Growing up we were a staunch anti-Purge family. My parents were active in the Purge protest movement — or at least active on Facebook. They did not hesitate to tell anyone within earshot how horrified they were with the decay of society, going so far as permanently embargo dinner party invitations to any friend or acquaintance who even expressed any interest in trying it out themselves. As for me, their prized only child, banning the purge only served to fetishize it.

I didn’t have the nerve to purge until well after college, after my phone calls to home had dwindled from twice a week to once a month and I had convinced myself enough that I was an independent adult. My interest in the Purge was never about bloodlust, but in the ability to experience true unbridled freedom, even if for only 12 hours.

This year would be different. My Purge would change the world. I would turn a mirror on society, revealing the hypocrisy of it all. I would change the Purge from a gruesome massacre to a Greek forum, a battleground of ideas. I was determined to become the world’s greatest Purge performance artist.

My friends were expecting me at their warehouse party near the Navy Yard. I stayed active in the group chat, letting everyone know I thought the party would be ‘dope!!!!!!!!!’ despite the fact that I knew I wouldn’t be attending. I was going to purge, but I wasn’t ready to go public.

Over the years I had sketched out several grandiose ideas: an enormous inflatable toilet hovering over city hall, a wall of loudspeakers blasting “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding”, and even a one act play I would perform inside the Apple Store. But I didn’t have money, and I didn’t have time, so I ultimately decided on the tried and true gold standard of agitprop — wheatpasted posters with cheeky sayings.

The sirens wailed and the Purge began. I felt a frothy mixture of fear and confidence churning inside me. I prepared my little kit — posters, glue, a pocket knife, a handful of Luna bars, my Nalgene bottle, a hand crank radio, and a half-dozen mostly-empty cans of spray paint.

I stepped out onto the sidewalk and realized I had made a huge mistake. Something exploded in the distance. The sounds of gunfire and rising plumes of smoke behind buildings were unsettling, but it was the smell that really got me. Having once set my hair on fire, I had some sense of what burning flesh might smell like. Once the real thing enters your nostrils, the reptile part of your brain sends a clear message to the rest of you: No. Bad. Get out.

I was terrified, underprepared, but determined. I unrolled the first poster, a large drawing of a dick-shaped handgun with “KEEP CALM AND CARRY A WEAPON” written on top. Suddenly my brilliant art seemed beyond inadequate. The gunshots in the distance were no longer so distant and I rushed to haphazardly stick up a poster. In my haste the only surface I could find was the roll-up security gate on the bodega right next door.

I snapped a quick selfie and ran back into my apartment. I checked the group text. The party did look dope.

— Nick DeMarco