Photo © 2010 Marlene Dunham
Tapestry @ The Vatican Museum, Rome
It’s Hard to believe that I would be the one joining a cult.
It was the subtlety of it all that was surprising. Took me 15 years to see it. A lot had gone wrong by then.
I was 22 years old and living in sort of communal situation. Not uncommon in 1972 New York. Housemates changed somewhat but there were a core of four guys, three girls. There was only one "couple". I was sleeping with one of the guys when I moved in but that quickly changed. I discovered there was usually a line at his door, and I probably cramped that style. That was ok. I just lined up at another door, then another. There was the constant stream of cocaine and marijuana to keep us all nourished, with the right amount of rock & roll and long-haired musicians stirred in to create the perfect gumbo. Those were the days.
Those were also the days of taking a long, hard look at what the future would hold. I was heading quickly toward adulthood and didn’t have a working compass. Though a college dropout, I was smart enough to realize that this life style had a rather short shelf life. In hindsight, I can see that my promiscuity came from a need to be wanted, combined with a fear of emotional involvement. I guess I was born at exactly the right time. Sex, drugs and rock n roll!
It was at about this time that I ran into an old friend. He and I grew up in the same Bronx apartment building; our mothers were best friends. He was the kid that the nuns at school would tell us to stay away from. He was the kid who was constantly involved in whatever fight was happening on the corner. The corner where all the tough, older guys hung out. Now, in his mid-twenties, he was the guy who was always drunk at the bar or passed out in the back of someone’s car. I found myself across the table from him one day, listening to the most amazing story. The details escape me but the message was that my friend had found the Lord! He talked to me about "speaking in tongues" and miracles; (he might as well have been speaking of "cabbages and kings") as I didn’t understand any of it. But, I also didn’t forget. He left me with a book to read, entitled "The Jesus People and Their Leaders".
I had recently quit a secretarial job in Manhattan to go to work for a band booking agency in Westchester. No more hot, stuffy subway cars, I could now drive to work. This was the agency that booked my housemate’s band, along with dozens of other "club bands" throughout Westchester and Long Island. The Office Manager was a gal about 18 years old, very friendly, very nice, but kind of "square". I was sure we weren’t going to be snorting a line of cocaine together anytime soon. The curious thing was that she would constantly be getting phone calls at the office where she would end the call with "I love you". At first I thought she must be talking to her boyfriend, but as I was the one to answer the phones and transfer the calls, I realized there were different guys, even girls. The calls that were personal all ended with "love you" or "God Bless You" and she was always so damned happy. My curiosity got the best of me and one day I asked her what was going on. She told me she was involved with a Bible Study group and they were all like family – like brothers and sisters. Thinking of my recent conversation with my old friend I said, I only have one question for you: "Do you speak in tongues"? When her answer was affirmative, I said "Well, then we’ve got to talk". After reading my friend’s "Jesus Book" I was left with more questions than answers. We didn’t learn about stuff like this in Catholic school! If you have ever been in the position of "witnessing" to others, you can imagine how surprised my office manager was to have this hippie girl approach her with questions.
I found myself in a living room full of people holding bibles. There were long-hairs, clean cut, a guy in the corner who looked like he just got stoned, but everyone was accepted. I got the distinct impression that these people really cared about each other, loved each other. That was a concept I would have to mull over a bit. Maybe I would have to come back and check this out again.
Growing up with an unmedicated Manic Depressive father was enough of an emotional roller coaster for a lifetime. When my sister was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when I was about 14 years old, I took advantage of the chaos, and decided I was lucky enough to be completely ignored. At a time when a budding teenager certainly doesn’t want or need overly attentive parents, I could come and go as I pleased. And, for the most part, I did. I started smoking cigarettes at 15, pot at 16, and sex at 17. My sister committed suicide when I was 17, maybe that’s when the emotions shut down, though I believe that probably happened years before. The short story is that I became promiscuous, and experimented with many drugs but, nothing I may add, that involved a needle. And to my benefit, it seemed I didn’t have a very addictive personality, just experimental. Maybe you have to be more emotional to be addictive.
I also never had much of a father figure to look up to. Was that why I was now looking to God? Was the love I was feeling in that Bible study room what I had been longing for all my life? Well, I went back and then went back again.Part 2 can be found here