Sunday, August 28, 2011

Journey to the center of the earth

Joe Ponder, Pensito Review
It wasn’t until after dark when the delegation arrived, and Roger was already exhausted from the intensive drilling they had been subjected to ever since the visit was confirmed.  Jones’ endless chatter on the PA system had become white noise for him, punctuated now and then by one thing or another that caught his attention.
Just a few nights ago, for example, Jones had been carrying on, reading the news out loud and then ranting about it.  Then, for a minute, it almost sounded like he was getting ready to sign off, way too early for his usual pattern.  For a moment, Jones spoke thoughtfully, almost gently, and it caught Roger by surprise, but it was only a second or two before he resumed his rabid diatribe.
“I love you very much,” he had started, softly, ardently. “Stand true to socialism. It requires much sacrifice. I’m preparing to make great sacrifice. I know what it requires. I do love you.”
Then as suddenly as it had softened, his tone returned to high-pitched and frantic, accusing Ryan of being a fascist and of backing the Pinochet regime.  The ranting faded, and he told them again, gently, softly, that he loved them - very, very much.  And then the chatter went back to normal.  The strangeness of it had sent a chill down Roger’s spine.
But that was Monday, and this was Friday, and the last of Ryan’s delegation had just gotten off the truck from the airstrip.  There was no time for a chilly spine.  Roger’s crew was on full alert, hanging back on the edge of the jungle and armed to the teeth, in case the sign was given that something unauthorized was going down.  They had instructions to use all necessary force.
But it looked like so far things were going without a hitch.  Twinkle lights glinted in the distance like fireflies.  Sweet soul music wafted out from the Pavilion, and after that, the upbeat tones of strangers on the microphone, praising the music and the ambience and recognizing that this place, this time, could truly be the best thing that ever had happened for everyone here.  The cheering, the applause, was outrageous, endless, fanatical.  The crowd, Roger could hear, was pumped, empowered.
His heart ached, knowing that the scam was in action, still praying that someone would see, someone would hear, someone would tell what was under the surface.  Praying that someone would come and rescue them, here and now.  Please don’t leave us out here this way.  Please.
But then some news broke.  Word got out to Roger and the others that Gadney had passed a note, and that some locals, including a policeman, had approached the media when they arrived at the airstrip, telling them about the beatings and the torture hole they had hidden at the edge of the jungle, the hole where they dropped naughty children, screaming into the pitch blackness where they said “Bigfoot” lived, as punishment.
Simon Harding
The effect was electric, throwing everyone armed out on the perimeter into high alert.  A few were called in closer by radio to be on standby in case anything went down that needed containing.  But finally, the evening just came to an end, except for the fact that Roger and three others were to be stationed near the cottages where Ryan and his people were spending the night.  This was nothing new for Roger, though.  He was used to staying up through the night and into the next day.  It was his job to be on call.
Besides, he was enlivened by the fact that Ryan and his people were still here at all.  Still here.  They were not yet abandoned, all hope was not lost, at least not tonight.
Sometime early the next morning, security got word that a group had escaped into the jungle along the railroad tracks near Matthews Ridge in the pre-dawn hours, unbeknownst to them, and were nowhere in sight. 
Roger was thankful that he had been on duty at the delegation’s cottage and was not responsible for this lapse, because he was sure that, had he been on guard at that end of the compound, his diligence would have caused him to notice the defection.  And he had now come to the point where he would have had to keep silent and let them go free at the risk of his own life.  Quietly, he prayed for whoever they were, and that they would go the distance and find their way back home to their loved ones somehow.
From Roger’s viewpoint, the day rolled on almost uneventfully, punctuated by alerts that the media had arrived, and then that Jones had released first one family and then another to leave with the delegation.  A second plane had even been ordered.  His hopes began to run high.  But soon word came that these decisions were designed to buy time:  no one was really to be released in the end.  Things had officially gotten out of hand.  By the early afternoon, Jones was sitting on a bench in the pavilion, confused, begging to be left in peace.  Their level of alert was the highest.
And then, out of nowhere, the sky went black.  A somber rumbling rolled over the tops of the trees from a distance, and it came, gushing, hot and straight down from the mouth of heaven in a torrent, rain as if to end the world.
And as quickly as it came, it stopped, leaving a damp discomfort behind it.
About 3:30, major alerts started coming one after the other over the radio, and guards were being deployed in pairs:  first a truck was headed for Port Kaituma airstrip with defectors and the delegation, following a melee out by the gate, families screaming and clinging to each other, divided in what they should do.  Then Mother sent everyone to their cabins to keep order and an armed party was deployed to assist with that.  From the airstrip again, Sly had tried to cut Ryan’s throat.  Then Larry Layton, one of the defectors, opened fire inside one of the planes.  It was hitting the fan.  It was out of control. 
Then came the news.  Ryan is dead.  Media are dead.  Patty Parks, dead.  Such a sweet lady, thought Roger.  Such a sweet lady.  The little girl saw.  She saw her mother’s brain.
And still Roger was out at the perimeter, within eyeshot of the Pavilion, where he had been since his night mission, waiting with his radio for directions.  Waiting.
Then Jones came on the PA.  The vats had been filled.  This is not a drill, this is not a drill.  Hope is gone.  A few of his brothers were called in for assistance.  He could see it coming together, his brothers pushing the mothers to inject the drink into their babies’ mouths, injecting it into their arms.  Out of control out of control out of control.  This is real.  He could smell it.  He could taste it.  He was frozen.  “Mother, mother, mother, mother, mother, mother . . .” came the voice, manic, despairing.  Babies foaming at the mouth, children screaming, mothers wailing, old women being dragged to the vats and ordered to drink, those who wouldn’t injected in the back as they struggled.  Those who slipped through the grasp of their captors and made the clearing, shot.  Bodies dragged back to the Pavilion and arranged as if they had landed that way, naturally. 
And just as many simply took their cup, and drank, and then lay down for the last time, holding hands.
Unsurpassed evil.  Incomparable suffering.  My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?  Why?  Where are you?  Roger dropped to his knees into the mud, warm wet patches spreading across the knees of his pants.
Stefan Kristinsson
Then, beneath him, he felt a movement, as if a crack in the earth were moving toward him from a great distance.  The earth became as warm as blood under his knees, and it rippled softly up and down, not jarring, but kind, like a mother rocking her baby.  He felt drawn to look at the sky, and above him he saw a host of translucent, opalescent shapes, hundreds of shapes, nearly a thousand, knotted together, swooping, soaring, like swallows looping and diving as they return home at the start of a verdant spring, their faces fixed on the sky above them.  Over their heads hovered a crown of tinier shapes, hot white points of light like fireflies mingling and rising to a supreme light above them, wings batting, now and then diving down among the others, kissing their opalescent cheeks with their wings.
Roger raised his eyes to the supreme light, the one that pulled the undulating shapes into itself inexorably, and opened his mouth.  “Jesus,” he said.  “I am,” the light replied.
Roger’s heart opened wide, and he felt words being gently mined from within it, rising into his consciousness like a song.  “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
Then, audibly, over the cries of the broken and the songs of the rising, over the opalescent forms still undulating overhead, a sound as of thunder rumbled from deep in the canyons of heaven, speaking words in a language no one understood - no one, that is, except Roger.

Bemot t’illa mekakkel ‘inkwa bihêd:  ante ke’inê garr nehinna kiffun aliferram, beterhinna mirkwizih ‘innersu yats’enannuññal:  befeetê gebbetan azeggajehilliñ: bet’ellatochê feet lefeet; rassên bezeyt qebbah ts’iwayêm yetereffe neuw::  bechernetihinna mihiretih behiywetê:  zemen: hullu: yiketteluññal; be’igzee’abhêrim bêt lezellalem ‘inorallehu.”
Roger threw down his weapon and began translating desperately, arms in the air, screaming to a face that only he could see, “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.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:  thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Forever!  Forever and ever!”
A deep voice barked from somewhere downwind, “Take him out!  Take him out!”
A shot rang out, a flash of light, and then Roger was one, one with the opalescent undulation as it rose above the jungle floor, steam rising, waves of heat obscuring the sorrow, the grasping cold fingers of evil that pulled the curtain shut below them, blocking out the pain as they rose, at last one, for the first time really a family, into the arms of Jesus.
* * *
Out there in the cold distance
“Bob?” I called.  “Come quick.  Quick!”
I turned my back on the stove, leaving the green bean sauté to wilt in the pan, and ran to grasp the TV with both hands, as my secret part-time lover ran around behind me and locked his eyes on the set, his arms around me.
“That can’t be?” he asked, yet still knowing, as he watched the hollow eyed, scruffy young woman, furtive and tired-looking, her hands cuffed behind her back, being pushed into a squad car, the officer’s hand on top of her head.  “It isn’t . . .”
I stood transfixed, my throat closed, a hot tear rolling down my cheek.  All dead, they say.  The children, they say.
“It’s Jacki.  Jacki,” I whispered, ashen.  And in my heart silently burned the words - Jacki, the friend we let down.
We had known since October, when Bob had last seen her, that Ryan was taking a delegation to Guyana.  I remembered my rooftop dream, flying above a crown of lush green.  The bodies.  And then Jacki, kissing her fingertips.  “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.”  Quietly, Bob squeezed my hand and breathed in steadily, out softly.
And across town in their Potrero Hill apartment, Barb and Yonas, their eyes rimmed with red, so near to us yet so far away, were absently picking at their dinner while their baby ate heartily.  They had known since early that afternoon that something was seriously wrong.  Yonas had come home early, and he and Barb had prayed clear through until they could pray no more, while Amira was napping.
And somewhere across town, Ray and Bruno stood side by side, afraid to look at each other, and wept.

It hardly seemed any time had passed at all since the great hole had opened up in the world.  Still, only days later, Bob and Russ and I found ourselves standing together amidst a cluster of patrons at Toad Hall and watched still another hole ripped in the firmament, right there on national television, ripped right down the middle of where it all began. 
My mayor was dead, shot, and Harvey Milk with him. 
And there was Bruno, standing inside the flickering box behind the gallant Feinstein who stood in the gap, blood still on her hands from where she’d held my mayor’s heart together gamely as long as she could.  There was Bruno, weeping as if his heart would break.
So came childhood’s end.  Each of us had struck out on our own and landed in some corner of the universe.  We had experimented with flight in our unique ways, and had found the height at which we fell from the sky, wings dripping with wax, a few of us even learning to correct our course before we crashed to earth.  
And we had discovered that the best answer to gravity was to embrace it with arms open wide, digging deep into the earth instead of fighting it – holding on to each other, staying rooted and deep until a day came when we would rise up together without trying, opalescent and undulating, effortless and free, into the light.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Out of the frying pan

Excerpt from Jacki’s Diary
March 14, 1978
Pam Moton signed the open letter to Congress today outlining our frustration with being constantly under attack.  Jim and I and Stokes really wrote it together, but it needed to be signed by one of the membership. 
Dark Jungle - Joe Maccer
It covers a lot of important points, including HEW withholding Social Security checks from our members, and the FCC’s interference with our radio communications.  It also exposes how Cartmell and Cobb, the defectors, threatened to use their connections in the IRS and FCC to “starve us out.”  Obviously, it’s a conspiracy.
We let it be known that we’re frustrated enough to look for a socialist nation to take us in if it comes to that, even though what we really want is just to do our work in peace and stay right here. 
We finally came right out and said that we’re devoted to the decision to die rather than to be harassed from continent to continent.   So the gauntlet’s been thrown down.  Now they need to back off.  At least that’s how I feel today.  Tomorrow may be another story.  I don’t oppose using a death threat to gain the upper hand, but I won’t support actually doing it.  We’ve come this far, and I don’t like losing.
April 12, 1978
It was inevitable that the defectors and the Concerned Relatives would make a counterattack to our statement, and they have.  They marched into the SF Temple today and delivered a stack of accusations, with affidavits from Katsaris (Maria’s dad) and Yolanda Lunsford.  I knew we should never have let Lunsford out.  Their accusations are outrageous.  Still, some of them are true. 
Katsaris’s statement said that Maria sounded like she was being “controlled” when he talked to her over the radio, and that she was being prevented from accepting his visits.  He ought to know her well enough to know that nobody controls Maria, except Jim himself.  Face it, your daughter doesn’t want to see you. 
He also said people called him and told him it would be “dangerous” if he came to Guyana, and threatened to burn down his house.  Well, that’s what you get when you try to force yourself in where you’re not wanted.
The Olivers attached a statement, too, saying we took their children while they weren’t looking.  Those children are nearly grown men.  She got the court to order that we send back the seventeen-year-old.  Of course we didn’t do it.  Those boys are doing fine here.
Jim Jones - Roger Ressmeyer, CORBIS
There was nothing in the pile from the Schoenfelds except their signatures on the petition, but I know they’re at the bottom of this somewhere, them and Katsaris.  The Schoenfelds think they’re dedicated to getting John Robert back, but when it comes down to it, they always leave him behind, don’t they?  There’s no way Jim Jones is going to give up his son.  Tim Schoenfeld signed over paternity to Jim a long time ago.  If the court doesn’t agree, we can take care of that, too.  We have plenty to say about Grace Schoenfeld and what kind of a mother she is.
I think the Mertle’s are involved in this somehow, too.  We’ve always told them, and now they’re going to see why they’d better watch their backs.
They’ve got a whole section in their statement about us being devoted to our decision to die.  I keep trying to get Jim to backpedal on that.  Even though he might think he could really make us do it his way, there are enough people here in his inner circle that are sane enough that we would never let anything like that happen.  We could talk him out of it if we had to.  I’m sure of it.
All of the stuff they said about us keeping people from using the phone and censoring the mail, that’s all true.  It’s a necessary evil.  There’d be anarchy out here if we didn’t control communication, so I don’t apologize for it.
April 18, 1978
Harriet went on the radio today to counter the Concerned Relatives’ threat to hire mercenaries to get their people out.  What if their people don’t want to go?  They say they’re ready to illegally enter Guyana and use armed attack and kidnapping if necessary. 
We’ve notified the President and the State Department and whoever else would listen, looking for a sympathetic ear.  Harriet’s involvement is going to be critical in gaining their support because she has a law degree, but she’s also a member who’s lived it with us.
She did a great job, the way she worked in references to the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King, and saying we would never march into their gas ovens.  She even quoted Patrick Henry:  give me liberty or give me death.  How ironic, the words of the ultimate patriot ringing against the fascist behavior of his countrymen.
While she tempered it this time, she really emphasized our willingness to die again.  That is going to come back to bite us in the end.  Talking about death got quite a reaction last time.  I keep telling them, but they don’t listen to me.  So finally I just let it go, and keep my mouth shut.     
*  *  *
About an hour after Yonas got home, the phone rang.  He and Barb looked at each other, and she nodded over to him.  He should be the one to get it.
He picked up.  “Yonas speaking.”
“Hello, Mr. Berhanu?  My name is Grace Schoenfeld.  I’m with the Concerned Relatives of Members of the Peoples Temple.  Marshall Kilduff told me you were looking for an advocate for a Temple member in Guyana.”
He took a deep breath.  “Thank you so much for calling, Mrs. Schoenfeld.  Are you the same Grace Schoenfeld who was interviewed for the New West article?”
Little boy trapped in Jonestown
“I am, one and the same.  But please call me Grace.  My six-year-old boy is in Jonestown.  Jim Jones claims that John Robert is his son, but that isn’t true.  We had a bench warrant to get John Robert back, but somehow Jones and his people got it rescinded, and we haven’t made any progress since.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that.  Please, call me Yonas also.”
“Alright, Yonas.  How can I help?  Do you have a relative in Jonestown?”
And so Yonas told Grace all about Roger and the letters he had written to Barb, and Grace gave him background on the Concerned Relatives and their plans.  It seemed that the Temple had sent a letter to Congress and declared their commitment to die for their cause.   Having been a member of the Temple, Grace knew all too well exactly what that meant:  revolutionary suicide, the Jim Jones way.  Embarrassed and sad, she explained it to Yonas.
So the Concerned Relatives had responded with a statement of Accusations of Human Rights Violations and had delivered it to the Temple in San Francisco, and to Congress and the State Department, with special deliveries to Dellums, Burton, and Ryan.  Soon after, they, like the Temple, declared a commitment of their own: to use all possible means, including illegal entry to Guyana and armed kidnapping, to rescue their families.  It didn’t take long for the Temple to respond.  On an international shortwave radio frequency, amidst a flurry of rhetoric and accusations, they had reaffirmed their commitment to die. 
Grace and Yonas agreed that she, Yonas and Barb would meet for dinner at Grace’s house the next evening and look at the letters together.  When Yonas had hung up, he turned to Barb and shared with her what Grace had told him. 
Pale, she took both of his hands, right there by the phone, closed her eyes, and raised her face to the ceiling.  A compelling calm settled over the room, like a soft mist around their ankles, and a shaft of clear unobstructed velvet connection between them and the deep blue star studded night sky outside opened wide.  Barb opened her mouth once silently, then twice, and a soft rush of breath came from between her lips.  Then the words came, soft and round like volcanic stones, still warm from underground.
“Bemot t’illa mekakkel ‘inkwa bihêd:  ante ke’inê garr nehinna kiffun aliferram, beterhinna mirkwizih ‘innersu yats’enannuññal:  befeetê gebbetan azeggajehilliñ: bet’ellatochê feet lefeet; rassên bezeyt qebbah ts’iwayêm yetereffe neuw::  bechernetihinna mihiretih behiywetê:  zemen: hullu: yiketteluññal; be’igzee’abhêrim bêt lezellalem ‘inorallehu.”[1]
They continued to stand quietly for a moment, warm and safe and certain, and then they came back to themselves, their eyes locking.
“What did I say, Yonas?” she asked softly.
“You tell me,” he replied.  “I think you know.”
She smiled.
Spirit of Space - Kenneth Graunke
“It was the last part of the 23rd Psalm, wasn’t it?  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.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:  thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”[2]
“Indeed it was,” he answered warmly.  “What is very interesting, though, is that the Amharic is directly from the Haile Selassie Bible, the one Rastafarians learn.  It’s the version Roger would know.”
The velvet connection opened over them again, but this time only His presence came, without the voice, except where it moved silently within them and mobilized their minds.
Barb spoke quietly.  “Roger will hear this too, then, somehow.  It will come to him when he needs it most.”  They remained there by the phone until the hard edged atmosphere of the world came back in around them, and only the warm presence of Him remained inside, joining them invisibly still, animating them individually and together.
Hand in hand, they went upstairs for the night, and slipped into a restorative, dreamless sleep.
Barb and Yonas arrived at Grace’s Noe Valley apartment about 6:30, carrying a bouquet of spring flowers and a bottle of red wine.  She lived on the first floor above the street, and had already laid out an aluminum pan of takeout lasagna and green salad on her large oak kitchen table when they arrived.  She was the only one home.
“You brought wine!  God bless you,” she said as introductions were made and she welcomed them inside, inviting them to sit on a mauve corduroy overstuffed divan in her generous bay window and taking the bottle into the kitchen to pour them a glass.
“I’ve moved out here since my husband Tim and I separated,” she called out from the kitchen.  “We’re both back from Guyana now – for good – and we spend most of our free time working to get John Robert home.  I’m sorry, Barb; did Yonas get a chance to talk to you about what he and I discussed last night?”
“We did,” Barb replied.  “I was very sorry to hear that your son is stuck out there apart from you,” she added, careful not to mention Amira, but thinking of her sweet face, thankful that she was safe at Grandma Berhanu’s house.
“Well, that’s a long story, probably more than you care to hear about, but it helps a lot that his dad is a terrific attorney.  He used to be the attorney for the Temple, you know, and for a while he was the Assistant DA for the city of San Francisco.  So if anybody can get John Robert out of that place, it’ll be Tim.  He’s a good man, when all is said and done.  And he knows detail about this situation that it would take anyone else a lifetime to figure out.”  She came into the living room with three glasses of wine arranged in her arms and sat down with them.  “Let’s sip and chat a little before we eat.”
She questioned them about Roger, how he got to Guyana and how long they’d known him, and asked if they’d brought the letters.  Barb explained Roger’s Moonie and Rastafarian roots, how he had always been seeking a father figure, and how he’d just gotten out of prison when he joined the Temple.  Then she took the letters out of her purse and offered them to Grace, who read them both start to finish.
When she was done, she folded them back up, carefully put them in their respective envelopes and handed them back to Barb.  She put one hand on each of her knees and looked down for a minute, appearing to hold back tears.  Finally she looked up, a little flushed, but composed.
“You know, Roger’s experience has been so much like that of other young people who’ve gotten involved with Jim Jones.  He’s been a seeker, someone trying to find himself, and someone who has both a heart for service and a spiritual bent.  He was also just out of prison, so he was more than a little lost and confused.  That’s often right where Jim Jones comes in.
“Jim’s message of social justice is compelling, and his demeanor can be very charismatic.  And he certainly presents himself as a father figure – the man tells you he’s God. 
“But by the time you realize who you’re really dealing with, how manipulative and self-serving and out of touch with reality he is, you’re in too deep, and the group presses in around you and holds you in.  It’s group psychology.  He plays the group like a violin, and he’s the impresario.  Nobody plays a crowd like Jim Jones.  And he uses lies to do it.  Did you know he would have us do background research on new members, and then act like he was reading their minds, like the Holy Spirit told him all about them?  He hooked quite a few that way.”
She looked down at her hands, almost appearing ashamed.  “We were all very young, you know, and idealistic.  With all the social services the Temple offered to the community, we were convinced that, whatever issues Jim might have, the cause was still a worthy one.”
Barb reached over and put her hand over Grace’s.  “You’re such a brave woman to speak out.  If it weren’t for you and your friends in the Concerned Relatives, people would have nowhere to turn.  Thank you.”  Their eyes met.
“You’re welcome,” Grace whispered, her eyes moist.  Then she went on.  
“The conditions Roger writes about in his letters are exactly why we’re pursuing getting our relatives out, legally or otherwise.  One of his weapons is to separate families, keep people from communicating with their relatives outside the Temple, because he knows what members live with is so outrageous, he doesn’t dare let them remember how good life can be. 
“So he bans phone calls, censors mail, and has relatives threatened with harm, and even death, if they try to contact their family inside.  He’s taken all their valuables and their passports, just like Roger said.  He feeds them scraps like animals while he dines like a king.  He has them convinced that there are spies in the Embassy and Guyanese guerrillas in the jungle, and if they try to escape, the consequences are death.  It’s gotten to the point where the members have lost all hope and joy in their existence, and many don’t care if they live or die.  So in effect, he has them imprisoned.  Just like in the concentration camp he says the government will put them in if they run away.”
Her color began to rise, and she wrung her hands.
“Harriet Tropp gets on the radio and rants about Temple members not being willing to walk into the capitalist society’s gas ovens?  That’s just what they’ve forced their own people to do:  hand over their freedom and identities to Jim Jones like sheep and march meekly into his corral, and he’s slammed the gate shut on all of them.”  She looked down again, breathing hard, and was quiet for a moment.  “I’m sorry – I get passionate.  That’s how I wound up joining the Temple in the first place.” 
A tear trickled down her cheek.  She wiped it away, and smiled.  “Let’s eat,” she said, and they all got up and filled their plates before they sat down at the dining room table together.
As they ate, Grace told them that Leo Ryan, the San Mateo County Congressional rep, was already very interested in helping.  They’d decided to set aside their plans to invade the enclave for the time being, fearing that a frontal assault might compromise the safety of their relatives, or even all of the people in Jonestown, especially considering the repeated statements that they were committed to die if necessary.  She said the Concerned Relatives and their attorneys would keep in communication with Ryan and pursue more discreet means first, hoping that would work.  If not, a visit to Guyana might eventually be warranted.  It was their hope that Ryan would accompany them if that time came.
“What we’re working to do, Barb and Yonas, is to secure the rights of any Temple member to come and go as they please, make calls, and send mail as they like.  So we’re working to secure those rights for Roger, too.  I truly believe that this coordinated effort is the best possible way to approach the problem.  Are you OK with that?” Grace asked.
With Barb nodding, Yonas replied, “We are more than OK with it.  We’re sincerely grateful that you’ve taken this on.  Is there anything you need from the two of us?  How can we help?”
Grace thought for a moment.  “Well, considering you’re not relatives of Roger’s, you may not have legal standing to participate in the court actions.  We could represent your interests, and call on you if we need citizen support.  Could you trust us with that?”  Grace asked, concerned.
“Of course we can,” they both said together, Barb taking Grace’s hand again. “I’ve been worried about compromising Roger’s safety by getting involved, considering the tone of his letters,”  Barb continued, “so I’m glad that people like you, with inside information, who know how to work with the Temple the safest way possible, are taking action.  We’ll make it our job just to wait and pray.  I trust you,” Barb answered.  “Do you think you could also check on our friend Jacki - Jacki Rayford?”
Grace’s face went dark and she became stony silent.  Finally, she said guardedly, “I’m afraid Jacki has a central role in the worst of it – to be fair, just like I once had.  But she is very, very smart.  Whatever happens, I have no doubt that she will land on her feet.”
A cold chill came over Barb, and she felt dizzy. “I’m so sorry to hear that, or perhaps I should be glad that she’ll land on her feet,” she whispered.  “We’ll pray with that in mind, and specifically for your son.”
“We need all the prayer we can get,” Grace said softly.  And so Barb and Yonas gave Roger’s cause to the Concerned Relatives, knowing he was in good hands, both theirs and His.  And as for Jacki, all they could do was wonder, and pray. 
*  *  *
Excerpts from Jacki’s Diary
May 20, 1978
Deb defected this week.  My girl Deb.  That hurts.
Now and then in your life, not really often, you meet somebody that you really connect with, somebody you can trust and that makes things seem OK when really you don’t have a whole lot going for you.  Deb was like that for me.  She was smart, and had a sense of humor, and she was my friend.  I know I’m not the greatest friend in the world – none of us are any more, the way things have headed around here – but I knew I could always count on Deb.
She got reassigned to Georgetown last month, and I guess she slipped word out to her family somehow and got a plane ticket.  The Embassy helped her.  I guess that blows our cover that we don’t really have spies in the Embassy.
So of course Jim is devolving today.  He had Sharon type up this list of 67 different things for the medical staff to take care of.  He actually has on that list to “care about every person as if they were your own child,” right in there mixed up with guarding the bathrooms better and watching out for ringworm and iron deficiency.  Maybe if we spent that $65,000 a month we get in Social Security checks on people, instead of keeping it in reserve, there wouldn’t be any ringworm or iron deficiency.  Has he taken a look around lately?  Give me a break.
On second thought, don’t encourage him to take a look around.  We’re better off if he just stays on his meds and locks himself up in that radio booth, ranting.  If we can tune him out, at least he isn’t in our business.
Does this mean I’m losing my revolutionary fervor?  Maybe if we weren’t living like a bunch of hypocrites I wouldn’t be.  But as things stand, I just might be.
Sorry.  I guess I’m cranky today.  I’m going to miss Deb.  This one hurts.
June 29, 2008
Ever since Deb left, I can’t stop thinking about our lives here and what we’ve come to.  We saw her statement to the Embassy a few days ago (it’s an affidavit now), and she really pulled the scab off it.  She told them about the food, the diarrhea, how thin we are, how he works us to death and won’t let us talk to anybody, all of it.
The thing that’s really got Jim’s head spinning is how she gave away the reason he’s holding little John Robert in here: to make sure Grace and Tim keep quiet about what’s going on. 
She even told what white nights are really like, with Jim up barking on the radio in the middle of the night, telling us the mercenaries are coming to kill us, and the guys from security with their rifles on us making sure we get out of bed.  Then we line up, and practice with the Kool-Aid.
I think the last straw for Deb was that last white night we had, right before she left for Georgetown.  It was the one where Jones had us all line up and pick up our Kool-Aid – actually I think we were using Flavor-Aid by then because it’s cheaper – and told us that all hope was gone, the mercenaries were coming and we were going to be captured and tortured, and that the only answer was to “die for the glory of socialism.”
Then he told us the stuff really contained poison this time, and that after we drank it, we’d all be dead in 45 minutes.  And guess what?  Everybody drank it, just like they were told.  Just like that, even Deb.  Then we found out it was a fake.
I think after that she just didn’t care any more.  But then when she got assigned to Georgetown, I’m guessing life got almost good enough again that she could remember, so she bolted.  I can’t say I blame her.
I get tired of this constant talk of death.  Jim is suicidal, I have no question.  But I’m not suicidal.  Nothing will be accomplished for socialism if 1,000 people almost nobody remembers die in the jungle.  And if they do, I am not going to be one of them.
The stockpile of cyanide here is getting bigger and bigger every week.  I know now that one day he really intends to do it.
August 22, 1978
Carlton Goodlett, the newspaper editor, visited the project today.   We rehearsed everybody half to hell before he came, considering the opportunity of the media putting out good news about us for a change.  And sure enough, he liked us.  He wasn’t here long enough to really see much.  That’s what always saves us.  We gave him a real nice musical show, and let him see the baby chicks in the chickery.  Since music is about the only sign of life we have around here, it always makes everybody look cheerful whenever we have it.  So we always trot it out for the guests.
Well, diary, you know what a smart-ass I am, but I think I’m starting to lose my edge.  I don’t know how much longer I can hang with this.  Poor Gene, eating those thorazine spiked sandwiches because he had the uncommon sense to defect and then come back to be with his kids.   You’d hardly know him if you hadn’t seen him in a while; he’s half the man he used to be.
I’m sad all the time.  I’m tired of standing up for Jim and being his Blue Meanie.  People hate me here, because of what he makes me do to them.  He tells me I’m the boss, but I’m really just his good little girl.  Well, I don’t want to be his little girl any more.  And I sure don’t want to die.
September 2, 1978
I’ve been talking to one of our attorneys, Mark Gains, about trying to go to San Francisco to take care of business, and needing him there with me to handle legal matters.  Plus he’s pretty easy on the eyes, and Stokes has been busy with other things lately anyway. 
The Planning Commission has met a few times and talked about what we’d do if something really bad happened out here, and there was nobody in charge back home.  The PC voted, and they picked me to take over if Jim goes down.  I guess that means that maybe they don’t hate me so much after all.  Or it could mean I’m the one they most want out of here.
But I know Jim doesn’t agree.  For him it’s about his family, like he said in his will; he wants Marceline in charge.  But I might be able to talk him into letting me be ready on the ground in San Francisco to keep things together there, just in case the worst happens.  He’s going to want somebody to settle any scores after he’s gone, and to keep the money flowing where it’s needed.  The last thing he’s going to want is for his operation to fall apart; the Temple is his legacy.  And the most important thing to Jim Jones is that Jim Jones should be remembered for eternity.
But most important, it would get me the hell out of here.
September 16, 1978
Sweet hallelujah.  I’m on the plane home.  The minute I cleared Guyana airspace my soul had wings.  I signed over my bank accounts for Guyana to Evelyn before I left. 
Right now we’re on the leg from New York to San Francisco, and we’re somewhere over Texas.  I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.  Up here in the air, I almost feel like I could start over, be free for the first time in a long, long time.
Maybe I will try freedom.  I’ll just have to wait and see where things take me.  But maybe I’ll give it a try.
Right now, I think I’ll just sit back in this nice comfy seat and take a long nap. 
*  *  *
.  VI
One damp October night, when they were seated at dinner, the phone rang at Barb and Yonas’s.  They had been deep in conversation with Amira about Grandma Mayhew’s Pomeranian, which had just had puppies.  Yonas’s first instinct was to ignore the call, but Barb knew better.
Sure enough, it was Grace.
“It’s good to hear from you, Grace.  What’s going on?” he asked, rubbing his head back and forth, Barb watching him anxiously from her seat at the table.
He listened intently, hemming and hawing occasionally, nodding as he listened.
After they hung up, Yonas turned to Barb and sat back down in his place, but closer to her this time.  He put his hand on top of hers.
Leo J. Ryan and Jackie Speier - AP
“Well, babe, it seems that one of Congressman Ryan’s – he’s the San Mateo Congressman - one of his constituents had a son in the Temple.  This boy decided to quit about two years ago, and very soon after, he was hit by a train and killed, under suspicious circumstances.  Then, this same constituent’s daughter had sent her two teenagers on a church trip to New York, with the Temple, and they wound up in Guyana, never to return.  So Mr. Ryan has had an interest in the Peoples Temple for a long time. 
“Recently he’s been in meetings with the State Department, especially since the Concerned Relatives filed their statement, and has been studying the stuff they’ve collected, plus the affidavit of the member who defected last summer, Debra something. 
“So he’s decided to go to Guyana to visit Jonestown with a contingent.  He’s going next month.”  He watched her face for a moment, to see her reaction.
Her face brightened. “That’s great news, isn’t it?  Maybe now there’ll be some action, and people can get their freedom back,” she said hopefully, meaning Roger, and maybe Jacki.
 Yonas was more serious. “Grace hopes that’s what will happen, but if Jones panics and sees it as an attack, it could be very dangerous.  So we need to be conscious of what the developments are and keep putting it back in His hands.”
They looked in each other’s eyes, and then over at Amira as she sifted through a pile of carrot discs on her tray.  They knew what Grace meant when she said it could be dangerous.  But right now, all they could do was wait, and pray.
Bob and Jacki sat obscurely over a cup of coffee in the back corner of that venerable Castro Street establishment Toad Hall, while the Breakfast Club held court in their usual spot.  Every morning at 10, the same crowd came together to hang out and dish about the night before, ruminating on issues of the day with whoever would listen, occasionally with their man Harvey Milk, their champion and voice in county government, whenever he dropped by.
Recently back from Guyana, Jacki was still basking in the sunshine of freedom, and could now embrace her new role as Jim Jones’s person-on-duty in San Francisco.  Still torn about whether or not to hang with this responsibility, she had determined to take it one day at a time.  But just as she had hoped, Temple attorney Mark Gains was nearby, although sometimes in Georgetown, but there in case she needed him, and this made her work much easier to face.
by David Corbell
Bob and Jacki had always enjoyed a special connection that no one else was really aware of, perhaps because they shared that unique brand of disenfranchisement that comes from being wired differently from most of the human race.  By virtue of being gay, Bob had always lived as a dissident to some extent, while Jacki had consciously sought out the role, researching it and choosing opposition to the system as her way of making the world a better place. 
Having been the right hand woman of Jim Jones for some six years now, she had been enmeshed in a community where gay persons were seamlessly engaged in everyday life without a ripple.  In most churches, gay people could not lead prayer in front of the congregation, nor could they expect to fully participate as teachers or leaders without opposition.  But such was not the case with the Temple.  Theirs was not mere tolerance – the opposite – and even went beyond acceptance.  They were all family, very tangibly so.  And Harvey Milk loved the Temple, and Jim Jones, for this.
The reality was that when Jim Jones said “everyone is a homosexual,” whatever his complex inner thoughts and intentions may have been, gays and lesbians heard it to mean “we are all one and the same,” all equals, just as when Jones or some other Temple leader said we are all down and out, or we are all factory workers, or we are all prisoners.  Jacki had understood this, having been ridiculed for her epilepsy as a child, and grateful that by contrast, nothing could compromise her place in the Temple family, because she was equal now - nothing, that is, except turning her back on the group, or standing out too much from the others, or getting too close to people outside the Temple.  For that, the penalty would be public humiliation, physical punishment, or worse.  Indeed, every silver lining has a cloud.
But Jacki had always been a good little girl.  So she had reaped rewards from her spiritual Father Jim, in spades, like no one else had.
So Bob and Jacki shared their coffee over these subtexts, some of them visible and some of them not, and shared where they were in their lives with enthusiasm.
“You’ve got to meet Russ soon, chèrie.  He would love you, because you are such a Peter Pan pixie, even though you’ve let your hair grow out into a wretched mess, and because you love me.  Next time we’ll arrange it, oui?” Bob bubbled, all the while keeping the warm new secret of him and me, his Shelley, next to his heart, still and always to be shared with no one.
“That’s a plan,” Jacki said, her eyes twinkling as they hadn’t in a while.  She had known Bob about five years now, and since he had come out he was a man transformed, and still transforming every day.  She loved to watch him unfold, joy overflowing where once there had been an artificial macho reserve, and had often wanted to get him involved in the Temple.  But Bob was too much of a free spirit for any kind of a church, even one that bucked the system by policy.
Besides, she wasn’t sure any more about what kind of a family the Temple made for anyone these days, since Dad was losing his marbles.
“As much as I loved being out at the project, it sure is good to be home,” Jacki mused.  “I feel a little guilty because a Congressional Delegation with some press and a few relatives left today for a visit out there, and I’m not there to help.  It’s Ryan, from San Mateo County – isn’t that your old stomping grounds?” 
Bob nodded.  She went on. 
“But he knows he can always call if he needs me.  Jim’s not real excited about the idea of a visit, you know – the way outsiders get what the Temple does twisted around backwards.  He’s scared that they’ll see or hear something or other and publicity will start to fly again, and he’ll get shut down before he’s accomplished what he’s set out to do."
by Crawford Barton,

Bob just looked at her, slack jawed and stock still in that way he had, eyes wide.

“But he goes over the top, Bob.   He’s got this thing stuck in his craw that revolutionary suicide is a noble thing.  Maybe if you’re in a revolution.  But bad publicity is not enough of a reason for 1,000 people to poison themselves.  That’s what he wants, Bob.  Am I nuts?”  She felt so safe with Bob, she knew she had said too much even before she had finished saying it.  Her heart sank.
He finally spoke after a pregnant pause.  “No, honey, you’re not.  He is.  You know that, don’t you?  Tell me you know that.”  He waited.
She was quiet for a minute, looking him straight in his sea green eyes.  “That’s why I’m here and not there.”
He looked back at her.  “Have you been confused all this time?”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation.  “I still am.”
“Does Ryan know what you just told me, about the suicide?”
“Well?  What do you think?  Will Ryan do any good out there, let’s hope?”  Waves of realization shifted and undulated somewhere behind his eyes.
Rubbing a knot in her neck, she figured she may as well continue.  “There’s a small likelihood a few people will be helped.  But I think there are really two alternatives that are more likely.  One is that Jim will put on a dog and pony show to end all others, and the delegation will leave with their minds changed and think the Temple is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and things will go on like they are, for the short term.”
Bob leaned in.  “Other than the suicide, what do you mean when you say things will go on like they are?  How are they?” Bob watched her face closely now.
He waited, and finally, hesitant, she answered him.  “Let’s just say that starting your own city in the middle of the jungle isn’t as easy as it looks.  Feeding people and keeping them healthy and keeping order don’t always go as well as they could.”
 “OK,” Bob replied flatly.  “So that’s why you’re even thinner than you were when I saw you in Paris.  I don’t even want to know about what ‘keeping order’ means.  What’s the other alternative?”
She inhaled through her nose, and then let it out through her mouth.
“I think the more likely scenario is that Jim will panic and then something really bad will happen.  Really bad.  But even I can’t, don’t want to, think of what that would be.  Don’t want to.”  She closed her eyes.
He leaned in further still. “Does Ryan know these scenarios?” he asked pointedly.

“Yes.  Gains has been appealing to him non-stop.  He called his office in San Mateo.  He wrote him a letter.  He called the House Foreign Affairs Committee and told them Jim would see it as a threat and might react badly.  My friend Deb – she defected last spring – went to the Embassy and told them we had almost three hundred semi-automatic weapons, a bunch of pistols, and a home-made bazooka.  She told them we practiced suicide.  Nobody’s listening.  They think they can handle it.  Plus so many politicians have been in our corner for so long, it just doesn’t look black and white to people somehow.  Even when the Examiner started airing our laundry years ago, we just had too much momentum for anyone to take them seriously.  It’s too late now to do anything but wait.  The time for doing something passed a long time ago.”  Now that she had gotten started, she couldn’t stop.
Bob leaned back in his chair. “Well, I’m sorry, my friend.  I wish I’d paid more attention to you when it still might have mattered.  I suppose there’s nothing to do but wait at this point.” 
“You got that right,” Jacki answered sadly.  She was lost in thought for a moment.
“Do you remember Barb?” Jacki asked.
“Of course, honey.  I just saw her.  She and Yonas are practically perfect, and I love them madly.  They have a baby, you know.”  They smiled at each other through the fog that had settled over the table, Jacki longing for simpler times, even though she herself had not been all that simple back then.  How she wished that she had really been the person that I, Shelley, in my naivete had thought she was.  Wouldn’t she give anything to turn back the clock and take one more bus ride together, and tell everything, the way it really was?  And maybe then, she thought, we could have figured out a way to make it right.
“What do you suppose Barb would do right now?” she asked Bob.  “You know Roger’s out there in the project.  He’s a guard.  He’s one of the guys that gets us out of bed at night when we get up to practice poisoning ourselves.”
“Yeah, she knows he’s out there,” Bob said, “but she doesn’t know that kind of detail, thank God.  At least I hope not.  Still, she definitely knows there’s something wrong.  We all had dinner the day the New West article came out, and she prayed us up a Bible verse about wearing armor.”
Jacki looked down at her hands and breathed in.  “Good.  Then she’s doing exactly what she needs to be doing.  Maybe it will help.  We better all pray that it does.”   

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Take these broken wings

The Corner of Everywhere and Nowhere
“Still ‘round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.” – J.R.R. Tolkein
Barb gave Yonas the New West article to read when she got home from dinner that evening.  Later, after they lay down for the night, Barb tossed and turned until exactly 2:14 am by the big black hands on the plastic clock radio, Yonas rubbing her back now and then as he drifted in and out.  Finally she dropped into a wild, sweaty dream-infested sleep. 
More than an observer this time, she was on the jungle floor with Roger, but invisible.  Where he went, she went; when he moved, she moved.  He carried a rifle ready and aimed, the butt jammed into his armpit and his hand on the action.  A hot, sticky rain pelted straight down on them as they stood at the edge of a clearing, looking into a sheltered area fed by little roadways, all awash with mud.  Hundreds were crammed into a giant knot under the shelter and spilling out, like sheep, a voice booming at them over a jerry-built megaphone loud speaker.  Others were hiding from the voice in the jungle behind them, some fleeing between the trees.  Those Roger could see, he shot.  Other hands were grabbing whoever they could catch, jamming hypodermic needles into their backs and releasing them to scatter, then to drop to their knees, foaming at the mouth.  A sign hung over the horrific scene, crudely lettered, “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” 
“Mother, mother, mother, mother, mother,” the voice chanted, shrill and maniacal.  Babies were screaming, children struggling, some foul liquid being siphoned into their little mouths or injected into their arms.  They began to convulse.  They gave up their tiny spirits, which floated free of them as they fell, twisting and bolting like fireflies upward, high and fast, disappearing into the night sky with arms wide, then darting back down, hovering around the faces of the grieving ones who had just held them, kissing their cheeks with their vapor, then disappearing into a star studded velvet darkness that was velvet only for them.
At once Barb and Roger were free of the jungle’s edge, up in a high place above the crowns of the trees where there was no rain, and they were face to face.  “Voices, so many” he moaned, his head melting in and out of shape from ghastly mask to Roger and back again. 
Then his face became stable, and he was Roger, but somehow cleaner, sweeter, more pure, a spot of hot yellow light glowing above his left iris as he spoke.  “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.  But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”[1]
The two of them darted, hand in hand, down below the crowns of the trees, hovering there unseen.  Roger’s voice came again, this time softly, “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”  Tiny souls batted around their heads as they hovered there, the souls pointing their faces upward as if listening to something radiant, then darting into the sky and gone.
Again she and Roger were transported to the jungle floor, sodden and flooded, but no more rain from above.  On their knees, they screamed, and Barb snapped awake, a blinding pain shooting through the back of her head.
She sat bolt upright, drenched with sweat, mouth wide, a heart rending primal scream piercing the room and jolting Yonas awake.  He jumped up to his knees and bent over her, sheltering her with his body and wrapping his arms around her.
“What, what?  What is it?” he cried out, still dazed, but shot through with adrenaline.
Stunned and drenched, she looked at him blankly and then began sobbing, trembling.  After she found her voice, she whispered, “They killed the babies, Yonas.  They killed the babies.  But Jesus took them, all of them.  They knew His voice.”
*  *  *
Excerpt from Jacki’s Diary
September 10, 1977
It’s been a while since I’ve written, but it’s been insane.  I kept telling myself I would start again as soon as we got settled, but there’s no such thing as settled in this place.
Paradise it ain’t.  It’s a good thing we have all their passports locked up, because I know there have got to be some that would be risking their lives in that jungle to get out of here if they had theirs in their pocket.  This is my job:  to keep a brave face on it so everybody else stays steady.  The fewer people we have to keep medicated in the infirmary, the easier it will be.  After all, we can’t keep everybody in the infirmary.  Crowd control and maintaining peer pressure is key.  At a time like this, even Jim’s thing about the Guyanese waiting in the jungle to break their kneecaps and torture them if they catch them alone is a help.  Whatever it takes.
It’s weird being out of touch with society, but at the same time the fact that we are is good for me, because it gets me out of here a lot.  As long as I keep his trust and stay tied to the outside world, I can get away to run errands or carry messages or do business whenever I want.  I’m pretty sure I’d go crazy real quick if I couldn’t.
September 29, 1977
Jim has reached the boiling point with the custody battle over John Robert Schoenfeld.  The Guyanese authorities have issued a bench warrant that Jim is subject to arrest if he doesn’t turn over the boy.  Jim will kill us all before he’ll let that boy go.  If Grace and Tim ever got their kid back, they would spill every weird thing they’ve ever seen in here.  What would they have to lose? 
Now that we’re here and Tim has left us to side with Grace, it’s straight-up war, especially with him having been our attorney.  If that’s how he felt, he should never have taken a position of trust with us to begin with, because a girl like Grace was going to wind up servicing Jim, and then everything gets grey.  And on top of it, he did sign the paper saying Jim was the boy’s dad.  It’s not cool to go back on your word.
Jim has been communicating with Cuba trying to see if they’ll take the whole community, now that he feels like the government here has turned against him, but Cuba’ll only take him and a few more.  Nobody understands a socialist but another socialist, he said.  So he said it’s everybody or nobody, and he’s ready to stand here and die to keep that boy, but nobody’s going to arrest Jim Jones, nobody’s going to violate his rights.  He broadcast words to that effect over the shortwave while he was preaching to the congregation – he said “we’re gonna die if anyone comes to arrest anyone,” that it’s the vote of the people.
Angela Davis and some of our other people in California heard this and got concerned, so Angela broadcast back over the radio to the whole Temple that everyone in California is on our side and not to worry because she knew about the conspiracy against us and wanted us to know that people across the United States supported us, and that they would work to make sure we were safe.  Then Huey Newton got on there with her and said that the Guyanese government ought to know that Jim Jones was nobody to be messed with.  The crowd went nuts.  What pulls us apart, brings us together.
Mostly it’s a roller coaster – one minute we’re up, the next some psycho thing is going on.  I just live ready.  My only sanity is Stokes.  Thank God he’s here.
Roger Fagin is so cute, I hate to see him stuck in here.  It seems like he’s doing pretty well, as long as we keep him worn out.  But then that’s the Temple way anyway – keep them worn out and they’re too tired to complain.  He’s kind of a favorite of mine.  We were talking one day and I found out that the girl he left back home, the one he left Moon for in Berkeley, is Barb!  Totally freaky, man.  For real.  I remember her talking about that guy. 
He’s kind of become a go-to guy for small things – guard duty, errands to town and stuff.  He’s trustworthy, because he’s so radical, but I can see he’s still lonely for somebody.  Nothing like good hard work to keep that stuff under control, especially considering Barb is married to somebody else anyway.  I’ve been letting him go to Georgetown to carry the mail run with Gene; he likes getting out, and he’s earned it.  He’ll be fine.  He has to be.  We have his passport.
October 9, 1977
Marceline and Deb and I have been in the States this week – hallelujah – and Marceline went to see Ptolemy Reid’s wife while we were here, considering Jim was in a high level freak attack over the custody thing and had the whole place on suicide alert.  Reid’s the Deputy Prime Minister of Guyana and they were visiting the city. 
Marceline talked to his wife woman to woman, which I’m sure helped, and while she was doing that Deb and I called Reid himself, on Jim’s orders, and told him that if he didn’t stall the court action, the whole population of Jonestown was going to kill themselves in a mass suicide by 3:30 that day.  That had to have been what did the trick.  So now Reid has called off the bench warrant and stalled the custody proceedings, and promised that no one will bother us. 
So Marceline called Jim that things had gone well, and he called off the suicide alert.  Still, he’s going to keep looking for friendly socialist places for us to go, because I think this kind of took the bloom off the rose for him with Guyana.  Especially considering the amount we have to pay to ship food in, since nothing grows here.
 You know, when Huey Newton was talking about revolutionary suicide – that’s who Jim gets it from – he didn’t mean the same thing Jim does.  He meant that when you go to battle for your principles as a socialist, you might have to die for the revolution at the hands of the enemy.  That means laying your life down, yeah, but not taking it yourself.  Jim has it twisted.  Of course, he is a little twisted.  He says his movement is the only true socialist movement in the world, and he wants it to go out with “grandiosity.”  Wow.  Hopefully, no one will ever read this.
December 19, 1977
Finally we have the issue with the Social Security checks resolved.  It’s been a nightmare – can you imagine the Temple losing $35,000 in budgeted income?  The feds seemed to think they could decide when and where they would pay people the benefits they have earned.  Health Education and Welfare has been blocking all of our members from getting their checks ever since we moved out here, patently illegal. 
This has been no way for us to get off to a good start.  We barely just got here and already we’ve been having to live hand to mouth.
But Congressman Burton came to the rescue – he stepped in and got the checks freed up so our people could get paid, and they finally came into Georgetown post office in a giant sack.  It took several letters and some phone calls to get things moving, but it’s done.  Now comes the business of banking them, but that’s a better problem to have than not having the checks at all.  Once the checks are signed over to the Temple, we can finally start operating in the black again.
The up side is, people have gotten used to living with less than we would have given them if we’d had the checks in the first place.  That means, now that we have the income, maybe we can use it for other things, kind of like found money.  Every bit counts. 
*  *  *
Above Port Kaituma
“There is no place in my soul, no corner of my character, where God is not.” -
 Evelyn Underhill
Even with Russ there to be the anchor his footloose soul had always craved, somehow Bob and I were still drawn to each other in a way even we couldn’t describe.  Between us was still a knowing,  a common, timeless understanding at the soul level, a level where you look in someone’s eyes and you know, and they know, and you both know that there are souls, and that you both have one, even share one, and that these souls will never die.  It was on that level that Bob and I became lovers for a short time, this time in the flesh.  This was to be our secret, no one else’s to share.  And while this was not destined to last forever, the bond our love created would tether us, one to the other, across time and space for at least that long, and longer. 
And all the while, the tide continued to rise around us, lifting us all up together, each one separate, then dumping us into the trough beneath, Yonas and Barb and Jacki and Shelley and Bob, afloat in a sea of connection, pulled apart to our own separate ways.
At one year of age, Amira was toddling all over the house, and followed mommy wherever she went as if she were tied to her ankle.  She jabbered words both familiar and unfamiliar, babbling in English and Amharic and a language all her own in equal amounts.  She was already a heartbreaking beauty, her large aquamarine blue eyes fringed with long curly lashes that batted like Scarlett O’Hara when she smiled and flirted, which was often.
Every day she and Barb would walk down to the mailbox together, Amira sidestepping down the wildly floral Victorian carpeted stairs of their Potrero Hill apartment building to the landing, holding onto mommy’s hand, and they would go through the ads and letters and bills together to see what they had before climbing back up to their second floor flat.  Sometimes there would be a card from Grandma Mayhew with a lipstick kiss inside, or pictures of her cousins from Uncle Dawit and Auntie Amara to stick to the fridge with a plastic fruit magnet.
One day in early spring, when it was still cold but the blooms had come out on the trees, Barb was flipping through the mail with Amira hanging onto her leg and found two letters in tissuey envelopes rimmed with red, white and blue, one with a toucan stamp, and the other stamped with brightly colored butterflies. 
“Look, baby, so pretty!”  Barb cried, leaning down to show the butterfly stamp to Amira, who let out a high pitched squeal of approval and bounced up and down, flapping her little hands like the midnight blue and orange creature in the picture.  “And here’s a birdie, too.  What a big nose he has!”  Amira wiggled and pointed and stamped her feet.  “Beak!” she cried.
Barb snatched the baby up onto her left hip, clutching the two exotic looking missives in her left hand along with the bills and the ads, and mounted the stairs, certain that the two letters were from Roger.
As soon as she got upstairs she looked at the stamp cancellation.  Guyana Post Office Corp, GPO, Robb Street, Georgetown, Guyana.  She was right.  Roger.
Barb set the envelopes down on the hall table and put Amira on the floor to play with her stuffed animal babies.  Then she put the letters out of her mind while she made lunch.  She poured herself one small glass of white wine.  Just one.
She took her time, putting whatever was inside the envelopes in perspective.  As the two of them ate and chattered, she meditated, giving up her fears, and Roger’s future, and the lives and hopes of all those in the Temple, including the babies, to her God, being anxious for nothing.  She knew He had them, she had no doubt.  Still, it was a conscious effort.  So by the time she put Amira down for her afternoon nap, the peace of God that passes all understanding was keeping her heart and mind in Christ Jesus.  She was ready.
She took what was left of her wine and the letters, while Amira napped peacefully in her bed, to the living room sofa and curled up with her legs under her, wrapping around her shoulders an afghan that her mother had made for her when she was still pregnant.  She took a sip of the wine, rolling it around in her mouth, and set the glass down on the side table next to her. 
She decided on the toucan letter first, gingerly ripping into the flap on the back of the tissuey envelope and pulling out two four by five sheets of yellow lined paper, written in pencil on both sides.  She began at the beginning.
“Dear Barb, Somebody else did the mail run to Georgetown last week, so I am mailing this letter and my last letter together.”
OK, she said to herself, I’m starting over.  She reached for the butterfly letter and opened it less carefully than the first, but preserving the stamp.  Inside she found the same format of paper, written on both sides, but white with blue lines, and four pages.  Nerves steady, she jumped in.
“Dear Barb, I hope you and Yonas are good.  The baby must be getting really big by now.  First off I want to say I’m sorry I tried to come between you and Yonas, and I’m really glad you didn’t listen and come out here to this God-forsaken place with me.  If I had known you were pregnant I would never have done that, but I still shouldn’t have done it anyway, begged like that.  I should have known you would never leave Yonas, with the two of you being the way you are.”
He was right about that, for sure, she thought, reading on.
“You know I’m not as strong as you are.  You’ve always had so much common sense.  That’s why I loved you so much, because I needed you to keep my head on straight.  But I always managed to screw things up for the both of us even when I had you, didn’t I?  I miss you like crazy, but I’m really glad you have Yonas, because he’s right for you and can give you what I couldn’t, what you deserve.”
Her throat closed a little and a tear welled up, but she caught it in time before it got a grip on her.
“I had a lot of time to think in prison, and I spent most of it studying and meditating and praying, looking for a vision or a sign.  You know how I am.  I started out still a full on rasta man.  I even studied Amharic so I could read the Haile Selassie Bible.  Yeah, I speak Amharic now, just like you.  But not really like you, right?  I miss being in school.
“But guess what vision I got instead?  It ain’t Selassie, man. It isn’t any human being, Moon or Jones either.  It’s Him.”  She smiled.  “But I screwed up because when I got out, I got blinded by all the good stuff that was going on in the Temple, helping the poor and kids and old people, and lost it again.  I saw Jim Jones and all I remembered was I didn’t have a Dad.  I keep looking for a Dad, a man to tell me I’m OK.  When will I grow up? 
“Now here I am in the heat breaking my back and carrying a gun, keeping people in line when I know they only need keeping in line because they have it more together than Jones.  And I have to tell them they’re in the wrong, or the crowd will shout me down and I’ll get half beat to death in front of everybody.  That’s what he does to you if you try to turn on him.  So you can’t show this letter to anybody, that I wrote this to you, because I will be in deep trouble if anyone finds out I sent somebody a letter that had this kind of stuff in it, and didn’t turn it in for censoring besides.
“Jones is crazy, no lie.  He is on that loudspeaker from 6:30 in the morning until 10:00 at night.  I don’t get how any person can talk that long about anything, but you should hear the stuff he talks about.  He says the government here is out to get us, and if we run away into the jungle they’ll catch us and torture us and throw us in jail, especially the Black people.  The guy says he’s for equality for all, but I think he’s really a racist.  All of us whites have jobs where we can drive back and forth to town, if we act nice, or running a crew or something, jobs where you’re trusted some, but he has all the Black people in the kitchen or in the fields doing sweat labor.  And his top people are all white women except for one or two, and he’s screwing every one of them, and some of the men.  He had his eye on me for a while, but I just keep so busy he doesn’t want to stop me at what I’m doing.  I think he’s forgotten about me for now, I hope.
“The food here is really bad, too.  Before everybody got here, when it was just a few of us doing construction, the food was a lot better, I think because they were practicing or something.  Jones came down here to make movies and take pictures with the cute little monkeys and birds, and the bananas all hanging there in bunches looking delicious so he could sell the place to people who weren’t here yet.  Then we got to eat the leftovers, or the props, or whatever.  Now it’s just rice and a few chunks of vegetable, and it’s dry.  And Kool-Aid to drink.  Some days I feel like I’m going to get sick.
“Now there’s almost 1,000 people here.  The week everybody started coming in, they organized us on how to “manage” them.  Some of the new people even got off the bus high on drugs already.  We went through their pockets and patted them down and got their passports if they still had them, and their wallets with their ID, and their watches and jewelry and stuff.  We told them we were keeping it safe for them, but we haven’t tried real hard to keep peoples’ stuff together, and it’s all just mixed up.  We took a lot of cash, too.
“If you complain, you get this thing called catharsis where they beat you in front of the congregation and people scream at you about what you’ve done wrong, or that you don’t have the right amount of revolutionary fervor.  Or you have to have a boxing match with another guy, and they keep putting new people in until you’re beat.  If none of that makes you act better, you have to go to the infirmary and they give you something to calm you down.  There’s a lot of drugs down here, Barb, more than you’d ever want to believe.  And most of it’s not for sick people.
“There’s this girl here, Jacki, that knows you.  She and I met when I first got out of jail, right after I joined the Temple, but we just now figured out we’re connected through you.  She’s pretty cool to me, even more since she put two and two together that you and I had been together in Berkeley.  I can talk to her about stuff and she helps me see it in perspective, because I think really she’s not crazy either.  But she’s high up in the Temple, and some of the stuff she does I would not want to be responsible for.  A lot of people think she’s really mean.  But I think she’s really just doing what she’s gotta do, like the rest of us.  Jim expects a lot from her because she’s smart and a good speaker, plus she’s cute.  She’s one of his Angels, as he calls it, so I’m pretty sure that means she has to screw him.  But I’m not too sure that she has any say in that either.
 “OK, babe, I still miss you, and give that little one a kiss for me.  If I get caught writing this, I’m in trouble because everything is supposed to be censored.  I’ll slip this into the mail with the other stuff next time I make the mail run, but I’m going to have to be sneaky because we always have to travel in twos or threes.  And please don’t try to write back.  They’ll just read it, and I’ll get hard labor at best if they figure out I got a letter out of here, and that I complained.  I’ll mail this as soon as I can.
For a moment Barb just sat there, staring at the pages in her hands, rifling through them again and again, incredulous at some of the things Roger had written.  Even though she had read similar things in the magazine article Bob had given her, it was overwhelming to see it in Roger’s words, and to hear about what was going on now that they were in Guyana.  She leaned her head back and looked up at the ceiling, eyes closed, not surprised, but still wounded by what she had read.  She felt compelled to do something, but she wasn’t sure what yet.  Maybe she should give Roger’s letter to the police, or to her Congressman.  But then she remembered what Roger had said about being beaten if it came out he had written about these things.
She meticulously folded the letter and put it back in the envelope, shaking her head.
“I’ll show this to Yonas when he gets home.  He’ll know just what to do,” she thought.  She smiled at herself, remembering a time when she had thought that about Roger, and all the events that had followed.  She decided she had read enough for one day, and set the other letter aside on the hall table for the next morning, then went upstairs to check on her sleeping beauty.
When Yonas got home, she put her arms around him as soon as he came through the door and held on for longer than usual, then pulled back and looked up at him, smiling and grateful.
“I’m so glad you were on the Moonie bus that night,” she whispered.  “Remember the Moonie bus?”
“How could I forget?” he laughed.  “A beautiful blonde speaking broken Amharic with a bad accent.”
“You never mentioned I had an accent!” she cried, socking him in the bicep.  “Why didn’t you say something?”
“Actually,” he said, “it seemed somehow unimportant at the time.”
“You’re right, it was unimportant,” she answered flirtatiously, kissing him on the ear.  “But here’s someone who is,” she said, lifting Amira into his arms.  “Come in and sit down while I get dinner.”
The two of them shared Barb’s ratatouille, her special dish, with big firm mushroom caps and the corner market’s best plum tomatoes, and house-made angel hair pasta from the deli.  She poured them both a glass of red wine and set out a loaf of crusty bread, while Amira daintily spooned chopped pasta with tomato sauce into her mouth.
They finished their meal quietly.  Yonas gave the baby a bath and put her to bed while Barb cleaned up, then joined her on the sofa for their usual time alone.
“I have something I want to show you, babe.  Look,” she said, handing him the butterfly envelope.  “There’s another one on the hall table that he wrote after this one, but after reading this, I decided to give myself until tomorrow to open it.”
He pulled out the folded pile of pages, tight pencil script filling all eight sides, and did not look up until he was done.
Finally he raised his head and looked at Barb, his eyes very direct.  “Barb, you have to open Roger’s other letter right now.  I know it’s a lot to take in for one day, but I think we have every reason to be very worried about him, and everyone else who’s stuck out there, just as the reporter feared.”
Barb looked back at Yonas blankly at first, and then nodded, knowing he was right.  She brought the other letter to Yonas and put it in his hand.
“I haven’t read it yet.  Will you read it?  Out loud?” she asked in a small voice.
Yonas took the two yellow pages, a slimmer pile than the first letter, and unfolded them.  He looked them over for a moment, and then began to read.
“’Dear Barb,’” he began, “’Somebody else did the mail run to Georgetown last week, so I’m mailing this letter and my last letter together.  I had a lot of explaining to do after I wrote to you last time because I tied up the bathroom so long.  We’re almost never alone here, and people are awake night and day.  So this one’s going to be short.’”
Yonas looked up at Barb and stopped. “He must have had to hide in the bathroom to write the other one.” 
He went on. “’I’ve been hearing voices the last week or so.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m tired or if it’s really Him talking to me, but what I’m hearing is verses from the Bible, usually when I’m almost ready to fall asleep, or right before I wake up.  Just last night ‘the Voice’ recited John 10:1-5, word for word in Amharic, you know, the passage about the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice, and how only the shepherd comes in by the door, but the one who is a thief and a robber climbs up another way.’”
That’s the same one from my dream, Barb thought, not wanting to stop Yonas until he was done. 
 “’You’re about the only person I can say this to who won’t think I’m crazy.  I think the Lord is speaking to me Barb, and I think he’s telling me the thief and the robber is Jim Jones. 
“’I don’t know how long this can go on out here, but I can tell you this.  There are a lot of people in this jungle who have lost their minds to Jim Jones.  The congregation has turned into a mob, and I’m scared for us.  What’s weird about it is that a lot of people don’t trust each other any more anyway, no better than they trust the Guyanese or the American government.  But there’s also this bond that can’t be broken, like we’re all refugees out here together, so we’ll follow Jones and his people to the end of the line.  Like they’re all we have. 
“’It’s hard to explain.  But we’re just so tired, and dirty, and it’s hot and then it’s cold, and it just gets hard to think at all.  So we depend on each other, and we try to keep each other solid and grounded.
“’A few people talk about trying to escape when they think no one is listening, and some don’t even care who hears them any more.  I will tell you one thing, though.  No matter how I feel about Jim Jones, I will not leave these people.  They’re my family now.  There might not be anything much I can do for them, but I’m not a weak man by nature, and I’m not a deserter, not any more.  If the time comes, and I’m needed, I’m not going to be escaping through the jungle.  I’m going to be right here where He tells me to be.
“I think if Jones could just let up on everybody a little it would be better, maybe let us sleep longer, eat a little better, work a few less hours.  If he could just ___’”  The line trailed off. 
“Somebody’s coming      Bye’”

They looked at each other in silence.

“That’s where it stops, like he didn’t get to finish,” Yonas said. 
“What does he mean, if the time comes?” Barb asked in a flat voice.
“I don’t know,” Yonas replied, “but it doesn’t sound good.  Barb, if you don’t mind, I’m going to take these tomorrow and see if I can find out who else might know about this and might already be doing something about it.  May I do that?”
“I don’t want to betray Roger or put him in danger, but I don’t want others to be in danger either.  Do what you think is best.  I trust you.” Barb moved over close to Yonas and put her head in the crook of his shoulder, resting there.  “The passage Roger wrote about in John, the one about the sheep, that’s the same one he spoke in my dream.  I believe the Lord is taking care of him.  But the armor I prayed about with Bob and Shelley – Roger is going to need every single bit of it.”
“I think what I need right now is the helmet of truth,” Yonas replied.  “Somehow, what Roger said has to be brought to light, and fast.  So I’ll try my best to speak for him, and pray that God will do the rest.” 
“Belt, honey.  It’s the belt of truth.”  He smiled.  They were like two halves of the same brain.  She completed him.  They sat where they were for a long time, and after a while Barb fell asleep on Yonas’s shoulder.  Finally, with the city deep asleep around them, she woke up long enough for them to get themselves to bed.
When Yonas got done with classes, he went to meet his faculty advisor for about an hour, and then retreated to the little office he had shared at McLaughlin Hall ever since he became a graduate assistant in environmental engineering.  The office overlooked the Mining Circle on the north side of campus, a little aerie up among the treetops.  It was a place where he felt spiritually connected to the generations of groundbreaking researchers that had gone before him at Cal, the ones from whom he would tap strength now as he launched into new frontiers in his chosen field, environmental fluid mechanics and hydrology.  He hoped one day to bring state of the art systems to third world countries where clean water supply was a significant public health, safety, and economic problem, as it was in his homeland of Ethiopia.  On the desk in front of him, he had a stack of undergraduate papers he still had to read on water pollution and its effects on human health and the environment.   
But he could not shake the thought of the humid enclave where Roger was currently trapped.   His alarm at what he had read in the two letters the night before had vibrated beneath the surface of his consciousness all day, and now finally compelled him to act.  He found a number for New West magazine in the telephone directory and dialed it, asking for the editorial department.
A young woman answered.  “May I speak to either Marshall Kilduff or Phil Tracy, please?” he asked nervously, wiggling his left knee up and down.
“I’ll see if one of them is available,” she answered, putting him on hold.
She returned to the line about five minutes later, seemingly an eternity. “What may I say this is regarding?” she asked.
He paused for a minute, then set aside his concerns about going against Rogers’ wishes.  “I have two letters that were written to my wife from a young man at the Peoples Temple project in Guyana, and I was hoping to talk to one of the reporters about them.”
“Please hold.  Don’t go away,” she said firmly, and the line went silent again, this time only briefly.
Yonas’s knee was going a mile a minute, the receiver starting to get slick with sweat in his hand.
Soon a male voice came on the line.  “Kilduff speaking.  Are you the gentleman with a letter from Guyana?”
Yonas began hesitantly.  “Yes.  I actually have two letters.  They’re written to my wife from a college friend of hers, and the contents have caused us to worry about his safety.  I’m wondering if you know of anyone who’s keeping an eye on conditions out there, one that I can contact.”
“May I ask, what is it in the letters that worries you?” he probed.
There was a pause.  “Well, the letters are personal, at least some parts, and I hesitate to share them because I fear for the writer’s safety.  That’s why I’m wondering if you know of anyone who may have more information about the Temple, maybe a Congressman who’s working on it – Dellums, or Burton, or Ryan – or maybe some group that’s keeping tabs.”  Temporarily, it seemed, they were at a standoff.
Kilduff sighed, and finally spoke.  “If you’re worried, I can tell you that you probably have good reason to be worried.  There aren’t any Congressmen really involved yet, except on behalf of Jones, not the members, but I think there will be soon.  Dellums and Burton have both been pretty supportive of Jones already.  You probably know that the Temple does a lot of charitable work in the community, and they work closely with elected officials to get it done.  Ryan hasn’t been involved with them yet to any great extent, but he tends to be a maverick, and if he were to become convinced that there was anything wrong out there, I think he would get involved very quickly.”
Both ends of the line were quiet.  Then Kilduff spoke again.
“If you wouldn’t mind giving me your name and number, there is someone I would like to have contact you, if she’s willing.  There’s an advocacy group that’s been formed from the relatives of Peoples Temple members.  If I can give this woman your number, I’m pretty sure she’ll contact you, and then the two of you can take it from there.  Would that be alright?”
Grateful, Yonas gave the reporter his contact information, relieved at how well it had gone.  As soon as they hung up, Yonas called Barb at home so she could be prepared in case anyone called. His mind finally free of distraction, at least for the moment, he turned to his stack of papers and delved in, already impressed by the quality of the one on top of the pile.   

[1] “The NIV Study Bible,” Zondervan, John 10:1-5