Wednesday, May 22, 2013

First Slice

After 3.5 years living in New York City I finally broke free. In preparation for a move out west, a friend helped me move storage items from my NYC apartment to my parent's house upstate.

While passing through Kingston, NY towards the rotary circle, there's a Holiday Inn that sits on the side of the road leaving towards the exit to the Rhinecliff bridge. I no longer internally cringe passing the Holiday Inn,  but there are landmarks in my hometown area that quietly stand like large tombstones.

The Summer of Cheescake began as the year we spent living in Bridgeport came to a close. New Eden Academy would be closing as a boarding school for Unification Church kids, it would be absorbed by the University of Bridgeport and turned into a day school with open enrollment. After my sister's graduation, I remember staring at the refrigerator in my mother's apartment and recalling the pungent smell of the dish soap we used to scrub and scour every surface of the apartment upon our arrival a year prior. None of us knew where we were going to end up now that my mother didn't have a job and that we wouldn't have a home in a few days.

The furniture we'd brought from Arizona we moved out of the empty rooms at the end of the 3rd floor hall and into a storage unit, and with the help of our Grandfather and his friend in Pleasantville, my mother acquired a navy blue mercury villager mini van, which would become somewhat of our home base for the summer.

An 'aunt' of ours who lived in Yonkers offered us her home while she was away, a place for a single mother and her five kids to crash for a week or so while before we'd wander aimlessly to our next location. We never went outside much, parts of Yonkers wasn't safe, so I'd spend the hours of the day in the dark house perusing our 'aunt's' bookshelves or staring out the window. The window that let in the best light looked out to the driveway and the garbage cans, where an occasional rat would skitter to about. 

Eventually my mother was hired as a cook for a Unification Church owned camp on Bear Mountain called Camp Sunrise. She was given a cabin within a few hundred feet of the kitchen and dining area. It was tiny with orangeish-brown faux wood paneling walls, a few small rooms, and a closet that smelled of deceased chipmunk. I shared a room with my mother for the first few nights we were there, hoping I'd find some stability in the quietly snoring form of my mom, not understanding that she felt the same overwhelming fear and anxiety that I did. We were all adrift and every day was exhausting treading the disquietude.
Before the groups of Moonie children arrived for summer workshops, it was only our family and the families of staff members. The groundskeeper, Mr. B, a mentally disturbed vet who was discharged from the service had found a haven in the Unification Church. He didn't believe in the values or principles of the cult much, but it gave him a petite Japanese wife and a community in which to embed himself in. However, he wasn't much fond of other people,he was prone to bursts of anger manifesting in physical violence and verbal abuse. His inability to relate was often directed at us, once he exploded in anger at my brother Josh and threatened to beat him with a crowbar he had in his fist. For the weeks we spent on Bear Mountain we had a point of giving Mr. B a wide berth, and often hid in the under brush of the woods when he would pass by.

When the campers arrived it was easier to distance the panic attacks. I was placed in a cabin of girls my own age where we'd participate in a variety of camp-related activities like normal children; art, singing, sports, swimming, and hikes. Additionally, many hours of our days were spent in the hot meeting halls, attending workshops on The Divine Principle, maintaining purity, the blessing (our marriage ceremonies), and  Reverend Moon's mission for us. If we dozed in and out of consciousness during the lectures, we were encouraged to forcibly pat/knock ourselves or our sisters/brothers, as evil spirits were attacking us and dissuading us from God's path and his words with the sensation of sleepiness.
Aunt DJ, a loudmouthed Texan church member who was somewhat of an uncouth, church fundamentalist made herself known during our weeks at camp, as she would participate as a church elder and lecture from any available pulpit, doling out the black and white dogmatic laws God's will from her pointed fingers and flapping arms. She made herself popular among curious girl campers, reading their fortunes from their palms and filling their heads with projected preconceived notions. Many of the girls would later attend her boarding school out in Texas, a few she would shepard away from me after she caught wind of me loosing my purity many years later.
The trembling uneasiness creeped back in on the last day the campers left, the distractions from my anxiety in the form of my camp friends were leaving, and I would be left with the reality of a homeless family and an unforeseen future. My sister and I along with one of my brothers would sit on a concrete wall on the edge of the lake, where we'd attempt to fish with sticks, string, and clothes pins. One of the few safe havens from camp employees, we'd sit baking in the sun, contemplate our family's fate and retrace everything that had preceded Camp Sunrise.

Camp had to end, and we were evicted from the cabin and packed our mini van full of our possessions. The rest of the summer and early Autumn we would spend homeless, hoping from motel to hotel to motel, surviving on money our Grandfather would place in my mother's bank account. My mother would never mention to the check-in desk she had five children, so we were trained to split into groups, one who would attend my mother into the hotel with some luggage and hotel key cards, while the others would be snuck in through back entrances. 

We migrated north to the Hudson Valley, not because our father's mother resided in Wappingers Falls, but because there was a moderate community of church members who resided in upper Dutchess County near Barrytown where the Unification Theological Ceremony is. In that time we stayed in a motel in Fishkill, and an entire month at the Holiday Inn in Kingston, NY split up between times at other motels in the area. With no woods or lake to escape to, we had the jacuzzi near the pool, and the small restaurant within the hotel. 

If we had a tiny bit of money we could spare, our mother would either treat us or hand us cash so we could sit in the vinyl booths of the restaurant and split a piece of New York cheesecake. Drizzled in a red glaze, the    rich sweetness would eventually symbolize the one passable high point of a dark time in our lives. There would be nothing to do but ruminate over our family's situation between thin, rationed bites of cheesecake. 

Our childhoods were a constant exposure to crisis mode. The past two years had seen my family move into a scorpion filled house in Mesa where a convict had taken his own life, spattering the wallpaper in the kitchen with his blood and soaking the house in the smell of his death. It was in that house around my 8th grade graduation where my mother became convinced my father was sexually molesting our younger brothers, and where she slipped a 'Dear John' note into his briefcase before he left for Korea. In urgency she had us pack up all our belongings, split from my father, and flew across the country to Connecticut's great ghetto, landing us among the sharpest teeth of Reverend Moon's community. Now homeless, and packed into a hotel room, it felt as though there could be no bright future for the rejects of God's chosen people.

One morning in early September, my mother was away across the river in Red Hook house hunting. With all of the children more or less awake we flipped on the television, but found every station had images of two huge towers in New York City, one that was smoking at the top. We were all glued to the TV, watching headlines race across the screen, when another plane crashed into the second tower. By the time my mom returned to us hours later she was in hysterics. She had been terrified she wouldn't be able to return across the river to us, as many bridges had been shut down or blockaded by police once the WTC attacks were confirmed terrorism. 

It would take us almost a month more to find a house in Red Hook, and in the interim we moved into an apartment within a Unification Church family's house off 199. They were the most Christian of any the Barrytown families, as a majority of them shunned my mother for arriving on the scene without a husband, broke, and needing help. Broken families were like diseased people, and it was best to avoid them in case they could infect you with their bad spiritual atmosphere.
 Much like the time we spent in the hotels, our family all slept on the floor in one room, but I had gotten accustomed to the sound of our collective breathing as I fell asleep every night. Occasionally I would ask to borrow my sister's CD player, and lay down listening to *NYSNC's 'No Strings Attached' album. I had convinced my 15 year old self that if I really bought into the lyrics of 'Do Your Thing', I would be brave enough to accompany my mother to the local high school and enroll myself late.

While she filled out the necessary paperwork to enroll me at the main office, I watched the high school kids watching me as I stood awkwardly in the office outside the hallway. I unconsciously appeared like a homeless kid with my unruly bushy hair and mish-moshed clothes that happened with be clean, articles that were an eclectic mixture of the faux hip-hop lifestyle of New Eden kids and the camp t-shirts. A gaggle of girls studied me as they walked past and leaned in to whisper amongst themselves as they walked past to class. Hearing them giggle at a remark most certainly at my expense, it just confirmed that I couldn't handle being there. I had become to weird, too irrevocably fucked up and from a strange family to ever fit in. I couldn't even begin to imagine making it to class on the first day, much less making friends. Having a family that moved every year or two of my life made me paralyzed with fear upon entering a new school, knowing I would be an object of curiosity and ridicule as I had to find a lunch table to sit at. I couldn't do it. I never ended up attending Red Hook Highschool. I would end up in their year books "Chose Not to Pose" section that year, but I stayed home within the confines of our family's one-room apartment or would wander the grounds of the Unification Theological Seminary.

It's been more than ten years since then, but I still feel as though I live in a crisis-fueled gypsy whirlwind. Before I fling myself across the country to New Mexico, I ask myself; how long I will stay there? Where will I go after that? Will I ever feel stable enough to settle down and place down roots?

And can I ever look at a piece of cheesecake in an untainted way?

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