Sorry. It took longer than a few days to get this next post up.
If you saw the comment an old friend made on the first post in this series, you know he asked some good questions. If not, here is what he asked:
“I would like to know about how “the cult” — meaning the people making up the group — became the cult. In other words, do you see them as mere products of abuse stemming from previous cult members and therefore more innocent? Was there any malice? Did the original members have malice?”
I also said that, in this next post, I would talk about some early memories and try to identify the wrongness that was apparent from an early age.
I think I can address both of these paths of inquiry in this post. At least somewhat.
My earliest memories are probably similar to most people’s. I remember being with my mother. I was very little– this is nothing more than an image memory. I also recall one night waking up in an enclosed-ish bed, I hesitate to call it a crib with any kind of confidence, and being very frightened. I believe I’d had a nightmare. I don’t know how much my mind has fabricated to fill this flash in, but I was crying and the door opened. Light spilled in; my mother was backlit in the doorway.
I remember upper-cutting a kid in a boxing tournament that my oldest brother, Daniel, had organized. If I was older than 4, I would be surprised.
At the end of at least one evening ritual/celebration, I wandered around the room finishing off all of the adults’ wine. They had left their glasses either under their chairs or just to the side of the chairs and on the floor. If I was older than 4, again, I would be surprised. I couldn’t have gotten very tipsy since I still remember the event.
Images of peering around corners and barely remembered feelings of extreme shyness come back to me sometimes. I know we went to a nursery school– perhaps in Manhattan. We would be led down a sidewalk– this had to be in ’77 or ’78– in the shadows of tenements or some other kind of buildings. Walking to this school was a daily occurrence. One day I fell 10 feet off a jungle gym and landed on some part of my head. Possibly on my right brow, since I have a scar under my eyebrow that I have no recollection of getting. I knocked a tooth out. I was trying to flip myself around the top bar like I had seen other kids doing. It didn’t go well.
At another time, maybe in that school or somewhere else, I was eating the school breakfast and two teachers were sitting not far from me. They couldn’t agree if my name was Jerry, Gerald, or Gerard. I corrected them. Obviously this confusion displeased me enough that it is still with me some 30 years later.
Then there are the memories of always being surrounded by other kids. Kids my age, some younger, most older. At age three or four I met Mark. I felt myself being awoken in the large room that served as the bedroom for all the kids in the Children’s Center– I believe in Manhattan. Some goofy looking kid wearing pajamas with, I believe, jockeys on them, was sitting cross-legged next to me. He was grinning at me.
“I’m Mark. I just got here.”
“Hi. Who are you?”
The conversation went splendidly. We decided we were friends and he committed to showing me his mother the next morning at the Sunday event. I don’t know if it was already called a Celebration. That’s what these Sabbath events were called later in life at least. We never found his mother– the forest of legs was thick and quite impenetrable. We sat on folding chairs on the outskirts of the crowd. Singing happened. Incense smoke fill the room. It got hot. I think we maybe even sang Sweet Chariot.
At some point, on either that day or at another event, a huge group of adults and children held hands in a large circle while some spiritual leader led us in a swaying chant. The rooms were always dimly lit by candles and soft lights. Then there were times during these events that those feeling moved would walk forward to the person running the show and get anointed, then blessed. I think it was with tepid water. Nobody fainted, that I can remember. There wasn’t shouting that I know of.
All in all, my early memories of the cult point to it being, in my experience, simply a life in a religious movement. Sure, kids were born in clusters– indicative of… well, I’ll let you fill in that gap. It was the 60s and 70s, folks. Sure, we lived like orphans: 30+ kids tucked in a large room, sleeping on blankets or in sleeping bags. I think the first time I remember sleeping on a normal bed was when I was 5 or 6.
As for wrongness, that’s another discussion. I’d like to stick with memories for a little while, because they’re helping me establish a firm foundation of truth and context for the rest of this story. But as you might see, life wasn’t bad. I was surrounded by a bunch of other kids, many of whom I don’t remember beyond just being other me-sized figures in different rooms.
My early life is dominated by memories of me sitting in circles, either on the floor or on folding chairs, with large groups of people, all of us looking at some spiritual guide person in the middle of the circle who was… guiding us, I suppose.
But I do remember climbing a tree at a place called Angel Mountain. I remember watching a fellow repair a hinge on a barn on the property in Virginia– maybe Bakerton? I thought his movement was very efficient. I couldn’t have been much older than 5.
I also remember seeing my friend Mark hit brutally on the head with the handle of a screwdriver. I remember the woman in charge of us, I think in Angel Mountain, screaming uncontrollably in frustration at the kids. I remember mud, being made to pick weeds for hours, and being forced to eat avocado at a very young age.
And animals. Lots of animals.
Life wasn’t bad. Life didn’t feel wrong. There was an awareness that me and my pseudo-siblings were living a peculiar life. There existed in the back of my mind the feeling or impression that I wasn’t sure who my father was and my mother might not care about me. But that was the experience I had. I had no other experience or life or perspective with which to compare it. So these perceptions were not tinged with negativity– they were simply life as I knew it.
More next time.
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How well do YOU remember your childhood? What stands out most vividly from your very young years? How big a part do your parents and/or siblings play in your relationships? Do you remember events or emotions?