Forty Years in the Wilderness
Kristen S. DeVoe
And it came to pass, after the Red Scare parted and the children of the Sixties partied
in Sinai’s shadow, during the time when the fences were broken and the gates were left open that lo, a daughter was born who was raised in the nurture and admonition of Mad Men and a false prophet arose out of the land of Ohio who drove East unto Westchester on a raspberry Harley and he led many Children of the Upper Middle Class astray, including the Mad Man’s daughter who was not of age and too young to know better, and straightway, her parents removed her to a boarding school in New Hampshire where they thought she would be safe but lo, the canker of the false prophet’s teachings had taken root in the girl’s soul and when the followers of that false way pursued her, she dropped her books and followed. And it came to pass during these days that her parents removed themselves to a place called Connecticut which the daughter neither knew nor called home and she fell into the bottomless pit of no return but somehow she did return, barely escaping the sure death the false prophet guaranteed to those who were unfaithful and when she returned, everyone could see how wounded she was and confused and they took her to a doctor because they thought she was sick, in the head, that is, and this is what she told him.
Well, first of all, she said, for all I know he was crazy like me, the prophet that is, manic with unquenchable fire burning at his desk for days and days, the holy spirit as he called it, could have just been neurotransmitters misfiring, awake for a week in intensive study, the lights in his office never dimming until he called us at 3 o’clock in the morning of the seventh day and we, already clothed and waiting, hastened from our sardine cans through freshly dug culverts to the Biblical Research Center where we sat at attention in plastic folding chairs which we had arranged by color and straightened with twine earlier that day, Bibles draped across our laps and his eyes like dancing flames set our hearts ablaze with love for God and him, he said he could have gone another week to teach us to be great spokesmen for God but our flesh was weak so by 1 o’clock that afternoon, we ate baked ham from the great pig raised right there on the farm who offered itself, a sacrifice for God’s people.
Then the Doctor as he called himself, would disappear for weeks behind the tinted windows of his motor coach. He wouldn’t come out or speak to anyone, unless you were one of the called which you hoped you would be, even though you didn’t know what that meant—to be called, that is, initiated into the deeper secrets of the lockbox and privileged to minister to his needs like he taught you to do when you were of age, which happened, for me, to be right after my father died. And his driver, who packed heat beneath a bulletproof vest, would open the door before you even knocked, like the Gatekeeper of Oz who really was Oz, and as the years passed and the rumors increased, he stood outside with a rifle in his hands where everyone could see because God had told the Doctor there were traitors in his midst. And you hoped you weren’t one of them because his light could discern the seeping ooze of darkness as you as you took off your clothes and you felt the disappointment in his hands, no pleasure at your willingness to lay down your life beneath him. Larger than lion cat man, all he wanted was to play a little, tease his prey before he killed it and of course, you understood, just like he taught you to.
“Local woman falls from Cessna over Rockies, dies.” She used to wonder how it would look in the newspaper, she told the therapist. The time she went to him drenched in the black ink of self-loathing, she hitched a ride on a small plane from Cheyenne to Gunnison and a tall beefy man in an Oxford-cloth shirt and a cowboy hat, open briefcase on his lap and sweat in his armpits suggested she put on her seat belt as she was getting mighty close to that open door, littledarlin’, and you never could tell when the plane might bank or make a sudden jump and you could lose your balance which was the whole idea. It only had to look like an accident because the teacher said suicide was a slap in God’s face and depression came from devil spirits, so when she arrived at his motor coach, he cast them out then pushed her down. He told her not to cry and gave her a little silver ring which she kept for a long time.
“Local Woman and Son Die in Mysterious Murder/Suicide in Oregon.” It’s like this, she tells the therapist, as she goes into a sort of trance because trauma always feels like the present, the memories inescapable even after you’ve escaped, even after your mother has flown to Portland from Connecticut to rescue you and your two young children and she brings you all to the home you’ve never known. Home. I’m 6 months’ pregnant, sitting on the floor in front of an open oven with my 14-month-old boy. His ordained-by-the-teacher man-of-God father has disappeared again, ministering to the flock, babes in the Word. Babes. And my jaw still cracks from where he dislocated it a year ago, the bruises from last week’s fight now fading. We’re going to play with the wooden trains then take a nap, I say. I have failed you, my son and failed God through my sinfulness. I will save you and your unborn sister. I will save us. I will not leave you. To leave would be to die. We will leave together and die. Die to live. So I turn on the gas and wait. It is July, very hot. It never occurs to me that his tiny lungs will collapse first and instinct will take over. At first, he is restless but soon we are side by side clicking the tracks together into a beautiful circle. Suddenly the phone starts to ring. I ignore it and it stops. Then it starts again. We push the little train around the tracks as a musky smell begins to fill the room. The phone keeps ringing. “Mommy,” says my son, pointing to the other room. It rings and rings. Pestering now, insisting. His face is getting red. Whining. Whining, so hard to do anything with a whining toddler around. I give up and we go on living.
And now, 40 years later, I’m ditching this wilderness for the Promised Land, casting off the shackles of a past that lights my way, that pillar of cloud, the Lord’s fire inside me which stops where I am to stop and goes where I am to go, which has led me to many places—from classrooms to support groups, known and anonymous like that one led by a psychiatrist in his cushy basement who declared in front of everybody that someday I’d be a famous spokesman for the mentally ill if I’d only write what he suggested and keep it to a sonnet’s length. He said I’d be great and like, who wouldn’t want to be? And the way he slouched in his blue wing chair with his denim baseball cap on sideways, it made me wonder where he went when he got depressed and who he slept with, if anybody. After that, I landed in the hospital again because I couldn’t breathe and everyone thought it was my heart and, it was, of course, but not like anything they could see on a monitor. They suggested meditation and a course in stress management but I knew it was something else—something fundamental, spiritual even. My soul needed peace, somewhere I could sit alone in a room of people, not like a train station or a layover in an airport but a destination, a resting place like some little church where everybody reads from a prayer book in unison and an introspective minister preaches from the pulpit in a thoughtful everyday voice—none of this power and glory stuff. And I’ll turn in early on a Saturday night to wake and make the 8 am service in time to find an empty pew in the back where I can dwell on the home that’s been waiting for me to arrive.