This time of year marks the moments when I was completely immersed in Adam’s fantasy world.
I was living and working on campus that summer, so all of the members of the group (minus one) were still around. There were five of us total, give or take the other two who either left or “betrayed” us. I didn’t have homework, and my hours were odd, so most nights off were spent either cooking with my current roommate or drinking at Adam’s.
It was a strange place to be in. On one hand, half of my friends were trapped in this never-ending battle against the cosmic forces of the universe. On the other, my more “mundane” friends had no idea what was going on.
There’s a battle that’s raging right under their noses, I used to think, and they can’t even see it.
I couldn’t really tell my roommate why I got so jittery when I rode my bike home from work late at night. It wasn’t the usual fear that comes with being alone in the dark–this was more akin to intense paranoia. I was convinced that dark beings and shadows traced my every step. Each moment in the dark was a risk–a risk that could result in the end of my life.
It sounds fatalistic, I know. But nothing during that time was ever in miniscule or mundane. Every moment, every action, every spoken word was a sign or confirmation that the end was nearing, and us–and only us–could fix it.
We were in the woods one day when it was bright and sunny outside. Our goal was to scout out the area and see if the evil witches and beings who were actively trying to bring about the apocalypse had done anything else. I hummed a tune–one that’d been stuck in my head since the summer began–and casually walked along the path with Diana, another member of the group and close friend.
There was a moment when I saw three runes marking three different trees, all in a triangle. From the looks of it, they’d been there for a while now. I wasn’t too frightened–though I didn’t know the rune by heart, I vaguely remembered it being non-threatening.
As soon as I mentioned it to Adam his face turned white, eyes cold.
“Don’t move,” he said. He held his arms out, and I remember thinking that his pose reminded me of that one scene from Jurassic World where Chris Pratt kept the raptors from eating somebody.
Diana and I froze. I expected to feel uneasy, or out of place, but for some reason I was oddly calm.
“Why?” I asked, almost confused.
Adam gave me a cold stare.
“It’s a trap,” he said. “These sigils–they’re binding you to this space.”
Mosquitos were biting at my ankles. I still wasn’t getting it.
“What does that mean?” I said, swatting the air. “Like, what happens if we move.”
By now Adam was pacing outside the boundaries of the trap that he told us we were in. He could see energy, he claimed, and was looking for the proverbial “off switch.”
“Well, we don’t really want to find out, do we?” He grumbled. “But I guess, in theory, if you took one wrong step… well, your soul could be severed from your body.”
This moment made me realize just how deep I was in.
This is the moment, out of many to come, when I wished I’d turned away, stepped out of the “trap” he claimed we were in, and straight-up told him that I didn’t believe anything he’d said.
Instead, I stayed. And while it felt odd, and something just didn’t quite add up, and I know in my heart of hearts that I absolutely, definitely did not believe that my soul would be severed from my body, I decided to stay.
Because he would never lie, right? I remember thinking. He’s already been through hell (literally) and back, so of course he wouldn’t want to lie. If he was lying, well… that would make him an asshole, and he’s definitely not that.
After Adam broke the barrier and we were finally able to move again, I remember thinking how lucky I was to have friends like these. Friends who understood each other, who didn’t judge one another, and who were as close as family. Friends who drank and laughed together but also shared the burden and knowledge of us being the only ones in the known universe who could fix our broken and dying world.
Cults are attractive. I won’t deny that fact. Cults promise friendship, family, and purpose–three things I was desperately in need of my freshman year of college. When I felt so lost in the world, so completely alone in a sea of strangers with no clue of what I wanted to do for my future, I found solace in this tiny group of witches who claimed to have all the answers.
Guess what? They’d say. You matter and you have a purpose–because YOU, and only you were born to save the world.
It took me another two months to realize I’d joined a cult. It will take years of personal forgiveness and healing to understand why I believed something that seems so ridiculous from the outside. It will take a lifetime to heal from the deep, resounding shame I feel every day for holding on to that belief for so long.
There are so many things I wish I’d said when I confronted him three months later. A part of me wants to yell and scream and cry at him, listing all the ways he hurt me. Another part of me thinks that the way I did it was the best way I could’ve–that calm, gentle, and quiet strength is more powerful than raw rage. And yet another side of myself wishes I hadn’t said anything–that I’d kept my mouth shut and seen how long this whole ordeal would’ve lasted. Would he have finally admitted his lies then?
I can play every single scenario in my head if I wanted to. I could go through the million different ways our story would’ve ended. I could dream and calculate and ponder over how I lost a year of my life in a fantasy world, and how it would feel if I never figured it out and just continued to follow his leadership.
But that’s not living.
If anyone’s ever been in a cult or cult-like situation before, they will understand what I mean. But for those of you that haven’t, here’s what it was like:
The world was in black and white for as long as I could remember.
But when I left?
It was in color.
And god, was it beautiful.