Saturday, May 28, 2011

Out there in the cold distance

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.   

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