to carry some detailed
mystery, some wholeness, to be supple and malleable. His father and
brothers-quick in their movements, deliberate in gestures, assured
in their walk, purposeful in whatever they did-seemed to Richard to
be wrapped in hard shells. They repelled him. And, at the same time,
he felt ashamed at being repelled by what should be his ideal. The
voices of his father and brothers had no overtones for him, no wisps
of meaning, no subtle resonances.
Although he could not analyze all this at that time, he felt it. Of
course, he could not mention it or discuss it with anyone there. All
he could do, he did. As if speaking to the wind and the trees and
the colors and the birds of the farm, he thought (perhaps felt is
the better expression): “I don’t want to leave you. I want to be as
you.” At that age and for quite some time afterward, he did not know
exactly who that “you” was.
Daily life at home and at school closed in around him. In athletics
he was as good as the next boy. He always got good grades. After his
twelfth year, he became an avid reader. At home and in school he was
known as a normal boy, more studious than outdoor, not overly
gentle, not exceptionally shy, not in any way a “sissy” or a
weakling, one who easily joined in groups and teams, and
exceptionally affectionate and warm as an individual.
Nothing ever obliterated his memory of the farm incident, but he
never returned to St. Joseph. Subsequent vacations were spent with
his father and brothers in Canada. And it was only toward the end of
his seventeenth year that another incident occurred which again
effected a profound change in Richard.
He had joined a group of his own classmates who, under the
supervision of an ex-forest ranger named Captain Nicholas, were to
spend three weeks camping out in Colorado. The purpose of the
vacation was to learn some of the arts of survival in the
wilderness. Their schedule was a full and very active one. When it
was over, they would know something about mountain climbing,
swimming, life saving, gathering food, making fires, cooking,
trapping, scaling trees, first aid, and seemingly anything else that
Captain Nicholas could manage to teach them in those few weeks. When
the vacation was finished, the eight had been invited to spend a
last evening in the ranch house belonging to Captain Nicholas and
As part of survival training, each boy was to spend one night alone
at some distance from the base camp. When Richard’s turn for a night
“out there alone” came around, he was instructed to spend it in a
small clearing on a hillside overlooking a lake about a mile from
the camp. He was given a whistle and told to signal in case he
needed help. According to camp rules, the other boys and the forest
ranger left him at nightfall.
As their footsteps and shouts died away, Richard turned around to
gather some brushwood for his fire. He was facing the lake about 150
feet above its surface. It was ringed around with mountains covered
with forests. The moon had already appeared full-faced over the rim
of the mountainside and cast a sheen of light on the water below and
on the silhouettes of the trees around him. The smell of resin was
an abiding atmosphere in which he felt as a welcomed stranger. He
was aware of very little sound except for the wind shaking the pine
trees and skimming the water’s surface with light ripples. The air
was still warm, with a little chill just creeping into it.
He stood for a moment to take his bearings so he would not get lost
as he gathered his firewood. But the hush all around him seemed in a
sudden instant to have opened. An invisible veil fell aside, and he
was no longer a separate and distinct being from it all.
His first reaction was fear and he groped for his whistle. The rule
was: any sense of fear or apprehension must be signaled to the base
camp by one long and one short whistle. No stigma was attached to
this. It was part of the training program to recognize and respect