Essays on Faith, Family and Culture

A Walmart Encounter

I was on the register line at Walmart when I felt it.

The air felt changed. Heavy, thick. My previously happy, contented, normal self suddenly felt despair. Tired. It was as if a cloud had descended.

I saw them when the line shifted, and they moved to the side of the candy display blocking my view.

A family, clad entirely in black…down to the infant in the car seat perched on the cart.

The mother sported multiple facial piercings and tattoos on her neck and exposed arms. Black lipstick matched her black close-cropped hair.

Her son had a pentagram tattooed…on his face.

Are you feeling it yet?

I felt it.

I started to pray. The St. Michael prayer. A Hail Mary.

Another family member, setting items on the conveyor belt, also wore black, head to toe, multiple pentagram necklaces, and black lipstick. He had a silver goat’s head ring.

Only one child wore colorful clothing, and she seemed disconnected from the family.

The mother muttered, nodded, communicated in silent jerks of the head. The boy muttered back. The only one who spoke in clear sentences was the little girl, who demanded candy. Her mother gave her one sharp look and the girl dropped her eyes to her unicorn and sparkle-clad feet, abashed.

The baby yawned. He wore a black onesie.

I began praying in earnest, but it was if my mind blanked out. I couldn’t complete the sentences of the St. Michael prayer.

Perhaps they were just into heavy metal music, or Gothic appearance, or any number of reasons why they all wore black – down to the infant.   The mother may have had a questionable fashion sense. The boy’s multiple facial piercings and clear tattoo – a permanent mark – poor judgment, rebellion.

But I felt them before I saw them.

It wasn’t my imagination or my prejudices. I had felt the aura around them before I saw them. 

I felt something in the air change near them before I set eyes on them. It is quite true that  I strongly dislike tattoos and facial piercings. It is equally true that as a Catholic, a pentagram, a family clad in black, and clear demonic symbolism, even if worn innocently, makes me queasy.

I felt the atmosphere change around them.

It was like the feeling you get when the air stills, the sky darkens, and the silence is pierced by the emergency broadcast system’s alert tone. Warning. Danger.

I finished the St. Michael prayer. I offered several Hail Marys for the family, especially the red, wrinkled face of the black-clad baby. He was so tiny, so red and wrinkled, he must have been just weeks old.

When I got home, the feeling of being followed, haunted, wrapped in a gray cowl, followed me for several hours until I prayed the St. Michael prayer repeatedly, and the Hail Mary, and invoked the name of Jesus. Then it evaporated as if it had never been.

I told my story to a friend who laughed at me.

“Imagination. It’s your prejudice showing itself against people who like to wear black lipstick and tats.”

“No, it wasn’t that. I’ve been around Goths and metalheads and people who love their tats. That doesn’t bother me.”

“You’re not telling me that evil can be felt?”

Yes, it can. It changes the atmosphere. It leaves a mark on people. Even if people innocently experiment with things like ouija boards and conjuring spirits, it leaves a mark.

Call me naive, call me imaginative. I know what I felt, and I know that I felt these people before I saw them. I felt a charged atmosphere around them. Whatever followed them was strong enough to follow me home, albeit for a little while.

We think we live in a material world with rational things. We like to know, touch, and feel what is around us. But then we run against things like this we can’t explain. Like my rational-minded friend, we shrug them off and chalk them up to the imagination, a crazy friend’s ancient beliefs.

But I know what I felt. And I felt what I felt before I saw what they looked like.