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Tova Gabrielle

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1969 And Then Some, Part 1- All That False Instruction
By Tova Gabrielle
Wednesday, July 31, 2002

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" It was all so very painless when you ran out to receive all that false instruction that we never could believe...but I want you to know that while we watched you discover no one would be true ... I myself was among the ones who thought it was just a childish thing to do...." from "Tears of Rage" by The Band [Words by Bob Dylan, music by Richard Manuel]

In that sweet and crazy Spring of 1969, when an acid undertow pulled so many kids out of the suburban woodwork to seek refuge in gatherings and communes, my twin sister, Cindy and I were sixteen years old. That year my older sister, Jackie, dropped out of Brandeis to flip out on drugs and join a commune in Warwick and I began dreaming and hearing about that place, although I had been as oblivious to Jackie’s exact whereabouts as I was to all things outside of my immediate mission at my boyfriend, Jonathan’s house.
Jonathan was my first lover and a real hippy, who had turned me on to hashish as we sat on a two-person wooden swing in his back yard, gaping at each other.
“I can’t believe I’ve found you,” he had emoted. “Where did you COME from? You’re in high school? They sure didn’t make them like you when I was in high school!”
There was only two years’ difference between us – but he wasn’t a virgin and I still was, and that set us ages apart. I ran as fast as I could away from the concerns of my family and school, toward what I perceived as light and positive energy, toward my first true love, Jonathan, and his dynamic college friends who treated me with affectionate admiration.
My father sighed disparagingly to my mother, “That Jonathan is trouble.” There was too much electricity.
“What can Jonathan do to me?” I demanded of my mother, thinking them ludicrous and paranoid. They sensed danger about him, and I welcomed it.
My father was fighting a war against stomach cancer and every thing I did in my foraging for love and liberation, was making him worse, or so he claimed. The implications were tearing me apart.
Jonathan started to resent my chronic unhappiness over my father’s cancer. He began to withdraw, and I became more and more worried about what I was doing wrong. His law was that he had to always stay high, and I was causing him to break it. “Seeing you brings me down,” he declared one day. I stood in Jonathan’s bedroom doorway for the last time and was so desperate and depressed that I would have offered him anything if I thought it would make him change his mind.
I trudged home, locked myself in my room, and played Bob Dylan over and over, singing, “You just want to be on the side that’s winning.”

My focus finally shifted Jonathan. to following Jackie’s lead in escaping academia and sanity. For, in a state of chemical-enlightenment, I had deciphered that humans were "Spirits in Flesh." So, when the very next day, I’d climbed the steps of Hall High School and discovered those same words written on a poster cemented to the front doors of the auditorium, an electric storm went off in my brain. After repeating with disbelief the words, "Spirits in Flesh," I vowed to do whatever it took to find a way out of the maze in which the state of Connecticut and the state of my mind were miserably entwined.

"Screw going to Goddard! Come to think of it, screw everything!" I said. The first step was to put the screws where they really belonged: my parents. Since they had imposed a thirty-mile-driving-radius rule on their old station wagon, I pushed the limit when they were away one day. I’d heard that the commune was on Shephardson Road in Warwick but neglected to find out the state. After about an hour and a half of driving through Rhode Island, I found Warwick, but no Shephardson Road.

"You must mean Shepard Road," a gas station attendant said, directing me to a working-class neighborhood where there was absolutely no sign of a commune. At a 7-11, I consoled myself with pretzels and coffee for the long ride home, then turned the ignition, but nothing happened. I tried again and, when jumper-cables failed, I wondered if my parents had magical, punishing powers. How was I going to tell them? All my life, Mom had dealt with my frequent emergencies and with my bottomless needs: "You want what you want what you want!" To which, I would gloat that at least I knew what I wanted.

I trudged over to the pay phone, reciting my grandfather Max’s maxim, "The truth is the best lie."

"Hi, Mom...I’m in Rhode Island."

"Are-you-all-right?" she inhaled.

"Well, I’m not bleeding or anything! Look, don’t say anything. I know it’s too far ... I mean, I didn’t know at the time.... it was just a little further...and then it turned out to be further... No. I can’t come right home ... there’s a little problem.... Look, I’ll never drive again, OK?"

When my father, Lennie, climbed out of the black 1966 Ford station wagon a few hours later, he looked calm and well in command of the situation. Normally he would have turned red, trembled and removed his eyeglasses to rub my pathetic image from his eyes. Now all he said was, "Let’s go."

This unexplained behavior made me feel more bewildered than ever and for a moment an equally uncharacteristic wave of love swept through me towards him. Yet I couldn’t apologize. My crimes and those of my parents were too mingled -- and besides, I’d never learned to say, "I’m sorry." Ashamed and angry at myself as much as with them, I climbed silently into the familiar parental property and shattered quietly like breaking glass in a silent movie.

But what I didn’t know at the time was that my father, Lennie was undergoing his own liberation. In a few weeks he’d call a family meeting, announcing that he felt like a different person -- that he was a different person: "I’m not afraid of anything at all, not even dying!"

My mother, Millie, explained later that she’d been researching. She described what authors Alan Watts and Martin Buber had identified as "Satori": Liberation from fear. Ironically, no one yet knew how close to death Lennie was. We had family therapy. Dad wanted to come to some kind of terms with us. After two meetings, he announced that we didn’t need the therapist any more; we could have our own meetings. He promised that everything was going to be a lot different at home because something amazing had happened to him. Dad announced he felt like a different person, that he was a different person. Mom, acting as interpreter of these strange shifts in my dad's attitude, explained earnestly to us girls that she had been doing some research and discovered from her philosophy probings that our father was in what Alan Watts or Martin Buber described as a state of “satori” – liberation from fear.
Dad added. “You girls talk about 'tripping'. Well, I’ve had the real thing: I had a vision I was in Africa, leading a safari out of danger. I saw this when I was in the hospital. And I tell you, I’m no longer afraid of anything, not even dying."
I hoped feverishly and against all odds that this change of consciousness would endure.

The following year, Dad’s enlightenment was short-circuited when he returned to the hospital. When my mother asked Doctor Pertek if she could stay with him, the doctor told her, “definitely,” and ordered a cot to be brought into dad’s room so she would be with him. She then realized he said this because he expected Dad to die.
Mom went to the basement cafeteria take a break. When she returned, Dad said to her, “So how was your lunch with Lakey Grossman?”
“How did you know I saw Lakey?” She asked, surprised. “I was there. I heard you talking about the girls. “ He proceeded to tell her what she and her friend had ordered for lunch. She was floored.
He insisted on going home and shocked the doctors by walking out of the hospital. His seventy pound frame was hunched over and when he raised his head to glare at me, I considered bolting to hang out with my older musician friends at Wesleyan and Yale.
The doctors never expected him to walk out of that hospital, but he insisted that he would come home and play tennis again, and, miraculously, he did walk out of the hospital, with only a quarter of his stomach intact. He had lost his guts and returned home a living ghost, eyes wide with terror, a scowl for a face. Fear filled his hollowed out sockets, from which protruded the bulging eyes of the walking dead. I was heartbroken, but couldn’t find it in myself to forgive him for how he had treated me, no matter how bad his condition. I was terrified. I looked away from the grim reaper, sitting across from me at dinner, not talking, not eating, and glaring at me as if I were harming him with my very presence. He reversed his formerly permissive stance, tightening our curfews and lashing out at me, shriekingly asking what the hell was wrong with me. His voice was hollow, his gait pained and uncertain, like a disembodied spirit wandering in darkness. He only spoke to me to scream. He would cycle through screaming, to crying, to ignoring me. I felt so betrayed. Any talks we had quickly escalated into screaming matches – actually, I was the one who would scream and cry, “I hate you!” as he would hoarsely curse me for being selfish. When it became clear that I would not obey him, he stopped speaking to me altogether
He returned to the hospital. Mom would not leave his side. One time, however, someone talked her into it. During the ten minutes that she was gone, Dad tried to sit up and a stitch broke, literally spilling his guts (into his system). He was in a delirium and asked Mom, “You don’t mind do you?” She wanted to give him the permission to die that he was asking for. But she made herself refuse.
Meanwhile, I had free reign of the house, and was busy transcending my woes and finding God with drugs. I did find God from time to time, but “He” always left me wandering in the wilderness when the drugs wore off, more disoriented and freaked out than before.
I was hitch hiking and got picked up by a man who looked rather like Gerry Garcia, a real hippy, to me. I found myself bragging that I was about to get kicked out of my home, although, oddly, I’d not consciously thought such a thing. “Well, babe, he sighed, if you need a place to crash look me up—Goldy. I’m at the Hartford’s Other Voice right downtown.”
I meandered spacily up the driveway after an illicit night of partying with some older boys at Yale. Uncle Sam’s station wagon was in the driveway. He got out of it and started walking toward me with a pained look on his face. He nervously retucked his shirt into his pants. “Hi, Laura…” he said cautiously, “…don’t go in there. Your mother has decided that it would be best if you don’t live here anymore.” His eyebrows furled. He was pained but resolved. “I’ve got your things. You can stay with us.” I felt that my folks meant business, because they’d gotten my uncle to tell me. That’s what people did when they were really through with each other – they got someone else to tell them.
He told me that my staying out all night put a strain on my father that was too great for him to cope with. The plan was that he would whisk me away to live at his house. I didn’t comprehend that I would actually be living there, only that my nice uncle was giving me a ride out of Hell. But at Sam’s house, my grandfather wouldn’t look at me, and my aunt spoke to me in such a resentful tone that I felt as if I had bugs crawling on my skin. I could feel their unspoken hostility, like thick smog in the air, and it made me weak. When I “came to” and surveyed my new situation, I felt betrayed: Unable to bear the disapproving looks my aunt gave me, I phoned my friend, Joelle, from my aunt and uncle’s house. Her parents declined to rescue me, saying, “If her parents don’t want her, then we don’t either.” I learned that when you are a bad girl, there is no less compassionate place than your own hometown.

I threw my clothes into a brown paper bag, walked the mile to the highway and stuck out my thumb. The bag ripped and my clothes went flying in the wind.

I hadn’t expected to see Goldy again. It wasn’t long before I left that house without an explanation and hitchhiked to Hartford’s Other Voice. An ugly building in downtown Hartford housed the newspaper office and a big garage. There was a health food store upstairs.
When I arrived, I went into the store. I was hungry and tired, and feebly attempted to chat with the person at the cash register, while eyeing a granola bar. I was too confused and sick at heart to know what to do in order to get food. The kind woman sensed my need and offered to let me work the register for an hour in exchange for some food. Then I went downstairs, and Goldie showed me to a corner of the cement floor that was partitioned off from the rest of the big garage. The only thing that distinguished it as a bedroom was a mattress on the floor. I was beat, and soon fell asleep with my clothes on.
Later, I was awakened by someone climbing into bed with me. I was startled and frightened. “Shhh… It’s only me… Goldie.” He put his arms around me.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “This is my bed.”
He retorted with a surprised guffaw, as if we’d had a prior agreement. I panicked silently. “This is good,” he said as he forced a hug on me and I squirmed, backing against the wall. “No, no, this is good,” he repeated, his fat fingers working fast at pulling off my clothes. There was no point in trying to get away. His weight was overbearing. Besides, I had nowhere to go. I mentally checked out, thinking, “Let’s get this over with!”

When a Yale-based offshoot of Ken Kesey’s psychedelic school-bus caravan, the "Hog Farm," rolled into town, I rolled out of town with them. The educated college drop outs were on a mission to turn on the world to acid. The electric Kool-Aid acid test I attended was thrown for the unsuspecting but curious students of the Milford School for Boys. The next morning, I walked out of Goldie’s den and into the bus garage to find two airbrushed psychedelic buses filled with happy youths. One bus was called, “Just Bus,” and had a huge, red dragon on the side. The other was the Rainbow Bus, with a rainbow on one side and a sun on the other. I stepped into the Rainbow Bus and was greeted with smiles and a joint. Goldie walked over to the bus to find me. He pretended to be very concerned for my welfare. In the safety of this group, I informed him that I wouldn’t be back. “OK,” he said, nearly crying, “if you don’t want to be my woman, then screw you!” I felt avenged.
The Beatles were singing, “Somebody spoke and I slipped into a dream” and I must have gone into a dream myself, because although I now recall a twelve hour ride through a long, dark night, we actually arrived in the middle of the day at the Milford School for Boys, which could only have been a few hours away. The drivers parked the buses on the rolling green hills on the outskirts of the school, and a third bus, which I later learned was from Yale, soon joined us. This bus contained all of the props for a multimedia extravaganza: colored parachutes, tents, cameras, projectors, slides, colored oils, and more. An elaborate speaker system was hooked up and placed on top of the buses, and the boys streamed out of the school, lured by the outpourings of the Grateful Dead.
Someone in the bus started filling small paper cups with organic-mescaline-laced Kool-Aid, and handing them out to the curious boys from the school. A cup was held out to me. “Drink it! It’s good for your head,” the person at the end of the arm said. Obediently, I drank.
Then I wandered alone into a field of grass and clover. I began to feel weirder and weirder. A question formed in my mind. “Who am I?” I tried reason: “Let’s see... Yesterday I was a high school student. I used to live with my parents at 202 Crawford Avenue in West Hartford, Connecticut… Good.” Then another thought loomed before me: “Who lived?”
My head began to dissolve. Thoughts began thinking me; feelings began feeling me. Instead of breathing, I was being breathed. I got some paper somehow and began to draw. Then I heard a strangely familiar voice very close to me saying, “I like what you’re drawing.”
He was looking over my shoulder. I turned to see a boy my own size, dark and small like me, who felt like he was from some common lost tribe, a kindred soul. “Oh, thank God,” I said.
He smiled. “What are you drawing?” Then he extended his hand and introduced himself. {I’ll call him “G”}
“Cartoons… ” I answered. “I’ve never tripped.”
We were suddenly in a cartoon ourselves. Pages of the cartoon flipped in succession. The scene kept changing very fast, and soon we were holding hands and running through the field to the music of the Grateful Dead: “... got some things to talk about, here beside the rising tide.” My eyes were closed and my arms outstretched, and as we ran, other people reached out and joined hands until a long line of people was running through the field. I flew on my feet. Love was in control and the Grateful Dead were its faithful messengers, guaranteeing a good time for all.
The props crew inflated an eyeball-shaped tent that was ingeniously held aloft by air that was blown into it. The front of the eyeball served as a screen upon which shifting, pulsating, colored oil patterns were projected. They oozed sensually across the screen like huge amoebas.
Outside the tent, people held the edges of enormous colored parachutes upon which people were tossed high up into the air. Up out of my body I was launched, and I floated down like a feather into silk and paisleys and laughter and color, and then above it all again in a sea of bubbling effervescence.
G. and I ran up into a tree and I was smiling so hard that I became the Cheshire Cat. Down below someone said, “I’m scared.” Scared? We exchanged puzzled looks. Fear was something we’d forgotten about, a movie with all of the color drained out. But everything in this movie was in color.
G. was wedged up in the branches with me. We were holding hands. He became an attentive newspaper reporter interviewing me. I was God, and in the next moment he was God. Everything was as it should be – eventually, maybe in a moment or in a lifetime, the whole world would awaken to goodness.
Crosby Stills and Nash sang, “You who are on the road must have a code that you can live by… and so become yourself, because the past is just a goodbye... Teach your parents well… Your father’s hell will slowly go by... ”
Yin-yang patterns, hieroglyphics, and ancient Egyptian symbols swam before my eyes.
The day grew quiet and shadows became long. I fascinated G.. I told him I had no home and he told me about a log cabin up in Vermont where I could stay with him and his friend in a couple of weeks. I wanted to finish high school and I had a month to go. I would find a place to stay in the meantime. He promised to visit me. I went back to the Other Voice and slept on the bus, then hitched around some more before returning to school.
I have stood at that ramp in Hartford at other times for up to three hours. When people would stop, I’d size them up before getting into any car. Single men in beat-up cars would stop, but I usually just knew when it was not right to get in. Sometimes it was the beer cans, whisky bottles, or trash. Other times it was the roughness of their voices or faces, or simply a glazed look. I’d say, “Never mind, go ahead.” They’d go through changes. “Are you sure?” ”Yup. Go ahead.” But today I screw up.
Maybe it’s because of the heat or my anger or fatigue. Or maybe what Dad did made me feel so worthless that I’d ride with anyone… When the white pickup pulls over to the curb, I just get in. The guy doesn’t say much, which suits me. I lean back and close my eyes. A few minutes later when I open them, I notice we’re getting off the highway. He revs up fast, turning down a side road. Trying to sound calm, I ask him where he’s going. He says, “Do you like art? I thought we’d make a stop for a while in the woods. I’m going to take some pictures.” He grins at me, all sly. Then he shoots me a glare meant to stop me from speaking.
I squeeze out a defiant, “What are you talking about?” in a tight, controlled voice.
“You like nature? I’m going to photograph you, real natural.” I freeze. He drives. But, trapped there, I find that all I can do is observe him, as if to find an entry into the part of him that is humane. I see that he enjoys his drama... He smiles and says, “You scared? You don’t have to be scared. I tell you what. You do everything nice, exactly like I want it, and maybe you don’t get hurt. O.K?” I’m emotionally anesthetized. I’m a chess piece, a prop in a sport of terrorism: He wants the power rush; he wants to see my reaction, to gloat as he sees me squirm. But that makes me feel the same anger that led to my running from Dad. I refuse to give him that satisfaction – even if he “does me,” he won’t get to enjoy that scent of fear, the thing he preys upon. Suddenly, I can see into him. What I see is that I am not real to him, which makes what he’s saying sound hollow to me, as if he’s rehearsing a script or reciting something he saw on TV, trying it on for fit. This is clearly his game, not mine. Something happens within me: I feel like I’m in a trance. I grow calm and even feel a sense of control, and the amazing thing is that this feeling (all I can think of is “Grace”) is totally dissolving any fear in me. I know that if I’m going to get fucked, I’d rather get it nicely, and not with a knife at my throat. And there’s something else I feel in this state of mind: A part of me actually feels really bad for him. I can sense how incredibly bored he is, how numb, how miserable. “Neglected” and “lonely” don’t even come close.
All at once, I know what I have to do. I move closer to him. I reach out very gradually and extend my arm around him. I am not even myself, but more like someone who is sleepwalking. I’m speaking softly, soothingly, and the words are just passing through my mouth: “Look, I know you feel lonely. But you don’t have to scare me to get what you want. If what you want is someone to give you love, I can do that.”
The guy turns red. He slams on the brakes. He reaches over me and pushes the door open. In tears, he starts screaming, “Get out, GET OUT!” He pushes me. “Get the fuck OUT of here!” And by the time he slams the door closed after me, he’s actually sobbing. I’m back on the road as he roars away. I hear birds twittering in the trees. I say “Thank you” over and over as I straighten my clothing, breathing in the spring breezes and thinking to myself how good it is to be alone.
I returned to high school with the self-reliance of a traveler, the instincts of a street survivor and the transcendence of a genie. I had met the enemy and subdued him on the road. And while my father was having his own Satori, I too, suddenly found myself temporarily freed from all fear. I was flooded with compassion for my peers and my heart was bursting with a desire to let them know we had each other and that was a powerful resource that the world couldn’t take from us.
The bubble of fear and separationthat I had felt around others now seemed meaningless and penetrable.
In English class we read Ken Kesey’s, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest". It was a powerful commentary on authority and its suppression of the spirit. The protagonist of the book, a charismatic instigator, breaks the rules and finds himself in direct conflict with the nurses’ suppressive, authoritarian rules.
The students in my class were very moved by the book. Ironically, my English teacher had employed a “big nurse” style of teaching, herself. She wouldn’t let us talk about our feelings, and was didactic and dry. I couldn’t figure out why she chose this book.
She asked us who our favorite character was and why. Several students brightened, saying they liked the protagonist. She folded her arms and asked, “What did you like about him?”
Someone answered, “I liked the fact that he wouldn’t let others suppress him and. ”
She interrupted, chalk poised against the board. “And what adjective would you use to describe the protagonist’s character?”
The student, thrown off his train of thought, failed to come up with an adjective.
Again and again, she would change the subject from thoughtful to trivial, from content to formula.
I raised my hand. “When do we get to talk about what happened to the protagonist?”
“Your question is out of line.” I half expected her to force-feed me three Thorazines.
“Well, it’s not irrelevant to me and apparently not to most of the class.”
She stood there dumbly. Then, folding her arms, she said, “Why don’t YOU teach the class if you know so much?”
“Sure!” I relished the opportunity. “I think that what the book is saying is more important than its having adjectives and verbs. Grammar is boring. It’s impersonal.”
Dead silence.
“How many of you like school?” Two students sheepishly raised their hands.
“Do you know WHY you don’t like school? Because you aren’t aloud to THINK.” I was talking about spontaneous thinking, inspirational, artistic, put-it-together thinking. I was talking about connecting what you’re told with what you’ve experienced.
“This book is not just about a guy in a mental institution. It’s about how people get creamed for trying to be themselves. This guy gets screwed for trying to stay alive. So do we, if we try at all.”
I felt powerful. It was a speech I’d been reciting in my head for a long time.
I talked about how hard it was to stay alive inside, about how adults warned us against drugs and alcohol, believing that we used these substances because of peer pressure, but how it was really about the need to escape the adult world’s psychic and emotional vacuum.
No one showed us what to do with all our emotional energy, I continued. We received no guidance with respect to this at home or in school. But school should be a place where important and useful information is disseminated; it should give us road maps to live by, not practice in how to “stuff it.” What kind of education was that?
My teacher didn’t respond, and the bell rang as my speech ended.
The next day only a few students showed up for class. One student grabbed my arm in the hallway. He told me that he had had a nightmare that I had given another speech and he had hidden under his desk.

G. showed up at my school that day, as if to support me. I began to think he really cared. He took me back to the newspaper office and went back to Yale to finish school. I don’t remember where I stayed, but he had apparently talked to Goldie, and Goldie left me alone.
But one day G. showed up at The Other Voice with a skinny girl with long, brown hair and freckles. He ignored me. After an entire day of avoiding me, he approached me with a glib, “The deal’s off.” He spoke as if we were business partners. “What do you mean?” I asked, my voice quivering. My nerves were short circuiting; I could hear a buzz in my ears. Losing G. would mean losing my very tenuous self-confidence.
“I’m going to a commune called the Brotherhood of the Spirit.” His sudden coldness chilled me. I would barely talk to G. again in the ensuing ten years when he and I would live in the same community, with him acting as if we’d never met, except once when he asked me to stop telling people about how I’d known him before. “It was an important time, it was incredible.” I said to him. “No it wasn’t.
I don’t even remember it,” he said. And that was that.
After G. left, I somehow found a temporary place to stay in Hartford. Another good-looking college guy offered to let me stay at his pad for a while. He seemed trustworthy, though a little uptight, but his appearance was deceptive. He lurked around my bed at 2 A.M., like I owed him “rent,” and I left in the middle of the night in tears. Free love and taking advantage of people were two different things, and some of the hippest looking guys I met were pigs.
I crashed at various apartments offered by college boys, but those situations inevitably deteriorated and I had to scramble, sometes as he screamed, "What the hell is WRONG with you?" What the hell was wrong with me and why was I forever forgetting to lock doors?!
One evening, when I was in ninth grade, my parents entertained some guests at home. I went out in to the living room, where my folks were, and announced that my boyfriend Orin and I had had a spat, and that he had left, and I was going to bed. I casually told them that I thought I’d sleep in the guest room (which, incidentally, had an outside door).
I went into the guest room, locked the inside door, and let Orin in. Then I remembered that Mom or Dad usually let the dog into the house through that room. I went out to the living room again and nonchalantly requested that they not let the dog into the room that night. They looked confused, but shrugged and said OK. I went back to the room, glad that my parents didn’t know me better, and, amazingly, I forgot to lock the door.
For some reason, my parents chose that night to show their friends the house. Orin and I were in bed when the door suddenly opened and the light came on. “And this is the guest room,” my father proudly announced. There was a shocked silence, the lights suddenly went out, and my father forced out the words, “I’m sorry… I... didn’t know... anyone was here...” Then the door closed and the company was ushered out of the house as my parents mournfully apologized, and the company awkwardly tried to make it all right. I could hear them saying, “We’ve heard that these things just happen. We don’t think less of you because of this, really...” Then there was an uncomfortable silence as my parents led them out the door, like people at a funeral.
I witnessed a guilty boy sitting on the bed, catatonic, head bowed and in shock, a boy who wanted desperately to make a good impression on others.
My father came in, also in a daze. He appeared to have no idea what to say or what emotion to express. Although he was a mathematical and musical genius, he seemed to be completely helpless and incompetent when it came to dealing with not only his daughters, but life in general. Gropingly, he said, “So, Orin... how’s your father’s business?”
Orin, the fallen Catholic, just sat there with his shirt open, hanging his head. “I’m sorry about what I did to your daughter, Mr. Odess,” he said.
I wrote him off right then and there. My mother had some sleeping pills in her medicine cabinet, and I thought I would just go there and take enough to kill myself. I was headed in that direction when she saw me. Sometimes mothers know instinctively when their children are about to do something really crazy. A look of deep concern showed through the anxiety on her face. “Laura, what happened?” The wheels in her head must have been turning fast. “Did you have a fight? Were you making up?”
She was providing me with a line to save face, especially from my father. “Uh... yeah, we were just talking things out… ” “Why were you lying down, half undressed? Was it hot? Were you tired?” Sometimes my mother was superhuman.
“Yeah, you know how it gets at night... ” My father walked by.
My mother said to him, with strong undertones, “Lenny... they were just TALKING, Lenny… ” There was a long pause. Nothing more was ever said about it.
The next morning, I came into Orin’s homeroom class before the rest of the kids had filed in. Orin was there. I came up behind him and kicked him in the butt so hard that he went flying toward the windows. He groped himself and looked at me like a hurt animal, and I walked out, triumphant. For some reason, I didn’t get into trouble. I did not speak to Orin again.
The following summer, my parents shipped me off to Camp Blue Star. Somehow the two events were connected. It was run by a group of very mean, promiscuous teens.
imes eating as rarely as once every four days. In downtown Hartford, I was able to trade working a cash register for food. I learned that the city was more willing to put me up if I put out. Free love wasn’t free after all.

Meanwhile things continued to deteriorate back at home. My father walked in on me in the bathroom and I could almost hear the word, "Whore," emanating from his ey

In July of 1970 I took off again. I spent several days at Goddard’s "Multi-Media Conference," where we all went nude and took acid, affirming that we didn’t need to pay for an education in Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll. The last night of the "conference," a boy I’d rolled in the grass with insisted, "Wake up, I need to talk to you."

I wanted to be left alone to die, so burned out was I on the partying lifestyle for which my fragile nervous system was not strong enough. I was exhausted, malnourished no doubt, and deeply depressed over the fall out with my father and the fallout from the drugs. But when I heard, "I want you to know that I felt something when we were making love and I care about you," I jumped to my feet, deciding to live.

I hitched to Cape Cod. Cindy had a babysitting job in Woods Hole. I hadn’t a clue where.
Tripping in Woods Hole, I stood on the green, staring at my hands, discovering that they could think, then looked up and saw Cindy waving wildly and laughing from a VW van. "Get in!"

Greg, the fuzzy creature at the steering wheel, had a face that wrinkled massively when he smiled. He brought me home with him to share his clean, queen-size bed in Boston’s East-West Center for Self Exploration, dedicated to Meher Baba. I was overjoyed that I didn’t have to "pay rent": he never laid a hand on me.

Each day Greg arose to work in a state hospital and I traipsed off to the Boston Common to get stoned and play my recorder. One day as he was leaving, Greg said, sarcastically, "Don’t pick too many flowers." I thought about him wiping people while I played fairy-queen and realized that I was living off him. Reality hit: I didn’t know how to provide for myself.

By early August, Greg's irritation had grown: he delivered me to a place where I might be saved from whoring and addiction. It was better than the streets and I couldn’t go home. I’d been banned again after Dad had said, "Millie,…she’s trying to kill me."

As we scaled the Berkshires, hope seemed to be rewiring my nervous system. Up narrowing roads, twisting under giant oaks and maples, smells of fir and spruce carried in shimmering silvers and greens blew the traumas from my body. Streams rushed to refill me with an old lust for living.

A hairpin turn up a steep hill, passing superimposed mountains, then around a bend, and we suddenly descended upon a psychedelic wonderland. Multicolored signs shouted out "All People Welcome." And " NO DRUGS. NO ALCOHOL NO PROMISCUITY." A purple farmhouse splashed with blue and green painted waves stretched against meadows surrounded by forest. "Brotherhood of the Spirit" was printed in gothic letters above a farmhouse door. Dozens of people were milling about. Stepping down from the van, I eyed a fellow with glasses and a winning smile, in animated discussion with someone. Soon he was standing alone, watching me walk towards him.

"Hi, do you live here?"

"Yes," he replied somberly, levelly studying me. I was a fragment while he appeared solid, in control.

"I’m Laura."

"I’m Stephen." He smelled like Patchouli and seemed attractive in a dangerous sort of way. I wished he would smile at me.

"Where are you from?" I couldn’t think of an answer. Home no longer counted. I settled on the response I’d heard so many times that summer.

"Everywhere, man."

Stephen stared at me, blankly. We just stood there. I considered saying, "I have to go to the bathroom," and not returning, but opted instead for a stream-of-consciousness monologue about my father, the summer, and how I was led here by a series of cosmic signs. I rambled. He said nothing, then finally interrupted.

"Why are you telling me this?"

"I-I thought you wanted to know," I stammered.

"I strongly suggest that you don’t speak for a week," Stephen proclaimed, turning abruptly and walking quickly away. I was shocked. In Boston, it had been acceptable to be "spacey" and most glitches could be fixed with a smile, a hug or a fling, but here, apparently, something else was going on.

I walked up the dirt driveway to the house, wishing for a joint, a butt, or a book to hide behind. This two-hundred-year-old restaurant/inn seemed to have settled into the land like it had grown there. In a fireplace room with hand-hewn beams, barn-board trim, and hand-painted murals, there was a sign that read, "MEMBERS ONLY." Someone showed me to a makeshift addition that reminded me of the cockeyed turreted bungalow from my book, Pippi Longstocking. My roommate, Denise, was a nervous New Yorker, who unexpectedly popped into trances, channeling mundane information from the "other side." I deposited my sleeping bag and backpack and escaped down rickety stairs into a hall where food was being served on the counter of a partitioned kitchen. The hallway was filling with people. "Where are you from?" someone asked a woman. I heard her say "Everywhere! Nowhere!" and cringed.

Wandering down the hall, I came to a door over which was posted, "Toilet City." I knocked. "Come on in!" I poked my head in, discovering a circle of seven toilets where two women sat doing their business, and quickly retreated, opting for the outhouse across the huge field. Inside the outhouse were two seats. A plump, young Southern woman drawled, "Hi! I’m Donna, are you a visitor?" I sat on the other toilet. "Yeah...." It was good to have an identity again. "I’m a P.M." she announced. "What’s that?" "Perspective Member.... It’s what you’ll be if you stay." [The word, written and spoken, was "perspective," not prospective.] Graffiti on the pine walls read, "I am vibrating creative energy. I vow to loose myself from my carnal self." "Where’s the toilet paper?" I asked. Donna handed me The Medium is the Message by Marshall McLuhan.

"A book?" Donna nodded.

"Why books?"

"They’re too intellectual. Here, if you crumple up the pages, they work fine."

I hobbled back to the house and stood in line for dinner. As I stood in line, a guy next to me with matted hair delivered the party line: Material world is illusion. The planet is a school where we learn to transcend our physical or emotional limitation. We save the world by living together spiritually. Being spirit means we can do anything, from altering the weather to saving the world. We set no limits on our abilities or each other. Being spirit means defying one’s lower self. Seeing no trace of coffee anywhere, I worried about rising to the challenge. I filled my plate with brown rice and vegetables and escaped into a huge dining/meeting room, rushing down the long, loosely-tiled hall that seemed to heave and buckle from the comings and goings of heavy work-boots and dirty sneakers. Someone was sawing out windows as people ate.

Painted in gold-leaf upon slats of ceiling were something like the new-age Ten Commandments; "The Seven Immutable Laws of the Universe" included Order, Balance, Harmony, Growth, God-Perception, Spiritual Love, and Compassion. I sat on the floor at a low, round table, staring at chiseled cheekbones and a waist-long pony-tail, as "Hoopie" explained to me that most people were on the fifth progression, "God-Perception." The commune’s leader, Michael (in New York, recording "Spirit in Flesh") was on the sixth. I worried silently that I was on the fourth: Growth "from the carnal to the celestial." Dale was in charge, Hoopie said, pointing towards a big, reddish guy with long braids who was play-wrestling with two yelping Great Danes.

"You seem a little blown out." Hoopie counseled, "You have to stop using your brain! Just lose yourself in serving others.... That’s what I do." Then, eyes searching, he added, "It’s easy to get blown out by the energy here.... Man, when I first got here I tried to use my brain, but when I let go of my brain, like Wow! I was a fish who suddenly became a bird! Be sure to chew each mouthful a hundred times."

After dinner a cow-bell rang and cries of, "Meeting! Meeting!" brought droves of hippies indoors. I squeezed into a "full lotus" on the dirty floor to more easily center myself. I was desperate. Laughter... I opened my eyes and realized with horror that Dale was pointing at me." "You don’t need fancy positions to be spiritual," he declared. Alarmed, I uncrossed my legs as he launched into a hypnotically vague monologue, looking intently from one person to another, often closing his eyes, "...I stayed up all night, meditating and praying... suddenly an owl swooped right across my vision...." Long pause....then, "I can not relate the peace that filled me!" The more he talked, the more I wished he would disappear. It wasn’t the words, but the way he said them, lulling, then accusing, entering my mind with eerie intensity and then drilling me with the euphoric smile of either a master or a lunatic. When he looked my way, I nodded defensively. After the meeting, he strode over to me and purred,

"Hi. I'm Dale."


"I know," he said, dismissively. "You’re Jackie’s sister..." Another tortuous pause, then:

"You nodded before, but your heart wasn’t open." A pang of panic shot through me as Dale burst into laughter. I would have left, but had nowhere to go.

After the meeting Dale told us to pair up with someone we felt uncomfortable with. That was easy. A man who looked like a rabbi and I simultaneously chose each other. We sat on a picnic-table, eyeing each other. In high school, I’d led "encounter groups," but this was no high school and I was younger than the college age kids here. Again, I found myself at a loss for words. I wiped away tears as "the rabbi" condemned me with, "I think you need to relax." I sent myself to bed early, for crimes I couldn’t comprehend.

When I walked into the room, I stopped short. In front of me was a wall of flashing light. Strobe-white-pulses everywhere. At least I could understand what they meant by "the energy here." I found and unrolled my sleeping bag. Relieved that Denise was gone, I collapsed, thinking of Ram Dass’ book, "Be Here Now." It had been my Bible, but now it seemed vague: where was "here"? And who was "I"?

Something about being spiritual -- detachment from worldly identity -- haunted me: I’d never felt less detached in my whole life.... What about Jim Morrison singing, "desperately in need of a stranger’s hand?"

"You have to save yourself," someone preached. But even so, I didn’t have the tools to help myself. "They’re all inside of you, just look within," the rap had been. But within was only pain. I wished fervently then that I could be someone’s spiritual cause, while thinking, "The light is here.... Why isn’t that enough?"

I was awakened early by the sound of the cowbell. “Meeting!” a male voice called. “Meeting!” The voice was driven but controlled, like my horniness that morning. I rolled over onto my side and saw Denise’s fat face and tight curls. She was noisily snoring, mouth open. My horniness faded.
Someone militantly rapped the thin, ill-fitted, blue door. A gaunt, young man, with the hollow look of an ascetic, entered. I preferred the natural, easy, diffused light of the early morning sungently blanketing my face, rather than this maleness, this totality of something foreign that stood invasively in my path of escape, sleep.
I resentfully pulled on my cold blue jeans, crumpled at my feet, and wished I had a warm, wool sweater instead of my thin, ripped Salvation Army sweatshirt. It was cold in these mountains in the morning, even in July.
I creaked down the rickety stairs to stand in line again. Coffee, where’s the coffee? On the counter there was a big pot of mint tea, with leaves floating in it.
A sunburned woman with braids and overalls came in, hands full of red clovers and raspberry leaves in her thin-veined hands. She fit the image of a woodswoman who spent all of her time kneeling on the earth, her knees dirty and boney, but her countenance satisfied and proud, as if she were havinga love affair with the earth.
She announced importantly, “There’s mint tea to wake you up, and I’m going to make some clover if anyone has a sore throat, and some raspberry leaf if anyone has their period. I recalled my mother’s It’s good for you, as she urged me to try some green vegetable. I was willing to trythe gloppy oatmealthat was beingserved with some government margarine and honey from a gooey, drippy jar. But where, oh where, was there coffee?
I felt hostile and aggressive. I could give up the sex and surely the drugs, but I could not, would not, go without the precious bean that made my blood flow and my brain work in spite of being here, the caffeine that, most importantly, took away my depression.
“Wait,” I asked someone, in a panic, “is there any coffee?”
“Coffee’s a drug.”
I queried on, a detectivesearching for coffee, feeling weirder than I had felt while panhandling in Boston. I was now clearly, openly, unabashedly a shameless slave to my physical desires. I asked and asked without any self-respect, and the residents replied, “You’re being carnal.” Sometimes they didn’t bother to answer at all.
I continued my unwavering hunt. I foraged into the recesses of the crazy old inn until I finally smelled it. I knocked on a door and asked a skinny woman with a baby, in an offhanded way, if she knew the whereabouts of some coffee. She barely spoke, but ushered me quickly inside. “Cremora?’
I nodded, wanting to score and leave – her baby was crying, and the room was stuffy and smelled of urine. “One sugar,” I said, “...please.”
Now I might better face the lumpy, cold oatmeal.
After breakfast, someone called for an “attunement.”
There were so many of usthat we couldn’t fit into the huge dining hall without spilling into the long corridor to the kitchen.
Somehow, we all sat and held hands in a huge circle and meditated. I sat cross-legged like most of the others. Closing my eyes, the sunlight streamed through my lids, ormaybe it was a light from inside, I couldn’t tell. My hands pulsated in the warmth of the hands that held mine. I felt safe when I closed my eyes. The hands seemed to be keeping me on the ground, in place, part of a chain. Someone said, “The energy moves in through the left hand, the receptive side, and out the right.” I could believe that. I could feel it, in my body, and that made me know I was really there, not floating.
After the meditation, a dimpled, well-built guy boomed out that he could use some guys to help him clear some wood, where “Gurf” had been cutting a path in the woods. Hoopie said he could use about a dozen people in the kitchen. A guy with a slow, southern voice said he could use everyone else in the garden. A blond bombshell of a young woman asked for some help moving a woodstove out of a house on a mountain in Guilford, Vermont. Five guys volunteered.
I was now revved up enough from the coffee to face jumping into the back of a rickety farm truck and join dozens of others packed in to go to the garden. I wondered what I’d gotten myself into, bumping over the dirt roads to a farm in New Hampshire. I was just a helping hand, another body crowded into a boxy beginning of “the good life.” Each time the driver turned, I was in someone’s lap. I fell against a guy who looked like a greasy Christ figure ina long army overcoat and high army boots, sitting with a dazed, almost catatonic stillness. “Sorry,” I said. He responded by saying something about our Howdy-Doody- God connection. “What?” I asked. He looked at me with mournful eyes that expressed a magnitude of suffering, and suddenly he broke into a spasm of rapid blinking. Someone called him Dexter.
In the garden I felt happy, bending over in the cool, damp, brown soil. I wanted to know more about the beginnings of the community. Donna, my outhouse buddy, was next to me, bending over the rows of carrots that we were thinning. She gave me the lowdown. Elwood Babbitt was a small, older man who lived nearby and used to drive a bus, until he became a trance medium. Through his channeling, he provided spiritual information and guidance for the community. Michael Metelica (later to become Michael Rapunzel) was the person who had started the community. He was presently away on business in California, promoting the community’s new album, Spirit in Flesh.
In between the rows, a woman was having some kind of heart-to-heart talk, sitting on the ground as tears streamed from dark eyes down her pale skin. “I’m just so grateful to be here...” she said, peering into the face of a handsome youth. Something intense was going on between them and I was pretending not to notice, but the woman looked up at me and said quietly, right through her tears, “Hi.” She kepton crying.
“Hi.” I said, lowering my eyes. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that she wasn’t hiding her feelings.
In another row, I heard two guys, lost in conversation about building a plastic house directly over a stream in the woods. One of the guys, a dimpled, curly blond was not weeding, but twisted his mustache absentmindedly, while the other sweet-faced guy kept working as he stated, “The energy over the water would be incredible for going out on the force.”

Moving up and down the rows with everyone, I didn’t mind how much bending we had to do. “So what brought you here?” I asked Donna. She said she had always wanted something, but hadn’t known it was “brotherhood; to go deeper.”
We talked about our parents. I told her about the light I had seen and the dots I had seen as a child. Donna claimedthat what I was seeing was not imagination. In fact, the French Impressionists had painted these things. She asked me if I had ever noticed a halo around a person speaking, or around a streetlamp – that was energy, too. She said that when you’re “in the energy,” when you’re “not using your brain,” you naturally see these things, that it was a “manifestation of the force.” I asked her if she ever saw energy, and she saidthat probably everyone in the community did at sometime or other. She added that when you were not aligned with the energy, when your body or emotional being was “vibrating at too low a frequency,” the energy could make you feel very bad, causing diarrhea or making you feel “blown out” and tired. When you concentrated on your carnal needs, instead of the good of the group or the will of the force, you were misusingenergy, and that created instant karma. You had to be one hundred percent committed or you could get flipped out, she said. I worried that I couldn’t get high enough to avoid the hellish state she was describing. I thought of Dexter.
Donna confided that she was sometimes obsessed by thoughts about infinity. She sometimes felt crazy trying to imagine how we could ever have not existed. One day while driving, the impact of the realization that she would die some day hit her. It hit her so hard that she’d had to pull over to the side of the road and just sit there. It drove her crazy to try to imagine “life without living.”
She taught me (this conversation was considered teaching) that Michael had had a revelation in which he saw the earth changing dramatically as it tipped over on its axis, and that he had attained a complete understanding of divine guidance. He’d started having visions when he was three years old and left his body, which Donna referred to as having “gone out on the Krishna Force.” Michael saw the world from above and witnessed the future of man and a new age of love, peace, and brotherhood. He had had many lifetimes as a great leader, including Peter the Apostle, Plato, and Robert E. Lee.
Donna’s testimony blurred together with what Toby had said the night before. I didn’t discount what anyone said; I couldn’t think. Having had my mind blasted open all summer, anything seemed possible. At least these people seemed to have conviction about something, which was more than I could say for myself.
Our conversations stayed with me all day and into the night. As I lay in my sleeping bag, I sank into a reverie. When did the magic begin and how had it been taken away? It was anger that had brought me to my current situation in life. It was anger that propelled me to do things I wouldn’t otherwise have the nerve to do or say.
Before I dozed off, I thought of the woman who talked to me through her tears. She’d had a child with her. I thought of her and the man with whom she was talking as “grownups,” responsible people, unlike me.
In the next two weeks, we spent all of our time in groups, eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom, taking showers, meditating, building, logging, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and refining the lost art of hanging out. I couldn’t get enough caffeine or sugar, and I had a cold from the brusque, damp mornings and hard work. But I also had an awkward sense of togetherness.
Living at such a basic level, I was coming out of a fog – but unknowingly, I was going into another, subtler one. In spite of getting fat from malnutrition and constant brown rice, my overworked body began experiencing a natural high. Moments of inspiration and revelation came…and went.
I was not ready to be here. These people were too serious.
It wasn’t that way for everyone. A friend I made later at the community told me that he found thatthe people were open with him. He didn’t feel judged, or that he had to present a certain image to get positive reactions from people. He said that he was attuned to collaborating and cooperating from his past experiences in V.I.S.T.A., but that here the focus was much more concentrated. “People are committed to raising their consciousness, not just doing humanitarian things.” “What do you mean by consciousness?” I bravely asked him one day. He described consciousness as “just being in every momentin contact with the part of my mind that seeks to see the truth of the situation, not trying to accomplish things... perceiving reality, rather thantrying to mold it.”
But I was unable to handle the pressure, and after two weeks at the place, I was getting restless. I wanted to run around and disturb the facades of “holier than thou” and “peace” that everyone seemed to project.

I made friends with an impish comedian named Louie. He immediately took a liking to me. He reminded me ofthe Alfred E. Newman character in Mad Magazine. It appeared that he’d had a good deal of rejection in his life. Maybe he was there partly because of loneliness, like I was.
He tended to put people off and to not be taken seriously. Yet there was something about him that was ingenious – he could see right through the power plays behindpeople’s spiritual facades, and he had overflowing energy. When I would return the following year after my father’s death, we would sometimes camp together in a tent on the land but I wouldn’t sleep with him. It didn’t feel right.
One night I awoke frightened and angry because I felt a presence. “I hate you! Go away!” I cried. Louie said to me, “It’s your father, isn’t it.”
One night I had a dream. Dad came to me to tell me he was stuck because I couldn’t forgive him. He couldn’t move on in the spirit world. I went to see Elwood because I felt so haunted and Elwood told me, “he isn’t earthbound but he’s flying low.”
I began trying to allow him to be. I changed my attitude from outrage to consternation and concern. What did he want?
He came to me in a dream. He said because of what he saw was possible in the commune he could find the courage to move on.

We become co-conspirators.
One afternoon, we broke away from the meetings and walked out into the woods. We stopped before a large, bright red mushroom with yellow raised velvety spots. “Amanita Mescaria,” he said and he plucked it and bit into it. He silently handed me the other half. For a minute I worried about the rule, “No drugs.” But I rationalized that this was as natural as food, capable of perhaps bringing me some insight or vision that might make my stay here more tenable.
I bit into the thick, tasteless mushroom, and lay down in the overgrown grass next to Louie. It seemed like the mushroom didn’t do anything, but then I fell into a strange, lucid sleep. I found myself rapidly falling down a long tunnel, like Alice in Wonderland. Somehow, I was awake at the same time I was asleep, and Louie and I seemed to be sharing this dream which was not a dream. Time and space existed differently in a more active, more colorful and vital realm.
Louie and I were suddenly free-falling down the tunnel, face to face. He was communicating with me, telepathically, that he was unhappy about our relationship – something about my not being attracted to him, or that he felt that I felt superior.
I could only see his face. I felt a great love for him, but it was not the kind of love a woman feels for a man. I was about to explain this to him, but as I began to speak, something started to happen to him. He was getting younger. Before my eyes, he became a baby. Then the experience abruptly ended and we simultaneously sat up with a start. “Wow,” Louie gasped.
I reported my experience. He was not surprised by my report: His experience had been the same.
Still elated from the effects of the mushroom, we flew in to the dining hall, playfully disrupting the somber atmosphere there. It was dinnertime as we ran through the room, rearranging forks and plates, laughing and deliriously yelling nonsense to each other, and generally creating a commotion.
Put off, people asked us what we thought we were doing. “Shh!” we responded, “We are doing IT,” echoing the phrase the community used to describe “staying in the energy” and being on-task at all times.
A few days after the incident with Louie, Dale suggested to Louie and me that we were getting “too blown out by the energy of the Krishna Force” that permeated the community, andthat we needed to “grow more,” in order to be able to handle “the intensity.” His pronouncement felt more condemning, more shaming, than any reprimand my parents had ever given me.
With hatred, I turned away from him as if he were my betraying father and went home to finish high school, with no intention of returning.

In August, Dale said I wasn’t serious enough, and asked me to leave and not come back until I was ready. It sounded more condemning to me than, "Grow Up," or anything like that, which my parents had ever admonished.

I went home and took Mom’s warning that if I didn’t get things right with Dad it would haunt me. Gingerly, I walked into his hospital room, but there was just a shriveled old man staring silently out the window. I asked him if he knew where Lennie Odess was. He didn’t answer. In the hall, it suddenly hit me, that it had been my father in that chair.

On August 20, I was walking in West Hartford center on a clear blue day, when I started feeling increasingly faint. I just made it to a field at the end of Clifton Avenue, “my” street. I was flooded with blinding, misty light. I felt a great burden lifting off my shoulders as if a thousand angels were lifting a life-sentence, a judgment. I regained my eyesight just enough to float home, gliding into the kitchen. My sister, Lee, sat by the telephone. She looked up when I walked in and said, calmly, "Daddy just died." The telephone rang. My mother’s voice was urgent: "Laura.... You know I don’t believe in E.S.P. But something happened I have to tell you that when your father was, was dying ... he couldn’t speak. He was trying very hard... I tell you as clearly as anything I’ve ever perceived: I heard him, just as if he were speaking right to me, I heard him in my head. He said to tell you that he that it was NOT your fault, that he loves you."

I was not surprised.... relieved, convinced, but not surprised..."I know," I said..."I felt something too." I untied my sneakers and put them by the kitchen door, then told Lee we’d talk tomorrow and went upstairs to my room, to fall into my bed. Within minutes, I was asleep.           

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Reviewed by Janet Caldwell 8/28/2002
Most of this could have been my life, down to the death of a parent. You should get your stories into a book, all your own. You have an engaging way of writing that holds your readers captive. I am terrible at short stories. (((HUGS)))

Love, Janet xoxoxoxo

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