“But, Graham, I’ll be 21 in the fall, and if I’m going to live with a man, he at least has to know he loves me. Besides - even though to be honest, I have to say I feel the same way you do, I mean about loving you for life - this is still hard for me. I mean, we knew we were young and not sure where we were going, but I don’t want to be living here when you find the right person. I have to go, I have to leave, and move on.”
Saturday, May 28, 2011
University and Oxford
“During the Middle Ages, probably one of the biggest mistakes was not putting on your armor because you were just going down to the corner.” – Jack Handy
In March it came – a big packet from San Francisco Art Institute, not the slender letter of rejection I had feared. The packet, stuffed with forms and brochures covered with pictures of thoughtful looking students working on larger-than-life sculptures and paintings, welcomed me. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my chest, both because I would now be able to bury myself full time in photographs, and because the ragged days and nights of commuting would come to an end, giving me a good four hours a day, at least, that I could now devote to study, work, and the life in between.
The Art Institute was walking distance from our apartment, just a short pull up Hyde Street, up and over Union, then a few blocks more past Lombard to Chestnut, and finally a sheer nosedive down Chestnut to the Institute. Twenty minutes in a hard rain, fifteen any other time, and a walk with views so jewel-like it was like opening a present each time. The cable cars clanged by on my left past Alice Marble Park, and Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world, according to Ripley, lay coiled below me on my right. Lombard’s loose bricks, flanked by overflowing beds of neon iceplant and marigolds, rattled and popped under the constant stream of cars looky-looing down its snakelike length, becoming a sort of urban river. To be indigenous in a neighborhood that rare was a kind of fortune that one could not seek and acquire on purpose. One had to be in the right place at the right time knowing the right person to score the one or two affordable rooms on the Hill, like Graham and I had. It seemed I was blessed.
With our apartment, my job at Lighthouse, and now my acceptance to the Institute, I suddenly felt a sense of community, like I really lived somewhere for the first time in a long time, and a possessiveness of the life that I now felt more willing to fight for, even head to head with Lois.
I confronted Graham with the letter from Lois and how I had found it in his pocket, and asked why he had not told me he was having second thoughts about our relationship. The answer I desired, even expected - “Oh, that? Poor Lois, she has a thing for me, but I had to tell her I was taken” - did not transpire.
Instead, he stared at me blankly, wanting to know what the hell was I talking about, and what was I doing in his jacket anyway. He had the look of a man who had information, and didn’t plan to give it up easily.
I replied from between clenched teeth, and softly. “I went to wash your jacket, Graham, and there it was, in your pocket. It didn’t even have an envelope. It was folded so the writing was on the outside, with the signature as plain as your face, and the words above it, ‘I think I could fall in love with you,’ right there looking back at me. I was taking care of you, and that is what I found, so I put it back and left your stinking coat dirty. Maybe I should have washed the whole thing anyway and handed you back the pulp. And now you say ‘hell’ to me, like I ought to be on the defensive or something.”
He stood very quiet, wringing his hands together and looking down at them. It was hard to tell if he was considering the whole situation and felt overwhelmed, or if he was busy constructing the perfect lie, or if he was going over several drafts of some awful truth he was about to spring on me. As the time passed, I couldn’t help but think about how different my reaction was to him right now compared to my reaction to Bob when he had broken the news he was gay. There had also been many times when Bob had taken a side trip with other girls and told me about it, and although I had been hurt, I had not reacted like this.
Right as we stood there, I knew what the difference was. Besides the obvious fact that Bob and I had never established a home together, Bob had been authentic in all circumstances with me, even in his youthful confusion. He had always been well-meaning. He had never hidden anything from me when our relationship had been the kind that called for full disclosure. Even when the news was at its worst, from either of us, he had put my heart on equal footing with his own. We had a knack for working it out, even through the storm of post-adolescence. I sensed that such was not to be the case here, with Graham, today.
He finally looked up at me, his hands dropping to his sides. His left arm rattled back and forth like it was in some kind of a spasm, and he twisted his mustache with his right hand. “What do you want me to say?” he asked, trying to sound cocky and failing.
“What do I want you to say? I don’t want you to say anything, except the truth. Do you need to hear the question again? Or do you need me to make the question more specific?”
“Ask it again,” he said flatly.
I was in some ways dumbfounded, but in other ways I knew this was predictable. What made it impossible for Graham to react any other way was his wordless nature, combined with his emotional fragility and his selfishness. None of these traits were endearing today.
I knew why he was like this, and in other circumstances I understood and even cared. I had been right there while he was growing up, and had been inside his home, heard the berating, the belittling, seen the unpredictable highs and lows played out, watched what happened whenever anyone dared speak up. I knew all of this. I had protected him from emotional highs and lows throughout our friendship because of this. Yet here I was, and there he was, and we had a problem.
“Let me make it simple for you, Graham. Are you sleeping with Lois, or not? Yes, or no?”
“SLEEPING with her? Are you serious? No! Hell, no! You think I have the guts for that?” I could have sworn his lower lip quivered. “I wish I did have the guts, but I don’t.”
“What, then, Graham? Be clear. And what do you mean you WISH you had the guts to sleep with her?” I took a deep breath. So much for protecting him from emotional highs and lows. My own were on the front burner right now.
I asked again, more patiently this time. “That was good information, really. But I still need to know, what is going on with Lois? Do you love her? Just talk to me. Please.”
Still more quiet, not a word. “Let’s sit,” I said. “Tell me.”
We sat. Finally he looked at me, from the extreme opposite end of the three piece sectional, and asked, “How come you didn’t get this upset when I told you I might be in love with Bob?”
“That’s different,” I said. “Feelings like that would be confusing, and it would be understandable if it wasn’t clear what to say or do. This is damn clear. So speak up.”
He sighed and looked at his hands again. “Alright. Lois and I have been having lunch together every day at work. There’s just something about her I like. She has this kind of guy quality that makes up for what I don’t have – she’s so tough and self-assured.”
“Why don’t you just fall in love with Bob then? He’s tough and self-assured,” I sassed.
“C’mon, now. She and I work in the same place, every day, and she understands all of the office politics, and how to manage the crap and the gossip and everything. She helps me work out what to say to Phil when I can’t get my point across with him. You and I just live in two different worlds now, that’s all.”
“Two different worlds? You want to see a different world, I’ll show you a different world. I live in a different world, too, and I think of you as a shelter from that. You used to feel the same way about me. Don’t you feel that way about me any more?” I asked, feeling a little small inside, and distinctly less at home.
“I do, but Lois is my shelter at work. And she’s just so damn good at volleyball, it’s a beautiful thing. She’s so full of life and so happy, it makes me happy, too.”
Suddenly I felt very sad, like a whole chapter in my life was done, and the page had been turned, never to be turned back again.
“So do you not love me any more?”
He pressed his lips together and frowned, and then said, ”When you told me that you thought I could love more than one person, you and Bob, in perfectly OK ways, and that none of us knew how to love for life yet, you were right. I don’t love Lois. But I do love you. Still, I don’t know if I will love you for life. And being with Lois makes me think that maybe - maybe I won’t.” He breathed.
This time it was me who was quiet, the wordless side of my nature now in control.
“OK,” I finally said sadly. “Maybe I should move then. I can look for another place right away. I can be gone by the first of the month.”
“NO,” he hollered. “What’s the matter with you? No, no, no, no, no. Please, you cannot do that. I absolutely need you. No. Don’t do that. Not now.”
“But, Graham, I’ll be 21 in the fall, and if I’m going to live with a man, he at least has to know he loves me. Besides - even though to be honest, I have to say I feel the same way you do, I mean about loving you for life - this is still hard for me. I mean, we knew we were young and not sure where we were going, but I don’t want to be living here when you find the right person. I have to go, I have to leave, and move on.”
“No, you don’t. You’re going to go to school around the corner, for God’s sake. You’re going to teach me everything you learn about photography. You’re going to sneak me into class so I can imagine what it’s like to be a student there with you. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, and neither do you. Just stay with me. We’ll just be roommates if that’s what you want. But I need you. Please. Please stay. You are my best friend, my very best friend, and I need you here with me.”
Oh, crap, I thought, groaning silently. What am I supposed to do? Do I stay, and have a home - a warm, comfortable, quiet home with neighbors and my job around the corner and school down the street, and my second best friend for a roommate? The second best friend who just told me that growing up would not move him closer to me, but farther away? Or do I strike out on my own, like a brave person with a spine would do, and make a life that had a chance of taking its own shape, free of old romances that had not quite panned out?
Finally, it was not a difficult choice after all, because I did truly love Graham in a unique and unconditional way, like family. Besides, all my stuff was there, and I had never been big on change. So I chose to stay, and the time of living with Graham as my brother began, until new romance compelled me to do differently. In the end, Graham was to turn out to be a very fine brother, a brother who was easy to love, even for life. Still, something inside me was beginning to feel as if it were made of wood.
Graham and I opened the mail one Saturday morning, and there was a large, square white envelope with “Mayhew/Berhanu” above the return address. We looked at each other and smiled, him his big, Best Smile in the senior class smile, and me my little Mona Lisa smile.
We knew what we would find when we tore it open, and we were not disappointed. “The parents of Barbara Lorraine Mayhew and Yonas Berhanu request the pleasure of your company at their nuptial ceremony, to be held at the New Life Christian Center, El Sobrante, at 3:00 pm, Saturday, June 10, 1974. Reception to follow.”
Bob came over about 10:00 that night waving his copy of the invitation, and after he made us scrambled eggs for dinner, we all slept in a dogpile on the big bed. He had been feeling a little off his game because his brother Ricky had announced that he was going to become a priest, and he was struggling with his mother’s pride in contrast to her reaction to him when he had come out. What hurt him most was the way she had said to Ricky, “your father would be so proud,” and the way she touched his cheek and smiled up into his eyes. And then the way she had looked at him, Bob, after she said it.
We woke up about 6:00 am, a sweet-smelling spring Sunday shot through with Jacob’s Ladders in the half-light of morning, Bob and I unable to sleep any later than that after years of burning the midnight oil.
“What’s the matter with you people?” groaned Graham. “It’s Sunday, for Chrissake. Just because you two have a screwed up schedule doesn’t mean I should have to.”
We had hung a pair of Cost Plus deep red batik curtains in the archway between the living room and the bedroom when Bob had started to spend a lot of nights at our place. I undid the tiebacks and let the curtains drop into place so Graham could grab a few more hours of sleep, and then Bob and I went into the kitchen to make coffee and waffles for breakfast.
After we got going, we decided to throw a few slices of bacon onto the fire. Graham appeared in the doorway, his hair sticking out in every direction, rubbing his eyes.
“You are sick people, to be up cooking something that smells that good at this ungodly hour. Where’s the coffee?”
Bob poured him a cup, and aimed him toward one of the wicker chairs by the dining table in the bay window. Graham plopped down, sipping his coffee, gazing out the window at the park across the street as he creaked back and forth against the back of his chair like an old man.
Bob and I were just pulling the last waffle out of the iron when we heard Graham call out from the living room, “Whoa! Come here, you gotta see this!!”
Not inclined to let a perfectly good breakfast get cold, Bob loaded the last waffle onto a plate with the others and grabbed the syrup, and I got three plates and forks and the butter, plus napkins, with the bacon plate resting in the crook of my elbow. Then we scuttled out to the living room to see what was up.
Graham was standing up now between the table and the window, his face practically pressed to the glass, staring at something across the street.
“What in the world are you looking at? There’s nothing out there at this hour,” I said.
“Oh, yes there is. Look,” he replied pointing to the apartment building off left, third floor directly at eye level to our own, the only flat apparently on that floor, at least in front.
The lights were on in two rooms, the bathroom and the bedroom, and there were no curtains. You could see directly inside all the way to the back of each room, including the bed and the double wide walk-in closet in the bedroom with its wide bay window. The toilet, with the seat facing us, was visible in the bathroom through the narrow slit that was there, just to the right of the bedroom. The pale-skinned occupant was currently sitting on the toilet facing us, apparently stark naked. And she was blonde.
“See?” said Graham smugly.
“How could we not?” replied Bob, smirking slightly. “Graham, I thought you loved me.”
“I do, dear, but this is special,” replied Graham, winking at him.
“Great,” I said. “A naked blonde neighbor. Just what I needed. Ah, well, at least I can take pictures. I thought you were half asleep,” I jabbed at Graham, setting the table and putting the bacon down in front of him.
“Well, I’m up now! I haven’t seen her before, have you?” Graham asked to the room in general.
“No,” said Bob, “she must be new.”
“Just think - we can turn out the lights at night and have dinner theater,” Graham said.
“God help me,” I replied. Suddenly I felt like Wendy in Peter Pan, and could have sworn she was allowed to fly away at some point. But I couldn’t remember if she needed Peter’s help to do that. Flying would have been a good skill for me right then.
Blondie got up after finishing the job and walked out of the bathroom toward our right. She disappeared, her back to us, and then popped back into view through the bedroom door.
“She’s stacked,” observed Bob. “Look, she’s getting dressed now.”
“Come on, guys, this isn’t healthy.”
“She looks healthy to me,” said Graham.
“That’s not what I meant,” I rejoindered, digging into my plate. “There, she’s dressed now. You can return to civilization. Poor thing.”
“Poor thing? She has to know people can see that,” Bob said.
“Not necessarily,” I replied. “Remember? She’s new. She just might not be thinking about the window. Maybe she’s from Idaho or something – that’s probably why she’s so pale. She’ll probably get curtains today, too. Now leave the poor girl alone and eat your breakfast.”
“I’ll go get the paper,” sighed Bob, and the three of us whiled away the next hour poking through the Chronicle and grazing on waffles before Bob and I had to leave for work.
As I might have guessed, I was going to be seeing Blondie again very soon, both in the way I expected, and in other ways more surprising.
June 10th was just around the corner, marking the day after the last day of my last year at Berkeley – really, the first day of the rest of my life. It was also going to be Bob’s 21st birthday and the start of summer, as well as Barb and Yonas’s wedding, all landmarks in our little world.
Bob, Jacki, and I hung out together now pretty much whenever we were all on campus, knowing we probably wouldn’t see Jacki as much after this year – we’d have to find other ways to do that. And Barb and Bob and I still met now and then at the Campanile for lunch, relishing the warm joy in Barb that contrasted so sharply with the first lunch meetings the three of us had shared, when she was still grappling with Roger, before he “went away.” As much as her world had rocked and rolled through that time, “the voice” and her faith had been anchors that she had hung onto, keeping her somewhat grounded even when Roger was at his wildest. And then she had us. When Yonas had blown into her life, he was like a breeze from Heaven, sent especially to blow her to shore, out of the choppy waters she was lost in.
One late May morning, with only a week left of school until finals, Bob was home, back on Hyde Street, sick in bed, and Jacki and I were on our daily bus ride up University. The first thing I looked for when I got off the bus from the city at University and Shattuck was Jacki, waiting there at the kiosk for the last leg of our trip. Only 20 minutes long at most, those brief rides had become a space where we could just be, without digging too deep, an ear for each other if one of us needed someone to listen.
That day Jacki looked tired and distracted. She was scratching at a sore on her right hand, and from my spot pressed in next to her on the narrow seat, I could see that it looked like her hands were dry and cracked.
“Jacki, what’s wrong with your hand? That looks like it really hurts. Are you okay?” I asked, concerned.
“It’s just my medication,” she answered. “That’s what it does to my skin – it dries it out and makes it really thin, and if I get a cut or anything, it takes forever to heal. When I get really tired or anxious, my epilepsy kicks up a lot worse, and I have to up my dose. Plus, you know I’ve started doing photography, too, remember? The fixer getting into my skin doesn’t help any.”
Jacki had told me months before about her epilepsy, how it had plagued her throughout school, causing her to be ridiculed by classmates and affecting her ability to be involved in all the same things other kids could. We had also talked about the connection between epilepsy and giftedness, how popes and actors and artists and politicians throughout history had been diagnosed with epilepsy. One scientist had formed a theory that the effect of epilepsy on part of the brain caused other parts to overdevelop, leading to genius in one or more areas. It was obvious Jacki was special, more special than most people I had known. But on days like today, when she was not on top of her game, you could see that sad little girl who was sure her Daddy didn’t love her peeking out from behind her eyes.
“So why are you tired and anxious, honey? What’s going on?” She thought for a moment, apparently considering whether or not she should tell me what she was thinking. She and I respected each other’s need for space, considering our relationship really only consisted of little notches and cutouts in time. Jacki was always a cipher, apparently transparent but in the end impossible to know.
“Well, it’s not so much that I’m anxious, really, just excited. The church is finally leasing the land for our agricultural settlement in South America. That’s the overseas project I told you about. I’ve never been so excited about anything in my life, especially since I’m one of the few people really responsible for it. There’s just so much work to be done – contracts, agreements, getting passports for all the people who want to go – and a lot of people will want to go, eventually. It’s a real turn on, a chance to live the way people ought to live, sharing all we have with each other and working the land to sustain ourselves, free from the capitalist system. It’s just that for me, it’s a lot of travel right now – every time I have a break – and a lot of phone calls, a lot of documents. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. It’s the perfect work for me, taking care of people and meeting their needs. It’s just, sometimes I get worn out.”
After what Bob had told me about seeing Jacki in Paris, I had a gut feeling not to ask any more probing questions. Bob, Barb, Yonas and I had planned a date to meet for lunch at the Campanile that day at 12:45, each of us planning to pick something up and meet at our bench to eat together, so I decided to ask her to come along.
“Why don’t you have lunch with me, Barb, and Yonas today, Jack? Meet me at Falafel King at 12:15 and we’ll walk over together. You don’t have to go straight back when you’re done, do you?”
“No,” she laughed. “I’m always up for falafel. I don’t have anything after my 11:00 class. I just promised to meet someone at Temple housing at 4:30. But I can make it back in plenty of time. So Falafel King, 12:15?”
I nodded as we rolled up to our stop at University and Oxford, standing up for the rocky-rolly walk to the back door of the bus. Then we crossed the street and started the climb up the little hill, past Tolman Hall. I didn’t realize then it would be one of the last few times I would see her, until I saw her again four years later on the television news.
* * *
Excerpt from Jacki’s Diary
March 1, 1974
We’ve got a crew of about ten of our people on the ground now at Guyana, working on clearing our 3,800 acres there. Our project is in a pretty dense forested area off Port Kaituma, and they’re working their hearts out, chopping and leveling for 16, 18 hours a day, which is what Father expects. We’ve all been working that hard from the beginning, even back here in the states in our own ways, and we’re stronger for it.
There’s so much to do, shipments to manage, contacts to keep happy so everything goes into Guyana like it’s supposed to – arms, medical supplies, ground transportation, you name it – some of what we need is hard to get in. But Burnham, the Prime Minister, has assigned an aide to our move and she is really helpful. Whatever we want to send in, she makes sure it goes through on their end and they don’t even worry about what it is, except the guns. They’re harder and may wind up presenting a problem.
They’re not used to people wanting to get in, I guess, only out. And of course it’s no trouble getting stuff out over here on our end. Our contacts help me with that.
Right now, with everything people give us in cash and property, we’re bringing in tens of thousands every single week, some of it nickel and dime. The amount of travel and coordination it takes to manage all we get so it’s safely kept out of the wrong hands is tremendous. Everything our people own, what they depend on to survive, I’m responsible for, with very few others. I’m running every spare minute just managing accounts, both public and confidential, and it will only get more intense now that school is out. Jim will expect my all, no question. And he has it without reservation. Body and soul, but mostly the body, and in a few ways. I’m too funny.
* * *
When we got to Falafel King at 12:15, Jacki and I each ordered a half falafel with hummus and dressing, and tall orange drinks in waxed paper cups. Then we started the stroll into Upper Sproul, the Hare Krishnas tambourining and chanting behind us on Bancroft, and Holy Hubert hollering from the steps of the student union, waving his Bible and preaching damnation and hellfire if we didn’t repent.
We pressed on through Sather Gate, past the tables for the Young Democrats and the Young Socialists and every other young thing we could potentially decide to become, and then headed up the hill, to our right, toward the tower. When we got there, Barb was already there, but Yonas hadn’t arrived yet.
“Hey, look who’s here!” Barb cried, smiling.
Jacki laughed, carefree for a moment. “I heard you guys are getting married in a couple of weeks. Congratulations! Is Yonas coming?” she asked, hugging Barb and then looking around.
“Thanks, and he should be here any minute. Hey, Shel. Sit down, guys – pull up a space. Where’s my Bob – isn’t he coming?”
“Poor boy is home sick today. I hope he doesn’t sit up too much looking out the window,” I said, quietly amused at myself.
We snuggled up together on the bench, Jacki in the middle and Barb and I on either side. Sitting so close together, all of us believers in different ways, we suddenly felt, all at the same time, the presence of God among us, between us, in us, and around us. Like we were wrapped in the arms of a gentle wind, a sweet movement of pure air. Barb had a sudden intake of breath.
“Do you feel that?” she whispered.
“I sure do,” I replied, hushed, and Jacki nodded, looking all around at the sky, above and to the right and the left, confused. Her lips got faintly blue, and she shivered.
Barb tilted her head back and parted her lips slightly, her eyes half closed, as if she were listening for something. I had a feeling about what was coming next, and about who was almost certainly no more than a few steps away, if not closer. Sure enough, Yonas walked up from behind us at just that moment and put his hands on Barb’s shoulders, right on cue. I could hear a deep sound of rushing inside my head, almost like the sound a seashell makes when you hold it up to your ear. My face felt very cool suddenly, and fresh, belying the warmth of the day as we had felt it just before we sat down. And then my whole view of the world fell back and away, and everything real around me got very, very small.
It started softly, like a sighing deep at the back of her throat, like a child deep inside her was trying to be heard. Then it shifted deeper still, a rumbling of magma underground, then finally bubbling to the surface, tumbling from between her lips warm and round, glowing like an ember.
“AT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen, aT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen, aT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen,” she moaned, Yonas’s hands just above her shoulders now.
I thought to myself, I’ve heard this before.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me, no other gods before me,” Yonas responded, rocking slowly, his head tilted down to her.
“Bemot T’illa mekakkel ínkwa bihêd, ante ke’inê garr nehinna kiffun aliferram. Beterhinna mirkhwizih ìnnersu yats ènannuññal:: Bemot T’illa mekakkel ínkwa bihêd, ante ke’inê garr nehinna kiffun aliferram. Beterhinna mirkhwizih ìnnersu yats ènannuññal::”
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” A deep sadness appeared to come over Yonas, and he shuddered once, beginning at his shoulders and moving all the way down his body to the ground. Still he did not leave Barb’s side.
“Näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ, näñ . . .”
“I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am . . .”
“AT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen, aT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen, aT’a lela amalkt lay ǝnen,” she repeated emphatically, desperately.
“Have NO other gods before me, NO other gods!” Yonas had sweat on his brow now, leaning down almost with his face in Barb’s shoulder.
“Agzab’r mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä, Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä. Agzab’r mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä, Kǝrǝsǝtosǝ mǝhǝrätǝ adärägä,” she wailed.
“God have mercy, Christ have mercy.”
Barb gasped, and Yonas knelt down on the ground right where he had been standing. I looked up and a cloud had just moved away from in front of the sun, which was now casting a warm rosy light on Barb’s hair, and spilling over onto Jacki. A flock of birds rushed out of the belfry and scattered across the sky, their wings whooshing gently. Jacki was pale as a sheet, and trembling. As I looked around the wide, grassy area where we were sitting, in what a few moments ago was the shadow of the tower, there was not a soul in sight, even though it had to be no later than 1:00.
Finally two people walked over to the bench catty-corner to us and sat down, chatting happily. Then a dog ran by, and a young man was a few steps behind him, plopping down on the grass and dropping a pile of books beside him. Back to life as normal.
Jacki opened her mouth and closed it again, then licked her lips, which seemed dry and parched. I handed her the orange drink she had set down on the ground beside her, and she took a small sip. Then she turned to me and said, “I felt a seizure coming a moment ago, but it didn’t happen. It’s almost like He had ahold of me, and wouldn’t let me go. Like He wanted something from me, and had to tell me what it was.”
Barb raised her head now, and looked over at Jacki with big, sad eyes. “I don’t know what’s in your life right now, or what it means, but I have to tell you that my body and soul ache for you, and I don’t know why. Please watch and listen for Him, and do exactly what He asks you to do, and nothing else. Nothing else at all.”
She put her hand over Jacki’s for a moment, and then pulled it back. Jacki and I looked down at the same time, and what we saw was beyond belief. Where the dry, cracked skin and the sore had been on Jacki’s hand, there was nothing but pink, smooth new skin, just like a baby’s. Her hand was completely healed.
Now it was Jacki who gasped. “I’ve never seen that really happen – not really,” she said. “I mean, I’ve seen it happen, things like it, but not really. And I’ve never seen someone talk like you do and then someone knows what she said. Only people speaking strange sounds and no one understands them but God.”
Barb looked right in Jacki’s eyes. “God understands my words. And He sent Yonas so you could understand them, too. He only talks to us, me and Yonas, when someone needs to hear.”
Barb looked around at Yonas. “Wow, I’m really hungry. We haven’t had our lunch yet, have we? Yonas, are you hungry?” Yonas popped up from behind the bench, sat down on the ground in front of her, and grabbed her hand.
“Starved. Let’s eat.”
All of us were about as famished as if we hadn’t eaten in a week, as if we’d just run a soul marathon. So we inhaled our lunches, and afterwards, without talking more about what had happened between us, went our separate ways to class and work and home, each pondering what had just transpired.
In the quiet space afterward, when Jacki was alone, the small voice returned to nag at the back of her mind, wheedling and begging her to turn back and start fresh, begging her to just be a student and make a future for herself, a future apart from Jim Jones. And instead of listening, as much as she wanted to listen, she very consciously chose to forge ahead anyway, and ignore it.
* * *
Excerpt from Jacki’s Diary
May 29, 1974
Soon school’ll be out, and I’ll have more time to focus on the tasks at hand. I’m really going to miss Shelley and Bob, especially Shelley and our bus ride every day. Our rides are a little “normal” time for me that I don’t always get, time to just rest and be me. I wish we could be friends like regular people, but she would have to join the Temple for that to happen. And for her, I wouldn’t want that, not really. It would eat her alive. The poor thing is so naïve she didn’t even know Bob was gay until he came right out and told her.
Shelley and I had lunch with her friend Barb and Barb’s fiancé a little more than a week ago. They’re salt and pepper, black and white (Jim would like that – ha), and they’re getting married in just a few days. I’d only met them once before, at Shelley’s place where she lives with her boyfriend, not too long before Bob and I left for Paris. Bruno, one of the guys we get our weapons from, dropped by while I was over there. He works for Ray, in the grocery store right around the corner from where Shelley and her boyfriend live. There’s all kinds of stuff going on in that store. I know Shelley’s noticed before that I know the two of them, too, but it’s just as well she never asks how or why. Shelley’s out of it like that – stuff can go on right in front of her and she never knows the difference. So we were cool.
Anyway, when we had lunch the other day, for a minute it was just me and Shelley and Barb, all sitting on a bench tight together. And then we had the strangest feeling. I was in the middle. I was sure I was going to get hit with a seizure, but then I didn’t. Instead, this cool, clear space opened up around me, and it was like someone was literally breathing clean air into my mouth. It was like – the breath of Heaven. It was what we pray for and wait for that doesn’t really ever come. It’s what Jim and a few of us try to create, that feeling for our people so they can feel safe and loved. But this was real.
Barb spoke in tongues. It wasn’t the same as what we do at the Temple, where people open their mouths and speak so no one understands but God, tongues you could make up if you decided to fake it. She was speaking in a real language, an Earth language. And Yonas came up just as she started, and he knew exactly what she was talking about. She was speaking his language, from Ethiopia. I suppose they could have planned it ahead. But I don’t think so. It was like listening to God talk, only it was Barb.
She touched my hand where it was cracked open and dry from my meds, and when she took her hand away, there was nothing there but clear healthy skin. Instantly. That was absolutely real. I know she didn’t plan that.
Why doesn’t God move like that in me? Why not? Where is he for me, when I work so hard for him and pour out my life? What has Barb done that he talks to her? Maybe Jim is right, and there is no God at all, just Jim, and maybe the Bible really is just a “paper idol.”
Once, Jim picked up the Bible and threw it out into the congregation and everyone was just dead quiet. You could hear the thing land on the floor, slap. Then he said, see? No lightning came down to strike me. This book has nothing in it you need. It’s just the white man’s justification to subjugate women and Blacks. Do you need a father? I’ll be your father. Do you need a friend? I’ll be your friend, closer than a brother. Do you need a God? I’ll be your God. I will be whatever you need. Jim talks about the Sky God who is no god at all. Did I see the Sky God at lunch the other day? Did he see me? I don’t know. But it really felt like he did. It really almost felt like he loved me. But Jim, I can see.
June 12, 1974
I missed Barb and Yonas’s wedding. I’m kind of sad about that, partly because of what happened between us that day, and partly because it was the last chance I had to see Shelley and Bob for a long time, if ever. But it was a sacrifice I had to make.
I finally met one of Jim’s agency people today face to face. Jim met him through a friend of a friend of a contact of Dan Mitrione, who Jim talks about all the time. Dan was friends with Jim since Indiana when Dan was in the police department there. He and Jim were in Brazil together in the sixties after Dan went to work for the agency, but Dan was kidnapped and killed by the Tupamaros in ‘70. He was an expert in “persuasion” and mind control and taught the Brazilian police to control guerilla movements that way, which is why the Tupamaros were after him. They even made a movie about him, “State of Siege,” and Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis had a concert to raise money for his funeral. Back in Brazil is when Jim traveled all over scouting the different places where we could plant our project, and it’s paid off in a big way.
While he was in Brazil he learned things from Dan to lead people out of poverty, ways that people have been studying underground for years to oppress the poor, and now we’re going to use them to make things happen for their good. He learned how to change the way people think, day in, day out. We’re going to build the perfect community, Heaven on earth. And the powers that have hurt so many of the poor for so long are going to pay for the whole thing. What the agency taught Dan about oppressing the people we will use to set them free, and Jim will lead the way, with me at his side.
When we were most of the time in Redwood Valley, we worked through our members at the mental hospital to lay our foundation. We tried out some of the head trips that help people move out of their old habits, and see their lives in a new way, see the power they really have. We learned a lot about what did and didn’t work up there by trying it out on real people, oppressed people who had nothing to lose and everything to gain, out of the public eye, as long as we could get away with it.
A backward place like Redwood Valley is in no way ever going to understand what it means to transform an entire society for the good of the people, ever understand that sometimes you have to experiment and try new things to make real change, and that people have to make sacrifices to get things off the ground. But the end result will be completely worth it, and the world will be changed, without a doubt, forever. The world will know our name, and they will be amazed.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Shattuck and University
“An eye is blind in another man’s corner.” – Irish Proverb
The year I dropped out of Berkeley, Graham and I found a third floor Victorian apartment on Hyde Street, just three blocks down from the corner of Union Street on Russian Hill. Graham was now a college dropout too, a corporate jock working for the man full time at the gas and electric company.
Our apartment had become Bob’s crash pad of choice rather than his family home in Moraga, the pressure from the aging mistress he had been maintaining across the street having become too great. Her 19-year-old, Stacy, had finally discovered the affair - she had found a desperate letter her mother was in the midst of writing to her barely legal lover, bemoaning the fact that they could spend so little time together as a result of Bob being busy with work and school. Stacy descended into a drastic state of depression, exacerbated by the funk she had already been in as a result of having aborted a child she had herself conceived with Bob the previous spring, without having told him.
Barb and the Ethiopian boy, Yonas, were an item now. As it turned out, Roger’s trip to prison had been the greatest gift she had ever received, since she would never have chosen to walk away from him on her own. On her own, she had ignored voices both silent and audible, allowing the present warmth of Roger’s eyes to muffle them. Still, she had been rescued, in spite of herself. Since thinking of Roger now caused her to feel a stabbing pain dead in the notch of her throat, the place where things get stuck for a moment if you are choking, she thought of him rarely, and this caused her some guilt, but not a great deal.
And so it was I began my second year at Cal in fall of 1973 already set apart, having taken a year away to heal. And I was tied with tighter knots than before to home and to Graham, separate from the maelstrom of the counterculture. Graham was now a born-again corporate lifer at 20, never to make another steel drum as long as he lived.
Seemingly by magic, Bob had become natively fluent in both Spanish and Italian after a year of immersing himself in a Romance Languages major, during my year away. He now strived for only one goal as our 1973 year began: to be European. He had a plan to become first a vagabond on the Continent, and then to find simple employment there, living on little, slipping quietly out of the American cataclysm and into the deep mysterious green pool of the beckoning unfamiliar.
The two of us had signed up together for the whole tour: French I, II, and III, 8:00 am to 9:30 am, Monday through Friday, every single day for a year. Our fellow travelers on this imaginary trans-Atlantic voyage were an impish nineteen year old named Jacki, kind of a cross between the Mona Lisa and Peter Pan; and our teacher/tour guide, a graduate student in French Language and Literature named Scott Winfrey. Scott couldn’t have been more than 23 himself, with deep marine blue eyes, and a leonine mane of flax blond hair framing his face. Originally from Montana, he exuded the essence of a genu-ine Frenchman, not only in his fluency and inflections, but in his mannerisms, the tilt of his head, the way his lips pouted when framing his “oeu’s,” the way he draped his hand like a divo and sidestepped the length of the room when speaking passionately and at length, which was often. He had traveled in France every summer since he was eighteen. Jacki and I found him devastatingly handsome, and he appeared to return the favor.
Jacki and I commuted together by bus, and together rode the 7:22 from the AC Transit stop on Shattuck up University Ave. to the Tolman Hall side of campus every single morning, rain or shine, like clockwork. We became bus sisters, nestled together like sardines in a can or twins in the womb, depending on our mood, pressed into the same seat, the same routine, the same hot bosom of the same family of commuters every single day for a whole year. We knew things about each other that nobody else knew, the things that made us who we were at 7:22 in the morning, still loose and groggy from having studied until 3:00 am, combined with the lack of urgency to operate a motor vehicle. Our hair was still a little unkempt and our guard a little down, enough to free us to share the human things that show who someone really is at the core.
Over the first three or four weeks of our daily ritual, I learned that Jacki had been an Air Force brat who had struck out on her own to see the world. Her dad was a high-ranking officer, and he was, from her perspective, a force to be reckoned with, as he would be for any child. But Jacki was not intimidated by his stature, having been born her own woman, and possessing a natural, smart-assed cynicism that constituted both her armor and her means of connecting to those she chose to let in. Yet still alive inside her were the small, lonely girl who never believed her Daddy loved her, and the girl whose fundamentalist mother had tried to break her rebel spirit by locking her in solitary confinement for long hours at a time, so painfully long that she was still afraid of the dark.
At nineteen she had just finished hitchhiking through the verdant Redwood Valley area of Northern California, through Ukiah and the Russian River, having also finished a side trip through “a far Eastern religious type thing.” Whatever was not Air Force, whatever was not capitalist, whatever was simply NOT – that was what Jacki was seeking.
Up there by the river, she had stumbled upon an evangelical church community with a fired up Indiana preacher who taught peace, freedom, equality, and the full integration of all races, all colors, all people, man and woman alike, worldly goods and all. The core of their membership had migrated there from Indiana to plant the little church, coming to California to escape right-wing persecution and to be closer to the poor, in addition to finding a geomorphically safe haven in case of nuclear holocaust, according to people who study such things. Once there, their numbers had grown quickly. The group was an eclectic mix, from the county Deputy District Attorney, to the poorest of the poor who had found their home, including food and clothing, inside the congregation.
A number of them lived together as a family in a little village off the road, safely battened down each night to protect them from the rednecks and back woods folk that populated the immediate area. The pastor was a genuine faith healer, had a broken heart for children in need, and spoke strange, unknown languages of Heaven that flowed from his lips like water from underground, languages that had never been heard on earth before, except from the lips of those touched by God.
Jacki was now employed at the church in their newer San Francisco congregation, the big one, handling finances for its overseas work and all of the pastor’s public relations. This was no small deal because the church had become very important in the City, and had hosted such dignitaries as State Senator George Moscone, Assemblyman Willie Brown, Art Agnos, Joseph Alioto, Angela Davis, and the Rev. Cecil B. Williams. The protocol involved in her position was considerable, and the relationships she made critical, because it was through these relationships that the church would save the poor of San Francisco from desperation, just as they had done in Ukiah.
A vague memory of a Berkeley school bus bound for Strawberry Canyon buzzed around me like a fly. I swatted at it unsuccessfully.
I frowned, trying to think of when I could make room in my day for anything new at all. “Well, I get pretty busy on the weekends. I just got a job at a bookstore, on top of staying on part-time at the power company. But I’m not ruling it out yet.”
But I had ruled it out, albeit unconsciously, because something in the middle of the warm, sticky harmony of the space between us was tiny and hard and cold, and – empty. Whether that was wisdom or neglect, I still haven’t sorted out.
Everywhere you go in Berkeley, you see tulip trees. Liriodendron tulipifera. I had learned the Latin name for them from the herpetologists, who also loved botany. Sometimes, on the bus in the morning while Jacki and I were riding to French class, we would just sit quietly, looking out the window at the trees and the street life they sheltered. Other times, we would show each other things and places that had been part of our lives, like the massage parlor with Barb’s flat on top, once Barb’s and Roger’s, and the sign lettered in Olde English, “Herein Lies the Rub.”
One day we were talking about our majors. Jacki told me she was taking French because her financial work with the overseas projects required her to travel to Europe, and sometimes to other places where French was spoken, like the Bahamas and French Guiana, sometimes even Paris. She didn’t have a major picked out yet, but she knew her future was somehow connected to Peoples Temple.
“Maybe I’ll take some business classes later when I know more about what’s in the cards for me, but right now I’m just enjoying the ride, so to speak. Jim looked at me one day and told me I have a special gift. He said I was someone who can be trusted with many things. No one had ever told me that before. I guess I’d been told I was smart enough, even pretty, in a boyish sort of way, or funny. But no one had ever told me I was special. That I could be trusted, with things that mattered to them. Not even my own father – well, especially not my own father. I would go to the ends of the earth for Jim Jones, and back. And I believe he would do the same for me.”
Attendance was light as usual that morning as Jacki and I walked into class, with seven or eight of the 35 or so chairs, each equipped with its own right-armed note table, occupied only by the dust that floated in the flood of 8:00 am light that hovered above them. There were two left-armed chairs in the room, and Bob always got there on time so he could nab one of them.
The light was beautiful in the side rooms at Dwinelle Hall at 8:00 am, especially in fall, the sun slanting at just the right angle through the high, narrow windows along the corniced ceiling, illuminating the surfaces that still carried the scuffs and carvings of decades gone by, traces of who knew what great scholar or poet or villain had shared this space with us.
Bob was already there, and he and Scott stood inches apart, eye to eye, while the rest of the sparse group looked on. Scott was showing Bob a large format brochure of some sort, the color pictures of rough hewn stone houses and rolling hills and the Arc de Triomphe brilliant enough to capture attention even from a distance. Scott spied Jacki as she entered and accosted her immediately.
“Ma petite Jacqueline, this is for you aussi,” he bubbled, fully in character as always. “Robért is going to travel to France with me before Christmas, and you’re coming too. We have scholarships every winter break for four epatant beginning French students to travel and practice abroad, and the two of you are my choice. You may not say no! Quelle est tienne réponse?”
“My response is yes! But can I ask my boss?” Jacki asked, looking pleased and worried at the same time. “I think he’ll like the idea. But is he allowed to say no?”
“Absolument non! And you tell him I said so.”
“Oui, monsieur. I’ll check,” she answered, lips smiling, eyes frowning. Bob walked past my arm-chair on the way to his left-handed one, raking his fingertips across my desktop as he passed. “I’ll miss you, ma petite. No Christmas caroling this year.”
“Je sais, je sais,” I sighed, feeling abandoned, a great grey expanse of emptiness spreading dramatically like a pool around me.
Done for the morning, we came out into the light and headed across the quad toward the Life Science Building, where the songbirds were doing their free-fall dance, skyrocketing in pairs to heights at least two human body lengths above the five story structure, then diving twice as fast to within inches of the ground, passing each other in a tantalizingly close arc. Then they ascended again, passing in midair, flirting, practicing for next spring’s avian love dance. Bob grabbed my hand and swung it up in the air, then back down, then up again, and winked at me. Smiling broadly, I suddenly felt very sad, and very, very alone, knowing that Bob and I would never be together, but totally failing to understand why. And having Graham back at home, slaving away as the financial head of our informal family day in, day out, didn’t make me feel any better.
So Bob flew away for the winter, far across the farthest pond, and laughed and drank Bordeaux and met new people and learned to speak fluently in a language I almost didn’t understand. When he came home, he was a newer, deeper, shinier, more joyful Bob than ever, one that I would love even more than I had before.
Bob arrived back from Paris the morning of Christmas Eve, and I knew as soon as I saw him that he had not really just come home, but instead had just left it. A faraway joy shone at the back of his dappled blue-green eyes, and the taut cords of muscle that had always coiled just under his skin like a hyperactive spring had smoothed out and loosened their grip, leaving what appeared to me to be a man occupying the space where the boy had lived before. I could have sworn his voice was slightly deeper, too, but with more - flair.
Graham and I met him at the shuttle stop, where the bus had just brought him back from SFO. He had left with one back pack and one giant Samsonite suitcase, and come back with an extra backpack, full, hinting at the trouble he had taken to bring home the perfect thing for everyone. He chattered all the way up the hill on the 41 Union, a new French accent coloring everything he said.
“Do you really speak French now?” I asked, the electric arms that tethered the bus to the lines overhead clacking against each other as we pulled to the curb for a stop. “You sound like a transplanted Frenchman! And you look like one, too!” His hair was a little fuller, his shirt had that je ne c’est quois, and his hands floated like birds, inflecting important phrases avec l’emphase. And he smelled good.
A flood of rapid French flowed from his lips in response, more and faster than I had the capacity to hear, given the almost two weeks I had just gone with virtually no French in my head whatsoever. “Well, I didn’t understand a word you just said, so I guess you speak French,” I replied, starting to unzip his extra backpack.
“Not so fast, ma cherie. There’ll be time for that later. Let me tell you about nôtre petite Jacqueline, though, and how much fun she had.”
“C’est vrai? Tell me more.”
“She flew the coop, twice. Once all afternoon, and once all night.”
The bus hissed as it came to a stop at the red light.
“The afternoon she ran off was the day Scott took us to sidewalk cafés so we could practice ordering everything in French, and then strike up conversations with the waiters about how to get around Paris and whatever else they would agree to talk to us about. So we were at Les Deux Magots near the Quai, and you could see directly into Café de Flore on the opposite corner. She was sitting over there with her back to us with a guy in a grey business suit, which in no way matched what Jacqueline was wearing, being Jacqueline, as you know.”
“I know indeed. Go on.”
“She had had a little flat case with her on the plane that she kept under her seat, and she never got up that we saw, so she must have used the bathroom when we were sleeping, because those were two of the longest flights I have EVER been on. She never took off her sweatshirt, either. Quel horreur.”
“Yeah, yeah, keep going –“
“Well, in the café, she had the case by her foot. The two of them were talking, and the man was making notes in a little book. He tore out a page from the book and handed it to Jacki, and she put it in the back pocket of her jeans. When they had finished their drinks, she picked the case up off the ground and laid it flat on the table. He took it, and they both got up and walked off toward the Champs Elysees. We watched them until they disappeared in the trees. What do you think about that?”
“Well, she said she did financial business for the church that took her overseas,” I speculated. “That sounds like business.”
“Actually, there’s a Swiss bank in that direction, across the Quai.”
“Well, that’s probably it. It’s part of her mission work,” I said matter-of-factly, flagrantly ignoring at least two separate voices proposing less friendly explanations, one of them in French. “That’s probably why the pastor let her go.”
“That’s some mission she’s on then.”
“Why don’t you ask her?”
“Peut-être pas - perhaps not, ma belle.”
“Well, here’s our corner anyway,” I noted, as I pulled the cord overhead to ring for the stop, grabbing one of the backpacks and stepping out into the aisle, reeling a little from the motion.
Graham, a man of few words as always, just smiled slyly at Bob, and hefted the big Samsonite up and over the seat, working it up the aisle toward the front of the bus.
“I missed this place more than I thought,” said Bob, looking at Graham, and then back down the Union Street hill toward North Beach as we climbed out into the veiled wintry light. “We still have a lot to talk about, mes amis. A whole, whole lot.”
Bob had parked his car around the corner on Green Street, and our neighbor Al the cable car grip man had moved it for him every couple of days. He was expected at his mom’s house for Christmas Eve dinner, but neither Graham nor I had re-established normal relations with our parents yet since we had moved in together, so we had planned a quiet dinner at home. It was almost time for Bob to load up the Mustang and head for Moraga, but first, we had a few things to share, a couple of gifts, and Christmas chatter. Graham and I had put up a scrawny six foot Douglas fir in our bay window, hung with 99-cents-a-box ornaments from Woolworth’s on Market Street, God’s eyes we had made, cranberry and popcorn garlands, and multicolored lights, one string. It was about three cuts above a Charlie Brown Christmas. I poured everyone a glass of apple cider with a cinnamon stick, and Graham and I curled up on the gold velveteen sectional, Bob in the Cost Plus beanbag chair.
“Hmmm. For me?” asked Bob, pulling out two wrapped gifts from under the tree.
“For you,” Graham replied, twirling the mustache he had been growing since Thanksgiving. It made him look just like a captain of industry.
Bob opened Graham’s gift first, a large flat package wrapped in red foil with two stick-on bows.
“Is it underwear, Dad?”
“No, son,” replied Graham. “Just open it.”
Tearing off the paper, he found a framed 16 x 20 matted black and white print, on Agfa Brovira Rapid glossy, unpressed, of a stand of redwood trees across a clearing in Muir Woods, a place Graham and Bob had often gone alone to hike and breathe and talk about whatever. Graham had taken it himself the last time they were there together, and had printed it in our bathroom while Bob was in Paris. It was signed in the lower right corner. Their friendship was a deep one, and had its own unfathomable identity separate from me, separate from any other combination of the three of us. Bob held the photo at arm’s length, moved.
“Thanks, man,” he finally said in a hushed voice. “Thanks.”
Graham nodded, his eyes moist, and Bob gently set the picture down and reached for the other gift labeled with his name.
“Ma petite,” he said. “What have we here?” He shook the oblong box and held it to his ear.
“You’d better wait till you open it before you decide if you want to shake it, not break it,” I replied, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes, mommy,” he sing-songed, and ripped off the paper. “Oh, wow, this is special. Thank you, sweetheart.” He leaned over and gave me a peck on the lips. It was a high-powered tabletop telescope on a tripod stand, one he could use to find the planets we used to lie on our backs and look for on clear nights, which were rare and special in Daly City, over on the high school football field right at the end of the block where Bob lived.
“I will look for Venus just for you, my love. Thank you.” He set it down and reached for his backpack and unzipped it, pulling out a long box and a tiny square one.
“Graham, friend, this is for you.” He handed Graham the long box, and Graham carefully removed the muted tissuey paper, exotic and foreign looking, folding it neatly in four and setting it on the arm of the sectional. He opened the box and pulled out an inlaid wooden kaleidoscope, which he immediately put up to his eye.
“Amazing,” he said, and walked from the lamp to the Christmas tree, then to the kitchen window, then the bathroom, aiming it into every source of light he could find to see the variations in the colors and shapes, turquoise and rose, purple and sea green, stars and triangles and whorls, both two-dimensional and three, a transforming work of art.
“It’s really far out, man. Thank you.” It did not need to be said that the kaleidoscope was the gift of seeing the world abstractly instead of literally, in motion instead of still, in living color instead of in black and white. Just once in a while, Bob wanted Graham, when the mood struck him, to go to that place and know that Bob had taken him there, and Graham was happy to go if it was with Bob – but never with me.
“Now you, cherie.” He handed me the small box. “But don’t open it just yet. Graham, do you mind if I borrow your imaginary wife for just a minute?” Graham shook his head no, and the two men caught each others’ eyes in some unknown silent communication.
“Walk with me, petite.” And he took my hand and led me outside, down the stairs to the front stoop. “Sit with me. Now open.”
“You are a man of mystery, Bob Bertrand,” I sighed, as I tore away the paper and found the grey jewel box inside. I gingerly popped open the lid.
Inside was a delicate gold locket, with tiny ornate openings cut out around the outer edge of the heart on the face. I rested my hand on my collarbone and took in a small gasp.
“Take it out, open it,” he said anxiously.
I lifted the small heart from its cotton resting place and put it in the palm of my left hand, gently prying back the cover with my right. Inside was a tiny photograph of the Eiffel Tower.
“Bob, I . . ,” and I put my arms around his neck and hugged him.
“Let me,” he said, pulling away, and took the locket from me, turning my shoulders away from him and reaching around my neck to clasp the locket closed. “I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower and thought about you when I was gone, and I wanted to bring it back so you could keep it.” Then he took my shoulders again and turned me to face him.
“Cherie, I have something to tell you.”
We looked at each other for a minute in complete silence, except for the cable revolving on its pulley system under the cable car tracks in front of us.
“When I was in Paris, I met someone.” My heart stopped still, and I didn’t breathe.
I found myself on solid ground because we had both known for some time that something was not aligned with us, something we didn’t understand. And now it looked like somehow, he had found his answer, and I was happy for him, and ready. I was ready, and had been. Still, for him to have found the right person so quickly after all we’d been through together . . .
I stopped myself. “I see. I’m glad for you, sweetie. What’s her name?”
He breathed, one long deep breath.
“Scott. His name is Scott – yeah, Scott the teacher. And you know I didn’t meet him for the first time. I only met him in a new way. I don’t believe he’s the one I’m going to share my life with. And he certainly is not you – no one will ever be you, ever.” There were tears streaming down his face now. “But he helped me find the Bob that I’ve been looking for all this time.”
He waited for me, and then spoke again.
“I love you with all my heart. You’re the other half of me. It’s unfair in a lot of ways. But this is who I am. Do you still love me?”
I was stunned by a sudden peace I didn’t recognize, overcome with perfect love that lifted me high over the street, gave me a lightness of letting go. It was – inexplicable, and sudden, like a recognition.
“Oh my God! Wow. Well, I think I love you more. Are you all better now? Will you be OK?” I stroked his cheek, which was tense again underneath like a coiled spring.
We wrapped our arms around each other and held on for dear life. He was trembling so hard it worried me. “I’ll always be here, always. Don’t ever be afraid of losing me,” I whispered.
“OK,” he gurgled into my hair, right in the same spot where Barb had rested her face, after she had returned from her break with time and space on the bus back from Strawberry Canyon. “Now let’s go back upstairs.”
When we had pulled ourselves together and walked into the apartment, Graham was at the kitchen counter, pouring the filling into the pie shell for the pumpkin pie. He turned, and he and Bob were eye to eye.
“Everyone OK?” Graham asked.
“Yes, OK,” Bob answered, and Graham nodded knowingly and looked back at his task, wiping a spill he had made and rinsing his hands. “I put the chicken in when you were outside, Shel. It’ll be ready at 5:00.”
And I was alone.
Christmas Day went by quietly, Graham and I exchanging gifts which we had shopped for together in advance, like old marrieds – a new vacuum cleaner, and a toaster oven for 11:00 pm meals eaten between work and study time. We were now doing photography together, and it had become a way of organizing our world. So we strolled the block quietly that day, shooting the bare trees, the empty shops, the neighborhood children playing with their new Christmas trikes or firetrucks or whatever. We dug in the sandbox in the neighborhood playground and swung on the swings, snapping headshots of each other, and there we talked about our dreams and how they had changed so rapidly over the past two years, and how different we had become.
And we talked about Bob. Graham had already known that Bob was struggling with his sexuality for some time, and confessed to me now that he had been vaguely uncertain about his own sexuality also, but had never acted on it. He said he had often wondered if he was actually in love with Bob instead of with me, and Bob had wondered the same about him.
I had to think about it, having guessed after Bob came out to me the night before that Graham had his own doubts. I told him I believed that he was really “in love” with both of us, in different and completely OK ways, and that none of us had yet really figured out what it meant to love someone for life anyway, but only just for now, just to get us through.
Graham allowed that this could be true, that he could be in love with both of us, simply nodding his assent silently as men of few words do. Then he and I got up from our seats in the sandbox and returned home to make more pie, having finished the pumpkin pie for breakfast, and to play with our new vacuum cleaner. We agreed if we weren’t too tired, we would develop our Christmas negatives after dessert.
It would be many months before we had revisited all of our memories of Bob, both privately and together, and put them into place through our new lens, the lens of understanding that Bob was gay, and had been all this time. He just hadn’t known it, or wanted to know it. But now that he knew who he really was, it was time to celebrate the newborn Bob, and the one he would grow up to be, the one who would learn to love for life.
Sun Myung Moon came back to Berkeley after Christmas that year. He had been all over the Bay Area the year before, during my year of corporate solitude. He had drawn a crowd of hundreds in San Francisco in Civic Center Park, and “rallied for God” at Cal in Sproul Plaza, with Barb looking on from a cautious distance.
Moon was scheduled to speak in Zellerbach Auditorium on campus that January, and had full page ads out in the Berkeley Gazette and the Daily Cal to promote himself. The Campus Christian Coalition, an intervarsity group representing all denominations on campus, had figured out that Moon was claiming to be the second coming of Christ, and took out a full-page ad of its own in protest, carrying picket signs and distributing leaflets on the steps of Zellerbach that said “THIS MAN IS NOT THE MESSIAH,” with Moon’s picture dead center. Right beside them were anti-war protesters, there to expose Moon’s hawk leanings and his ties to Nixon. On strike, shut it down.
It was hard for Barb to understand how Moon’s momentum continued, considering the weird theology and blank-eyed intensity she had seen from her brief glimpse inside. But we also had both felt the pull of the Moonie vortex, the well-crafted technique that they used with precise coordination, and how they leveraged the loneliness, exhaustion, and alienation kids felt when they were away from home.
Because even though we were young, we were the largest generation on the planet, living in the Yellow Submarine together, all of us immature and suffering with communal post-adolescence. And we were idealistic, believing that if we all agreed, we could simply roll over the power brokers who ran the world for personal gain instead of for the people; and when we had rolled over them, then the poor and the weak would rise up with us to create a new world where everyone was equal and fed and loved. From a distance, it all looked so simple.
The Moonies had looked into that vortex, and had been sucked in, their leaders deeply connected to the Moon power base that was calling the shots, shaping and reshaping their message for maximum appeal, while Moon collected more and more land and capital and influence around the world. The everyday street warrior Moonies that lived in group homes and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches three times a day in exchange for their Moon boss’s approval, the ones that worked to harvest our lost souls and sold flowers on the street corner, were just as raw and lonely and in need of a reason as the rest of us. And they believed that, because of the sheer mass of their numbers and the force of their agreement, they would change the world.
What they didn’t realize was that their Father was feeding off of the mega power structure along with the worst of them, forcing his people to live like communists while publicly opposing Communism, and feeding off of the Moonies’ labor and meager earnings to make it possible. So really, he was feeding off of his own “children.”
And while this was happening, Jacki, nôtre petite Jacqueline, was also looking straight into her very own vortex, a different one, right that very minute, and we didn’t even know it yet. But the world would know before very long, and would echo with mourning long, long after our youth had faded away forever.
Ever confused, I started thinking about switching schools midway through winter quarter. I talked to Jacki about it on the bus one day, my camera strapped around my neck giving evidence that my way of making sense of the world now required this new tool. Often I would just raise the camera and look through it, without snapping the shutter, just to view someone’s face, or some snippet of street life. I would move the frame from here to there and reconsider the exposure until the imaginary photograph that might have resulted had formed in my mind, helping me extract the essence of the moment.
“What do you want to do?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“I mean what do you want to do when you’re done with school – like, for a living?”
A practical question to ask, for one who was looking down the vortex
“I want to teach. High school. I want to teach high school kids. The way most high school classes are taught is so rote and empty and disconnected from anything that matters. If I hadn’t had Zimmerman for a teacher, there would be no way I’d have made it here at Cal. I wouldn’t be able to read into things, to know what all the layers of meaning are in all those piles we have to read, or come up with ideas about them, or pick out what matters and what doesn’t, or what’s reasonable and what’s nonsense. I wouldn’t be able to write or argue or any of the things we do every day here. Did I ever tell you about Mike Romero?”
She didn’t answer. I went on. “He was one of the physics and chemistry kids at my high school, kind of a genius. He was also a real pimply kid, with frizzy hair and thick glasses, and kind of fat. He was in his second quarter here, and he was getting A’s in Chem 10 and the math classes everyone else was either flunking or was too low to even be taking yet, but his grades in his breadth requirements, his English and his History, were really bad. The boy could not write for anything. In high school he had always taken the “regular” English and social science classes so he could concentrate on his sciences and math, so he never had Zimmerman, or even Kellard – those were the guys who would force you to think about why, and to come up with alternatives, not just answer the questions at the end of the book. They made you write. They taught you to think.”
“So what happened?”
“Happened to what?” I asked, lost in thought.
“To Romero? What happened to Romero?”
“Oh yeah – it was the start of finals week, and he found out he was flunking poli sci. Unless he pulled out a miracle on the final, he was going to get an F. He just couldn’t get his head into all the why’s and the how’s and the processes and the historical-political subtexts that come with the program in poli sci. We told him to take US History instead, but he thought poli sci would be more fun. He was going to get an F. His parents were the type that didn’t really even like B’s, and he certainly had never had an F.
“He was so tripped out, he could hardly study for the English Lit final he had the next morning, and he sat up all night worrying about what his parents were going to say. Finally he fell asleep, really early in the morning some time. But he had forgotten to set his alarm, because he never really went to bed. He overslept his English Lit final, and he was pretty sure he was already getting a D in that class, besides. He missed it completely. Never even woke up till nine o’clock. He ran over there, but they wouldn’t let him in. So he was probably going to get two F’s.”
“Oh, man. What did he do?”
“He went back to the dorm. Somehow, he got a hold of a rifle or a shotgun – they think he had been saving it all along - and he locked himself in his room. Most everyone else was still at finals when he got back. He shot himself in the mouth. The RA let himself in when he heard the shot and found him there.”
We were quiet for a whole block.
Finally, I broke the silence. “He wasn’t strong enough to know it didn’t matter, that he could have survived it. He didn’t know that his life was worth more than just dying in his dorm room. Zimmerman would have given him that. That was even more important than the writing and the thinking, although those things would have helped Romero too. Zimmerman would have given him that. He gave it to me. And I want to give it to whoever will listen.”
“Well then I guess it doesn’t matter what you major in, does it? You should do whatever you want, as long as it’s something you can teach,” she finally replied.
I considered what she said for several minutes.
“I think you have hit the nail on the head. You’re absolutely right. Thanks.” I paused for a moment. “Jim is right. You are smart.”
“If you think so. And you’re welcome.” She possessed an air of certainty. That was her strong suit, and her weakness.
Because on the days when a small voice nagged at the back of her mind to THINK, to turn right instead of left, to go back instead of forward, more and more often, she chose to ignore the obvious. But back then we only sensed this, and would not know it for certain until much, much later. This was true because we were doing the very same thing ourselves.
And with that, the bus rolled up to our stop, and we headed up the hill to French, just like we had every morning since fall.
Lighthouse Market opened a deli that year, and we watched Bruno and Ray tear their hair out as the aging, hard-drinking owner tried her hand at filling the case every morning with hot dishes to tempt the finicky Russian Hill crowd. She would stumble in bleary eyed about twenty minutes before opening each day, and the deli case would stay dark until seconds before lunchtime, with empty trays or half-eaten ones, covered with plastic, sitting out on display to tell the tale. Breakfast was not even in the cards; Jean had a hard enough time just putting up the cheeses and the deli meats before the front door opened to even think about offering breakfast items.
I was still working about ten hours a week at the power company, and six hours at the book store in the Cannery, so I had room in my psychotic schedule for about six to eight more hours, I thought. One day I walked into Lighthouse with a bowl of my best potato salad, a meat loaf, and a plate of cheese blintzes, and offered myself up to Ray as a helpmate for Jean. Jacki had encouraged me to do this. She knew Ray and Bruno somehow from before, although I really didn’t know how, and muddled up in my own thing, I really didn’t think anything about it.
Ray, the manager and all-around neighborhood go-to guy, was a thick-necked, broad-chested former Galileo High School football player with a wife and two kids at 23. His parents had been killed in a car accident when he was four, and he had been raised by his hard-working widowed grandmother, really raising himself. He had wide brown eyes that he usually kept narrowed, and thick, straight black hair that he greased back. Sometimes a stray clump would hang along his cheek, giving him a roguish appearance when he snapped his head back to get it out of his way. He always had a five o’clock shadow even when freshly shaved, and gigantic square hands with blunt stumpy fingers, big enough to pick up a small watermelon one-handed, or keep a good grip on a football, or a baby. He had a warm, protective quality under his gruff exterior, and, once he sensed your loyalty, would die for you. That is to say, as long as you never let him down, or crossed him. At Lighthouse, Ray was king, and his wife, Nannette, was queen.
Ray took a look at the spread I brought in and asked, “Is it that obvious? Can you tell I’m desperate in here?”
“It’s pretty obvious,” I answered. “But we can fix that. I’ll leave these with you, and you let me know.”
So two days later I started as the deli girl at Lighthouse Market, and Jean was beside herself - but not in a good way. Still, even though she was the owner, whatever Ray said went, so she had to live with me, and my recipes, for the time being. We would make up the whole week’s hot dishes during the nights when I was free to work and then store them in the walk-in, and she would put them up the next morning.
Since our cooking sessions were late, she would show up already way out in left field, fresh gin on her breath and the dull glint of alcoholic determination in her eye. Then she would stage impromptu cooking contests, using what probably were once well-loved family recipes that now fell victim to her impaired state. She would produce her undercooked meatloaf with the overcooked egg in the middle, or her limp, watery stuffed bell peppers, and then in the morning stick them in the window beside my enchilada pie or my rolled omelette with spinach mousse filling, or the baked frittata with oven-dried Roma tomatoes and pecorino. My ears would burn, wherever I was, each time a customer would order a hot plate of one of my dishes instead of hers, which was apparently often.
We had hot plates because I asked Ray to get us one of those new microwave ovens, and he did. To look at Jean, I would have been dead if looks could kill. Jean had a pacemaker, and every time a customer wanted a dish heated up to eat and go, she had to go in the kitchen and leave the other girl I convinced him to hire, Karen, alone with the customers so the oven wouldn’t stop her heart. Jean wound up making all of the sandwich orders in there, with Karen passing the ingredients through the hole. We finally took to leaving the breads and condiments in there to begin with, Jean in back and Karen or me, whoever could come in, out front. After a while, she realized she liked it a whole lot better that way, because she could dress however she wanted and could escape out the loading dock for a smoke, or a drink, more often.
Bruno would usually be working the grocery register when Jean and I arrived for the cooking shift. He pulled in the produce and locked the front door every night at 10:00 sharp. Then, after he had drained and covered the bins and finished out the register, he would carry the zipped bag of cash up the stairs to the little loft that served as both an office, and an occasional necessary sleepover for Ray or Bruno or whoever needed it. It was equipped with a desk, a typewriter and a ten-key with a pull handle, a small safe, and a wide cushioned bench along one wall that allowed for a very comfortable nap, or whatever was called for. Down on the floor, you could see the silhouettes of whoever was up there, backlit by the lamp hanging over the end of the bench, above the slat half-wall that contained it.
One night Jean didn’t show up, and then later called and said she had a stomach flu or some other gastric disturbance. After Bruno locked up, he and I were there in the store alone, me in the kitchen baking a tray of blintzes and a vegetable lasagna while a giant pot of chicken cacciatore simmered on the stove-top, and him in the loft counting the cash. I could hear the click-click-click as he pressed the tall cylindrical buttons to enter the figures, then the ratchet of the pull handle when he took a sub-total. After the door to the safe swung shut and Bruno had spun the combination lock, it became quiet, and I knew he was just up there waiting for me, like he usually did for me and Jean.
“Why don’t you come down?” I called. “You don’t usually get to eat my cooking when it’s still hot. Come on, I’ll make you a plate.”
I heard a rustling, and then his feet on the stairs as he came down. Soon he appeared in the kitchen door.
“Hey, Tranquilla. Is that cacciatore? I’ll go get a Boudin loaf. You want some Chianti?”
“Absolully,” I said, laughing, because Bruno said “absolutely” in response to pretty much anything, pronouncing it “absolully.” Bruno called me Tranquilla because I was quiet and shy compared to the Italian neighborhood girls he had grown up with, who usually giggled and screamed and teased their hair. He and I only talked to each other when we actually had something to say – which was now and then, or in the daily course of business. Now and then, he would get hyper and run around the store making little “meep meep” noises out the side of his mouth like the Roadrunner in the Warner Brothers cartoons. Then he would try to draw me out with some taunt about my hippie look, or my “gypsy” earrings, and he would get back from me a little Mona Lisa smile. He enjoyed doing this most while I was waiting on a customer. Tranquilla.
I got out two paper Dixie hot bowls, two plastic soup spoons, and plastic forks, plus a roll of paper towels. Bruno came back with a round-bottomed bottle of Chianti in a straw wrapper, a cork puller and two paper cups, plus the Boudin loaf. While he uncorked the wine, I filled the bowls with steaming cacciatore and pulled up two stools to the little counter that ran under the pass hole out to the deli.
“No knives?” he asked, an edge of macho humor in his tone.
“You know my cacciatore falls off the bone,” I jabbed back, and set his bowl down in front of him. He tore off two chunks of sourdough with his hands and handed me one, along with a cup of Chianti.
“Salute,” he said, raising his cup, and I nodded back, raising and sipping. He dipped a chunk of bread into his sauce and pushed it into his mouth, letting out a low moan.
“So you don’t like it?” I teased.
“I think it’ll do OK. Absolully,” he mumbled around the steaming mouthful that he had just chased with Chianti.
We both burst out laughing, red wine backing up in his nose, making him sputter and cough and laugh harder. Then he quieted down and looked straight into my eyes, hard. Those white blue eyes, the jet black hair – I was frozen. Absolully could not move.
“You have beautiful skin, you know, Tranquilla. Do you ever think about me?” he asked softly.
“I do,” I replied. “And then I shake myself off, and I think about Graham.”
But the difficult thing at this moment not to think about was the letter I had found, written to Graham from Lois. Lois was the macho center – or was she a forward? - for the PG&E girl’s volleyball team, and the letter was in his jacket pocket when I was getting ready to wash it. I had buckled under the temptation and read the entire thing, start to finish. It was clear that they had been walking around an attraction to each other for quite some time. I had not yet confronted him about it, giving him the benefit of the doubt that it was only on her end.
Bruno looked at me a minute more, and then he began talking gently to me, while I smiled back a Mona Lisa smile, except with the eyes a little more down at the corners than usual.
“Yes, that’s what you should do. You do that. That’s what I want you to do. You are a sweet girl, Tranquilla. Why so sad now? Don’t put on a muso lungo. You’re gonna make me sad too.” He chattered like that just a little longer, comforting both of us, every bit the gentleman. Then we finished our dinner talking about everyday things, like the garbage men who came to the loading dock at 6:00 am every day to get my leftovers; or the book our friend and customer Armistead was writing, and how we thought he would write us into it, if he decided to, which we hoped he would. Armistead was our neighbor and was going to start a column in the Chronicle, “Tales of the City,” by summer. He was our version of a glamorous celebrity, a local golden boy with a shot.
Bruno finally wiped his mouth and sighed a contented sigh. “OK, I’m going to go upstairs and work on the books now, and you let me know when you’re finished up. That was the best cacciatore I ever ate, no lie. Even my mama’s. Hey – meep meep – I like your earrings, hippie girl.”
He chucked me under the chin and ran away upstairs. I cleaned up in silence, pouring the cacciatore into a serving pan and covering it, wrapping the lasagna and the blintzes and filling the little plastic cups of lingonberries to put on top, corking the wine and putting it in the walk in, the wine I hoped was for us to finish next time, the next time that I hoped would be soon.
One of my rare free Sunday nights about 10:30, I walked over to the deli to see if Karen or Jean were still there and needed anything, probably secretly hoping to run into Bruno. The store was dark inside like they were already gone, but as I came up to the alley on the way to the front door, I saw a panel truck backed up to the loading dock, and Ray’s red pickup nose in, blocking it. A dim light glowed from the open bay at the back of the alley.
I walked to the light, and climbed the wide, high steps at the edge of the dock, where the fruits and vegetables and cases of canned goods and dry goods arrived every morning early. The wide space opened out before me as I pulled myself up, with the walk-in at the back, and the door into the deli on my left, its padlock fastened by now. Tonight, the small work light was on and hanging from the hook next to the walk-in.
And there was Ray, his face half bathed in the glow of the bare bulb. He was standing with two men a little older than he was, Chinese I thought, although it was hard to be sure in the partial darkness. Stacked up on the dock between Ray and the two men were ten or so oblong crates, about five feet long by three feet wide by two feet deep. You could see little bits of excelsior sticking out between the planks, which were imprinted with Chinese characters. Ray was holding a cash bag. All three of them looked distinctly uncomfortable.
“Hey, Tranquilla. What brings you here tonight, and back this way? Everybody’s gone.”
I thought for sure if I opened my mouth I would start stuttering, but I got command of my tongue and answered him like nothing was out of the ordinary. “Oh, I was just off tonight and had finished all my schoolwork. I thought I’d drop by and see if Jean and Karen needed any help so they could get out on time, and the alley was closer than the door, so here I am. But everything’s dark after all, it looks like, so I guess I’ll go.”
Ray jumped right in. “Well, these are two of my distributor pals from Sung Lee - you know the ones that stock the Chinatown markets? They brought over some food items for me to look over and see if I wanted to carry them in the store. You know, lychee fruit, bird’s nest soup, that kind of thing. It’s a new market I’m thinking about tapping into – just thinking about it.”
“Hyunh,” added the pals.
“Wow, that’s a lot of stuff,” I exclaimed. Shelley, you fool, shut up, I thought to myself. You sound like an idiot.
“It is a lot,” he said coolly. “It’ll probably take a while to go through it. We only just got started.”
He looked at me firmly now, a stern, but almost fatherly expression in his eyes, and spoke to me with absolute clarity. “It was really nice of you to think about Karen and Jean like that. You’re a good girl. But you go ahead home, now. Right now. You hear me? You shouldn’t just be walking with no real place to go like that after everything’s closed.”
He looked at me hard. “OK? Capiche?”
I replied emphatically. “Yes, of course, I’ll go home right now. So nice to meet you all. Don’t work too hard. Bye bye.”
A small voice at the back of my mind wheedled. There are lots of jobs, but only one Tranquilla, it said. Walk away tonight and don’t look back.
Don’t be silly, I replied, almost unconsciously, to the voice. This is Ray. There’s nothing wrong here. So I told the voice to shush.
Somewhere behind me, the flash of headlights rounded the corner, airbrushed soft by fog in the corner of my eye, and behind them a horn, muffled and fading as it passed.
“Hyunh,” said the pals.
Ray, unsmiling, winked at me. “Good night. I’ll see you tomorrow, safe and sound.”
And that was all.
I smiled wanly, turned around, and walked at a natural pace all the way up the alley. And as soon as I rounded the corner out of sight, I ran all the way home.