12. Ellen

Our daughter Ellen (Allens older sister by one year) had been having a hard time in her marriage. When her and her husband's differences became "irreconcilable", she left her boozing man and sued for divorce. I have thought that if it were possible for a woman to drive a man to drink, Ellen could do it. It was at a time when Laura and I were going through a transition. We had sold our house in the city and I went to live on our mountain. Laura rented a small cottage and stayed and worked in the city, joining me on the mountain on weekends. She had submitted her resignation, effective the end of the school year, after which, we would once again live together as husband and wife. Sometimes she spent the weekend on the mountain and sometimes I spent the weekend in the city with her. It was a bit like the time before we were married. As a friend of mine put it, I had all of the liabilities of marriage and few of the assets.

Over my objections, Laura invited Ellen and her 5 year old son to stay with her while she recovered from the trauma of her broken marriage. Had I been living with Laura, my objection would have had the force of a veto, but since I was only an occasional weekend guest, my preferences were considered and ignored. Needless to say, I had no desire for the company of a miserable woman -and Ellen was miserable in every way- and an active, undisciplined five year old. As a consequence, I made it my policy to visit the city as infrequently as possible. I came in for one weekend because Laura was taking care of Jason while Ellen visited Allen in Santa Barbara. I learned later that Laura had staked her to the plane fare. I should explain that Laura's greatest asset, as well as her greatest liability, is her generosity. If someone was in trouble (especially a relative) she would give her all to help him. I should have said "her" because the object of her bounty was almost invariably female. She never thought that, when a couple was divorced, the man might also be in pain. Ellen's son Jason wasn't hard to live with when his mother wasn't around; he could be quite delightful. Mind you, the energy of a five year old was more than I could take for any prolonged period of time. However, a few days were pretty tolerable; especially since Jason went to bed at seven and slept like a log until the following morning. It turned out to be a very pleasant weekend. We all took long walks in the park and Jason and I looked for critters. The time passed quickly.

Ellen and I have always been on the edge of quarreling, but when she returned from Santa Barabara I could feel her anger directed specifically at me. Yet it was different: it was "Christian anger". Christian anger says "I hate you, you sonofabitch, but since my religion requires me to turn the other cheek, I am going to love you if it kills me -and you too!"

Another thing that puzzled me was that, without any indications from the past that she might be interested; Ellen had made a decision to go to Nursing School. She was getting the literature from the local community college and was preparing to embark on the courses necessary for a nursing career. I think that nursing is a good profession; but what puzzled me was the suddenness and apparent firmness of her decision.

The following weekend, Laura had some school affair that she had to attend. She couldn't join me on the mountain and I was lonely, so I forgot my resolution, and came to the city.

On Sunday, Ellen got Jason all dressed up and they went to church for the whole morning. Jason, who swore like a trooper, was being cleaned up inside and out like a latter-day Huck Finn. He seemed to take to it with equanimity -at least with more equanimity than I would have. It was quite obvious that Ellen had "got religion". Apparently one week end with her kid brother was enough. Not only had she become religious, but she approached it with the typical zeal of a convert -any heathen who got in her way felt her wrath. I could expect her to glare at me everytime that I said "shit" or "damn" and if I said it when Jason was around, it was the wrath of Jahweh, complete with thunder and lightening. It was an immense relief to get back to the peace of my mountain.

About two months later, I had some business in the city. Laura had a meeting in Menlo Park and was to spent the next two days there. I decided, because of the high price of motels, to stay at Laura's house with Ellen and her son.

I'm ordinarily an early riser, but there is something about the combination of a mother getting herself ready for work and her kindergartener ready for school that can keep me in bed until they are both gone.

When I could no longer hear the loud whispers of the two of them, I got out of bed. I am habituated -no, not habituated, addicted- to going to the toilet immediately on awakening (my mother was a disciple of the psychologist Watson, who believed that a child should be trained for the convenience of the mother). I looked around for some reading matter to take with me (a habit I picked up from my father). Between two book ends was a book that stood out from its paperback companions. It was a leather bound Bible. I picked it up and took it with me into the John, wondering what Ellen was doing with such a fancy Bible. It looked as if it had never been read. I sat down and opened it. On the page next to the front cover was some writing:

On this day, November 12, 1984, I Ellen Fisher give my heart and soul to Jesus Christ for ever, in this life and in the everlasting life to come.

Ellen Fisher

Beneath it was:

To Ellen
May you find great joy in your love of Christ and may you join him and your brethren in this life and in the life to come. My blessing on you, dear sister.

Your Brother and your Brother in Christ,

And underneath that:
Your Brother in Christ
James Mardekian

A letter, minus envelope, and a color photograph of a man sitting behind a desk fell out of the book. The man was attired in a business suit. Behind the desk was an American flag. It was the kind of picture that you might get if you wrote to your State Senator for one. I looked at the back of it, and there was a stamp that said "The Brother James Missionaries". Who was this Brother James and what did he have to do with Ellen and Allen?

A letter dropped out of the Bible. I picked it up and had a very short battle with my conscience about whether I should read it. I rationalized reading it by telling myself that if she didn't want it read, she wouldn't have placed it there.

Dear Sister Ellen,

It was a great pleasure to see you in Santa Barbara. I thoroughly enjoyed our visit. I hope that it was some help to you in solving the problems that have been disturbing you.

I hope that you will take Brother James's advice and go to Nursing School. It will be very good for you to live a life of service to others, and it will give you great joy.

I was very happy about your joining us at the church and that you have given your soul to Christ.

Your Brother and your brother in Christ,

So, this was what happened in Santa Barbara! All of this business about her becoming a nurse was set up by this Brother James and Allen.

I thought about it for the rest of the day; wondering what had transpired on that visit to Irvine. Apparently, Ellen was really worked over. The psych-oriented people in Berkeley used to refer to the process as "mind fucking", and an apt term it was too; describing the process of inserting thoughts into someone else's mind, with or without their consent. The polite term is brain washing, but I think that mind fucking is more apt, describing the process better than the polite term. If it was performed on an unwilling victim, it was called "mind rape". I came to learn that this process of inserting thoughts into peoples heads was a pretty universal one, and wasn't necessarily all bad, as my younger colleagues at the Berkeley Free Clinic thought that it was. It included such things as inserting a fear of moving automobiles into a childs head and a whole variety of things designed to keep kids from killing themselves at an early age. I never did decide whether the "My son the doctor" bit was good or bad; maybe it depended on whether the son in question was a genius or an idiot. At any rate, I had long ago decided that it was more important to consider what was placed in someones head, rather than the process.

I was getting progressively angrier about what was being inserted in my kids heads. I was especially concerned with the important question of whether it was being inserted with or without their consent. Was this simply someone presenting thoughts for someone's consumption or was it really brain washing or, as they say in Berkely, mind rape.

That evening, after Jason was bedded down for the night, I told Ellen that I had looked into her Bible and letter, and asked her point blank, "What happened to you in Irvine?"

Ellen seemed eager to talk about her experience in Santa Barbara It was as if she had been waiting for a long time for someone to find the Bible and the letter and ask her about it.

"You remember," Ellen said, "that I had been having a pretty rough time of it, what with the divorce and a new job and Jason having such a hard time in school. I would have welcomed any chance to get away from it all for a few days. When Allen invited me to visit him in Santa Barbara, and Mom offered to pick up the tab for the plane ticket, I jumped at the chance. Allen picked me up at the airport and took me to dinner that evening. Then he took me over to a girls house to spend the night. She was a member of the church that he belonged to. He kept telling me how great I looked and she told me what a nice person I was and how lucky I was to have a brother as wonderful as Allen. They made me feel really good; as if I had come home and really belonged there. The next day, after breakfast, we went over to the church. Allen introduced me to Brother James and to the people in the church. They all made a big fuss over me -made me feel warm all over. They all got around me and hugged me and told me how nice I was. I fell for it, and after a while, when Allen asked me if I wanted to join them and give my soul to Christ, I said yes -and I meant it; I felt really good. So we had a sort-of ceremony and I pledged my soul to the church and to Jesus. After that, Allen took me to Brother James's office and we had a long talk. He took a lot of time with me; maybe three or four hours. He told me that now that I had given my soul to Christ, that I should do good Christian work; that I should become a nurse and serve people. He took me to meet a woman who was a nurse, and she and I spent a lot of time talking."

"I remember," I said, "how you were going to go to Nursing School when you came back from Irvine and how you and Jason went to church for the next few Sundays. What happened to change your mind?"

"Yea, I was all for leading the Christian life and getting all of the fellowship and good feelings. Then I started remembering some of the things that Brother James said, when I was in Irvine, and I got kinda pissed. I started to question what I was doing messing around with nursing, when I'm not the least bit interested in it. Everything that I had done in the past that had anything to do with nursing, I've hated with a passion; and here I was setting out for a career in nursing, just because Brother James said I should do it. You know what: he never even asked me what I wanted to do -just told me to become a nurse; and Allen backed up everything that he said. Allen buys everything that Brother James says -even if it doesn't make much sense. It's like Allen is a puppet, and Brother James is pulling the strings.When I asked Brother James what I was supposed to do with Jason while I was going to nursing school (how was I supposed to support him and myself) he just said 'It would have been better if you never had him. The more I thought about it, the madder I got. How about that son of a bitch; telling me that I never should have had Jason? I wondered how I ever let them talk me into the whole thing."

"You think that this Brother James had Allen brain washed?"

"Oh yea; Allen does everything that Brother James tells him to do he says 'frog!' and Allen jumps. He talks over everything with Brother James."

At that point my whole attitude about what had happened to Allen changed. He was no longer a kid going through some weird phase, he was being brain washed by this goddamn Brother James. And what was worse, he was brain washing his sister. It felt as if he had cut out the whole family, and would only deal with those who were willing to join him. Everything that he had done now made sense in view of what Ellen had just told me.

I was fuming. I was so angry, that if Brother James were in front of me, I might well have strangled him with my bare hands; so violent were my thoughts. Of course, with my background, I couldn't physically assault someone -but I could cut him to ribbons verbally.

I was also desperate. This was a situation that I not only had never dealt with, but one that I was sure that I would never have to deal with. My son had been brain washed into becoming a Jesus Freak.

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