San Diego, 2005
“I need to talk to you.”
The words struck fear into my heart. That phrase always preceded punishment but I didn’t know (as usual) what I had done wrong.
It didn’t help that the woman saying the words was Maggie, the wife of the leader of the commune. But not any leader, the main leader, of the main commune in our trio of homes. She carried her most recent child on her hip as she strode away, assuming the severity of her tone would make me follow her.
It did, I stopped mid sweep of the pantry and followed her to the living room where she rounded on me
“Why did you schedule me for the grey truck?”
“ I … I thought that you liked it”
I had been in charge of making sure everyone from the main commune made it over to a sister commune for a dance night that evening. There were only a handful of cars and I made sure to schedule her for the best one, a Grey Dodge Ram 1500. It could fit 6 people which was enough for her, her husband, Stephen, their two children and a nanny or “childcare worker” as we called them.
“You didn’t even think about me did you? You didn’t even think that I’d have to squish between two car seats in the back while the nanny sits up front with Stephen”
“I’m sorry, I thought that was his favorite car to drive”
“I can’t believe you did this to me, you are rude and inconsiderate”
I had never heard her speak like this to me, or anyone. She was always quiet, motherly, soft. She was a leader but that was because of proximity; her husband was the leader of all three communes and had just returned from a trip to W.S. which was code for “world services”.
W.S. held all the top leadership of our cult, who had been in hiding for decades. Only the most trusted leaders could visit W.S. from the regular communes, and most people never got to meet top leadership. A lot of people barely even got to meet Stephen. He had returned the night before in time to attend the gathering of all three communes. This wasn’t a coincidence. He would be giving a lecture filled with new protocols we’d need to adopt into our lives, then he’d soften the blow by encouraging us to have a fun time dancing.
Maggie hugged her daughter tighter and finished our interaction with the command
“reschedule the cars. We are not going to take the truck, we’re going to take the van. Move whoever is in the van over and if not everyone fits, you will stay home.”
She stomped away without looking at me.
I still didn’t know what I had done wrong and I was on the verge of tears, but I didn’t want anyone to see me crying over…. what, I didn’t even know. I ran back to the pantry to finish sweeping and cry alone.
Nina found me a moment later
“hey I thought I was going in the van but ….oh, are you okay?”
I explained what had happened and how I still was unsure of what I had done wrong.
“Well, Maggie never gets mad so, you must have done something wrong. Maybe you didn’t pray about it?”
But I had prayed about it. There was a protocol for every decision we made as members of the cult. Each decision had to be prayed over and once god gave permission you would need to run gods answer by one or two peers who would confirm what God said .
“Well, maybe your channel is blocked” Nina offered “maybe you need to sit with yourself and ask what sin you’re committing that you don’t know about .”
“yeah maybe” I responded.
“well either way, we all fit in the truck so it’ll be fine. Oh my gosh by the way did you hear Stephen won a “man of the year” award when he was in W.S?”
“No, what is that?”
“Apparently he was like the best in bed and he had sex with a bunch of women when he was there so they created an award for him, isn’t that crazy! “
“What does it look like?”
“It’s a drawing of him and it says “man of the year” under his picture with a bunch of notes written by the women in W.S. saying how great he is. You should see it, he hung it on the wall in his and Maggies’ room.
Nina bounced away leaving me in the pantry, broom in hand, putting two and two together. I knew that’s why Maggie must have been upset, but I still felt it was my fault for not sensing it. I should have known, I thought. Maybe I was committing sins that made it hard for god to warn me about this when I was scheduling the cars.
I berated myself for a moment and resolved to do better. I walked out to see Stephen coming down the hallway.
“Hi Angel! Hey, thanks for rescheduling the vehicles, sorry for the last minute change.”
“Sure, I hope everyone fits in the van”
“ The van? No, I’m going to drive that red sports car we just got. Actually why don’t you come with me.”
“Oh, no I’m going with everyone in the truck”
“No, come with me.”
It wasn’t a request.
“Okay sure, let me grab a jacket” I said and went to my room. By the time I came out to the driveway Stephen was ready to go. I slid into the passenger seat hoping Maggie wouldn’t see me but it was a useless hope. As soon as I buckled in Stephen drove straight up to his wife as she was loading their kids into the van she’d fought for.
“Hey honey!! Look at this beauty” he said as he revved the engine.
If looks could kill, I wouldn’t have lasted one more second.
I could feel contempt seeping through my pores without even looking straight at her.
“You look hot sweetheart”
She was sweet as honey towards him. But of course she was, she wasn’t allowed to be mad at him, he was her superior.
“I’ll race you there!” he yelled back at her as we sped down the driveway.
Once we got to the sister commune I hid behind as many people as possible to avoid interaction with Maggie. But by the time she arrived she had switched back to her role of the leaders wife. The sweetness gushed through her as she greeted people, “I’m so happy to see you” “yes I’m so happy Stephens back, he had a great trip”. Her grin seemed a little tighter though, or maybe it was that I was seeing her in a different light. I had always held her up as someone who I aspired to be. But today had shown me we were already more similar than I thought. Both just trying to get through the day, both falling prey to the whims of our superiors.
I never scheduled her for the truck again.