This is a story about the devil. You know. Satan. The guy with the pitchfork, horns, bad breath, and the red underwear. Oh, and it's about me, too. When I was just a small child, my parents, good Catholics that they were, did what all good parents of religious upbringing did. They did their best to instill the fear of God into me. After all, hard to worship the big guy if there's no fire and brimstone to tip your kids back in the other direction when they transgress. Right? My parents, like every other set of parents, were brought up with a collection of stories taught to them by their God-fearing parents. Remember kids. You can love God, but you must also fear him. Now, I don't remember exactly how old I was, but it was before my great revelation which happened when I was seven years old, so it had to be a couple of years before.
I had been bad that day. Sure, what kid isn't bad at some point? I hadn't killed anyone or help up a bank, but I might have taken a cookie, not come in immediately when called, or talked back to my Mom or Dad. Whatever the crime, it was a one of those petty crimes of childhood, the kind every 4 or 5 year old kid commits on a regular basis. Whatever the transgression, I remember my mother telling me that bad boys would be punished by God in this way; when looking into a mirror at night, in the dark, that boy (or girl) would see Satan staring back at them from the mirror.
Well, it worked. I was terrified. For months, anytime I did anything remotely bad, I would go to bed avoiding my reflection in the mirror, should Satan be standing there staring back at me. Getting up to go to the bathroom, I carefully averted my eyes from the mirror. Once I had finished my business, I jumped back into bed being careful to avoid the mirror in my bedroom. In the winter, when it was dark early, I was careful to avoid dark or dimly-lit rooms that might have a mirror.
Then, one night, after I had been bad . . . again, I decided to face the devil once and for all. I have no idea what made me so brave or cocky that night, but I was ready to face old Nick and take what was coming to me. I crept up to the mirror, slowly looked toward the shadowy reflection, and saw only myself. There was no Satan. No devil with a pitchfork waiting to skewer my bottom. Just me. Standing alone in the dark.
My mother, I realized, had lied to me. I wasn't sure why exactly, but I chalked it up to just one of the many veiled threats parents make. "I brought you into this world. I can take you out!" That sort of thing.
More importantly, from that night on, I was pretty sure there was no devil. Not a hundred percent sure mind you, but awfully close.
Finding out there was no God would take considerably longer.