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.”   

No comments:

Post a Comment