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Severing the Umbilical Cord


"Let's go to Skid Row," Sheila suggested the next morning (Saturday) at the motel.  She was keen to get me on side, and she knew that I wanted to help the poor.  So along with the "Just finish school and we can worry about the rest later" approach was this "We can do the same things without the JCs" strategy.

"Sure," I said in reply.  Jeremy still had not given me a location to meet up at, and I was starting to think that if I was going to follow Jesus at all, it would have to be from outside of the Jesus Christian community.

On our drive to Skid Row where we were going to feed the poor, Sheila said, "I just want to get one thing before we go."  It was a video documentary on the notorious ‘cult’ leader Jim Jones, which she had reserved at a library near the University of Southern California.  I knew a fair bit about Jim Jones already, having heard about his exploits from Sheila while growing up.  But her plan was to fill my head with paranoia against the Jesus Christians, by implying that the Jesus Christians were just another Jim Jones People's Temple in disguise.  I have since learned that this is roughly the same strategy used by virtually all so-called ‘cult-busters’, regardless of what the group is or what it believes.  They all use the People's Temple to pump up paranoia, because it was such a unique and tragic situation.  Sheila wanted me to believe that if I stayed with the Jesus Christians I would most likely commit suicide or be killed, as was the case with a large percentage of the People's Temple membership.

She parked the car at the library, and I followed her inside.  We had checked out of the motel, so the plan was to watch the video at home, after our visit to Skid Row.

"Hello," Sheila said to the librarian working at the front desk.  "I'm here to pick up the documentary on Jim Jones.  It should be reserved under 'Simpson'."  The clerk nodded his head in agreement.

"Oh, and by the way," Sheila whispered, "I've ordered it because my son has been conned into joining a cult."  Her comment infuriated me.  Even if she honestly believed that, what need was there for her to flaunt my supposed gullibility?  I told her that I no longer wanted to go with her to Skid Row.  

"Let's just go home," I insisted.  Sheila apologized, but it was too late.  The damage had already been done.

We walked back to the car, drove home, and found Josh and Jared in the living room, watching TV.

"Hey, let's watch the video on Jim Jones I just picked up," Sheila exclaimed, as though it would be a delightful diversion for all of us.  I protested, saying I already knew about Jim Jones and the People's Temple, but Sheila insisted.  "Just watch it with us this one time, that's all that I ask," she said.  

But of course, that wasn't all that she was going to ask, not then, not now, not ever.  She was asking me to leave the group.  She was asking me to go back to high school, to university, and to get a high paying, respectable job in the system.  She was asking me to pretend that I hadn't seen her holding a loaded gun while my father and older brother kicked and punched the life out of a defenseless pacifist as he lay unconscious and bleeding on the ground.  She was asking me to lie for her, and to turn away from the truth.

Nevertheless, we all sat down for the ordeal.

"He was the most evil man I've ever met.  Evil even as a baby.  His eyes were filled with perpetual hatred."  One by one people spoke about Jim Jones' extreme ‘badness’, as if he was totally inhuman, an animal that needed only to be 'put down' to make the world a better place.  Because the film was so one-eyed, I knew that it had to be leaving out parts of the truth that did not agree with its rather obvious agenda.  I hated biases, and so that aspect of the film was a real turn-off for me.

"So, what did you think?" Sheila asked as the film ended.

"Not impressed," I replied, shrugging my shoulders to further communicate the point.  Sheila was disappointed, but could see that she would just have to accept it.

"Can we watch the Lakers game now?" Josh asked.  He too had not been impressed by the video, having watched it mostly to appease Sheila.

The game had already begun.  Players ran up and down the court, cutting and pivoting, passing and shooting, spinning and juking as the crowd cheered, chanted, and yelled.  My family watched with wide eyes, amused by the athletes' impressive feats.  But something else was on my mind.

"I want to go," I said suddenly.

"Where?  Why?" Sheila protested.  "You can stay here with us, in your own room, at your own home," she pleaded.  Though the family had spent the previous night hiding at the hotel in Gardena, they had decided to risk sleeping overnight back home now.  Sheila had friends and relatives who worked in law enforcement in Los Angeles, and she knew they would help her fight any prosecution if charges were ever laid.

"No thanks," I replied.  "I'm not sure I want to go back with the JCs just yet," I explained.  "But I know that I don't want to come back here with you guys, either."  I had seen things in my family that would change my perspective forever, and I had to work out how to live my life without their twisted values from now on, with or without the Jesus Christians.

"Okay," Sheila said.  "I'll pay for you to have one more night at the hotel, just to think about what you want to do.  But you gotta make a decision by check-out time tomorrow about who you want to be with.  Do you understand?"  She raised her voice with that final question.  Check-out was at 10 am the next day.

"Sure," I said.  "If you see me tomorrow at 10, then you'll know I've decided to come back home with you.  If not," I added, "then you can assume I've decided to go back with the Jesus Christians."  (Of course, that was assuming that the Jesus Christians would have me.)  Jared and Sheila both nodded their heads in agreement.  Sheila then drove me back to the hotel.

Shortly after Sheila left the hotel, I was on the phone to Jeremy once again, assuring him that I was now totally away from my family.

"Be sure to stay alert," Jeremy said.  "They may have paid someone to watch you, and to snatch you if they see you trying to leave."  Jeremy was finding it hard to believe that my family had left me totally on my own after having kidnapped me just one day earlier.  Though he was initially wary of meeting up, my persistence was starting to wear him down.  He nominated a "neutral" location -- a well-lit AM-PM gas station about five minutes' walking distance from the hotel where I was staying.

"Okay," I replied.  "I'll stay on guard."  I thought he was being a bit paranoid, but I kept that to myself.  Two days earlier I would not have believed that my father and brother would beat my friend nearly to death, as my mother watched while holding a gun, either.  So maybe Jeremy's concerns were not so unreasonable.

I hung up, grabbed a few things, and headed out the door.  At the hotel entrance, I did as requested and looked left and right.  No one.  So I continued on my way toward the gas station.

"You look like a man that's been through a lot," Paul said, stepping out of the green GMC to greet me with a hug about 20 minutes later.  Paul had driven with his wife, Ulrike, all the way from Arizona upon hearing of Reinhard's condition.  He had brought Jeremy to the gas station, so that the other vehicle would not be spotted if I was being followed.

"Hey," I greeted Paul back.  "It has been pretty hectic."  I stared at Paul a bit longer, trying to recall where I had met him before.

"McDonald's, remember?  Across from El Camino College, more than a year ago."  I nodded as the memories came back.  In my junior year, I had arranged a meeting with Paul at the restaurant, just a five minute drive from my school.

"Good to see you, Joe," Jeremy said as he walked around from the other side of the camper to give me a hug.  Seconds later we were back in the truck, and driving off.

Over the next few days there were some serious ups and downs as I struggled to find my way in this new community, and to overcome perverted loyalties about my family, but I was back where I believed I belonged.

Reinhard made a quick, though not complete, recovery, and was soon travelling around with us once again.

Some three months later, we were working in Memphis, Tennessee when a significant email arrived.

Click here to read Part 4 of Joe's Story
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