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...

Friday, August 24, 2012

End of the Lunar Oligarchy?

A few days ago my mother wrote to me, saying that Rev. Moon was in the hospital with only a 50/50 chance of making it. Without responding, I closed my email and walked out of the room. While not shaken, it was certainly news for me to contemplate.

On some level it was like being told that your unkind father or grandfather, who has spurned your love, was wasting away. I had tried so hard to love this man, to envision him as my father and my spiritual guide. His words and teaching became the torment of my youth, as I struggled to fit into a mold so constricting that it stunted years of growth.

A tiny tinge of regret blossomed in the pit of my stomach while I tried to stomp it out. Not regret for having been unable to win his love - but regret that it had taken me so long to let go and walk away. This man was the reason that I was born; I was conceived out of a duty towards him. My conception likely had nothing to do with love, other than a misguided attempt at loving someone else's notion of god.

These days I am not bitter. Instead I lost my mother-tongue and celebrated its loss. But like a wild-child I have not yet learned any fluency in the world I was sheltered from for so long. Perhaps there is an endearing, naive quality to my linguistic starts, stops and stutters. Thus far, the world I was taught to fear has embraced me.

This day has been on this horizon for many years. Even a false-messiah cannot live forever. He used to speak of souls that would drag your spirit down to the pits of hell if you disobeyed his doctrine. What awaits you on the other side, sir?

When the Oligarch is gone, then the in-fighting will really begin. The saddest part is that it will be the innocent and faithful who will be most hurt. They think that the weight of their soul, and those of all lineally connected to them, hangs in the balance.

What a beautiful day it is to be free...

Total Lunar Eclipse

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I'm happy just because: I found out I am really no one

When I was three years old I used to go to bed, pulling the covers up to my chin, hoping that maybe tomorrow would be the day that I would wake up and finally be a princess. With the ubiquity of Disney fairytales during my youth, it could be reasoned that as a young child I might have developed a vauge fantasy of living a life like I had seen in the cartoons. Afterall, it wouldn't be that hard for a little girl to extrapolate from the movies and assume that they, too, ought to lead the charmed, adventerous life of a princess. (In fact, I am convinced that this is where the wedding fantasy is derived from for many young women.)

However, the influence in my life was much more direct. Before my mom could lecture us with the literal meaning of the Divine Principle, she would make up bed time stories as fables intended to impart the life lessons of our theology. The story that I remember most clearly was her version of Adam and Eve, in which they were a prince and princess in a beautiful kingdom that was happy and prosperous. God was the kind, generous king who allowed his children ultimate freedom - with one caveat.

While the details of "the apple" are fuzzy, structurally the story was the same. The young prince and princess betrayed their king, who languished in heartbreak and flooded the land with his tears. While the story ended tragically, the Epilouge always held hope. Because, you see, we Blessed Children were the princes and princesses in exile who could heal the king's broken heart.

At three I didn't know anything about the concept of exile, but I did know what it meant to be a princess. You got to wear a lot of pink and people paid attention to you. With a younger sister and baby brother at the time, I was already feeling a deficit of attention. And while that morning where I woke up to be greeted with royal status never arrived, the concept had taken root in the back of my young psyche. I was different. I was special. I was a Blessed Child.

This created a strange dichotomy growing up. Many of us in the church had difficulty connecting with kids who didn't share our background and culture. It didn't help that we were discouraged from interacting with outside kids. It was often imparted to us by our parents just how different we were. When I was five I tried to explain the difference to a school friend. "I'm a Blessed Child, and you're not." Her parents probably didn't appreciate it.

We were taught that our lineage was sacred, almost royal; we were the only true descendants of God in the Human History of thousands of years. Therefore, falling by having any kind of sexual (emotional or physical) relationship with someone before marriage was akin to destroying the entire foundation of the foundation set by the conditions and sacrifice of all Biblical history. My mother would often paraphrase Genesis 6:2-4 (The sons of God - Those who were called by the name of the Lord, and called upon that name, married the daughters of men) to emphasize that to marry outside of the church was not only to marry outside of the realm of God, but also (in her opinion) to marry a sub-human.

That culture was a strange mind-fuck that often found us within the church forming close relationships of solidarity against an evil, possibly sub-human, world. What it also did was reinforce a "special status" that would be irrevocably lost to anyone who left the church. It wasn't just that one would lose their community, their spirituality - they would also lose their status in heaven and on earth. Those that left or fell were spoken of as condemned to the farthest reaches of hell and agony and remorse.

It was another brick in the proverbial wall. For some, that, and the illogic loop that the church rhetoric constantly reinforced, was enough to keep them trapped. For me, it eventually became something to fight against, because it disallowed my taking ownership of my own accomplishments and goodness. If I was smart or kind or hardworking, it was all because of God and True Parents, and the indemnity conditions set by my parents. 

My rebellious side chafed at the thought that on my own, my accomplishments and traits had no merit unless in the context of who Rev and Mrs Moon were. Though I tried to understand and appreciate who they supposedly were, I resented that I was often left alone to grow up outside of the safe parameters of a church community and had no direct influence from anyone church related other than my dysfunctional parents. Yet I was supposed to own any personal merit to the strangers whose photograph I had been taught to bow to every morning.

Strange, I often thought. And so what a joyous and freeing day it was when I stepped behind those confines and was able to shed the faux mantle of royalty that had acted as blinders in my youth. Finally, I was my own. And I was no one. Yet I was free.

Oh my mornings coming back
The whole world's waking up
This city bus is swimming past
I'm happy just because
I found out that I am really no one

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The District Sleeps Alone

Kind of heart wrenching and beautiful and haunting...

 When I was 19 I lived in NYC; it was before I was "married" (I will never say it without quotations) and I had seriously thought about leaving the church. In fact, I had worked at a camp the previous summer and had written all kinds of angst-ridden journal entries about the disparity between what I perceived about the world and what I was taught to believe. Coming home that summer I took my sister out to dinner and cried to her over curly fries that I thought I had to leave the church. I had no money and nowhere to go and was scared, but I knew I didnt believe in it anymore.

My mom came home from directing a summer camp shortly thereafter and I got caught in an illogic loop. She got me a job offer to work as an assistant in the "Second Generation Department" in NYC. I agreed to do it; I thought it would give me a chance to get into the belly of the beast and figure out what the life I had been taught to lead was really all about. (What I found there is another story, but truth is had I found any true value at all I might not have left.)

I made $100 a month and lived off of rice and kimchee every day. Needless to say I got really skinny. When I was hired I was told I would get my own room in the building that the church owned on 43rd street. Instead, I got a space on floor in a room on the 6th level that I shared with about 11 Japanese and Taiwanese missionaries. They would stay up late talking and laughing and fall asleep listening to Celine Dion on easy listening stations.

In the middle of the night I would wake up and try to sneak over to turn the radio off. They would wake up at 4:30 am most mornings to go out fundraising. Although sometimes they got up earlier and I would sometimes wonder what exactly it was they were selling.

In order to sleep at night, I would put The Postal Service in my discman (remember those..?) and let the album lull me to dreams. Whenever I hear those songs, I am 19 again. And I get very sleepy. There are sirens outside and the girl next to me is crying because the bedbugs have bitten her really badly again and the bites are beginning to look like welts.

Sometimes, instead of sleeping, I would wander along 5th ave and watch the tourists and ask myself big questions about life late at night. Or write bad poetry.

This song makes me think about that weird time in my life where I lived in a large concrete city, and my whole world was a sleeping bag on the floor and that album. Listening to the song now, it has an entirely different meaning...but for some reason that was still a story I wanted to tell. Just so that someone knows.