Sunday, August 7, 2011

Not unto your own understanding

Hyde and Union redux

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, 
but words will make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours.” 
- Eric Idle


Ironically, it was only about two weeks after we closed the deli for good that Mandy, the girl with the dream apartment right at the corner of Hyde and Union, told me there was a studio available in the building for $95 a month, the same building where Bruno lived in the house directly next door.

The apartment had a six-month lease with an option to renew, and my unemployment benefits would continue to come in, even if I didn’t find another job right away, for at least that long.  So I was approved, and all I had to do was decide whether to sign and accept living in one of the most coveted apartments in the city, with Bruno next door as part of the package, or whether leaving Puppet Man behind would be too much of a hardship.  In the end, it was an easy decision.

So Mandy and her friend Chester from school helped me move my paltry, but growing, furnishings up the long, slow incline that was Hyde, around the switchbacks of the curvy staircase to the third floor.  Chester, who owned a 1962 dented white Ford pickup with a bondo fender and a bed big enough that it accommodated all of my stuff in two trips, accomplished most of the move himself in two and a half hours with his shirt off.  What he couldn’t do alone, neighborhood girls flocked around to help him with, Mandy and me included, as we admired the sweat dripping down his lean, softly muscled arms and into his beguilingly gentle artist's hands.  I figured that was going to be the closest I was going to get to a man for a while anyway.
Graham showed up part way through the move to help unpack and to meddle.  As soon as Bruno’s dinette with the two lemon yellow swivel chairs was settled in the bay window, he plopped himself down and let out a contented sigh.

“Awwhh, man, this is the life, now,” he growled, putting his feet up on one chair and leaning into the other with his hands clasped behind his head.  “I could get to like this spot.  Have you unpacked the coffee pot yet?”

“Don’t get to like it too much,” I retorted.  “Just because I’m on the corner doesn’t make this home for you.  Call first.  Capiche?” It still surprised me whenever I heard myself blurt out some Italian-esque utterance, like “stugatz,” or “stunad,” or “capiche.”  Nevertheless, I willingly embraced the fact that somewhere in my soul I would probably be an honorary Italian for the rest of my life.  Madone.

The apartment was nothing like the narrow, dank cave I had just vacated.  The details from the building’s last real remodel somewhere back in the forties remained – the claw foot tub, the hexagon tile in the tiny bathroom with its two steps up, the porcelain fixtures, the stained glass kitchen windows, the built-in shelves.  Graham and I surveyed the décor and decided something was missing - curtains.  Having been down that road together before and hence understanding where a life with no curtains could lead, he and I hopped a cable car for downtown to pick up some bed sheets at Joseph Magnin.  We settled on a deep royal blue - three top sheets - knowing the color would set off both the yellow of the chairs, and the hot pink, dusty blue and black tapestry my parents had brought back for me from one of my Dad’s business trips to Peru, now that we were speaking again.  The smokier blue of the swatch of dumpster carpet laid the perfect foundation for all of it.

After I had hand-hemmed a pocket along the length of six panels I had cut to size, and strung the fake curtains on the curved rods already in place above each bay, we stepped back to view our handiwork and had to take in a breath.  The edgy palette of intense yellow, deep and smoky blues, and hot pink, set off by the soft black miasma of my most recent drawings - heavy charcoal on rice paper over pale sea green, opal pink and aquamarine oil pastel, amorphous translucent shapes emerging from the depth of the blackness – was mesmerizing, an artwork unto itself.  I pulled a velvety purple Chilean alpaca blanket, also from my parents, out of the bamboo trunk that was serving as a coffee table, and draped it over the oatmeal colored sofa bed, the picture complete.  I was home at last, and for the first time, my home thoroughly carried my stamp, a mélange of gifts attracted to me by who I was, and creations emanating from my own voice.  It appeared somehow – expensive.  Yet it was almost entirely free, at least to me.  And my parents were a part of it.  Foundation.  New life.  Reborn not a throwaway child, at least for now.  

As I looked first at one exquisite corner and then another, I vowed to myself that I would never hop around from place to place without a real destination again, and that wherever I went, I would never lose myself.  But that was a vow that, as the years went by, I would find nearly impossible to keep, no matter how hard I fought for it.


Settled into my new nest, Mandy next door, and school well underway, life could not have seemed brighter.  The photographs I had taken over the summer break were shown in the Diego Rivera Gallery at the Institute alongside the work of two MFA students, a painter and a printmaker, an honor to be sure. 

One November morning, Henry the union rep sent me on a job interview to a family-owned neighborhood market in West Portal.  Mt. Davidson Market, at the foot of the hill near St. Francis Wood, was owned by an Italian couple, the Palladinos. He was a dentist, barrel chested, tall and balding, and wore a green and blue plaid tam-o-shanter he had acquired on a family trip to Scotland.  And she, tiny and sweet faced with smooth hair and a tranquil demeanor, was head of the foreign language department at Balboa High School, an Italian and Spanish teacher.  Italians.  Miracoloso.

Had I been able to choose extra parents for myself, the Palladinos would have been them.  I felt a kindred spirit in Mrs. Palladino, and admiration for her that she had risen to the top of her profession to become department chair.  Even better, she knew my cousin, who was a German teacher at Burlingame High School, and loved him.  I was hired on the spot.

Mt. Davidson was a real Italian market with an authentic delicatessen, a fish and poultry, a fresh butcher shop, and a full gourmet grocery.  Pietro and Angelo went out every morning on the truck to pick up fresh produce, and Amedeo went to the wharf to pick up every kind of fish and seafood that was fresh – snapper, sea bass, sole, Dungeness crab, oysters, you name it.  The chickens came in 45 pound boxes to the loading dock and were broken down from whole, with a few left intact for roasting.

Everything was authentic and top of the line.  Salames of all shapes and sizes hung from the ceiling with ropes of garlic strung in between; and vats of dill pickles, giardiniera, and calamata olives, all colors, filled one end of the case.  Our most notable customers were Gina Moscone and Angela Barbagelata, the wives of the two candidates in what was shaping up to be the most hotly contested mayoral race in recent San Francisco memory.
While their husbands popped in from time to time for a jar of mayonnaise or a bottle of milk, it was Gina and Angela who every day smelled and selected the meats and the fish for freshness, and chose the imported cheeses and condiments for their traditional dinners.  At Christmastime, they ordered their crabs live, and we kept them in a water bath, talking to them and stroking them and giving them names.  Then when the ladies came on Christmas Eve, they ordered our ill-fated guests executed before their very eyes, torn limb from limb still fresh and blue to get the purest, saltiest flavor in the holiday cioppino. 

But the best part about being in the market at Christmas in 1975 was that George Moscone had won the runoff election for mayor by a handful of votes, and the celebrating didn’t stop clear through the first of the new year.  Even though we all loved the Barbagelatas, there was something about George Moscone that spoke to the heart of an average joe, the way he treated you specially, as if he had known you all your life.

I always liked to be on the register when Moscone came in, because he remembered who I was whenever he saw me, and started calling me Tranquilla out of the blue one day for no apparent reason.  Molto miracoloso. He reminded me of home and my best times with Bruno, including the night we had met him at The Tide when he had first decided to run - part of my new Italian family, only not dysfunctional, as if from the other side of a parallel universe.  

As if that weren't enough, after he was sworn in as mayor in January, he hired Bruno to be his personal assistant, keeping him close by his side almost every waking minute.  I knew that Moscone was taking good care of Bruno, and would never let him do anything that would ruin his future.  And so I had a special love in my heart for him, that he was watching over Bruno for me.

George Moscone always put in a good word with the boss for whoever had served him well.  Me, he liked because I was a fast worker and had a sweet, quiet temperament.  So the Palladinos and Pietro and Angelo and Amedeo all started calling me Tranquilla too, telling me they understood why that was my nickname because my smile reminded them of the Mona Lisa.  And some days I even felt like my heart had hardly even been broken at all.


Early one cold Sunday morning in January, I was snuggled up on the little oatmeal colored sofa bed, the purple alpaca blanket still wrapped around me where I had slept the night before, watching the am news magazine on Valerie’s station, which was one of the three stations I got on my coat hanger TV.  Often I didn’t even bother to unfold the bed and just slept on the sofa, partly because I hated to disturb the artfully arranged perfection of the décor by making dents in the smoky blue dumpster carpet, partly because I didn’t like emphasizing my aloneness in the world by sleeping on the double mattress by myself.

While I drifted and considered the news of the day, I had my arms wrapped around a big pink plush dog with long velvety ears that my neighbor Ruby Sunset had given me as a good-bye gift when I moved away from Hyde and Bush, toasty warm next to the gas wall heater with its little row of blue flames dancing behind the grate right next to me, even though it was dripping with fog and frosty cold outside.

Just as the baby-faced boy commentator was getting ready to interview an organic vegetable grower in his rooftop garden on Nob Hill, I was startled almost fully awake by the jangle of the telephone, and jumped up with the blanket tangled around me, tripping and nearly falling on my way to answer it.  On the other end of the line, to my surprise, was Detective Beltran.  Art.  It took me a minute to recognize who I was talking to, being both groggy and a little out of time and space in my still new surroundings, in addition to it being Sunday morning.

“Good morning Detective!  I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize who you were - I’m still waking up, I guess.”

“Don’t apologize, ma’am.  And please, call me Art.”

“Alright, Art,” I answered, knowing I would never have felt comfortable calling him Art in any other condition than half asleep.  “How can I help you this morning?” At a loss for idle chatter after closing the meat counter at 11:00 the night before, followed by a 35 minute street car ride, a long frigid wait at the turntable, and a 20 minute cable car ride home, I had reverted to my programmed customer service mode.

Art cut right to the chase.  “Before we chat, Shelley, has Bruno Roth ever been inside your new apartment that you know of?  Or has it ever appeared to you that anyone entered your apartment when you were away?”

Perplexed, I answered, “No, he hasn’t been inside, Art.  Not too many people have.  How did you know I’d moved?  But I guess that’s a silly question.”

“There are no silly questions, ma’am.  And it’s good to hear no one has bothered you in your new apartment.  I’m afraid I have some – well, unusual news for you, Shelley.  We’ve alerted officers in Daly City to the situation, so for right now I don’t want you to be alarmed.  But I do need to let you know that Bruno Roth has purchased a home on Stoneyford Drive where it meets Montrose Avenue in Daly City.   Mr. Roth can see your parents’ driveway from his new front window.”

In spite of Art’s best efforts, I was, in fact, decidedly alarmed.  In fact, I felt as if I were hovering above a scene of myself on the phone with Detective Beltran, now Art to me, watching everything unfold like an old black and white movie, a Hitchcock movie.  Of all the houses in all of the San Francisco Bay Area, whatever reasoning led Bruno to buy that particular house was already capturing my imagination in the most chilling way possible.  The image of the steel grey handgun lying in the case beside its silencer came rushing back to me with stunning clarity.

“But why?” I asked, hoping for him to give me some obvious rationale that was entirely innocent, and that I was missing completely.

“We don’t know why, Shelley, ma’am, but like I said, you mustn’t be alarmed.  He’s aware now that we’re watching him.  Even if he had some intent in mind, I doubt he would try anything.  But rest assured he doesn’t know that you and I have ever spoken, and we’ll see to it that he doesn’t ever know.  We just wanted you to be aware so that you wouldn’t be alarmed if you saw Mr. Roth frequenting your parents’ neighborhood.  I’m sorry to have to notify you of this on your morning off, ma’am, but Mr. Roth just signed the papers yesterday morning, and we wanted to be sure we found you at home.”

I let out a long breath and allowed my reality to start moving and shifting again, walking around people and places I knew with new eyes, like I did every time the lens got changed up on me.  Why was it, I thought, that I never saw things as they really were, never saw things coming – Bob being gay; Graham falling out of love with me, or never loving me to begin with; Ray and his funny business, Bruno and his gun – and now this?  Or was this just the way it was, that nothing was ever what it seemed?  Was I trying to be ignorant? But then I could remember all the times a small voice had nagged at me that something was not quite right, and I had conveniently, consciously ignored it.  Dumb, hopeful Tranquilla.

Art and I exchanged a few pleasantries and he reassured me again, and then that was all.  That was the last I ever heard from Detective Beltran, 29, single, handsome, and very eligible, as I would have found out if I had been paying attention to yet another small voice at the back of my mind, the voice that told me the Detective thought I was nice and wondered about me, and that he’d like it if I dropped by the station.  It sounded a lot like the same voice that had warned me about Lighthouse, the voice that I ignored until it was too late.  So sure enough, I ignored it again.  And I never even bothered to wonder what he looked like.
My blanket still around me, I turned away from the phone and walked to the center of the floor, just looking straight out the open curtains of the center bay at the foggy morning, mist dripping from the rain gutter that rimmed the gingerbread edge of the roof above my apartment, feeling sorry for myself.
I stood there that way for what seemed like an hour, but for what was really probably more like minutes, letting the pain of the healing wound that had been ripped back open settle into a dull ache.   Tired deep inside, I sat down in a lemon yellow chair by the window, till far distant memories of simpler times began to crawl out of me and hover close by.  My grandma Daisy, laying out her bone china for Thanksgiving dinner, filling the gold edged tureen with gravy, was singing, “His Grace is Sufficient for Me.”
I remembered wondering at thirteen, as she sang the sad old song about trouble and sorrow, why Grandma Daisy needed grace, as she laid out her beautiful plates with family gathered all around.  But thinking back now of how she had raised three young children as a widow with tuberculosis, including my Dad, I began to get the idea, and felt maybe a little less sorry for myself.

I sat there looking out a while longer, holding the blanket around me and rocking, until finally words from somewhere deep in my memory began to rhythmically weave in and out of my consciousness, darting like swallows around my head, beating their wings against my temples.  “Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.  Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.  Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.”

I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, in reality.  I only knew that something in it gave me a peace I hadn’t felt in a long, long time, and I remembered that no matter how much I screwed things up, someone much bigger than me always loved me anyway, if I’d just let Him.  And that peace would last me for at least a few minutes, before the tyranny of the immediate threw me into a tailspin one more time.


I saw Bruno on the morning magazine show just a half hour later, standing behind Mayor Moscone and slightly behind him on his right, as the city’s new leader spoke to reporters about his plans for appointments to key positions, including several minority appointments, women and gays, a first for San Francisco.  Bruno looked good in his tailored suit, even through my snowy reception in vintage black and white.

Later that day I saw him again in line at Lighthouse.  He was holding a bottle of Chianti and a French loaf, and I had a bag of apples, two cans of soup and some Perrier.  He was in front of me, and turned around to look at me but didn’t speak.

“Ey, Bruno, come stai?” I asked, smiling a little wanly, hoping he’d be more glad to see me than I suspected he would be.  Sadly, I had suspected right.  All the old warmth and bubble was gone, and his ice blue eyes stared straight through me.

“I’m really good.  I got a job with Moscone – you know how I feel about him.”  His eyes warmed up to me for just a second, but it quickly passed.

“I know, I saw you on TV this morning.  Congratulations.”  There was a moment of awkward silence, and then a short, thick waisted blonde with a bent nose walked up holding a bag of Brussels sprouts, and linked her arm through Bruno’s.  Bruno didn’t like Brussels sprouts.  They gave him gas.

“I see you got the wine.  Is there anything else I should run get while you’re in line?” she asked breathlessly.  She turned to look at me.  “Hi, do I know you?  You look familiar.”

“I’m sorry, Janet,” Bruno interjected.  “This is Shelley.  She used to work behind the deli counter here at Lighthouse before Ray closed it.”

“Of course, that’s it.  You’ve waited on me before.  It was always great to be able to come get a hot meal from you on my way home from the office,” she said, faintly condescending.  I tried as I stood there to call up some recollection of the nondescript girl in front of me, but could not find a single memory of ever having “waited” on her, or even seen her, in the deli before.

“Janet’s an attorney in private practice,” Bruno said, his eyes turned slightly away from me.  “I met her at City Hall right after I started working there.”

“Well, that’s super,” I said looking right where his eyes would be if he were looking at me.  “Look, Bruno, it’s your turn.”  Jimmy was at the register, and he winked at me as we exchanged glances.  I would have winked back, but I had always had trouble closing just one eye at a time, so I smiled faintly and nodded at him instead.  I had a feeling Janet was one of those girls who could whistle a cab down by putting two fingers between her teeth.

She stood on her tiptoes flirtatiously and kissed Bruno on the cheek, her substantial nose crushing against his face, glancing at me out of the corner of her eye.  “I’ll go get some Perrier, honey bunny.  Shelley has a good idea there.  She always did know how to put together a great meal.  Nice talking to you, Shelley,” she tossed over her shoulder as she scuttled off to get the water.

Bruno turned back briefly.  “Why did you move next door to me?” he muttered darkly.

“I’ve wanted that apartment for two years and I wasn’t about to give it up just because it was next door to you,” I hissed back between clenched teeth.  I almost brought up the house down the street from my parents, but thought better of it, realizing that if he knew I knew, it could set off a chain of events that I didn’t have the experience or the desire to try to control.

I stood in silence as Jimmy rang Bruno up, Janet running back all flushed with two bottles of Perrier and setting them on the counter for him to add to the bag.  “I got two in case we get really thirsty,” she said, turning to me and winking.
A malevolent mood moved in on me fast.  I hope you aspirate it, I thought uncharitably, and then have an unattractive coughing fit which causes you to vomit.  But then I remembered that I had vomited on my first date with Bruno and he didn’t seem to mind at all.  I was left, then, with only the hope that the twang of her nasally voice, seemingly the result of a deviated septum or some other such ailment, would grate on his nerves until he could no longer stand the sound of it; albeit with the realization that it had been my decision to split, and that I ought to be wishing them well.

The two of them left the store as soon as they were checked out, leaving me to walk toward my apartment up to the corner of Hyde as if I were following them.  My cheeks were flaming with misery and anger, both at them and at myself.  As I walked, I vowed I would steel myself to seeing the two of them regularly, committed to not letting them spoil this beautiful time in my life, with my dream apartment, a good job, a career ahead of me – everything I could possibly want, right in the palm of my hand.  In fact, not only did I have everything a girl could want, I had been set free from anything that had the potential to stand in the way to becoming the best Shelley I could be.  The greatest blessing I had now was my freedom.  All I had to do was keep it.

When I got home, I took down a bottle of Wild Turkey from the top shelf above the refrigerator where I had been saving it.  It had lived with me in three apartments now, untouched, since my friend Charlie Haney from PG&E had given it to me around my 21st birthday.  I threw back three shots, using the little plastic shot glass that came stuck over the cap, one after the other before I noticed the first one had hit me.  Then, as I took the first step up to my narrow little bathroom, I found myself first on my knees, then lying with my cheek flat against the bathroom floor, draped from the bottom step to the top, where I lay until I woke up in the cold light of dawn twelve hours later.  


Hung over as I was, I went to class and then worked a whole shift at Mt. Davidson anyway, and finally arrived home exhausted past 11:00 that night.  Wrung out, I took the steps up to the rooftop garden, now deserted under the midnight moon except for me and the rows of potted herbs and flowers that people kept up there for cooking or transplanting or whatever.  I looked over at the three chaises laid out side by side, settling on the one nearest the ledge, the one where I had lately started sunning topless whenever there was a rare bright and springlike day. 

As I perched on the edge of the chaise, I looked out over the ledge at the apartments that studded the corner where I lived, all anchored by the little shops where we met and mingled our daily lives together:  the grocery under my building, still not as much of a community institution as Lighthouse, in my estimation; Swenson’s Ice Cream parlor that had made me gain five pounds since I moved across the street;  the little Rexall catty-corner to me with its vintage, orange plastic fifties sign still intact, and the little “x” marked through the leg of the “R”; and Marcel & Henri’s, where Henri, the nine-fingered butcher, made a paté so sublime that Pope Paul VI insisted on it exclusively for the Vatican.

But at that moment, my bird’s eye view of the life that stretched out behind me, short as it was and long as it felt, did not have me convinced that I had been made to walk this planet, or to fit in anywhere where there was human relationship.  Of those who had once meant something, all were either lost to me, or I had purposefully held them at arm’s length; now, I felt as if I didn’t have a living soul to turn to.  A deep numbness gripped me, my throat closing, my consciousness lifting above me, observing me as if I were - other.  My life was a comedy of errors, and I was on a trajectory to nowhere.

Almost automatically, robotically, I stood, stepped around to the ledge over the alley, and swung my leg up to perch there. Before I knew it I was precariously listing back and forth, like the bird on a wire, the drunk in the midnight choir that Judy Collins sang of, above the dimly lit pavement below.  The toes of my boots went in and out of focus as I swayed, and somewhere inside me I believed that if only I spread my arms, only let the wind catch my hair or my wrap just right, I could fly above it all, the laws of gravity suspending themselves just for me, the ultimate bailout.

But something or someone else, another other than the other that was me, snapped my mind back to reality.  Gravity would have gotten me in the end, it said, like everything else there was, everything else over which I thought I had no control.  I buckled backward, my foot slamming into the rooftop gravel, a red hot charlie horse stabbing through my calf.   I probably wouldn’t have died anyway, I answered the other. 

I sat back on the chaise, hot tears and sweat fogging my glasses and wondering what the hell I had been thinking, if I had been thinking.  And how had I come to a place that I was whacked up enough to climb up on a ledge three stories above an alley and try to fly?

I rolled back into the chaise and lay there, looking up at the moving mist as it crossed the face of the moon in waves, committed not to get up until I had figured it all out.  Feeling sorry for myself over the hairpin turns my life had taken the last few years, gut sore from what felt like a growing chaotic tide that had been pounding at me, I finally gave up struggling and just let myself drift in the arms of whatever, or whoever, had snapped me back to reality, and fell gently to sleep.


Over the next hour or so I fell in and out of sleep, the bone-chilling cold of the rooftop keeping me tied to consciousness by one limb, while the rest of me drifted wherever, sometimes in body, sometimes out.

Then for what seemed like a few split seconds, or an hour, if time can be counted in dreams, I flew above the city unfettered, no Superman or Peter Pan to pull me behind him.  The top of Angel Island poked up through a bank of silvery clouds that rolled out like a comforter under the deep blue star sprinkled velvet of the night sky, with the towers of the Golden Gate not far off.  I zoomed in tight on my street corner and saw myself below, slack-jawed and scruffy, curled up in a tight, shivering ball where I had left my body there on the chaise in the icy mist, my drool-covered face awash in moonlight.  A ball of light, I shot in and rejoined myself, physical again for a moment.

Suddenly I was face to face with my Grandma Daisy, her large, warm brown eyes drilling into mine with an intensity I only knew otherwise by looking in the mirror.  Her face was aquiline, almost razorlike, the cheekbones formed from the Cherokee blood that flowed to her from the Oklahoma soil she was born on.  But the eyes, her Daisy eyes, were soft and kind in contrast, and from behind them, her mouth not moving, she spoke to me.

“Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.   And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

I floated up off of the chaise to her face, no longer curled in a ball, a warm light glowing as far as the eye could see and penetrating my bones with a deep comforting peace.  Then there was nothing left of my body, just my eyes, and hers, or someone’s, very soft and dark, and a presence of love.

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Again she said it, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Once more I shot out like a ball of light over the neighborhood, passing over Bruno’s rooftop, then over Lighthouse, darting down into the alley where the two Chinese men I had seen before were standing with Ray beside an open crateful of assault rifles.  Then, all at once, I was hovering over a lush green canopy of trees, and under it hundreds of people lying on their faces in neat rows, swollen and covered with flies, their clothes bursting, some with their arms around each other, some of them children, empty of their souls.  A bodiless presence of Grandma Daisy, or someone, went out ahead of me, the eyes turned back to me, and spoke as we hovered.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. ”

Then I sat up like a shot, seemingly awake.  The memory was still as plain as day, brilliant and clear and real, and I hung onto it, determined not to lose it.  But just as I was getting my bearings, Bob and Jacki were standing on the ledge above me, holding hands, looking down into my face like painted angels above an altar. 

“Dominus vobiscum,” he said brightly.  “Et cum spiritu tuo,” I replied.  A large, dark sore opened up on his right cheek, and a tear overflowed his eye and ran into it.  He turned to look at Jacki, and she kissed her fingertips, then touched the sore.  “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face,”  she said.  I reached out for them, but then they vanished, and I was awake.

I reality, I was still lying down, and it was dawn.  Graham was standing over me, touching my hair.

“Shelley!  Shelley!  Are you OK?  Wake up!” he shouted.  I pulled myself up and swung my legs around, and he sat down next to me.

“Et cum spiritu tuo?  What the heck is that?” he asked, looking both worried and dumbfounded.

“I’m not even sure where I’d begin,” I said, stretching and rubbing my eyes.  “But how did you get up here?”

“I let myself in for coffee and you weren’t there.  It isn’t like you to stay out all night, and I just got worried.  I didn’t want to panic until I was sure you weren’t anywhere, and something just told me to look up here.  Not sure why, I’ve never been up here before, but something just told me to look.”  He smiled at me warmly. 

“And I found you,” he said.  We hugged.

“Well, I’m glad you found me,” I said quietly, only vaguely conscious that his awareness of my whereabouts might be a little more than I wanted from him.  “But I’m freezing.  Let’s go inside where it’s warm.  You can make the coffee this time.”

I wasn’t ready to let go of what I’d seen, so we walked downstairs in silence.  While Graham was making coffee, I dug my Bible out of the box it was in on the top shelf of my closet.  Turning on the light, I turned it over slowly, feeling its leatherette cover, and the heft of it.  It was not nearly worn enough, I thought.  It  had never been christened by having a verse underlined, its spine still uncracked and the gilt on the edge of the pages still intact, just like it was when Barb had given it to me for my birthday a couple of years before.

I turned to the concordance and looked up “peace” and traced down the fine-printed list, looking for what I hoped would be there.  “I will grant peace in the land,” “A heart at peace gives life to the body,” “By the Spirit is life and peace,” “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding . . .”

I stopped.  That sounded like it might be something.  “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding.”  Philippians 4:7.

I clumsily rifled through the latter part of the book, knowing at least that Philippians was somewhere in the New Testament.  After about five minutes, I was starting to sweat, and I was crimping delicate pages to boot.

“Where are you?” Graham called out from the kitchen.

“This place isn’t that big, I’m right here,” I called from inside the closet, which was actually one of the bigger rooms in the place.  “I’ll be right out.”  Since when did he notice my comings and goings so much, I thought, slightly annoyed.

Finally I said “uncle” and looked in the table of contents.  There it was, hidden between Ephesians and Colossians.  I knew from somewhere in childhood that there was an acronym for that, but I couldn’t remember what it was.

Philippians 4:7, NIV.  “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  That was it.  And right in front of it, in verse six, was Grandma Daisy’s admonishment to be anxious for nothing.

I took my purse off the hook where I kept it inside the closet and took out the yellow highlighter I used to mark passages in my textbooks at school.  Starting at verse six and going through verse seven, I highlighted the whole thing, and just to be sure I wouldn’t forget where it was, I pulled the little maroon satin ribbon around from its original position in Psalms and tucked it into the page.  Grandma, I thought.  Was that really you?  Or was it the God of peace, the peace that passeth all understanding, who took me on a night flight over the city in my dreams?

Clutching the Bible under my right arm, I put the box back up on the closet shelf, closed the door behind me, and walked out into the sunny center of my room, out of the closet into the place where I lived every day, and put the Bible down on the bamboo trunk that served as a coffee table.  I set the highlighter down next to it, determined to go back and read and reread what had so obviously been a gift to me.

But I wouldn’t remember the part about love until much, much later, when voices both big and small came back to remind me. 
*  *  *

Excerpt from Jacki’s Diary

November 15, 1975

Moscone won the November election, but not by enough to avoid a runoff.  So it looks like we’re buckling down to get him over the hump with Barbagelata.  This will be a whole new ballgame now that they’re head to head, because it’s the conservatives against the liberals, and even though you can’t tell it by looking, the rich right in San Francisco has a stranglehold on politics.  Capitalists. 

So we’re going to have to keep up the effort clear through the runoff.  If you count all of the member voter registrations the Temple has on the books, they number a little more than 5,000, including bodies that are registered under more than one name in more than one house.  We must have hundreds spread out registered in members’ houses they don’t live in, including the volunteers from Ukiah, and just as many registered in Ukiah that live down here.  Good thing we have Wanda in the registrar’s office up there.  Old man Sly is going to have to keep that bus on the road for sure.

It was a lot of work to mark all of those voting cards so people would know how to vote when they got to the polls, but it paid off in getting Moscone out front in November.  With the two of them head to head now, I think our 5,000 votes and us hitting the precincts day and night again will bring it home for Jim in the final round.  It takes a little monitoring to make sure our people vote right, but for the most part we have them pretty well trained.  Plus they know they’ll get their butts kicked, literally, if they get caught voting wrong or if they resist the program.  There’s nothing like peer pressure to keep people on track.  And we have Moscone’s man Bruno helping with the Italians.  Man, he has the most amazing eyes.  Too bad he’s Catholic – he’d never consider jumping ship to join the Temple, no matter how much he likes what we’re doing. 

Besides, he used to date Shelley, and I don’t work that way.

Pretty soon we’re going to sit down with Moscone and plan the precinct program.  We’re ready to take on the toughest neighborhoods again, and since we’re the ones who registered everyone in those places to begin with, we know how to get them to turn out.  It’ll take every vote we can scrape up to get it done, but we’ll pull it off.  We always do.

Once we have Moscone, Freitas, and Hongisto in office and in our debt, we’re in.  When Freitas is DA, it’ll only be a matter of time before we get Tim on board in his office, and with that and an appointment for Jim, the sky’s the limit.  Just a few more weeks, but it’s starting to feel like a lifetime, because everything else is on hold, at least for me and Stokes.

December 16, 1975

We did it – we brought home the election for all three, Moscone, Freitas, and Hongisto.  Stokes just got off the phone with Moscone, and he acknowledged flat out that we won it for him, that he would not be preparing to be sworn in if we hadn’t delivered our bloc of voters.  Considering he only won by 4,000 votes, I know he’s right.

Moscone promised an appointment for Jim, which is the news we’ve been waiting for, even though we’ll have to wait till summer for the nomination to go to the Board.  Stokes taped the phone call and transcribed it just in case Moscone forgets.  Not that we don’t trust Moscone completely, of course we do, but you can’t be too careful with human nature being what it is.

The appointment will be to the Housing Authority, which is good for us, since we depend on the transfer of property to the Temple, and could use a little relief from regulation for a change.  We have too many people living in those tiny rooms in the Temple building, more than the Housing Authority allows, so a lot of the people living in there had to register at fake addresses during the election.  I bet some of the members who had nine or ten strange voter packets show up in their mail were surprised as heck.  But they know better than to bring it up, it goes without saying.

Now we can get back to business, with the election over, and focus on expanding our social services, recruiting, and building the agricultural community in Guyana.  We’re going to try for our tax-exempt status again in February, so hopefully we’ll get it this time. 

The momentum we have within the group kind of blows your mind.  If someone even talks about quitting, the whole group just leans in on them and holds them right where they are.  They will literally shout them down.  That gives me a real positive head rush, and at the same time scares the hell out of me. Actually, some days I’m not sure how I feel.  I guess it depends on which direction we’re headed that day: to bring services to the community, or to stand in line for our paper cups of punch.

I still believe overall we are headed in the right direction, and that most of the crap we do is for a good cause, even if it doesn’t look good on its face.  So I just keep on truckin’, for now.  Without me, I think this place would fold, what with Jim acting crazy as a bedbug if I don’t keep him on track.

February 26, 1976

We could have guessed it – Barbagelata cried voter fraud almost as soon as he found out he lost the election.  So he demanded a big investigation, claiming that people were registered more than once under different names, and registered at fictitious addresses.  But it didn’t hold up, because we were ready.  The minute Freitas took over the DA’s office, he hired our attorney Tim to work for him, so when it came time to do the investigation, Tim was heading up the special elections crime unit.

Of course, Tim had to find a few violations – there are always violations in any big election, and he saw to it that they were prosecuted.  But not a one of them came back around to Peoples Temple.  Like I said, once we had the election in the bag, we would be in.  And I was right.

Gotta go – service tonight, and Moscone’s coming with Willie Brown.  We need both of those guys on board and happy – whatever Moscone can’t take care of here at home, Willie fixes in Sacramento, him and Dymally.  So we’ve got to make them all feel loved and happy whenever they come to visit.

March 19, 1976

They denied our tax exempt status again.  This is a major blow, and Jim is hoppin’ mad, as expected.  Guess we’re ramping up for Guyana, and I’m still on the road salting money away in every corner of the world you can think of.  That’s all I have to say about that.

July 12, 1976

My only worry today is Grace, Tim’s wife, who has continued to give him a ration of grief because he signed that paper years ago saying their four-year-old John Robert was really fathered by Jim.  She drove up to Redwood Valley last week, got all of her stuff out, and left.  Defected.  But she knew better than to try to take the baby.  He’s still back in Temple housing in the city.

She’s always complained endlessly about that kid.  But then she’s always been a complainer. She says she doesn’t like to complain, but she does, and she always has.  She doesn’t even have to open her mouth to complain.  It’s all over her face. 

We’d just come back from being on the road to New York City for about three weeks when she ran off.  She’d been complaining about being “tired.” Added to that, is that Tim had just made her sign the deed to a piece of property of theirs, and then had it notarized after the fact and gave it to the Temple, since she was going to be in New York.  She was peeved about that too.  So I’m not surprised she ran off when she did. 

She says she just went away for a while to think things over, but I’ve always known she was a weak one, and that she was fixated on that kid instead of on where her priorities ought to be.  Tim has been trying to beg her to come back, but I doubt there’s any hope for them.  It would be better for Tim, and for John Robert, if he never saw her again.   

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