Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chicago Hangovers

To pickup where the thread of the story left off, shortly after revealing our family's deep, dark secret to "S", my mother sent me on another Pure Love Alliance tour. This one was for a month; two weeks were to be spent preaching, rallying and doing community service in the USA, and the other two weeks were to be spent in Europe.

In the hiatus between the '99 and '00 tours, I had been asked to join the PR team for the organization. Part of me was flattered and the other part was nervous about being separated from friends and put in any kind of media spotlight. The depression that had weighed down upon me the past months hit me hard when I joined the tour and no longer had access to my late night discussions with "S".

Suddenly there was no sounding board for the madness swirling around in my head. Being digitally disconnected from him almost made it as though he did no exist. He and his band were to join the tour towards the end in New York, but in front of other church members we would have to put up a front of distance; no one could know that I looked at this person as my lifeline.

The day after joining the tour, I was taken to a Center in Chicago. The friends that I had made during the last tour were sleeping in pews in a local Chicago church and I longed for the camaraderie that I was suddenly disconnected from. I had always hated Centers; to me they represented communal living at its worst. Back in the 1970s, at the height of the church's appeal, living there might have felt different. It might have felt as though there was a purpose to sleeping 10 people to a room and waking up in the bleak morning hours to pray and fundraise for the church.

These Centers would be full of life and young people again a few years later, in heyday of STF. But that, as they say, is a story for another day. The single night I spent in the Chicago Center, the large house was nearly empty. After a fitful night,  I crept downstairs for breakfast.

It was a strange feeling, as though I was a guest in a stranger's home, and the host was nowhere to be found. Despite distinctly feeling like an invader, I managed to rummage up some cheerios. Across the large table, someone else joined me in silence for breakfast. The awkwardness hung in the air until he got up and cleared his place. The emptiness of the house bore down on me - I didn't know where to go or what to do with myself. I knew I was supposed to have a job somewhere here, but without any direction I felt lost.

So like Alice, I thought it might be good advice to "stay where you are until someone finds you." Eventually the head of the PLA Public Relations team found me. He was an older First Gen, who always struck me as looking a little bit like Christopher Reeves. He told me to come and have morning service with him.

I followed him into the Prayer Room, a room that all Moonie homes had, and together we bowed to the photograph of True Parents. He began reading from one of the large leather bound texts that the church published, commemorating Rev. Moon's words. As always, I had a hard time concentrating on the words. Rarely did they seem cohesive, driving to a point. My mind would always wander.

Removed from the stress and fear, and the agony, of home, I was like a bottle under pressure. That time to think was like the pressure building up behind the cork that I had stuffed into my emotions. I knew that I had had to keep it together while I was at home; if I had fallen apart, I was afraid that my mother would come undone. And while I felt that she was a dubious caretaker, at best, I knew that she was the glue keeping the world intact. Truthfully, I had always felt like I was her glue.

But here, hundreds of miles away from home, I felt my tightly-wound self beginning to unravel. My heart felt saturated with tears and suddenly I realized that I was truly alone in a large, cold house, in an unfamiliar city, with a strange man. And he was speaking to me; he was asking me to pray to end the service.

Kneeling down with my elbows on the floor and my forehead inches from my knees, I began: "Heavenly Father..." It had  been the first time I had prayed in months. God and I had hardly been on speaking terms, and now was not the time for me to say to him what I needed to say. Not with an audience. The words I kept civil and polite; I prayed for my fellow Second Gen on the PLA tour, wishing them victory. They were generic words, ones that anyone listening would nod in agreement to, whispering "Yes, Father" as was the habit of many members.

Despite the blandness of my words, they came out in racking sobs. I choked on every word as my body shook with grief and emotion. The syntax was like filling in a Mad Libs from the jargon I had learned over the years; the true prayer was in my heart, as the grief poured out. It was a desperate call for help, for relief. While the dead words dropped off of my tongue, I sent my SOS upward.

When my prayer was over, I wiped my eyes and my nose. Robert, the first gen, looked at me with wide eyes and a simpering smile that made me sick. "You cried for your brothers and sisters." I looked down and away, wondering how anyone could be so naive.

With the prayer service ended, he handed me two dollars and asked me to get him a paper. I have had some difficult jobs in my years, ones where I knew I was under-qualified and in over my head. Never had I felt so unready to face a task; braving the quiet suburban streets of a Chicago morning to find a morning paper felt insurmountable. I didn't know where to look, but I knew that eventually I might find a vending machine with the Chicago Sun-Times. 

Block after block I looked in vain, feeling hungover from the morning's cry. And like a drunkard, I allowed myself the only respite from the hangover that I knew: indulgence. At first the tears hid behind my eyes. By the time I found a vending machine they were threatening advance. Then I saw that the machines only took quarters; the paper money I had been given was useless. Tears spilled down my chin and dribbled into the hollow of my collarbone, down my chest.

Still crying, and assuredly looking frighteningly out of place in the respectable neighborhood, I wandered until I found another person on the street. In her heels and business suit, she was probably on her way to work and unprepared for the visual assault that I was. In the calmest voice I could muster, I asked if she had change for my dollar bills.

With wide eyes that she kept fixed on me, she fished change out of her purse and handed it to me. "Keep it," she said, as though she knew that was the closest she could get to comforting me. Then, without looking back, she quickly walked away.

Watching her back recede to the "click, click, click" of her heels, I felt something. Starting from my temples, down to my ears, and inching its way into my toes I felt a red-hot shame spread over me. That quiet, Chicago morning, I stood on a street corner with a newspaper bleeding its ink onto my fingertips and I wished that I could bury myself beneath the concrete. My life as an Untouchable was beginning...

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