Saturday, April 30, 2011

Both sides now and back again


Monday came quick, with a nine-hour shift rolling posters, two three-hour shifts under the health club, six chapters of medieval history, a study group for Psych 101, three pages of Latin translation, and a half day drilling Russian declensions and conjugations overlapping both ends of the weekend.  I rose at 5:00, organizing my study materials for the three bus, two-hour trip to campus.  I had learned to use this as scheduled study time, having become accustomed to the rolling stop-and-go of the buses, with their stifling closeness of people increasingly packing the aisles as the morning wore on, so that it didn’t make me carsick any more.

After Russian class and a psych lecture about what happens to baby monkeys when you give them artificial mothers made of steel, I had a two hour space before Latin, after which I was done for the day.  I didn’t have to work again until Tuesday night at 7:00, when I would put in one of the two hour-and-a-half shifts at the health club that I worked during the week.  The rolling harmony of the Campanile bells’ regular noon interlude now mingled with the shuffling chatter of students pouring out of class, as I made my way upstream toward the music to my meeting with Barb.

Walking up the incline onto the green behind the tower, I spotted Bob and Barb already there, sitting under a tulip tree on a wooden slat bench, backpacks next to their feet.  They were deep in conversation.  They looked up as I approached, motioning me to come over and sit down next to Bob.

“Barb here has had a big weekend,” said Bob flatly.  “Tell her what happened, baby.”

Barb had a drawn look, as if she hadn’t slept enough to really dream off the demons that had taken up residence since Friday night – either that, or she had invited the demons, if that’s what they were, in for a longer stay.

“Roger came to breakfast at Bernini’s Saturday morning and waited for me till the end of my shift.  Then we came over to campus and sat right here for I don’t even know how long.”

She paused, and was quiet for a good minute, looking at her hands folded in her lap, before she went on.

“He told me Edward wanted him to drop out of school and move to New York to work in the Center there.  He said that if he went, he would have a place to live and would never have to worry about money any more.”


“He wanted me to go with him.  And commit myself to Father.  Father is coming to America as soon as they’ll let him in, maybe by Christmas.”

“Let him in?  If he’s the Father, he ought to be able to come in whenever he wants,” I answered steadily, beginning to find Roger irritating.

“I don’t know what he means by that either.”

More silence, longer now.

“I said no.”  She sighed, looking defeated.

Tears started rolling down her cheeks, and she looked up at me.  “He begged me to go.  He started preaching to me about Father and the Kingdom here on earth and the unification of mind and body.  And that if we prayed, and worked hard, maybe Father would bless us.  Maybe.  If it was revealed to the Father that we should be blessed.”

“Blessed, bless you? What does that mean?”

“That’s when the Father picks who you’re going to marry.  And you wear a white dress and you stand with the rest of the group and you all marry whoever you’re told.  Because it’s a blessing, God damn it!”

Now the tears started rolling in earnest, sobs caught at the back of her throat.  It took another several minutes for her to compose herself.  We waited.

Finally, she spoke.  “I said no.  And then I told him that was the last time I was going to say it.”

“Good girl,” Bob replied in an encouraging tone.

“Thank you.”  He handed her a red square bandana and she blew her nose.

“I’m meeting him back here at three o’clock,” she went on.

“Whatever for?” I asked, incredulous.

“I don’t know.  Just to say good-bye, I guess.”

All at once she became deathly quiet, no tears, expressionless.  Bob and I exchanged glances.

“Are you going to speak Amharic?” he asked gravely.

 “Not right now.  Maybe later.”

Bob and I talked Barb into going down to the Student Union with us for pizza and to watch the bowlers until we had to go to class.  Bob headed off for Spanish at 1:45, and me for Latin, and we left Barb watching a hot game with two bowlers already over two hundred, hoping she wouldn’t do anything dumb before we got back.


When I got back to the bench by the Campanile around 3:45, Roger, Bob, and Barb were all there, Bob having arrived about five minutes before me.  Barb was in the middle, flanked on either side by Yin and Yang.  The sun had moved further across the lawn that ran along both sides of the promenade away from the tower, casting dappled shadows and hot, white patches on the faces of the three bench-sitters.  See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. I dropped my backpack on the grass across the little path from the bench and sat on it, my face turned sideways from the sun. 

Roger had his hand in Barb’s lap, her hand balled up in a little fist, his hand wrapped around it.  Bob had his right arm around her shoulders, and she was leaning into him, her face slightly downcast to avoid the probing rays of sunshine.  Roger tossed his hair back and looked straight at me, the light glinting off his eyes. 

“Hello, Roger.  Long time no see.”  There was a hint of a challenge in my tone; for some reason, I already felt protective of my brand new friend Barb, who seemed like she was in a little over her head.

“Shelley, right?” he answered back, cocky.

“That’s me.  I hear you’re thinking about splitting to New York.  Is that right?”

“Yeah, Barbara said she told you guys pretty much everything.”  A faint shadow of resentment crossed his face.  “But I think we have it all worked out now.”

“How so?”

“Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since Saturday.  I’m really grateful to Brother Edward for taking me in.  And I’ve learned so much from Father already; even though I haven’t met him in person, I feel like I know him, like he’s already been a father to me, the father I never had.” 

He stopped to take a breath.

“But I don’t think following Father is really for me.  Deep inside, I don’t believe he’s the Messiah.  I know he’s not.  His other followers aren’t like that – they’re sold out to him completely, body and soul.  Me, I have to be my own man.  And I won’t give him the right to decide who I can and can’t marry, or who I can and can’t love.  Only God can do that.  He believes we should step up the troops in Vietnam, too – did you know that?”

“I did not know that, Roger.  Did you know that, Bob?” I asked. 

“Did not know it,” Bob answered matter-of-factly.

Roger went on.  “It wasn’t a hard decision for me, finally, especially after Barbara said she wouldn’t go with me if I left.  And I don’t want to give up my scholarship, either.  God has big plans for me, I know it, and it’s not spreading the message of Father Moon as the second coming of Christ.”

“Right on,” Bob affirmed, winking at me.

“One very important thing I learned from Father, though.  Very important thing.”  He paused for a moment, considering deeply.

The sun was now blazing above Roger’s left eye. 

Without blinking, he looked me right in the face, apparently oblivious to the fiery shaft aimed just north of his cornea. “Sun Myung Moon received inspiration straight from God.  This inspiration overrode whatever is written in the Bible.  That’s the lesson of Sun Myung Moon – each man gets his own inspiration, revealed directly to him by God.  Including Jesus Christ – he had a divine revelation too.  His power to perform miracles came directly from God, as God’s son.  Everyone can have that power, to be the Son of God, his own Messiah.  That power places the one who receives it above the law, just as Jesus tells us that his way rises above the law.  Just as Sun Myung Moon has risen above the law.”

The three of us just sat there, pondering, wondering exactly what he meant by that, but afraid to ask.

He went on, “So I don’t need Sun Myung Moon to receive inspiration.  God will give me my own revelation.  He has given me a revelation today.  I’m going to walk away from Reverend Moon and stay right here in Berkeley and pursue my degree in zoology.”

“Well, that’s great, Rog,” I offered.

“Great,” added Bob.

“Barbara, tell Shelley what we worked out.  This is the best part,” Rog enthused.

Barb sat up a little and leaned away from Bob, her color gradually becoming less flushed as the sun moved further still down the lawn, away from her face.

“Well, you know I’ve been working a lot of hours, Bernini’s, the bookstore, and Pacific Gas and Electric, and I’ve been saving every dime I could.  You know I’ve been wanting to get my own place.”  She paused.

“Mary Moorhead is quitting school – she’s going back home to Iowa City to finish her next two years at community college.  She’s been getting a little crazy and worn out.”  Nothing like you, I thought.

“She has that great little flat right on University Ave., and the rent there is really cheap.  It’s going to be available in a week, and Ed Hunolt’s said they had a job for Roger as many hours as he wants, because one of the guys that works there is leaving, too.”  Where is everybody going, I thought?
“So we’re moving in together.”

The whole thing just felt kind of big.  It was hard to watch this girl get her heart slammed around so hard, with passion and probably sex and the Lord all mixed up in it, screwing up her ability to see anything clearly.  

There but for the grace of God . . .

“Barb, did you tell Roger about the bus?”

“No, not yet.”

“Don’t you think it means something, that Ethiopian guy sitting there ready to translate for you?  Christian obey Christ, Christian obey the Bible?  You know, you guys haven’t known each other very long . . .”

“I think God is speaking to me, Shelley.  He wants Roger to leave Father and stay here in Berkeley with me.  I’ll be the shelter for him he should have had all along.  He and I will find our revelation together.  It’ll be OK – it’ll be better than OK.”

“Alright, sweetie.  But it’s getting cold.  Bob, are you ready to head out?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” he said.  “It’s been real, Rog.  Barb, we’ll see you right here tomorrow, lunchtime?”

“I’ll be here,” she said.  “Peace.”

“Peace, my baby.  Maybe we’ll bowl.”

Bob and I headed down the incline, off through Sather gate past Ludwig’s Fountain, and waited all the way until we got to Bancroft to grab each others’ hand.

“God have mercy, Christ have mercy,” I said under my breath.

Bob remained thoughtful for a moment.  “He looked deep in my eyes, like he wanted something.  I don’t think he loves Barb as much as she loves him.”

“For her sake, I hope you’re right,” I replied.  “Giovanni’s for polpettine?”

“You’re on.”

We walked another block in silence till the sun went behind a building and a chill came over us.  Then Bob threw an arm around me tight, and we reveled in each others’ body heat, stepping out on the same foot and rocking in unison to our own beat, all the way to Shatttuck.


The following week, Barb and Rog moved into Mary Moorhead’s old flat on University, below an upstairs unit occupied by two herpetology majors and a vocal music major; and above the massage parlor downstairs, which featured a sign over its door reading, “Herein Lies the Rub.” 

The vocal music major was vigorously prepping for the annual auditions at the Met, and preferred practicing at home to the practice rooms on campus.  Her powerful operatic mezzo filled every corner of the building when she sang, even the muffled space in the bedroom closet in Rog and Barb’s apartment, even the narrow changing room between the towel cabinets in the massage parlor, but only when the Country Joe and the Fish and Jimi Hendrix Experience records had been put away for the day. 

One Friday night in December, about eight weeks after she had set up housekeeping with Rog, I dropped by Barb’s apartment.  She had asked me to help her shop for a special dinner she was making the next day for Roger and a couple he had met on campus.  Bob and I were now meeting her for lunch at the Campanile every day, and she was keeping us up to date with regular status reports whenever Roger didn’t tag along. 

Roger, she told us, tended to fall easily into conversation with whoever would listen, and he would tell them about his “vision,” which was taking on grander proportions by the day.  He had received a revelation that he and Barb would travel to a place across the world, but it was still unclear to him how.  The revelation came to him after Barb had told him about the episode on the bus with the Ethiopian boy.  He saw the episode as a sign that he, Roger, would receive further revelations and share them in a foreign land.  I was beginning to wonder how well Barb’s parents knew Roger, how they were doing with her new living arrangements, and how much influence they still had on her, if any. 

I climbed the narrow linoleum steps to the flat, the smoke and scent of the incense from the massage parlor hanging an inch below the yellowed, enamel ceiling all the way to the second floor.   Somewhere behind that odor hung the thick aroma of essential oils, patchouli in particular.  Barb had buzzed me in, so she was standing at the top of the stairs.  

“Come on up,” she said.  “Roger’s at work, and I just have to get a few dishes out of the sink before I go.”

At the back of the small entryway inside Barb’s apartment, I pushed through a beaded curtain to enter the living space, an ample room furnished with slip-covered dumpster treasures and a worn grey patterned carpet.  The mezzo was warbling at full throttle, her smoky voice grappling with something in Italian that she seemed to be stuck on: “il Signore è il mio pastore . . . pastore . . . è il mio pastore . . .”

The wall behind the sofa was decorated with Fillmore Auditorium handbills for Country Joe and the Fish, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Iron Butterfly, all of them for concerts that I knew neither Barb nor Roger had seen, just there for the color.  Inside the door past the beaded curtain was a Synergisms poster, from our warehouse, one Bob or Graham or I had probably rolled ourselves.  It was an intensely colored hyper-realistic airbrush of a modern Leda and the Swan, with the swan nestled comfortably between Leda’s plump, high-gloss pink thighs.  I had rolled a flat of 500 of those just the week before, hundreds of shiny Ledas rolling up into tiny spindles and disappearing into plastic, one after the other after the other.

“Come in the kitchen and have a glass of water before we go.  I’m almost done,” Barb beckoned from around a tight corner.  She was just rinsing off the last plate and putting it into the rubber-coated metal drain basket when I came in.  She handed me a green bubble glass of tap water that tasted faintly of pipes, giving it a mineral quality that I liked better than the hard, flat tasting water in Daly City.  Looking around, I tried to imagine what kind of a family had lived here years before, eating their dinner at the cramped banquette before the vinyl seat-covers were rubbed through to the backing, back when the little black and white hexagonal tiles on the counter were still toothbrush clean, none missing, and you could still read all of the little recipes, written in French, on the wallpaper that was now torn and dappled with grease stains.  I imagined children sitting at the kitchen table, trying to figure out what the ingredients were in the recipes by looking at the pictures that were printed beside them, while they waited for their plates.  There had probably not been a massage parlor downstairs – maybe a shoe store, or an ice cream shoppe instead.  Today, it was a bombed-out hippie wasteland – but a nice one, comparatively speaking.  

“Ready?” sighed Barb, sounding for all the world like a tired housewife rather than the schoolgirl she really was. 

“Ready,” I replied.  So off through the beaded curtain we went, down into the cloud of incense past the hookah-smoking caterpillar, into the Berkeley night.


The neighborhood grocery was just two blocks down University and one over, so we walked the short distance under the now naked tulip trees, their club-like branches sticking up like knobby fingers in the silvery winter moonlight, casting sharp-edged misshapen shadows on the sidewalk.  Our breath misted white in front of our faces, drifting up and disappearing as quick as it had appeared.  We chattered about whatever came into our heads – do you think the herpetology majors are having a thing with the opera singer, are Bob and I serious, what was Roger’s family like. 

Roger’s family was a topic off limits whenever he was around.  His father was a salesman who had had an affair with his mother one summer, when she was waiting tables in a Chicago cafe, and he was in town on a week-long sales trip.  He had come into the café every day, every meal she was working, after the first time he saw her.  One night after the dinner shift, she accepted an invitation to have coffee at his hotel room, and Roger was the result.  His mother had given birth to him when she was twenty-three and his father was thirty two.  All these years, Roger’s dad had been raising a family – his real family - on the other side of the country; to Roger, it may as well have been the other side of the world.

Finally we arrived at the market, warm yellow light spilling from the display windows and open doorway, puddling on the sidewalk, illuminating the piles of fresh produce brimming over the edges of the outdoor display bins. 

There wasn’t a lot of foot traffic in the store that night, maybe because it was getting cold and dark earlier now – there was only one tall figure toward the back of the store, popping in and out among the aisles of canned goods, bread, and toilet paper; and the old Jewish checker in his yarmulke, wearing a flannel shirt buttoned all the way up and a woolen vest over that.  He was seated on his stool behind the big metal cash register, cupping his hands and blowing into them, a little electric space heater glowing away at his feet.
“Eefningh, goils.  Vat can I do you for?”

“Just putting together a little something for some friends,” replied Barb, “mostly veggies, but I’ll come in for some Orangina in a minute.”

“I think I’ll make that vegetable stew Roger likes, the one that tastes like the ratatouille at that new restaurant on Shattuck,” she said turning to me, surveying the heaps of freshly misted broccoli, squashes, green beans, eggplant, artichokes, plump tomatoes, and sweet corn laid out in the bins.

“My favorite,” I said, and started picking out mushrooms, looking for the ones with the most perfect caps and no mushy spots.

Suddenly Barb stopped right where she stood, staring straight ahead of her, focused somewhere between the broccoli and the zucchini.  The color drained from her face, and she exhaled deeply.

“Uh oh . . .” I uttered quietly under my breath, sidestepping gingerly down to the end of the bin near the bok choy, where I planned to wait and observe from a distance until it was over, if I could get away with it. 

The sounds started low in her voicebox, rumbling up to her throat and overflowing her lips like the river water that had tumbled out of her in the bus that night.  At first it was so soft I could barely hear it, but gradually it became more clear.

She started slowly and deliberately, rocking back and forth.  “Näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ . . .”

The sounds were much less complicated and sounded more like just pure sorrow, bubbling up from deep inside, than what we had heard last time.  I began to inch closer to her, but just then, the tall figure from the back of the store emerged in the doorway with a bag of groceries, and seeing her, he walked right up and stood very close, looking right down into her face.  It was the Ethiopian boy from the bus.

“Näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ . . .” she continued softly.

“I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am,” he replied.

“AT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen, aT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen, aT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen,” she said more firmly now.

“Have no other gods before me.  Have no other gods before me.”

“Mǝkǝnǝyatǝ ǝne fägärä mäaat mälaw aaläm, mǝkǝnǝyatǝ ǝne fägärä mäaat mälaw aaläm.”

“For I so loved the world.”

A simple peace fell over the produce area, Barb remaining very still, head bowed, the young Ethiopian right by her side.  My feet unlocked and I walked over, just as she was looking up and opening her eyes.

“Hello again, my friend,” said the boy to Barb.

“Hi,” she replied shyly.

“You know,” he said, looking down into her face, “if I were you, I would listen very carefully to Him, and do exactly what He told me to do.  Exactly.”

“I will.  I promise.”

“He must love you very, very much.”

“He loves you too.”

Their eyes held for just a moment more, and a tangible warmth glowed between them as if from a source other than themselves.  The fine transparent down on his cheeks caught the light from the doorway, like an aureole against his mocha skin, making him appear vulnerable, approachable.  He touched her elbow, smiled gently, then turned away and walked around the corner, north toward University Avenue. 

Barb turned to me and found my eyes with her wide blue ones, still vague and teary.  “I can’t wait to tell Roger,” she whispered.  “He’ll know what to do.”

Something heavy inside me turned over, and then turned back again.

“Roger?  But He doesn’t talk to Roger.  He talks to you.  And that boy.”

“That’s only because we’ll listen.  Roger can’t hear if I don’t tell him.  Like I said, I’ll tell Roger.  He’ll know just what to do.”

“I think you already know what to do.”

Since I was beginning to tread onto forbidden ground, I bit my tongue, knowing that Barb was going to make up her own mind. Almost forgetting where we were, we had started to wander off, and I looked down to notice I was still holding a bag of mushrooms. And so we gathered ourselves together and turned back to the market, back to the business we had come for, all talked out for the night.

But on the way home, I had to wonder, is it just Barb, or does everyone turn a deaf ear when what’s best for them doesn’t match what they wanted, even when the clearest of voices is telling them, look over here, over this way?  And if so, what voice was I tuning out in my own head?  I had to wonder.


By March of that year, Barb and Roger were somewhere out on the fringe together, even for Berkeley.  Barb was still working the same three jobs, and Roger had burned through two and was working on a third.  

Roger’s grades were beginning to suffer, so he had lost two of the four scholarships that paid his tuition.  Times were tight, but they were getting by, barely.

One late spring day, while face down in prayer in the middle of their University Avenue flat, Roger received the revelation he had been waiting for.  It did not come over him suddenly, but had simmered within him for several weeks before it came, forming itself as he observed passersby on Bancroft, or while he was sitting on the steps at the edge of Lower Sproul, watching the conga drummers pounding out their wordless mantra.  He had missed more than 20 hours of class over the past two weeks, unable to concentrate on anything other than connecting with the revelation he expected, the one he knew he had coming.

He lay on the floor that day, both front and back of his shirt soaked with sweat in spite of the cool breeze coming in through the open, screenless window.  A bird had lit on the sill and was skittering back and forth on the painted surface, its tiny claws scratching out a delicate tattoo.  It made little peeping sounds here and there, then, suddenly, stopped and remained perfectly still, almost as though it were thinking.  Then, a slow warble began in the depths of its ruby throat, at first almost imperceptibly, then picking up volume and speed, at last bursting forth in full throttle, elegantly inflected notes, almost having the quality of speech.  Almost as if it were speaking a human language, foreign, yet somehow familiar.

That’s when it came to him.  It had been right there in front of him all the time, right there in Barb’s unconscious, seemingly innate knowledge of Amharic, combined with the returning presence of the Ethiopian boy who now happened to be enrolled in the same comparative literature class as Barb.  It was an unmistakable sign, directed exclusively to Roger.  He now had the answer for his life, and therefore for Barb’s. 

The answer lay in Jah Rastafari, born Lij Tafari Makonnen, later to become Ras Tafari Makonnen, now Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, and known by Rastafarians worldwide as Jah incarnate, the Messiah, the second coming of Christ. 

That had been it all along. Roger and Barb were called to become Rastafarians.  But it was to be several days before he was ready to break this news to Barb.

Once enlightened, Roger began to study the path to One Love feverishly, on his own.  He had taken a Black Studies course his second quarter at Cal, so he already had a head start.  His professor had introduced him to Ethiopianism, at the root of the Afrocentrist movement which gave birth to Rastafari.  He had learned that Haile Selassie - whose name meant Power of the Trinity in the ancient language of Ge’ez, the mother language to the Amharic that flowed like river water from Barb’s lips – this man, Selassie, was descended directly from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  Much more than a mere man, he was a being of royal Biblical lineage.  The symmetry of the circumstances was stunning to Roger, and clearly confirmatory of his revelation.
But problematic was the fact that, being white, Roger was not a candidate for blood membership in the Ethiopian family of descendants from the 12 Tribes of Israel.  Nor did it make sense for him to follow the Afrocentrist teachings of Marcus Garvey, even though Garvey was the one who had prophesied that Selassie would become the Messiah.  Still, what Jah Rastafari himself had said before the United Nations in 1963 was very clear: “ . . . that until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; . . .that until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; . . . until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.”  One love.

This opened the door wide for Roger, and he saw the alignment of recent events with his new knowledge of history as part of a master plan for his life.  He found the rasta worldview miraculously similar to his own. There was room in Rastafarianism to believe that only half of the Bible was written down, and the other half, stolen from the African tribes of Israel along with their culture, was written on the hearts of true rastas.  Jah Rastafari had come to earth to be the Messiah, the second coming of Christ, to free the people from the Babylon of the white western world and unite them under the banner of One Love. 

Roger had been sure of one thing from the beginning, with the certainty of one who has heard directly from God Himself.  He was sure that God had a very personal message only for him, and that this message rose above the Bible, even above the law.  It was written on his heart.  Roger’s path was clear to him now: he was to become a Rastafarian, and Barb was to become one with him, as Biblically prescribed since he was head of the family.  This was the reason, he now knew, that he had been led to spend a season as a Unificationist.  It had prepared him to hear the message of One Love, and to tell it to the world.

When he was sure that he had worked out all of the kinks and finally shared his vision with Barb, he was surprised to find that she had questions.  Many pointed questions.  In fact, he had not seen this side of Barb before.  She seemed somehow – oppositional.

“Isn’t that the group that smokes weed?” she demanded.  “I can’t smoke weed.  My parents will disown me.  It’s bad enough that I’m living with a man.  It’s taken them five months to speak to me since I moved in with you.  If I start blazing up and stop combing my hair, I doubt if I’ll ever see my family again.”

“Now, baby, settle down, settle down.  It’s not like that.  Sure, we’ll live the life of the natural man and woman, take the Nazirite oath, abstain from meat and other animal flesh.  But the women don’t have to keep the rituals, smoking the ganja or participating in Nyabinghi, because sisters are born enlightened to begin with.  They just need to be there for the men, keeping modest dress, and keeping the home.”

“What about working three jobs and paying the rent and the power bill?  Do sisters do that?  Because I don’t think you make enough for me to just keep the home.”

“That would be part of keeping the home, so that would be alright.”

The silence was palpable, and long.

“I cannot live in a house where weed is smoked.  I will not.  I will not lose my parents again.”

Roger’s brow became furrowed, and he rubbed two fingers into the creases between his wide hazel eyes, not even the strain of receiving holy revelation having dulled their warm depth and appeal.  Barb refused to look at them, knowing the potential result if she did.

Finally, he spoke. “I love you, baby.  My life is tied up in you.  My revelation is your revelation, and yours is mine.  I would die for you.”

He looked down, his thick lustrous mane falling forward, hiding that wide, expressive mouth.  Barb was grateful not to be confronted with his face for a moment, although the subtle curve of his delicately muscled torso and his warm, familiar smell were still an issue.  The passage of time was agonizing.

“Alright. I won’t smoke ganja in front of you, ever.  You will never see it in the house.  You have my word.”
Their eyes met, the sheer potential inherent in that moment almost overwhelming.  Barb felt the tears welling up in her eyes, her throat tightening, uncertain whether it was joy, or sheer, stark panic that she felt.  He held her gaze, his eyes limpid with hope and passion.

Barb sighed deeply, even her breath trembling.  “Holy crap, Roger.  You don’t ask much, do you?”

His eyes were unblinking now, his resolve clear.  Barb didn’t have a fighting chance.  Neither did the small voice at the back of her mind that nagged gently, this isn’t you.  It’s not too late to throw him out.  One gentle push, and he’ll walk away, turn the corner, and be gone.  You can do it . . .

She looked deep into him, completely self-composed now.  “Alright then.  We’ll make it work.  You know I love you.  You know I do, you know it, you know . . .” 

And with that, her composure dissolved into that long, clear expanse of deep green water that Roger invited her to swim in with him, beckoning her to dart in and out of underground caves and treasure ships hand in hand, free and clear of the reeds.


On July 13, 1972, Roger Elliot Fagin was arrested at a Durant Avenue apartment by an undercover officer for possession and sale of marijuana.  He had in his backpack two keys of sensimilla, twelve ounces of hashish, and paraphernalia.  He was apprehended when he attempted to make a sale to the officer.  His court-appointed attorney’s argument that he had a right to traffic in marijuana because he was a Rastafarian was unsuccessful, given that there was no evidence of any significant Rastafari worship going on anywhere in Berkeley, other than Roger and two other guys.  Roger was sentenced to five years in a California prison, with the possibility of time off for good behavior.  He was not, in the end, above the law.  He never saw Barbara again, at least not in the flesh.

So Barb was a free woman, for a time.  She kept her apartment, on her own, and lavished herself in solitude, focusing on her courses in poli sci and fleshing out her dream of becoming an attorney.  And perhaps best of all, wearing and eating whatever she pleased.

But by July, it was already too late for me.  That spring, Bob and I had come to the sad realization that we would not be paired for life, a discovery that still escaped our understanding, since it was clear to us that we loved each other with a depth and complexity that would remain unequalled for the rest of our lives.  And the voices that had clamored at me all year – Amharic voices, voices of baby capuchin monkeys with cold metallic mothers, the voice of exhaustion and endless bus rides and the worldviews of medieval prelates digested and regurgitated in my own voice, Moonie voices, roots reggae voices, Hare Hare Rama – the voices began to shout at me in my dreams, in their cacophony of languages, rendering me sleepless, directionless, fearful that I would become soulless.

In June, Barb came through on a promise to ask her Dad about a summer job for me.  I started the first Monday after my freshman year, eight hours a day, five days a week, and by the end of that summer, the apparent clarity and common sense of the “regular” employees’ lives was drawing me with a greater magnetism than the exotic intensity of Berkeley ever had.  And so it was that I climbed onto the raft of corporate sanity for a time, long enough to catch my breath before I went back down among the reeds.  

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