It would be nearly impossible to not talk about the negative aspects of growing up in a doomsday cult. Many difficult scenarios occurred before, during, and after I became involved. The truth is that none of us get to choose our parents, our upbringing, or the paths those around us choose. In order for me to accept my past, I needed to find all the positive things I’ve learned from the dark situations a fundamental sect placed over my childhood. There is nothing left, when it’s all said and done, than for me to be thankful.
There are three bodies to my story. The first six years of my life before I became involved in the House of Yahweh. The next twelve years that I spent in the religion while attending public schools, and the decade after I left. I wish I could say there were mostly cheerful sides to all these time periods, but there really were many dark moments. I do not ‘regret’ these moments, as they have taught me many things about life, and continue to do so until this day. Although there were many dark moments, there were some beautiful moments from my childhood, as well as times spent on the compound located in Abilene Texas. The most important aspect with what I’m about to write, is that some of my readers need to know that I bare no grudges toward anyone from my childhood. It may have taken me many years to understand this, but I’m able to look back and see how certain people were dealing with their own struggles, and even though they may have gave my scars, I have learned a deeper compassion for them.
I do not want my mother to be perceived as a bad person. She is not. Although I do need to tell some specific stories that carry the tone of my childhood. I am at that age now, where she gave me birth, and it’s more easy now than ever to understand the difficulty that both of my parents were going through.
There are also many people in the sect that I was close to. Very close. They were like family, and some of them still are. Some of them are still in the House of Yahweh, and many of them had left. I will share my stories that involved them, but I will keep their names separated from the content to maintain their privacy.
As for the leader who runs this religion. He is a man that influenced people to worship him. It didn’t start out that way, but by the end of the 12 years that I was in the House of Yahweh, Bill Hawkins, (Yisrayl Hawkins) had the entire congregation praising him as king. He had became a celebrity, and one who was worshipped.
The cult was strict, and it grew in fundamentalism as my time in it persisted. In the beginning there were many grey areas, and it didn’t seem all that bad. However, it didn’t take too long until all the various rules were engraved in their doctrine.
I live by the idea that we must not hate anyone. No matter how evil they act. I’ve been shown the importance of separating the evil from the evil-doer. So I do not hate Yisrayl Hawkins. I’m not here simply to bash him. In fact, I have compassion for him, and I pray that one day he will change his evil ways. For he has taken part in such great evil that I’ve never seen first hand, anywhere else in this world.
It seems as if my entire life I was carried by angels, and that only when I struggled dearly with development did they hang me by my ankles over filth. There was a lot of guidance throughout my life. Even when I was a young boy and my father was just starting to get into the House of Yahweh, one of his landscaping clients told her husband “Oh, he’s smart, he’ll be out of it when he’s older.”
There was also guidance within the organization. There were many people from all walks of life. The stories I heard from people from Australia, Jamaica, Trinidad, Maximum Security Prison, the Bronx, the farm, or the Sea; all fueled my imagination for the world. Every person has something of value, even though it’s sometimes our job to find the value.
We were all there for similar reasons; at least all the adults anyway. Those of us who weren’t there because of our freewill were children. The adults all had something in common, they were searching for someone. Whether a man lost his wife and children to a divorce, or an ex-heroin-addict finally got out of jail, somehow, they were able to create coping mechanisms for their past. I think the truth to a lot of this revolves around the idea that we all want answers in our life. We desire some form of certainty so strongly, that we are able to get near a “danger zone” and risk our capacity for logic and rational thinking to fly out the window. The more desperate we are, the easier it is to let this happen. All it takes is one detrimental moment in someone’s life.
As I thumb through pages of my past, I recall memories of mentors. High school teachers, English and Math. Compassionate and understanding people who knew when to properly place discipline in my life where I needed it. They knew it would be some form of escape for me. They could see things. Even after I left the cult, professors who would soon become my friends, would cleverly point out my close-mindedness when I needed it. I couldn’t be more thankful for these people, and I couldn’t be more thankful than to keep running into them. It seems when I need them the most (even if I don’t know I need them) they show up, and then I’m guided again.
Perhaps its not angels, and I’m okay with letting go of all that superstitious stuff anyway. Stevie Wonder told me it’s not the way, and he said it convincingly enough. Maybe it all has to do with opening up introspectively and attracting what I’m desiring? Maybe it’s just the core of me, and it’s something I always was? A good friend of mine has a wise wife, and she told me what her Grandmother told her, “That which you seek, also seeks you.” I believe we all sort of feel this way, and it makes sense, but it poses the question for all of us, “What do I seek?”
Growing up in a cult seems like the normal thing to do, if that’s all you know. I was six years old by the time I was guided into it. My parents had gone through a divorce, my mother had remarried, I had attended two schools and lived in three different cities by then. How could I possibly know what normal was anyway? So many aspects of what was happening, didn’t seem odd to me. I couldn’t know what odd was, and eventually I would find out that inside as well as outside of the cult, I was often perceived as “odd.”
I met a tremendous amount of people in the House of Yahweh, from all over the world. This is one positive note from my childhood. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, Clyde Texas, I had met people from India, Africa, Jamaica, Australia, Canada, and other countries who came for perhaps similar reasons. Setting the religious dogma aside, meeting such a variety of people in my childhood, shaped me for the better. In the Upper Peninsula MI, it would have been hard to be raised with so many friends of varying shades of skin. When you’re young, you don’t question those kinds of things, and I’m very thankful to have experienced that.
There were two sides to our diet constrictions in the cult. On one side, it was very controlling. If you eat the wrong foods, you are sinning, and sin is worthy of eternal death. You will indeed burn in the Lake of Fire for these sins. However, we were encouraged to eat very healthy. As a matter of fact, when the “organic” trend emerged in the late 90s, it didn’t really phase me, because my family was eating whole foods and farm raised chickens for years already.
There was a lot of joy that all of us experienced. Whether we were celebrating the feasts down in Texas, or holding the Sabbath every Saturday in our home town. We sought happiness in this form religious devotion, but as in all forms of fundamental religious practice, there resides subconscious confusion, turmoil, and it results in hypocrisy and uncontrolled out-lashing.
One of the points that I will touch on heavily in this book, is the control that the House of Yahweh had over women. The control was like none other, and observing this has greatly shaped who I am today. In the House of Yahweh, there is no equality, there is only hierarchy. Yisrayl Hawkins is at the top, and that’s it. Even in our prayers, we had to pray through Yisrayl. But the women, they had it the worst. Not only did they have more rules that I will discuss in detail later, but they had to do just as much work, if not more than the men. This drastic form of inequality placed a disgust in my mind, that would later influence my choice to leave the institution.
In a certain light, this experience is often perceived as a negative one. Although most of my experiences have tied difficult knots for me to ponder over for years, it is always up to us to find compassion in ourselves. I’m not saying I have all the answers with it, but I am saying that I’m trying, and have been trying to take all the negative experiences in my past, and internally morph them into something beautiful, and something positive. It is up to me, to dedicate my life to putting as much beauty as I can in this world, only to offset the darkness that’s out there. I don’t have the answers, but I know my intent will be my positive guiding force.
My hands were soft, not callused, small, moist, and clenched onto the floral patterned comforter that covered my parent’s bed. I was crying. Shouts between my mother and my father flew across the bedroom like bullets. I was in the crossfire in this war, and I didn’t know why. My cries became louder and my mother grabbed me and said “It’s okay Brandon, it’s okay.” I saw her look at my father, and I saw a look in my father’s eyes, one that I would never forget. From that moment on, I knew that my father truly loved me.
I was about three years old when this happened. I lived in Harvey Michigan, in a trailer that sat on a wooded 20-acres. I had a jungle-gym with a wooden slide. (You can’t get your first splinter without on of those.) I remember watching my father clear-cut some of the property with his chainsaw. Let me tell you, if you are two years old watching a tree get cut down, it’s like watching a giant fall from the sky. It’s something magical. There are many memories of those times. I remember the love from my sisters, who cared for me, protected me. I remember my brother, who toughened me. Although they were half-siblings, if it wasn’t for their love, I might still be in a dark place. I also remember touching the exhaust on the lawn mover when I was a child. This was a vague memory, but boy did it hurt. My father slept next to me the entire night, holding my hand in a bucket of water. I also remember my father teaching me how to cook eggs. I cracked one open myself, sitting on a stool to be above the stove. I dropped the egg on the floor, just as a 3-yearold should. My mother didn’t appreciate that at all. She yelled at my father. At night time I would sometimes sneak into the dark kitchen, open up the refrigerator and pinch off little nibbles of spinach to eat. That was my favourite when I was that young. I had a pet rabbit for a short period of time, I don’t know what happened to it, but I don’t ever remember having any odd-flavoured soup. I also remember laying on the couch with my mother as she watched Oprah. These are the earliest memories that I had, and even though they were short, they are still there, and they are still real.
I was about four years old when we moved out of Harvey to Ishpeming. My mother and I lived in a duplex near Phelps elementary school. At the time, I’m not sure if my mother at full custody of me or not, but I did see my father frequently. There were many times he would come and pick me up in his 1979 Chevy, and we would go explore the woods, go to his landscaping job-site, or go play on the shore of lake Superior. My father did a lot with me during this young age. A lot. He also would take me to different churches on the weekends.
Looking back I kinda see it as “church hopping.” I didn’t really get it. It just seemed like a lot of people getting together to play guitars and sing about god. I was too young to see what was happening. Now I look back, and can clearly see that he was searching for something. For what, I don’t know, but it seems we all have our voids, for whatever reasons, I think we have them. I know I have mine, and I’ve witnessed myself trying to fill them in various ways over time.
Some parts of my childhood were incredible. One day my father and I were driving through this back-road probably near Chatham. It was in the middle of summer, and in the middle of daylight. He sat me on his lap and let me steer the truck. We both laughed hard from the joy and excitement. The sun was glistening through the maple leaves that tunnelled the gravel road. There was another day when I was young were my father took me on a hike to a waterfall. I think it may have been Crystal Falls, but I’m not sure. The waterfall was like a cylinder of heavy rain cast off a ledge that was about 30 feet or so. My father walked underneath it with my hand in is, he picked me up with my back to the water, and look at me as he smiled, holding me as we became soaked with what felt like a baptism of father-son love.
In the winters he would pull me on a sled through the woods. He would show me the ice-caves in Eben, which would be a place that we would often frequent during the winters. For me, all this was magic. The nature, the love, the laughter, this was the heaven that every child deserves.
Living in Ishpeming for part of my childhood was anything a boy could ask for. There were a lot of neighbour children to play with, the school was in walking distance, and boredom was still far from being learned. I often came home from school to a baby sitter named Linda Maki. A very kind lady who was friends with my father. She would take care of me in Ishpeming, and sometimes at her place out east of Champion, near Koski’s corner. She asked me one day, she said “Brandon, we are going to go on a trip, and you have two choices. Would you like to go to Disney World, or Green Bay?” I thought about it, and I figured, well I hadn’t heard of Green Bay before so I replied “Green Bay.” She said ok, and we went to Green Bay. I’m guessing she said mentally “well that was easy.” A place call Green Bay in a four-year-old’s head can seem pretty fantastic, let me tell you.
It was during my fourth year of age that I coincidentally moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin. My mother had remarried to a man that was an ex-teacher from Marquette High school. She had a some type of work contract with Jenny Craig, and my new step-dad would end up selling used cars. We moved into a temporary apartment for about a week or so, and then we settled in to another apartment in that local complex.
My father stayed in Michigan. He was about a four hour drive away. Looking back, he had a difficult situation. The mother of his first child had moved across the country with his daughter, and the mother of his second child left him after an affair. He was an honest man, hardworking, and he watched everything he poured his heart and soul into leave him at the flick of a dime. Perhaps it was harder on him, knowing that all his son truly wanted, was to live with him.
It wasn’t too long after these events that my father found himself in a coffee shop, reading a National Geographic magazine. He came across an article that covered the story of an artefact that was recently discovered in Egypt. The artefact was a tithe receipt dated roughly back to the time of Christ. On its inscription, was the name Yahweh in ancient Hebrew. It was during this moment that the only man in the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan, who was in the House of Yahweh, approached my father with a brochure that said on it “The Creator Has a Name.” This moment was my father’s calling. Perhaps coincidence, perhaps not, but it was from this moment, that my father began his path in the House of Yahweh.
Not too long after my father’s freak occurrence of synchronicity, I was riding with him in his truck. I was about five years old at this time. We were riding down a similar back road. I was in the passenger seat, watching the wind blow through the trees as we drove through the rural roads of Ishpeming. My father kept talking about Yahweh. I don’t remember what he was saying, but I remember his excitement and obsessiveness. It’s the same type of obsessiveness I can see in myself at moments. It’s a multi-faceted quirkiness that could lead to a variety of outcomes. “You’re talking about Yahweh too much, Dad.” I said to my father as I looked over at him. He shrugs, looks up to the left and out the drivers side window. “Yeah. well..” He replies.
I visited my father about once a month. My mother had custody, and it was up to him to come and visit me. Sometimes my mother would meet him half-way, but the driving was difficult for her, so my father covered most of the distance.
My life in Green Bay was nothing to complain about. The only downfall was not seeing my father as much as I would have liked to. My step dad was kind. He had a bad reputation in Marquette for a bad decision he made, but any rational adult wouldn’t continue to hold it against him. Like any man, he had his vices, but he never treated me or my siblings poorly. I only have great memories of him, and I’m glad he was in my life. Shortly after living in the first apartment complex in Greenbay, we moved to a duplex that was close to my baby sitters house. Linda Lansell was her name. She was married, and had two children. One of her children, Adam Lansell, would be my long lost childhood friend. He was like my brother. Close to my age, incredibly talented with gymnastics, and just carried many of the similarities that I did. We were buddies, and I still wonder about him to this day. His mother was ever so kind. I will always have mixed feelings about baby-sitters, but Linda treated me like I was her own child.
My babysitter’s house was in walking distance from a Hardees that my father would often take me to. It was my sixth birthday that I would meet him there, and become aware of the shift that was about to happen in my life. My legs were hanging off the seat, kicking back and forth as I was dipping french-fries in the ketchup. He handed me my birthday present and said to me “I don’t want you to be upset, but this is the last birthday present I will be giving you.” “Okay” I said as I continued to eat my food. Deep inside I knew my father loved me, and that it wouldn’t change. It had also been a month since I saw him, so the present was superfluous anyway. I unwrapped the gift to find a GI-Joe helicopter. It was pretty cool, and something I wanted. “This doesn’t meant I won’t buy you presents anymore, Brandon. I just won’t be getting them for you on certain days.”
Shortly after that birthday, my father brought me to a gathering place in Manitowac Wisconsin. This is where many people from the House of Yahweh gathered each month for a special Sabbath Service. Here I was introduced to the people, the customs, and the religion that would guide the rest of my childhood.
Travelling to Manitowac Wisconsin for Sabbath services was my next new experience. The town was rural and close to lake Michigan. The area of the congregation was on a farm where they grew potatoes. There wasn’t any neighbours that were close by, and everything was fairly secluded. I remember being a little nervous before I arrived. I didn’t know what to expect. My father assured me that everything was going to be fine, and that there were other children my age who I could play with.
The first time my father and I went to Manitowac, we went on a Friday night. Sleeping arrangements were made in the downstairs living room of a large house. Upstairs was where the services were held on Saturday afternoons. There was another boy there. He was a little older than me. He was kind and had similar interests as I did; bb-guns and baseball. He also had three older sisters. Everyone in his family was kind, and I felt very invited to be a part of the group. They had also told me about another group of boys who were brothers. They made me think that I would be good friends with the oldest boy, Edward. Little did I know that Edward and I would become great friends throughout our duration in the cult. He would also later introduce me to one of his best friends, Jake. The three of us would eventually turn into our own trio of deviance as time went on. Looking back it’s funny; Three alpha males who stuck with their friendships. I went to sleep that night. I slept on a fold-out bed from a couch in the living room. Nothing seemed odd.
The next morning we woke up, had a healthy breakfast, one that was so healthy most things tasted a bit like cardboard, but that was okay. I was eager to do something, to play, but we weren’t really allowed to do much. It was the Sabbath, and that’s the day of rest. So I walked around and talked with Jim, the young boy who I had met the night before. He showed me around the farm grounds as we meandered casually. It wasn’t too long until Edward showed up, or until many other people started showing up for the services.
There were about 40 or so people attending the services. Everyone was bringing food. It was basically a pot-luck, but no one called it that. Soon I would learn about all the words we were not to let utter from our mouths. I didn’t know what a pot-luck was at that time, so I didn’t know what to call it. I was just excited that there was a lot of food and nice people.
Glass dishes with lasagne, baked potatoes, coleslaw, and about 10 or so other dishes were all gathered in a room that was perpendicular to the congregation area. The congregation area had folding tables set up with metal chairs to sit at. As I started to find my seat with my father, all the men and women were putting on their garments for worship. My father hands me this circular piece of cloth and tells me to put it on my head. I asked why, and he said “It’s a holy garment, we have to do this for prayer.”
I placed the garment on my head, looked around. I saw women with scarves over their heads and men with white linen sheets around their backs. We were all standing and getting ready to start services.
“Will everyone please rise and raise their hands for opening prayer.” Said the elder who was wearing a black Kippa (Yamika) and standing at the podium.
“Our heavenly father Yahweh…” The prayer begins. Our heads were bowed, eyes closed or looking to the floor, hands raised and palms outward. This was the beginning the Sabbath service. This was the beginning of a tradition that I would keep for the next 12 years.
At the age of six, the trend started happening. My mother had custody of me while we lived in Green Bay, and my father would pick me up every month to go to Sabbath services in Manitowac. It seemed as if every time I visited, I learned more things that I needed to do, and or couldn’t do. This would be another trend that would evolve throughout my duration in the House of Yahweh.
The do’s and don’ts started with the words that I was allowed to say. It was during the first visit that people started pointing them out. Someone would ask “How are you today?” and I might respond “I’m doing good.” and they would say “Oh, we don’t say that word. It means God.” “So what am I suppose to say?” They would always have a set of other words to choose from, like “well, great, fine, blessed, joyous.” But “good” was a word not to say, and there were a lot more words that I wasn’t suppose to say.
We couldn’t say happy, we couldn’t say lucky, chance, fortune, weird, charm. One elder told me once that I couldn’t say curious. Right after it left my lips he said abruptly “Shhh! don’t say that, say inquisitive.” We were also told not to use the days of the week, the names of the months, or the planets in the sky, because these were also named after various “Gods.” Shortly, all these words were removed from my accessible vocabulary, and new words were put in their place. My mother didn’t appreciate the new things that I was learning. She definitely thought it was “weird.” And it was, I just couldn’t see it at that time. All I really ever wanted was to live with my father, and following the ways of the cult seemed like a worthy sacrifice.
I spent about a year or so in Green Bay. I attended a second year of kindergarten at McArthur Elementary school and begun the first year of the first grade. During that year I moved to Des Moines Iowa, where I would finish the first grade. At this age, I started to learn more about the food laws that the House of Yahweh promoted.
At first, the food laws could be viewed rather healthy and very similar to Jewish food laws. They were somewhat reasonable in a cultish sense, although I was about to give up some foods that I did enjoy.
First food that was off the list was pork. This was a big no-no. No bacon, no ribs, and nothing with pork in it. Along with mammals there was no rabbit, bear, or anything weird like that. Deer and cattle were ok. For birds, chicken, ducks, quail, turkey, those were all fine. No ostrich though. The mammals needed to have a split hoof, completely divided, and must also chew the cud. Birds must have both a crop and a gizzard. Fish, or anything from the sea must have fins and scales. So no shrimp, lobster, scallops, oysters, or anything like that.
Now this is were it gets tricky. We were not suppose to eat anything with pork “in” it. So this eliminated many foods from our grocery list. Foods like Jello, that had gelatin in it was off the list. Tootsie rolls were another one. This also eliminated non-grocery items such as various shampoos that might have used animal testing. Looking back, of course it all seems ridiculous, but the word that describes the context the best is Restrictive. I was being groomed for an environment that would be based on restrictions.
One to two times a month I was bathed with the teachings from the House of Yahweh. I would take these teachings everywhere I went. Be it public schools, or the dinner table at home. “I can’t eat that, because it’s unclean.”
The notion that I wanted to live with my father so dearly, coupled with the fact that he was deeply involved in a bizarre religion upset my mother tremendously. However, it gave her grounds to start legal confrontation in the future.
Despite learning these new rules to live life by. I still managed to have somewhat of a childhood during this time. I was able to play with children often and get into the typical shenanigans. I was an odd child to begin with though, and these practices were only adding to it.
I was about 7 years old, maybe a little younger, maybe a little older, when my father had me take a couple weeks off from school to go to Texas. I was told there would be even more children down there, and that it was a lot of fun. He gone down already once or twice. We were headed there to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles. There were 3 feasts a year that we needed to attend in Abilene, and we would, for the next several years.
The drive was long. We drove in my father’s pickup truck from Ishpeming all the way to Abilene Texas. It’s a long drive, but I would get used to it. The grounds were located about 25 minutes away from Abilene, similar to how Ishpeming is related to Marquette. Except this town, Clyde, was in the middle of no-where. A town of a few thousand people, and the compound was definitely off the beaten path.
A few left turns, a right onto a dusty gravel road, a few more rights and a left, and then we arrived at the gate. The entrance to what I once referred to as “the feast grounds.” That sounds a bit nicer, and it almost helped me ignore the barbed wire surrounding the entire 40 acres. Inside there were a few houses, maybe 3 or 4. Very basis houses. Some were just getting their plumbing. There were a few trailers scattered around, a lot of RV’s and Campers, and a lot of tents. The heart of the grounds was more or less tent city. I would have to say there were around a thousand people on the grounds at this time. The feast was almost ready to begin.
At the time I felt that the people who I initially came in contact with were genuine and kind. I still feel this way about most of them. The other children near my age were excited to meet me, as I was them. There was a basketball court set up over a dirt playing area, and a baseball field in another location. All of these things were make shift, but seemed to work find for everyone. Most people that lived on the grounds didn’t have much money or many things. If they lived there, they worked for the House of Yahweh, and if they worked for the House of Yahweh, you can bet that grown men were working for wages as little as $3 an hour.
Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Work! Work! Work! That was one of their mottos, and did they ever want us to work. There was always something to do, and if you didn’t drop whatever it was you were doing, you felt shamed. My father, who was the hardest working man I ever knew, fit in well with this. I on the other hand, had immense difficulty finding motivation for this, so there would be times where I figured our ways to get out of it.
Most of the work was moving around buckets of food storage. We would get a semi-truck loaded with 5-gallon buckets of food, and about 20-40 of us workers would move the buckets into stationary trailers to store the food. This food was in preparation for tribulation (something that was supposed to have happened long before I left.)
Most work was needed before the feast started. If it wasn’t moving food storage, or helping to build another structure, it was helping older people set up their tents. There was always something to do. It was exhausting, and sometimes I was annoyed by it.
The feasts always started at sunset. There was a prayer and some form of services held at the sanctuary. The next morning, the men would get up around 6am, and meet for men’s prayer at 7am. We would gather in circles of 3 to 6 or so, and say prayers. After, we would have breakfast, and then get dressed up for services that started at 10:30. Services lasted for roughly 2 hours. We would have lunch in between, and then there would be another service at 2pm. Then (finally) the services would be over by around 4pm. At 7pm the men would attend another prayer session, and at 8pm there was often another class to attend. If there was any free time, we were to be studying or working.
Sitting for long hours in the sanctuary will teach anyone discipline. The hard metal folding chair surrounded by 100s of yards of concrete was not the place for a child who was likely ADHD. At least at that time my legs were just short enough to swing back and forth of the edge of the chair.
Every feast day was like this. Long, rather boring, but filled with instruction, and every feast would bring a new practice to our lives. Either adding to the existing practices, or finding flaws in previous ones.
All of the members took part in correcting each other. “We can’t say that” “We can’t eat this.” Whatever it may have been. At this time though, the people were more relaxed than they were when I left. A lot of people were kind of “hippie-ish” in their own way. Some people even smoked a joint in their tent here and there. Looking back, maybe that’s why less people were so uptight.
Aside from the work and the long services for which I had no attention span for, I was able to make friends and find time to play. The only struggle would be to transition from this environment back to my mother’s house, and back into public school.
It was 1992, and I was leaving the compound to go back to 1st grade in Des Moines.
At this age, a child cannot be aware of the stress that he or she goes through. Drastic transitions cannot be met by rational thought. It can only be met by physiological responses. It seemed like every time my parents would exchange me, I would get sick, nauseous, and throw up. It was like clockwork. Looking back, it was the only way my body was able to deal with the transitions. I was always anxious when being passed between my parents hands.
Before I started the second grade, we had moved again. We moved to the South side of Milwaukee. In Green Bay we had lived in two apartment buildings, a duplex, and in Iowa we lived in an apartment building, and also a duplex. In Milwaukee, we would live in duplex near Jeremiah Curtin elementary school. This is where I attended the second and third grade.
When people refer to family dynamics, my “family” sure was dynamic. My mother, stepfather and I stayed in the upstairs of the Duplex, and his parents stayed in the downstairs. This worked out conveniently for my mother, since my ‘adopted’ grandparents could watch over me when my mother and Jim went out at night. I was very blessed to have them there. Not only were they kind, but they were more understanding than my mother could ever know. I became sick at night often. It was around this age that I often dealt with nausea and difficulty sleeping. There were many nights that I had to get out of bed to go vomit, before I could sleep longer. There were also nights where my mother handed me a pill and said “Take this.” I was too young to know about sleeping medication, but they did knock me out.
I lived in this duplex for about a year. It was in a nice neighborhood, filled with some children, but mainly older people. Jim or my mother would give me a ride to school in the morning, and then pick me up later. I remember seeing Bill Clinton one day, when he visited Milwaukee. He drove right by my school.
This year in my life was just when things started to feel stable. School seemed to be situated nicely next to my family life. My stepfather was kind, and my mother’s work seemed to be going well. Even though I was attending the feasts three times a year, transitioning between the two lives didn’t seem all that difficult.
I remember waking up one morning, and my mother told me that my cat was going to be put to sleep, and that I should say goodbye. I was mortified. I loved that cat. I was in tears nearly the whole day. I remember walking into Mrs. Zapnick’s class with my head low, and she said “Is everything okay?” I ran to my desk, put my head down and sobbed. It was sad, but I was okay by the end of the day.
This would be the year that we were going to try and make the transition so that I could live with my father. This was something that I wanted ever so dearly, since I was three years old. It’s not that I felt that my mother was evil, or at least now I sure don’t look at it like that, but some people are damaged for whatever reason. And in certain situations, they can render themselves “incapable.” Regardless, I was ready to leave Milwaukee, and move back to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Between the monthly Sabbath gatherings and feasts that my father would bring me to, my mother was bringing me to a child psychologist. He would ask me various questions while I played with the toys in his office. I remember going to him a handful of times. My mother told me that he said I was Brainwashed. I didn’t know what that meant, but my father would say that all of them were the ones who were brainwashed. Then, sometime between the spring and summer of the second grade, my mother took me to a doctor for a reason that was unexplained to me. I was asked to take off my underwear so the doctor could look at my testicles. I didn’t get it, I couldn’t understand why, and I was very uncomfortable with the whole situation. My mother was standing behind me. She said something like “We need to know that both of them are there.” I said they were, but I just didn’t want to be touched, and really, what little boy would want to be examined like this? It resulted in the doctor not touching me, and a conversation between him and my mother that would potentially shape the next year.
Later in the summer was when I moved in with my father. I would start the third grade at North Lake Elementary school. The neighborhood boys were fun to play with. We were in a small neighborhood surrounded by woods. I’m not sure a young child could ask for more. My friends then knew where I lived, and often on Saturday’s, during the Sabbath, they would come and ask if I could come out and play. My father would say no, and tell them that it’s the Sabbath, as if they knew what that meant.
“You want to go out and play? Is it that important to you? More important than our heavenly father? You can’t give one day a week up? Go out and play!” My father said once, trying his best a negative psychology. I stayed in that day, and didn’t go play until sunset.
One other rather odd thing happened this summer that more or less led to catastrophe. My father wanted me to get a passport picture taken so I could eventually get a passport, in case we wanted to take a trip to Israel (or something). Well the day that he decided to do this, was completely “all of a sudden.” It was like “Wake up, put your shirt on, lets go.” The only time I had my picture taken was for school, so of course, I didn’t like the shirt I was wearing, my hair was messy, and it just seemed poorly thought out. So I went, I was a little disgruntled about it, and I wasn’t shy about showing my emotions.
Within a few weeks, my father, my stepmother, and I were at home in North Lake and we got a knock on the door. It was the police. They were there for me, to take me away. To take me away from all that I wanted to be with, despite the weird religion, despite my Father’s quirks. They were taking me away. I walked outside of the apartment, and into the hallway. My mother was waiting around the corner.
Oddly enough, my mother and Jim took me to her first husband’s house. I don’t know why, but it was for a reason completely unrelated to what was going on. I could barely see through my tears. I couldn’t stop crying, I just didn’t know why this was happening. My mother’s ex-husband was there, his wife, my stepfather, and I believe my sister was there. None of this made sense to me, and as I looked at my mother’s ex-husband’s face, I could tell he was confused why I was so upset. “Kids” Perhaps he thought. My mother came to me and tried to hold me as I cried, but somehow I knew that this was all her doing. I pushed her away, and I went to Jim, my stepfather, and he took me into his arms.
This was the beginning of a stream of depression that would last for months. I was going back to Milwaukee, away from my father once again.
Honestly, depression at 8 years old. It’s hard to imagine, but I was down, and nothing could bring me up. My mother offered to buy me toys, to take me to places, and it simply wouldn’t scratch the tip of my iceberg of turmoil. Every time my father would call me on the phone, the moment I would hear his voice, would bring me to tears. I was cheated. We were cheated, and I honestly felt that I was living with the one who cheated me out on all this.
It turns out that the reason why I was taken away so easily, was because the court system was somehow manipulated, and there was a “theory” that my father, or someone was molesting me. The doctor during that odd physical said that I was behaving like someone who was molested. That still boggles my mind.
This was my very first and deep wound that I would endure. It really did take months for me to get through this. Even as I attended the third grade in Milwaukee, the first few weeks, if not months, didn’t budge the difficult emotions I was dealing with. During this time I also learned that my mother was tape-recording all of the conversations I had with my father. My father told me about it, and told me that the courts said she had to stop doing that. I pointed it out to her one morning as I caught her listening to them, and she responded with chastisement, making me feel that what I was talking about deserved the attention.
Shortly after this, I would begin to witness my mother’s third divorce.
Changes were also happening in the House of Yahweh. It was 1993, and the teachings of multiple marriages were coming over the pulpit, and being widely accepted among the followers. Most people accepted it, and some people didn’t. Of course, some people left. But that wasn’t odd to me, there were always at least a couple people leaving each feast. The multiple marriage thing didn’t really mean much to me either. I was young, and in large, whatever I was told was okay by my “elders” I just accepted it.
The teachings about multiple marriages wasn’t that you had to have multiple wives, it was just to say that you could. There were a few people that had more than one wife already. Elder John Bragg from Maine had a couple wives. Yisrayl was known to have several wives, and then there were a few more elders and some non-elders/deacons who had more than one wife.
My stepfather had a drinking problem.
It was a problem that I wasn’t really aware of, and one that didn’t really affect me. My mother would point it out sometimes saying “Oh, Jim is drunk, don’t go around him.” As if she was trying to demonize him to me. But the truth is, even though he might have been drunk, he was still kind, still jolly, and most definitely in a position where to this day, I still don’t have a place to judge him. The only problem that I saw, was the bigger one, and that his drinking was symptomatic of another situation. His marriage.
I remember my father telling me, when my mother married Jim. He said “Brandon, when I married your mother, your brother’s dad told me that she would do the same thing to me, and I said no, that she had changed, and that she was different now. Well I told Jim this, and he said the exact same thing that I said.” I vaguely remember responding, but it wasn’t much more than a shrug.
I was still depressed. Dealing with the distance from my father was something that I didn’t know how to bare. My mother and I moved again during this time. We moved to an apartment building that was somewhat nearby, but closer to the elementary school I was going to. We were also closer to more children, so finding kids to discover mischief with wasn’t difficult. There was a wooded area behind the apartment complex/neighbourhood that had a river running through it. I would spend many days during the summer running through this area with my friends.
Although I had a diverse group of friends, various activities to do in Milwaukee, this was a difficult year for me. Perhaps the difficulty and stress was more subconscious than anything because I wasn’t really able to rationally see what was happening around me. Looking back though, this year shaped me tremendously.
As the depression faded and while we became settled in the new apartment my mother practiced behaviours that I had not yet witnessed before. I remember saying to my father “She’s acting like a teenager.” and I even remember saying something similar to her, and her response was “That’s exactly how I feel.” She said cheerfully.
She liked to party here and there. I don’t hold that against her. I remember one day, her and her date got home from the bar. I was laying on the floor with my friend playing video games. Her date tripped right over me because he was so drunk. She laughed, and then they went to the bedroom. Moments like these filled this year of my life, and the times I got the “I’m gonna be yo daddy”-type of speech from random boyfriends/flings taught me a lot about how men can behave.
Looking back on all this and seeing these experiences through the adult lenses that I have shaped now, it is not difficult for me to find compassion for my mother, or the people who came in and out of my lives. We all have moments of suffering, and who am I to hold that against anyone?
Topping this experience off, I was still travelling to Texas three times a year, and the House of Yahweh was evolving its practices to being more strict and fundamental. This is when I started hearing the other children at school say “Why don’t you just move to Texas?” I would eventually hear this phrase until I left the cult. Something about me was changing, and I was starting to not be accepted by my peers. This would be a feeling that I wouldn’t be able to rationalize for another decade.
Towards the end of this year, Jim had gotten in a drunk driving accident. He nearly died. Totaling his truck, he broke his back and would end up bedridden for several weeks. My last memory of him was going to pick up some belongings from his parents, and to say hello and goodbye to him. I walked in the living room and there he was, laying on the couch. I looked at him and I remember no prerequisite in thought, but something about him had changed. He learned something. Something real. His new lover was with him, taking care of him. It was nice to see him, and I felt happy for him.
I walked down the flight of stairs towards the driveway that separated the townhouse-like duplexes, the sun was shining on the light grey pavement. I walked to the car opened the passenger door, and before I sat down my mother asked “Was his new girlfriend there?”
“Yes” I said.
“Was she pretty?” She asked.
There are a storm of memories from my childhood, up until the age of 10 or so. When I was about two and half, three years old, I have a vague cloudy memory of my father showing me how to cook eggs. I was standing on a wooden chair so I could be over the kitchen counter. My father cracked an egg and put it in a bowl to be scrambled. My still-developing motor skills cracked an egg and dumped it on the floor. My mother was in the living room, heard what happened and became really angry.
My impression of my mother at this age was that she was very concerned with keeping a house or apartment clean. Several times a week I would scrub the kitchen floor and vacuum when I was big enough. We rarely had home cooked meals, so dishes didn’t pile up too much. There was always a dishwasher anyways.
I remember sitting down in the grass outside of the green duplex, down the street from Phelps elementary school. I was no older than four, and sitting on my butt like any child would. I looked to my right, and on the ground were some mushrooms. I was the type of kid to sneak in the kitchen at night and pinch off pieces of spinach to nibble on, so seeing mushrooms on the ground just looked like food. Without hesitating, I grabbed a handful of the mushrooms and ate them. My last memory of this situation was my sister running towards me screaming. She was afraid I was going to get sick, maybe die. Just like the time I snuck in the bathroom and ate all of her medication. I can’t remember what it was, but there was one day my sister and mother saw me walk out of the bathroom with white powder all over my face. Again, they were scared for my life. I was brat. A brat that would grow into a smart-ass, and a smart-ass that would eventually gain a lot of arrogance, but I’ll get more to that later.
Children mimic the behaviors of their parents, first and foremost. If it’s not the parents, it’s who they spend the most time with. It could be teachers at school, the television, and siblings; what have you. But what confused me most as a child, was that when I behaved towards others, the way people behaved towards me, I was scolded. I could never talk to my mother the way she talked to me. Logic was missing from these situations. At least my mother was generally the first person to receive this behavior. Although it was often met with a wooden spoon, not many others would see it.
The care and love a boy gets from his older sisters. This is something that is tremendously beautiful to me. I was reminded by one of my sisters once, how my mother would carry a wooden spoon around in her purse to threaten me with it in public. I don’t remember too much of this, but it’s not surprising. If you know me, I’m kind of different, and that’s because I come from “different” people.
Back to my sisters. I had two older half-sisters. One from my father’s side, and one from my mother’s side. These are the ladies who took care of me when I was a baby. Although they were young, they had all the love they possibly could, and it nourished me into adolescence. If it wasn’t for them, I may not be writing this.
I know I’ve expressed some difficult moments in this memoir about the relationship between my mother and I. It’s true, there were many, but like I’ve said in the past; sometimes people are damaged. Regardless of the reason (for I do not know it myself) it sometimes renders one incapable. And for that, we cannot judge anyone, and if I see this form of suffering happening to someone, I strive to find more ways to be compassionate to them.
This is because of my sisters, who also had a difficult relationship with my mother (perhaps worse than mine), and somehow were still able pick me up when I was a baby, hold me, speak gently to me, and to turn any poison that they may have received into medicine for themselves, and for me.
Where would any of us be without love?
It’s difficult for me to talk about my childhood in the sense where I find it very hard to not make my mother look like a bad person. I have no intentions of this, however there are certain aspects of our relationship that drove me to want to live with my father. Although I love her deep in my heart to this day, I still need to discuss some moments of my past in detail throughout my story, in order for my audience to understand more depth to the decisions I made later in life.
I was 9 years old when I viewed my mother as playing the “dating game.” It seemed as if it were man after man that entered and left our lives when we lived together. I didn’t know what to think of it, and I do not judge my mother for it either. I knew there were many other problems going on in our lives, both individually and between us. She struggled with an eating disorder my entire life. Along with that, she had fairly strict standards for the aesthetic appearance of anything, be it people or things. I struggled with the line of fundamentalism that I would be brought into. The clash between who I was being molded to be, and who I could naturally be. There was also the dissonance between my mother and me; due to some gap in connection, which I might never understand.
My relationship with my mother has played a part in how I would relate to nearly every woman I became close to in my life, and that subject played a role while being in the House of Yahweh as well as after I left. I have many moments of my mother expressing anger. Generally when it was just her with her children. She always seemed happy and likeable whenever around anyone else. Then there’s the time that we spent together, which wasn’t much. I spent numerous hours with babysitters, neighbors, or just by the television when I was old enough. In some ways, my relationship with my mother was almost like watching someone’s life as if it doesn’t relate to me at all.
My relationship with my father simply felt different. It’s like music, either it feels good, or it doesn’t, and because what I sensed ended up being honest compassion on his part, I was driven to be with him. Despite the extended court visits, therapist sessions, and propaganda against the House of Yahweh, I still decided to live with him. I was entering a realm of darkness that would provide a lesson filled with years of difficult intricacy.
I moved into my Father’s apartment in North Lake, Michigan during the summer between the 3rd and 4th grade. From now on, I would live with the strict and evolving food diets, cleanses, daily practices from praying to holding a strict Sabbath. This is also when the teaching came out that Satan or Lucifer, was a women. Satan at one time, was the wife of Yahweh. But she became disobedient, and Yahweh casted her out of heaven. I would also begin to learn about, and practice tithing, giving free-will offerings to the house of Yahweh, and to render myself completely to the teachings of Yisrayl Hawkins.
I will go on in detail about the house of Yahweh’s strict regimen of religious practices later, but what happens naturally at this time of entering religious fundamentalism wholeheartedly, is perhaps the dance that happened between the two opposing forces in my life; The cult and public school.
I remember this time when my mother and I were visiting Ishpeming. We were staying at a hotel in the country village. I remember swimming in the pool as my father and this lady walked up. She was sort of this care-taker lady that he met in the House of Yahweh. He announces that they just got married. I couldn’t believe it, I thought. I remember talking to my father later in the hotel room about it. I told him that I was upset he had planned on marrying her and didn’t tell me. It was like it was a secret. He described the situation to me, as if she would be a great help around the house, and that he loved her, but also needed her help.
Her name was Linda, and she was from China Maine. Looking back, I don’t think there could have been a more perfect lady for my father. She was also hard working, kind and loving (under pleasant circumstances) and a great cook. I always look back on her cooking. Simple, honest, hearty. This lady, along with my biological mother, would also have significant impact on my life, and it would also require years of understanding to unfold.
Before I lived with my Dad I knew that I was going to have to be a part of the House of Yahweh. We had talked about it. I knew I was giving up my free time on Friday’s and Saturday’s, but I didn’t know what all the repercussions would be.
I had been to Abilene Texas several times now. Recently, we had just driven an entire school bus from Manitowoc Wisconsin down there. My father bought it from some of our friends there, who were also from the House of Yahweh. It was already partially turned into a camper style setup. The bus was likely from the 70s. It was white, with blue and black strips running down the sides of it. It even had one of those old-fashioned levers that the driver would grab onto to open the door for passengers. It was cool, it was quirky, it was our new dwelling area for feast time.
The year must have been 1994 at this point. It was the summer before the fourth grade. I was living with my father and my stepmother in North Lake. We stayed in the largest building in the area owned by a local family named the Gravedoni’s. The neighborhood was small. The kids could probably ride every street in a half hour or so on their bicycles if they tried. We were surrounded by forests. Miles of trails wooded or fielded. It was, and still is a beautiful area. So beautiful, it took many years of seeing other lands to appreciate it this way. Many of the trails started from behind Northlake Elementary school. If you went far enough, you’d reach a rope swing. A swing that would take you out off a hill and about 40-feet away from the ground. It was suspended by two big red pine trees that had empty beer cans scattered around ground roots. There was even an old car hurried in the woods. It must have been from the 20s or 30s. How did it get there? We always wondered. Growing up in these woods and seeing random moss covered rotting cars like that, was actually a norm. Looking back, maybe one of them was dropped off by one of Al Capone’s goons back in the day. You never know, but that leads me to my next point. At this age, and in the environment I was growing up in, I needed fantasy, I needed escape, and I was able to find some of these things through music, school, and deviance.
Mr. Stetson was my 4th grade teacher, and I gave him a hard time. As a matter of fact, I gave all my teachers a hard time. I might even be able to say it got worse and worse until it stopped when I was a junior in College.
I showed up to school early every morning to kick the soccer ball around in the gym. I also stayed late after school every day to kick the ball around some more. A couple of times Mr. Stetson would come and play with me, but he would ask “How come you’re not going home?” I never really had an answer to that, but the truth was, I didn’t want to be there. There was something about it that I didn’t want to be around, and at the time I was completely unaware of this. My body just “responded.” Just has my behavior did. My functioning was completely subconscious at this age. Sometimes it resulted in a physiological response of nausea and vomiting. (Every time I changed hands between my mother and father, vomiting took place like clockwork.)
A lot happened for me during the fourth grade. Despite the different family atmosphere and different forms of (subconscious) stress, I felt more at home. All my peers were nice for the most part, and I even developed a crush on a girl that would last for well over a decade. My father and I drove by her as she was running with the track or cross country team from Westwood High school. There was something special about Amber, and to this day, everyone who knows her, knows the same.
I officially dove into music at this time as well. I had a toy saxophone when I was a toddler, and I loved playing it. I also fiddled with the guitar. But one day, my dad’s friend Yeremyah, the only other member in the House of Yahweh outside of our family that lived in the U.P.; stopped over one day, and gave me a silver-plated saxophone that was made in the forties. It was passed between my father and him, and they couldn’t really get a sound out of it. Once they handed it to me, I could get a tone, and shortly I was referred to as a natural. Something that I didn’t really know what it meant.
Show and tell was fun the next day. The kids all called me Bill Clinton, and Mr. Stetson also referred to me as a natural. That day that he said that to me, a friend of mine carried my saxophone case back home with me, as we both walked while I played.
The universe was looking out for me. If I had not had this instrument, my life would be completely different. This was my biggest means of escape during this time, and I wasn’t even aware of it.
The fourth grade provided many memories, along with friends who would be with me all throughout my life. Isaac the genius, how could anyone forget him? A man of logic who was in some part, a team player/soldier in the battle I would face years down the road. Both he and his family were there for me when I needed them. Perhaps I could say music and deviance defined this time period. I was always getting in trouble at school. Family life wasn’t easy. Shortly after I moved in with my father and my stepmother, Linda and I began to fight continuously. This would be a trend that wouldn’t stop.
There was this time when I was about 5 or 6 years old, and my mother had taken me to the Milwaukee zoo. I was playing soccer with another boy that I had just met. It was a hot day. We were next to a pond, surrounded by picnic tables and a few people eating whatever food that had bought nearby. I see this boy standing next to the edge of the pond and I get this sudden urge. I run over to him and push him in the pond. I don’t know what gave me that impulse, but I had it. Right after that, I ran and hid behind a garbage can where my parents could obviously see me. The poor boys mother pulled him out of the pond and he was covered from head to toe in mud. Mud, or maybe that Milwaukee filth-sludge that makes you wonder what those giant mutated gold-fish really are.
I had a similar moment at North Lake elementary school where I saw a boy named Chris Grunwald playing next to a very large puddle. The same thing happened, I pushed him in. Maybe it was my sense of humor? I’m not sure, but if I had a nickel for every time my mother or sister told me I was a brat.
I think in some ways, I would have always been deviant. When someone sees logic in something, and an authority figure isn’t paralleling that logic, then any loudmouth is going to question the authority; as they should. But with me, it’s not just that. There was a lot of pressure at home. Every morning, I would wake up, I would put my holy garments on, make breakfast, pray over the breakfast, fight with my stepmother over something meaningless, wait for dad to get home from the night shift to settle things down, and then go to school. It was a big transition from home to school every day. I had somewhat of a strict diet at home, and whenever there was pizza with pepperoni at school, or something similar that someone wanted to share with me, I had to refuse. When I was asked why, the only response I had in reach was “Because it’s unclean.” Of course, no one understood this. When you’re different at this age, kids don’t like you, or at the very least, you’re chastised quite a bit.
There were a few days a week that I leave school and head home with a large feeling of dissonance. A type of dissonance that would be similar to the feeling I would get whenever I made the transition between my mother and my father. I never had this feeling when I would spend time with my friend Eduard and his younger brothers. Of course I didn’t recognize this feeling as ‘dissonance’ but rather a tingling in my teeth. A form of anxiety.
Eduard (pseudonym) was more or less my age. I would see him every month in Manitowoc. He lived in a farmhouse in a very rural area next to a small park. It was a very beautiful area, and many afternoons would be spent walking through the woods. We would also share our deviant characteristics. It we were together when it wasn’t the Sabbath, we would be playing with bb-guns, fireworks, knives, you name it, and this was the area to do it. Many people in the house of Yahweh in this area were ex-members of a militia group. Even one of the elders there was considered the right-hand-man of Jimmy Wickstrom, the leader of the Michigan Militia. So some of these people had some heavy artillery. Of course, when you’re a 10 year-old boy and you see a chain of 50-cal shells, you think it’s pretty cool.
Eduard and I got along well, even though we had completely different lifestyles. He was homeschooled, I wasn’t. He was (truly) rural, and I wasn’t. Hell, he barely knew how to work a television then, much less a game boy. It was really funny watching him play Mario Kart back then. When he banked his turns he would be nearly lying one side of his body. I said “Ed, leaning doesn’t help you turn any better.”
Ed had a tough father. Or perhaps he was just tough at times. I remember one day Ed and I had made a little fire out in the woods during the winter time just for something to do. His father found out and became so mad that he nearly picked up Ed by his throat as he slammed him against the wall. This wouldn’t be the first time this happened.
In the House of Yahweh, the “rod of correction” was just that. Poor behavior was more or less met with violence. I was subject to it too one day. My father asked me to wind up my controller cords when I was done playing my video games. He said continued with his frustration and said “What if someone trips on it and breaks your machine?” “I’ll just buy a new one.” I replied. “That’s it, get up stairs.” My father went over to the fridge to grab a willow branch that he had behind it. This was literally the “rod of correction.” I was already crying before he beat me with it. I could swear I heard that thing whistling through the air before it met my bare-behind. There were welts, cuts, and a little blood. Looking back, I feel sorry for my father for doing this. He was confused about how to go about disciplining a child, and the house of Yahweh more or less encouraged this behavior from him, but shortly after, he regretted it deeply. He never hit me like that again after this.
Over the summer between the 4th and 5th grade my family moved across the street into a tri-plex. There we had our own back yard and a basement. We had more space in general. Looking back, perhaps it was just more space for my stepmother and I to fight and argue where the neighbors couldn’t hear us as well.
It seemed that the older I got, the more Linda and I fought with each other, and the more violent it became. The subjects we fought over were frivolous. Where the cereal box goes, what pan to use to cook eggs, etc. It didn’t really matter what it was, there was always some type of energy to be released by means of yelling and throwing things.
The cult was very hard on women. Even back in 1995. There was a lot of psychological and emotional control over them, more so than there was on men. Take for instance, when a woman is on her period, she is considered unclean until sunset. Not only in she unclean, but in the house of Yahweh’s eyes, everywhere she sits becomes unclean. So they carry around a placemat to sit on, as well as a note pad to leave a message wherever they sat “Unclean until sunset.” Women were unclean until a week after the last sign of blood. They couldn’t be with their husbands around this time. Luckily for the husbands, they could get extra wives?
Women in the house of Yahweh were the care-takers for the houses. They were responsible for everything. The cooking, the cleaning, buying groceries, taking care of the children. Also, they were more or less the protectors of the home while the husband was out earning money. My father worked two jobs, and often he wasn’t home for 16 hours most days. He worked hard. It’s crazy to look back and see how much he worked. There were years he made great money for someone who lived in Ishpeming. Sadly, roughly 30% of all his income went to the cult, before taxes, due to tithes and free-will offerings.
My father was often out working, and Linda was home doing the duties that were expected of her. On top of all the work she was in charge of (Which was truly a lot, and she did it well.) she had to study the teachings of the cult, day in and day out. It was beaten into all of our heads “Wives, submit to your husbands. Husbands, submit to the overseer and children submit to your parents.” Submission was a big message, and another message was “Do no doubt the teachings of the House of Yahweh.” We needed faith. Constantly.
Just as my form of subconscious get-away was music and deviance that would continue to develop over time, my stepmother’s form was to yell, scream and throw things. Don’t get me wrong, I fought back. Even though there were times that I realized it didn’t make sense, I still fought too, but sometimes it just got bad.
The kitchen was the worse place to fight. Knives were there, and as a 10-year-old child to watch a knife go wizzing by you in the morning, it sets a different mood for the day. Or to be grabbed out of nowhere and shaken. To have my clothes torn because of this. And the saddest part of this is, is that she would have never behaved this way, had she not been subjected to so much control herself.
I look back on all this and I see it as a subtle form of the “pecking order.” There was literally no place for her to release any negative energy. Nowhere. So one little thing that bothered her, if it came from someone under her authority, she would have to say something about it.
Despite our fights, we still had moments where we enjoyed each other’s company. Although she was capable of fighting like we did, she still did an amazing job at taking care of the house, and those home cooked meals are something I would always be thankful for
When I was young, my father, stepmother and I would get together in the living room and watch television, or a movie. The night times were generally more easy-going. Although we would fight sometimes at night, it happened mostly in the mornings.
One night, the three of us were watching television, and we had some cream soda sitting on the counter in the kitchen. I asked my father if I could have some, and said “You can only have one glass.” It was a little unusual for him to limit it, so I more or less went along with it. I proceeded to fill up the glass right to the rim. It just made sense to me. So I walked into the living room while sipping out of the cup. My father looks over at me and says “You filled that right to the rim? Why did you do that??” I just looked at him and thought to myself (maybe I mumbled it out loud, “Why wouldn’t I?” My stepmother said “When you fill the glass, it’s full at this point.” And she points to the part on the glass that she’s holding where she thought it was appropriate. I then point to another spot on the glass and say “What about here? Is that ok?”
We didn’t fight that night, or at least didn’t have a memorable one anyway. I certainly was a little shit at times.
While I was moving around between parents I had often gotten sick. Like I said before, vomit and nausea was like clockwork. I seemed to be always throwing up as a child. When I was in the third grade I remember sitting on the toilet seat in my underwear, crouched, with my arms around my stomach. I would lean back and playing this game in my head. I would tell myself that for every second that went by where I didn’t throw up, I would gain “points” that would lead to helping me not throw up.
In the House of Yahweh we were taught that we were to have nothing to do with politics. Basically making it a sin to vote. Well when I was in the 5th grade, we had this “mock” election where we were to pretend vote for a president. I was friends with a boy named Bobby. He was the popular kid. He and his brothers would be popular all through high school. Good athletes, good people. Anyway, Bob Dole was on the ballot, and for fun Bobby’s friends were voting for Bob. Something kids do, right? So I voted, and I knew I was going to have to hide it from my parents. When I got home they had asked me what went on, and of course, I lied about it. I told them that I didn’t take part.
You see, anytime during class where they were doing anything that related to holidays, religion, politics, or even reading from a book that talked about these things, my parents told the teachers that I had to leave the class because it was against my religion. I tried to avoid these situations because of the chastisement that I would receive later from my peers.
After I lied to my parents about the voting thing, my stomach didn’t sit well, and later that night I became sick. It might have been the flu or coincidence, but the next morning at 7:20am I was throwing up bile. I was terribly sick. Linda stood behind me as she watched me purge several times. She said “Maybe if you go to school you will feel better.” I didn’t have the energy to argue or fight. I let her dress me in the outfit that she preferred that day, and I walked the 400 yards to school. When I got there, I sat down, and I didn’t move until lunch time when the teachers told me I needed to go home. Being that I was often a jolly-loudmouth-brat, the teachers knew I was honestly ill. That was the last time I threw up during my childhood years. I had never thrown up again after that, except for food-poisoning.
I look back and perceive my stomach issues as a response to anxiety. It was this point in my life, where my anxiety would find another location. Although I would still feel my gut turn during stressful times, my teeth would now tingle during these moments of angst. Perhaps it was at this time where I started to develop my habits of bruxism before it was actually noticed when I was 13.
My father told me on my 5th birthday when I lived in Green bay, that this would be the last birthday he would be buying me a present, and I was okay with that. By the time I was 11 I was living in North Lake. It was winter, and Christmas was just around the corner. In school, whenever we were to do anything that had to do with anything that was a part of a holiday, I was to leave the room. No singing Christmas carols, eating Christmas cookies, sharing gifts, or anything like this. For some reason, I was more or less okay with this. The only thing that seemed to bother me was the fact that the other children didn’t accept me for it.
I was in the 5th grade, and my mother had left some gifts in a plastic outside my door. She had come up from Milwaukee to visit her children. My father told me that I needed to give her back the gifts. It was clothes mainly, and I didn’t want to give them back. I wanted my gifts. More or less, I was given a guilt trip by my father and stepmother, and over time, they eventually let it go.
Around this time is when I really became interested in music. I had got all my toys together, (Ninja Turtle and X-men action figures) and I had taken them to a pawn shop and traded them for instruments, and music was going to be some type of blanket for me. Perhaps the shedding of those toys created some form of leniency with my father and accepting the gifts.
Holidays would always pose a complication in the yearly “waves” of things. Holidays came and went, just as the feast days came and went. Holidays are stressful on anyone, but I think it’s fair to say that I had a little added or different type of stress associated with these Holidays. My peers at school couldn’t understand it, my siblings couldn’t understand it, and my mother hated it. It would be through the Holidays that she found ways to work in these traditions. It was probably a good thing.
Aside from the holidays, I was closed off to a lot of things that a child would normally experience. With that being said, down in Texas, I was exposed to many things that some people would never be exposed to. The things that I was closed off to though, ended up posing complications later in life, because they were due to mental blocks that were placed there by the House of Yahweh. Mind control really did happen, and it really is real. It’s just easier for kids to get wrapped up in it when their parents are leading the way.
All fundamental cults have similar ways of controlling their members. They play on their struggles and provide a means relief while selling them a make-believe idea that they will inherit something incredibly grand in the afterlife, if they just have faith. These poor individuals are then separated from their family members who aren’t joining them in their faith by removing old traditions. This includes holidays and other family events that might have taken place. In the House of Yahweh, they are then convinced that Satan will use their family members to try to get them to leave the House of Yahweh, so it’s best to stay away from them all together, and definitely, never, ever, talk to a family member who is no longer a part of the House of Yahweh.
Once the House of Yahweh has enable the separation of the members from their worldly ties, they are able to work in other means of control, and the types of control would cover a wide range.
Finances, thought processes, food diets, and all daily activities are influenced by the House of Yahweh. There is no getting around it, and around this time, in the early to the mid 90s, is when I remember the level of fundamentalism drastically starting to increase. And along with the increase in fundamentalism, cam an increase in money that the House of Yahweh was drawing from its followers.
Indeed, we had tithes to pay. 10% of our income and any increase, be it a gift or inheritance, before taxes, gets paid directly to the cult. Another 10% was to get us to and from the feast, however, whatever was left over, was supposed to go to the cult. And some years, another 10% was to go to the cult. Now, on top of this, the house of Yahweh sold food on the feast grounds. And since we were never allowed to leave the grounds during feast time, we had to buy our food there. In 1995, the food prices went up. Everything became really expensive to buy. And not only that, but we also had to buy supplements, essential oils by Young Living, and these prices were also inflated. Because these products were “blessed” by the priests, we had to buy them from the House of Yahweh.
The first five years in the cult were different indeed, although it wasn’t something that would make most people worry. It was around the time of the Hailbop comet that rather “spooky” teachings really started to come over the pulpit from Yisrayl Hawkins and his minions.
In the mid 90s, during the feasts down in Texas, an elder by the name of John Brag, or Yachanan Hawkins (his Hebrew name) compiled these videos about aliens, space, and conspiracies. They included snips from Cosmos videos by Carl Sagan, various televisions shows like the X-files and other similar videos. These videos were intended to get the congregation to believe that extraterrestrial life-forms exist, but that it’s a form of Satan.
Here’s the scoop on Hailbop: When that comet was passing by Earth, a lot of teachings and ‘prophecy’ came out about how this was the time that Satan was going to pass by earth on some sort of ‘star ship’ and be cast down to Earth to perform her evil of the last days that would lead to tribulation. When those people had committed suicide in California, and it was broadcasted on the news, Yisrayl Hawkins said that in the future, those people would indeed, be brought back to Earth on a space-ship to prove to the rest of the world that they are the way to salvation. He said that this is how Satan would gain many followers, and how it would potentially entice us to follow them if we weren’t strong with Yahweh’s 613 laws.
The House of Yahweh had rented a very large telescope to look at the comet from the compound. It was the biggest I had ever seen. About 3-feet in diameter and about 6 or 7-feet high. After people looked at some would say how scary it was, and others would joke about seeing aliens walking around on it. Then teachings of fear really started to come.
We had been shown the footage of Dave Koresh in Waco Texas, and we were told that the government might come at some day, and try to destroy the House of Yahweh. This perpetuated people’s desire to buy more food storage, and prepare to build underground bunkers in the years to come. We were also encouraged to study the Holocaust. We were told on many occasions that this would happen to us, and we needed to be prepared to die for what we believed in. It’s hard to count how many times I’ve seen the movie “Schindler’s List,” although it was at least a dozen times.
I remember when I made it to Texas one feast, and the Oklahoma City bombing had just taken place. “This is a sign that tribulation is around the corner!” Yisrayl Hawkins said in similar words. Around this time, the “world was supposed to end” in around 1997 or 1998. So we needed to prepare. This strengthened everyone’s desire to continue buying food storage, to follow the laws more closely, and to continue paying tithes and giving more freewill offerings. Paying your tithes was definitely one of the most important things to do in the House of Yahweh, if not The Most important thing to do.
As more fear of the end times spread through the House of Yahweh, the degree of fundamentalism started to grow. The followers were more likely to look at others and point out their flaws. They were also more likely to get defensive about their own behaviors. Their insecurities grew along with their ability to point fingers. This paranoia set an excellent platform to work more strict guidelines into people’s lives. Perhaps this is where the curve in “growth in fundamentalism” really started to grow. This curve would never decline or plateau and eventually lead to my disgust with the group, and encourage my definite separation.
Driving to Texas was a long trip. The vinyl seats in Oklahoma heat were a reminder that we’re only about 10 hours away. Arriving to the compound was always filled with mixed feelings as well. We would arrive to the gate and talk to a couple guards. They would inspect the vehicle a little bit before we got in. It was generally a quick process. After we got in, the first thing I would always want to do is get out of the truck and walk to our camp site. Along the way I would always see someone I knew. “Shalom”-we would say this to greet each other.
Our camp site had that old school bus on it. Before we got our second camper, I would stay in a 6 person tent across the gravel road, on the edge of what was called “tent-city.” Tent city was probably about the size of a soccer field. Telephone poles were laid on the ground and numbers were painted on them to mark out the tent sites. The ground was hard. It was almost like a reddish clay that was really slick when it rained. We had to dig trenches around our tents to keep the water from flooding them. There were times I would wake up and see what seemed like a river of water running underneath the tent. Sometimes it rained pretty hard, and whenever it rained like that, everything became a muddy mess. Occasionally, someone would slip and end up being covered in mud, but always at the very least, our feet were covered in it.
The children played with other children of the like age group. Sometimes, an adult would step in and tell us how to improve our behaviour to become more righteous. Some of the children went along with this more than others. When I was about 13, I remember some guys who came from the north-east who were in their early 20s or late teens. They showed up on their own, with their own curiosity and ambitions. Some of them only came for two or three feasts, some stayed for a little while longer, and some didn’t leave until after I left, but they all left eventually.
The tithing law got to most of the young men. It was the most important thing to do in the House of Yahweh, according to Yedidyah Hawkins as well as Yisrayl. Yedidyah was an elder there for many years, who would eventually end up in jail, but you will learn more about that later. The young men had their own struggle. They were encouraged to work, pay tithes, and build their character, so that one day they would be suitable for a wife; which is what many of them wanted. So there they were, trying to be ready for such things, and then all they see is the elders denying their communication with women while the elders take on these young ladies as second, third, or fourth wives. They wouldn’t shun the men out, because they wanted their tithe money, or at least, I think it’s safe to say that anyway. Marriage for the young men there was kind of like the idea of salvation for everyone. “Eventually it will come.”
Around this time I really started to become aware of the marriage situation in the House of Yahweh. I still didn’t have any strong opinions on it at the time, but I did see it as something that wasn’t normal. The overseer had many wives at this time. Many. We weren’t encouraged to talk about it, because the information needed to be kept quiet to protect the legality of the situation. On paper it looked like affairs, and the House of Yahweh didn’t recognize any marriage outside of the cult.
In a certain light, perhaps I can make sense of a multiple marriage. Say where three or four people just happened to come together and create a mutual agreement among themselves. Maybe that could be something. I mean, it’s not for me, but I’m okay with keeping my nose out of a situation like that. The thing that really bothered me about the marriages in the House of Yahweh, especially between the elders and the leader, Yisrayl Hawkins, is that when a woman, or girl marries Yisrayl, they get a “free ticket” into the kingdom of heaven. This is how they are encouraged to join a marriage as a second or third wife. I think it’s safe to say that young girls around the age of 15 are easily manipulated in a situation like this.
Being that I was only about 13 years old when I started to really learn of these things, my opinions continued to be absent, or vague at best. I had my own feelings for what I felt might be appropriate for me, but there were other things to focus on. I remember becoming really sad around this time, I wasn’t the only one, and I didn’t know why. I became sad for what seemed to be no apparent reason.
Sadness began to grow. I couldn’t tell why, but there was this emotion that was inside of me that could always seem to grow tears. I was on the compound, near the food court area. The food court was basically two semi-truck trailers that were blocked up. They had staircases built up to them, and we would walk through while getting food served to us. There were a couple other stores that were put in these trailers. A toy store and a candy store.
One day, I was walking away from the sanctuary toward my camp site, and I crossed the food court, only to find a girl who was sitting on the steps to one of the trailers, who was crying. She was older than me. She had to be about 15 or 16 maybe. As she cried, people stood around her, mainly her friends, and they tried to comfort her. Somehow, I could empathize with her emotions. I was told by one of her friends to move on, and I did. I walked back to my tent, and started to feel similar emotions work their way out of me.
I couldn’t get it, and I didn’t know why, but I was sad, and sometimes, I would just cry. I told my father, and he would ask me why, but I had no answers. It was something that really stumped him. A few days later, I saw the girl who was crying, and I asked her what was wrong. She said she didn’t know.
I look back on this, and it somewhat reminds of the pecking order that existed in the House of Yahweh’s hierarchy. The pecking order was indeed apparent, but the affect that it had was more subtle, and I see this emotional response from children being something similar. With the rules and regulations being so strict in the religion, it makes sense that children would have these responses to their surroundings. Simply because it’s such a big shift from what anyone could be used to.
At this age, my deviance really began to work its way into my life. My friends in the cult, Ed and Jake would indeed share this deviance with me. Before I began a story of young boys trading Playboy magazines, I want to tell another story of something happened that when I was ten years old.
For some reason, I never felt like I had privacy. Mainly because of my stepmother. Occasionally she would make it known that she had gone through some of my things. I didn’t like this, and I needed to figure out a way where I could be sure that they wouldn’t find my things, or at least my secret things. So I grabbed my bible off the shelf, and I spent an hour or so cutting the pages out with my Swiss army knife. This would provide just enough space to house my secret belongings that would eventually be a cassette tape from my brother, girls phone numbers, and that’s about it. I cut the pages out of the bible because I knew that this would be the last place that anyone would look.
Of course I don’t have any shame in admitting the childish desire I had to look at pornographic magazines. I think the curiosity is natural, and at a young age, purely innocent. How these activities are fostered over time however, can determine much more. In the end, it’s all childish behaviour.
We had exchanged magazines for a while, between the three of us. I’m not too sure how we got most of them. I think I got a few from a friend at school who stole some from his dad. I would bring them to Texas where the three of us would meet up, and Jake and Ed and I would exchange them and crack jokes about them here and there. It was deviant, exciting, and something to pass the time in between going to services (what most people would understand as bible studies).
When it came time to hide these magazines, (we generally had to hide many things if it didn’t come close paralleling the H.O.Y.) Jake had this great idea of taking an old magazine cover and taping it to the Playboys. I had the idea keeping them in a plastic slip, which I had in my binder from school. This is how I ended up storing my 5 or 6 magazines. Then I found the perfect cover, and Jake and Ed thought it was pretty funny and perhaps a little wrong.
In the House of Yahweh, we had this magazine size booklet that was titled “The 613 Laws of Yahweh” and it turns out that the cover of this booklet fit perfectly around a Playboy magazine. When Ed and Jake saw that, they both laughed, and I think I remember one of them saying “I’m not sure you should do that.” While my thoughts on the issue were “I don’t want my parents to find these.”
In the House of Yahweh, this behavior was a sin because it was taking part in the exposing of nakedness. It also created lust. Unfortunately, I can’t really remember the photographs in the magazines, so there’s definitely not any more ‘lust’ left, but this was the reasoning for why it was wrong, and we knew that if we were ever caught, we would have to be counseled by the elders for it.
My mother, on the other hand, as zany and cold as she could sometimes be, she was very open with her sexuality as well as with the nudity of others. She wouldn’t have ever seen a problem with me looking at Playboy. I even remember hearing her say that. Although she did say “No, he can’t look at Penthouse, that’s too hardcore.” And had I not been in the cult, I do believe that simply with my mother’s attitude, and perhaps guidance, the fascination with pornography would have faded much earlier than it did. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there were men in the House of Yahweh who were perverts and pedophiles. Eventually, even an elder would get arrested for this. But he wasn’t the only one. Many men loved the idea of multiple marriages, and men often pursued young girls for marriage. Girls as young as 14 being pursued for marriage was not uncommon. And I do believe, that being surrounded by this energy, influenced the behavior that not only I had with pornography, but other young men in the cult as well.
Eventually one of us got caught, and it was Jake. Jake’s father, who was an Elder yelled and screamed at him until he told on Ed and I. Or at least that’s what he said to us when we all saw each other again at the next feast. I remember my father getting off the phone with the elder and coming to me saying “Give me the magazines, where are they?” I went and grabbed my binder and pulled them out. He was surprised with how they were hidden. When he saw me pull the magazine out of the H.O.Y. booklet cover he said “I don’t think you should keep that in there. Why did you put that in there?” I told him “Because you wouldn’t have looked there.” He took the 5 or 6 magazines, including the 40-year special edition and put them in a paper bag. The last I saw of them, was the paper bag sitting on his bed, in his bedroom.
There were three feasts a year that we all needed to attend in Texas. The feast of Tabernacles, Passover and Pentecost, and they happened in the Fall, Spring and late Spring, respectively. During the Passover, we had what was called the Seder meal, or gathering. It took place the night after what we called “Yashuah’s Memorial.” The memorial service was solemn night that was a basic walk-through of Yashuah’s death. (Yashuah is the son of Yahweh, just like Jesus is the son of God). More or less, it was like watching the passion of the Christ with a bunch of sad people. We would pray and wash each other’s feet. It was very symbolic of the bible.
The next night was practically party night for everyone. I recall the elders always saying to refrain from drunkenness on this night, and it was understandably so. We would drink 8 glasses of wine during this ceremony, and I was 10 years old the first time I took part in this ceremony.
We were all gathered in the sanctuary, and folding tables were set up rows that spanned about 100 feet. The floor plan to the sanctuary was about half the size of a football field. It was a very large cement area that steel I-beams to hold up the roof. There were hundreds of people gathered together to take part in this event. We were all dressed up, all excited, and all ready to joyously take part in the alcohol and food.
The ceremony goes as such: We would all read in unison from a pamphlet and drink a glass of wine when the pamphlet instructed us too. My father wasn’t filling my glass up all the way, but I sure was getting my share of Kosher wine. I believe it was Mogen David or Manishewitz. Towards the end of the ceremony I started to get very tired, and I ended up falling asleep at the table. To this day I can still hear my stepmother’s words “You were Drunk.”
I still look back and think it’s a little funny, although I’m drinking scotch while I write this; I’m not sure if there’s a correlation or not. The funny thing is, is how we had a night like this, but drunkenness was a big sin. No one seemed to have a straight answer on what was actually drunk either. Some people would say, “Two beers! You can’t have more than two beers.” Another might say “If you feel it, you’re drunk.” And then another would say “If your thoughts are altered…” There was simply no clear definition, and I think this had profound influence on how alcohol would effect me later in life.
I started drinking wine regularly with my father around the age of 12. Every Friday night we would share a bottle of wine with dinner, and sometimes after dinner, we would have a night cap that was usually liquor.
As I drank like this, I always kept myself in check. I constantly thought to myself “Am I drunk?” Looking back there were times were I was clearly drunk, but somehow I could behave sober. There were times where the room would move if I moved my head. Or there were times where my face was numb. Somehow, my behavior was never recognized as drunk, and I think this has to do with being raised somewhat appropriately with alcohol. (Maybe appropriate only in some countries.)
With all that being said, I don’t necessarily encourage anyone to raise their children like this. I can just say that even through college, I never blacked out, had a D.U.I. or Fell out of my chair. But the Seder, was my first true experience with alcohol, and I barely remember it.
When my father gained custody of me, there was an agreement between my parents that I would visit my mother during the summer. She was a teacher, and had summers off so it worked out conveniently. She lived on the south side of Milwaukee around this time, near St. Luke’s Hospital off of 27th street. I had a few friends that I would visit there, and we would often run around the city struggling to stay out of trouble.
I was 13 when I met Christine. We met at a McDonald’s. It wasn’t quite love at first site, but not too long after meeting her I became deeply infatuated, and shortly I would be spending most of my time with her. We went to the movies for our first date. I can’t remember what movie we actually went and saw, but I believe it was the Sixth Sense. My mother gave me money to go on this date, and she said that I needed to pay for everything, and get her whatever she wanted. I thought this was a little unusual, because my mother rarely gave me money. It seemed as if she really wanted me to spend time with her. She gave me a lot of privacy with her, and a lot of freedom. Perhaps more than any parent would give their children.
I was not allowed to be dating anyone. Having a girlfriend in the House of Yahweh was a big no-no. Fornication was a huge sin, and anything leading up to it was just as evil. This was a secret that I would have to hide from my father and stepmother. My mother on the other hand, would help me keep it a secret for a while, and looking back, she did a lot to keep us together.
I really liked Christine. Somehow we got along well. It was something with the age we were at, and perhaps our background. She had a bit of Finnish heritage as well, and I think that may have been a part of it. She was a little shorter than me, wavy blondish hair, athletic and bluish green eyes. She was kind, sweet, innocent. She was the occupier of my heart and thoughts for a few years once we met.
I think my mother saw opportunity for something worldly to enter my life. Something that wouldn’t parallel the teachings of the strict cult that I was in. She knew that deep down in my heart, I was beyond that realm of control, and she saw a way for me to experience life outside of it. She knew that this would be a way to try to pull me out of it. It didn’t work like she might have anticipated, but it began to have profound effect on how I coupled my personal desires with the practice of the cult. My ability to keep secrets evolved, and I became really good at it. I was able to keep secrets from just about anyone, and boy could I lie. I was a great liar, and perhaps so good, I was almost caught in misbelief.
Along with the essential oils and food storage, we were also instructed to do holistic cleanses. These were to purify our bodies from toxins that we got when we were in the world. We had our strict food laws, but that doesn’t mean we were protected from their impurities from when we use to eat them. So we needed to cleanse ourselves, and from early on, I can remember cleanse after cleanse that was preached over the pulpit.
Everyday, we were instructed to take supplements. These supplements were indeed purchased through the house of Yahweh. Just like everything else from the essential oils to food storage. We would take 1000mg of Vitamin C, Two vitamin B tablets, a calcium tablet, cod-liver oil, flax seed oil, and I know there were a couple more supplements in there. Every morning we would take these, and we were made to feel as if we were sinning if we didn’t. My father just bought into it. He didn’t question any of our instruction, ever. He had complete faith in everything he was told to do. And he still does.
Cherry flavored cod-liver oil? Are you getting me here? It’s a little daffy, but my favorite of all was the Colon Cleanse by Doctor Schultz. This one stuck in everyone’s mind, and here’s how it goes: For one week we would take an eye-dropper full of this liquid that was basically habanero and Cheyenne extract in a shot of juice, twice a day. It was like fire water, literally. Extremely hot, and of course, later that day or the next, the burn was felt on the other end. So that was the first half of the cleanse, the next week we needed to drink a mixture of some kind of clay, that would expand in our intestines and basically scrub out any matter that stuck in our intestines.
We were handed a booklet with this cleanse on it, and in the booklet was a picture. It was a bathtub with a 4-foot piece of crap extending from the drain to the back of the tub. Apparently this is what was lodged in some random guy’s colon, and after this cleanse, he was purged of this, well, crap.
It’s safe to say that there’s not much scientific evidence behind any of what the House of Yahweh would tell its followers to do. Of course they wouldn’t say that, but there truly wasn’t. All yisrayl had to do was simply say that there was science behind it, and everyone else would agree. My father to this day reads books that are encouraged by the House of Yahweh. Books on medicine that were written in the 20s. But because of how evil the world is (or conspiracies rather) the medical insight found in these books have been neglected from modern science.
Our beliefs shape our reality to a degree, but rocks stacked illogically will eventually fall. As they did in the House of Yahweh. The truth is, people still got sick, people still died from cancer, no one was immune from the natural stones of life that are occasionally thrown at us all from time to time. If we became sick, it was because we were sinning. That’s what we were told. How else could it be anyway? We had all the teachings and proper food and supplements, so it must be sin, if we are sick, right? I remember Bill Hawkins saying over the pulpit once “We’ve had someone in the house cured from AIDS!” He said enthusiastically causing a roar of cheers from the congregation.
My father was friends with a guy that was somewhat interested in the House of Yahweh. This is who he bought the food storage trailer from. He was a little better off than us, financially. He was a nice guy and had a good work ethic, just like my father. His name was Burt. He owned a good amount of real estate, and one of his properties was available for rent. It was a farm house that rested on 40 acres of wooded land, near the newly built Aspen Ridge Middle School.
The house was old and very basic. It had a wood stove positioned in the living room, and that would be used to heat the entire house during the winter. It was a nice old farm. There were three barn areas where we would eventually raise chickens, have a couple dogs, several cats, and store chords upon chords of fire wood. Apple trees scatter-plotted a few acres of open field, and a cherry tree was close to the house. The only neighbor was the newly-built Aspen Ridge middle school that was in walking distance from the farmhouse.
The summer before the sixth grade I spent riding my skateboard around the area. The new school had freshly paved blacktop with plenty of area to skateboard. There really wasn’t that much else to do. No other kids were close, although one day, Karla and Greta said hi to me as I was skateboarding. I couldn’t tell why at the time, but I sensed I had some things in common with them. They were sweet girls.
The older I got, the more I progressed through school, and the more it became known to me, that I was different from everyone else. Different in a way that I didn’t necessarily want to be, but because of how my parents were easing me, I would see life through completely different lenses than everyone else. The problem was that these lenses resided in magical thinking, and very far from logic.
Music in the cult at this time became prohibited. All forms of music were demonized. Yisrayl/Bill said that we had a lot of sin in our lives and we needed to repent and let go of it before we could have it back. So there were no more songs for Sabbath services, no classical music, or anything like that. All of a sudden it was a “no-no” and that was that.
I remember some Saturdays, shortly after services when everyone else was resting, I would hide in my room with my headphones on listening to my music. Everything from Beethoven Symphonies to Beastie Boys, or Michel Jackson to Wu Tang. I had to keep my door locked in case someone knocked. I would be chastised if I were caught listening to the music, especially on the Sabbath. They couldn’t stop me from playing the piano though, and not that my father truly wanted me to stop either. However, he would question my motives with playing, and I would spit out any argument that would allow me to keep playing. The truth is, I know that he let me win these arguments, and I know that he enjoyed the music I was trying to play.
Every Friday we needed to prepare for the Sabbath. Since there was no work, no cooking, no personal pleasure to be done on the Sabbath, everything needed to be prepared before hand, in order to allow for a comfortable Saturday. The house needed to be cleaned so it could be considered holy. All the meals for the next day needed to be cooked. All this had to be done before sunset, and during the winter when the sun set early in the day, this was sometimes a challenge.
Right befor Sabbath was often when family feuds would start. There was an abundant amount of stress placed on everyone, especially my stepmother, Linda. She was more or less responsible for the cooking, the cleaning, making sure that the clothes and bedding was washed. So of course, if anything were to bother her, she would let people know. There were many Sabbaths that we would bicker right up to dinner. Many times, it was difficult to eat because of the fighting. I can still remember my father sitting back in his chair with a discusted look on his face, looking up and to the left, shaking his head, then leaning over to take his first bite out of his food. Sometimes I found this funny, because it took away from whatever anger was there.
On top of making sure everything was prepared for the Sabbath, we needed to bath and do what they call a Mikwah, or and ablution. In Judaism, they call it a Mikwah, pronounced “myk-vah.” We would bath, and then fill the tub with water and completely submerge ourselves. You might think that it’s difficult for a full grown man to fully submerge himself in a small tub without making a complete mess, and that is most definitely the truth. So what we would do is roll over in the tub to make sure the water touched all of our bodies.
This process of taking a mikwah was a little more bizarre when we went to Texas for the feasts. You see, at home, My father would dunk first, then me, and then my stepmother. This was more or less the chain of command, because women were considered to be less clean than men. In Texas, we had what most would consider public showers and restrooms. There was a much larger tub, although it wasn’t really a tub, as much as it was a water troff, the type that horses would use to drink out of. The rather cringing side of this process, was that we would share that with several people, if not hundreds of men. Sometimes the water was looking a bit gross. Keep in mind, we were greatly discouraged from using public swimming pools.
The mikwah happened every Friday. We would work or go to school, clean, prepare food, wash-up, and take the mikwah. We were then considered in a holy state to be closer to Yahweh for the Sabbath. One thing I would look forward to, was the good food. Linda really cooked well, despite how her and I could argue.
Around the time of middle school was about the time that it became apparent that I was different from everyone else. And by this, I mean it started to become apparent to my peers. I knew I was different, I knew my family like was weird compared to what everyone else did. Sometimes I tried to hide it, sometimes I had an attitude where I didn’t care. I guess you could say I was luke-warm on the subject, or perhaps “Lagom” in Swedish.
I was a mis-fit to a large degree. My mother more or less taught me how to be a smart-ass, and the family dynamic at home didn’t pair well with that. I was a smart-ass at school. One of the deviants. I could succeed if I wanted to, but my effort was segmented, or perhaps happened in waves more than anything. Sometimes I tried and did well. Sometimes I half-assed things, and didn’t do well. I was a little above average in most things I put my mind to, and so were my friends. I guess I would say that’s one of the reasons why my friends and I didn’t always try that hard.
I think the deviance arose from the extreme pull away from various behaviors. It’s like when you tell a young child “Don’t do that” or “You better not do that.” Without a reason why, the child naturally wants to do that. The story about playboys I said earlier wasn’t the end to pornography in my childhood, and I think the reason why is because of the cut and dry instruction against that and fornication. I was told it was evil and wrong, and that was it. As an adult, I can clearly see the pointlessness of both activities. Of course I love women, but an adult has the capacity to sense the rather materialistic sides to these behaviors. On one end, I had my mother who was more relaxed to the idea of me seeing pictures of naked women, and on the other end, the House of Yahweh just said “No, it’s evil, it’s sinful, it will lead to eternal death, (Although if you repent you can be forgiven.). This situation is sort of like what I talked about earlier with Alcohol. Getting tastes of it here and there with mature guidance will likely provide a better cognitive approach to the subject. My mother had the right idea. She knew there wasn’t any harm, and she most likely knew there was more harm in trying to suppress normal boy curiosities.
I never quit looking at pornography, I just found different ways to hide it. The material became more extreme, and more hidden. Ultimately, the suppression I don’t view as healthy, and I think it started to tie “knots” that took quite some time to untie and then see past.
I was deviant with my behavior with pornography as well as with my interaction with other girls. Although my interaction with other girls was only deviant from the House of Yahweh perspective. I liked girls, who could blame me, and the fact that I was heavily instructed against pursuing any form of interaction with them, only drove me subconsciously to do the opposite.
So I tried to get girlfriends here and there, and I did. Like Christine in Milwaukee. These were all puppy-love scenarios that were honestly innocent. The only problem I truly had, was that my desire to be with these girls was driven by a deeper desire to simply be loved, held and accepted. Something that I wouldn’t truly feel until later in life. This feeling was indeed shaped by the relationship I had with my mother, and the view I had of her interactions with other men. I suppose we could say that these situations are the forming of more knots that I would need to learn how to figure out how to untie later in life.
As a side note, these sort of experiences in life are a blessing. From the standpoint of turning poison into medicine, when we are handed perhaps such a poison, the medicine we can make from this can be truly healing, not only for me, for all those who I might be able to help later in life, when approached with the opportunity. So indeed, acceptance and honesty paired with compassion can truly empower any individual in such a circumstance.
I had to hide my deviance from my family, of course. Any behavior that wasn’t conducive to the teachings of the House of Yahweh, surely needed to be kept secret from my father and stepmother. Any form of deviance that wouldn’t be accepted by general society would have to be kept hidden from just about everyone, except, of course my friends, who might give me some sort of praise or acceptance for acting this way.
This age of preteen to early teen is difficult for any child. If my behaviors were so different from the norm of the “realm of deviance” than I wouldn’t have found any acceptance from other children who also came from difficult households. In this light, you could say that my family dynamic too part in shaping who I made friends with.
The so called “popular” kids in school would be the ones to shun me from their social circles. I was weird in many ways, so I can disregard many girls avoiding me, but when the popular kids don’t let you in your group, there’s only so many other groups to be a part of. There was what the popular kids referred to as the “scrubs.” These were the kids who didn’t have much money in their family, or at least didn’t show that they did. These kids didn’t wear the popular clothes, didn’t have the new things like the popular kids did. There was also the geeks (more or less) the kids that truly didn’t care about those things. They did well in school for the most part, but they didn’t hang out with anyone else. So for me, I guess you could say I floated between all the groups. I made friends with a few in each. When the majority of one group didn’t want me in their network, I moved on to the one that would.
I didn’t really live in a neighborhood for the sixth and seventh grade. The farm-house was at least a couple miles from other houses, or at least a house with another child my age. So the neighborhood drama didn’t start until I moved from the farm-house to the first house I would see my father buy. This house was in Ishpeming, near a bluff called Jasper knob.
This home was about a 20-minute walk from Ishpeming high school, and about a 40 minute walk from the local middle school, which was where I first went to elementary school, Phelps. In this location, the neighborhood drama would begin with me and another, I guess you could say, “local deviant.”
Around the time of the seventh grade, I began to feel deeply unaccepted by my peers. I didn’t know how to show myself, I had no clue who I was, or how to interact with others. The response I got from many kids at school was that they simply hated me. It sounds harsh, but this is how kids can be. It’s cruel, but I’m not the only one who dealt with it.
I’m not sure what the exact reasons were, but we were going to buy a house. I think the owner of the farmhouse needed to let his mother move into it or something, or he was selling it. Either way, we needed to move. My father had looked at a couple houses in Ishpeming. One was a large duplex for about $19,000, and the other was a large house near the Jasper bluff for about $27,000. We looked at both, and my father contemplated buying the lesser one. My stepmother and I both loved the more expensive house. It had a two car garage, somewhat of a backyard, two kitchens, a dining room, five bedrooms and a full-size attic. I even told my father I would give up my allowance to move into this house, and that was the case.
The truth of the matter is I did honestly like the house, but the bigger issue was that I would have the opportunity to go to a different school where the kids didn’t really hate me. Or at least not yet anyway. When we were preparing to move out of the farm house we had two dogs. Two blue-heelers that we had gotten from a breeder in Texas, another member from the House of Yahweh. These dogs were like any dogs, playful, fun to be around. Although when they would screw each other my father would kick them pretty hard. They were two male dogs, so that was sinful behavior according to us. Owning animals in the House of Yahweh was sort of a cut and dry thing. According to the bible, man has domain over all living things, so in a certain light, it’s as if their life is irrelevant. As we prepared to move, my father noted that we would not be able to take the dogs, and that we would have to put them down. He drove a bull-dozer to the northern edge of our property, and dug a large hole. My stepmother and I were next to the entrance door of the house, standing outside as we heard to shot-gun shots go off. Linda was crying and flinched at both shots. I will never forget those tears of hers that she shed that day. It was only one of her moments of proof that she was certainly a heart-felt individual.
My childhood at this point in time hit an all-time low. I did things that I became ashamed of later in life. Thankfully, probably through guidance from my father, I was able to get past a lot of this behavior. Had I not, I probably would’ve ended up in jail.
The deviance grew tremendously after I moved to Ishpeming. I linked with some of the local “bad kids” in the neighborhood, and the next thing I knew, I was taking part in vandalizing and breaking into cars. It wasn’t the idea of getting free stuff that was the motivator, it was the high that I got from it. The excitement was something that allowed me to completely escape all other aspects of my reality.
It was around this time that I tried smoking pot for the first time. One of the local kids had a little bit with a small pipe. He took the first hit and then handed the pipe to me. He held the lighter. I inhaled deeply and then coughed like I had never coughed before. I seriously thought I was going to throw up. I couldn’t take it, and I said I needed to go home. This happened over the span of about three minutes. I hopped on my bike, and rode down the hill for my 12 second ride home. I don’t remember much after that, except playing on the living room floor and acting goofy in front of my stepmother. She was laughing historically at me. “What’s gotten into you?” She said. I was most undoubtedly high, but I didn’t know it, and neither did she. It was funny though.
My behavior changed around the 8th grade. I became much more resistant to all forms of authority. As the new kid at Phelps Middle School, the other students found my rebelling behavior funny at first. So I gave into behaving this way. As they got tired, or used to the random acts of outburst, or picking on the other not so popular kids, I would try harder, and eventually put myself back in a similar situation I was at, at my last school. Once again, my peers didn’t like me. They didn’t like me at all.
The faculty didn’t like me either, and because my behavior was sometimes witty for them, my smart-ass-ness would drive them nuts. So nuts, they would try pretty hard to put me in difficult situations.
There was a time in band class where a window got broken. One student had tipped a chair into it. I didn’t see it happen, but I saw the broken glass, so I went over to help pick it up. I looked at the window and saw a small piece of glass sticking out from the edge, and I said to another student, should I punch that piece out? He responded with excitement “I dare you.” So without hesitation I did. I didn’t really think much of it, as I had punched out windows before without many problems. Well perhaps this time was the charm. I had quite the wound after this one.
I went downstairs to the nurses office, and she told me that I needed stitches, and that I should go wait upstairs for my father to pick me up. As I got up stairs, the principal walks over and says I’m suspended for breaking a window. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it, because I didn’t break the window. I told her this, and she said “I don’t want to hear it. You’re suspended for breaking school property.”
I was pissed. So I went with her to the band teacher’s office, and he explained to her how the window got broken. The excitement was a lot for me. I was embarrassed to cry in front of a few other students. Later I would deny that part ever happened.
So got stitches, but not only that, I had to wear a weird apparatus that allowed my tendon to heal properly, because I had cut the tendon in my middle finger, over my knuckle. I still remember the nurse who was more of a banana, that had his hemostats underneath my slightly severed tendon, pulling it up about half-an-inch or so above my knuckle. My father told me in the truck on the way to the specialists office that he almost knocked him out for doing that.
It was a little traumatic. Not the stitches, not the principal, not even seeing my tendon in my hand, but rather the idea that I wouldn’t be able to play the piano anymore. Thankfully I can. Thankfully I have a reminder for how wounds heal, and a reminder for who I was, and who I am now.
My father caught me in a deviant moment, where he somehow just knew I was guilty. Despite my professional lies, and how I was able convince anyone buy him, he still persisted with how I needed to be honest. How I needed to tell the truth.
He told me story after story, analogy after analogy. He knew I did it. He knew I was guilty, and he knew he would forgive me. But what he knew most, is that I needed (for myself) to be honest. So I confessed. I told him that I did it. I robbed the place.
He drove me back to the police station. The police were in aw. They even told me that they believed my story, and I’m very lucky, that this didn’t put me in juvenile detention. Instead, the owner of the establishment that I violated settled things with my father. I had to write a letter of apology so that everyone apart of the venue could see it. And yes, I was ashamed, very ashamed, but not as much ashamed as I was lost, and in need of escape. Had everyone there known this part of the story, they might not have been so offended by my behavior. This was more or less the last straw. Not for my father, but for me. My father would of course, take me to the elders, and they would tell me what I needed to do, but he didn’t scream at me, he didn’t hurt me, or even try to make me think that he would. He knew I knew it was the last straw, because I fessed-up.
This was more or less the beginning of the end to my deviant behavior. With the help of my father, I was able to move past this. How this worked out, I’m not sure, but maybe it was because my father had compassion for me.
By the end of the 8th grade, I was spending a lot of time by myself. I had some friends here and there that I would hang out with, but for the most part, I was alone. It really couldn’t be any other way. It was weird for me, as well as for other students to see me leave school three times a year to go to Texas for a week or two. By then I was used to the other students telling me “Why don’t you just move to Texas.” Like it was my choice.
The snow was melting, summer was around the corner. I knew most of it would be spent working. Whether I would be working with my father doing landscaping, or working my second summer at Summerfest in Milwaukee.
The motto of the House of Yahweh was “hurry hurry hurry, work work work. ” The more we would work, the more money we would be able to give to “Yahweh’s work.” My father preferred that I worked with him, but I insisted that I wanted to work down at Summerfest again this summer.
The summer between the 7th and 8th grade, my mother was dating the head of security for the Summerfest grounds. He was a nice guy, sort of a jock/family-guy type of guy. When him and my mother took my cousin Whitney and I there, the first thing I did was look for a job. I don’t remember the motivation for it, but I was determined to find a place to work. I was 13 at the time. I went from vendor to vendor to see if they needed someone to work for them. Eventually, I found this booth that was ran by these people from India. The owner of the shop was named Wazir.
I spent three summers working for Wazir. He paid me $5 an hour. It was worth it at the time, because I could check out the grounds everyday, and party at night with the other kids. I was even able to smuggle alcohol into the grounds to ensure excitement after dark, but this didn’t happen so much until my last year there, when I was 15.
Although some aspects of my behavior were changing, some aspects weren’t, and I would continue to deviate from the religious instructions given to me by the House of Yahweh. Without a doubt, my father, being so distant to me in some regards as a father, was still able to reach me and help cure some of the deviant traits in my behavior. I quit with certain behaviors, especially those that tended to involve misfortune to others. As far as girls were concerned, that would be a habit that the House of Yahweh would have difficulty breaking.
I was around the age of 14, I don’t believe I was really much older or younger. The House of Yahweh still had a ban on music from our personal lives as well as during the religious services. This ban on music had been happening for quite a while now. As yisrayl said before, it was due to sin on our part, and at this time, because of new understanding of the prophecy done by yisrayl, we would have to do confession from now on. This would bring us all closer to Yahweh as well as holiness.
Confession in the House of Yahweh was somewhat similar to the confession done in Catholic church. Although instead of confessing through a perforated wall toward a priest who’s facing away from you, we would sit down at a table face to face, with two elders who would more or less scold us for our transgressions. As long as we appeared to be sorry, they would forgive us.
This point in time was a little odd, and perhaps the first real quake before the rumble of fundamentalism roared in. We all had been baptized, but now it didn’t count. We all had our earls awled on the door post of Yisrayls office, but this didn’t count either. All of these things needed to be re-done after our first confession in order for them to truly count.
The first confession would take place during the end of the feast of Passover, for those of us who didn’t live in Abilene Texas. Those who lived there, were first on the list. This “teaching” more or less came over the pulpit during the middle of the feast, to rather prepare people for what they would have to go through.
After services one day, my friend Jake and I were joking around, and talking about the re-baptism and ear-awling. We wondered what it would be like if they made us do re-circumcision as well. We thought it would be funny to convince my father that along with all these “re-dos” that we would all have to be re-circumcised as well. So we both went up to my father with a serious look on our faces, and expressions of discontent. I had told him that we had to be re-circumcised. His jaw dropped, eyes opened wide, and said “No” with emotion extending through the “O.” I said yeah dad, what are we going to do? “I don’t know?” He responded. Then Jake started laughing, and I couldn’t hold back either. “We’ re just kidding, dad.” Then a sign of relief fell over his face. “I’m no sure they could take any more off.” He replied.
A side note about the circumcision. It wasn’t that big of a deal for me, as I was already circumcised, but for many men, this would be quite the hassle to deal with. You can only imagine, having a much larger piece of flesh removed from your penis as an adult, would require a bit more time to heal. The stories were horrendous. First, the congregation was convinced that an uncircumcised penis was unclean, and could carry a lot of bacteria, and that’s mainly why it needed to be done. Then, they would set up a make-shift medical center inside of an old trailer home where a couple elders would to the procedure with razor blades and some local anesthetic. There was even one older man who circumcised himself. He was most likely in his mid 60s. Shortly after these circumcisions were done, people would complain of their stitches, difficulty urinating, and the extreme pain of waking up with an erection. Again, a fully grown man being told that he will not make it into the kingdom of heaven because he isn’t circumcised; but this was their philosophy on choice.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school may have been the roughest summer for my childhood. I had a lot “fun” so to speak, and there was a lot of steam to be let out from my first year of high school.
I had wanted to go back to my old school, even though I was told by many kids there that they still hated me, but because I had gotten suspended in the 8th grade, the superintendent for Westwood highschool told me I needed one more year at Ishpeming high school to prove myself. The year didn’t go that bad, like all freshman, the upperclassmen really didn’t us anyway. Of course I was a little weird with the way I behaved sometimes, but then again, there was that religious thing that I never really talked about in that much detail, and the other kids didn’t really get it anyway. So perhaps I didn’t get picked on all that much more than usual. Although there was this time I was approached to fight someone. I had no idea what the reason was, and there really wasn’t one. The kid just wanted to fight me. He was an upperclassman, and we were in the same math class, and one day, he just said he wanted to fight me. I knew I wasn’t going to fight. My father would’ve been very angry at me if I did fight, and I knew that if he ever found out that I actually fought, it would mean more councelling by the elders. So taking a few blows would at least be something knew.
Dan said after school by the gully was where we were going to fight. I had to show up, otherwise I was a coward. I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I didn’t know how it would hurt. I remember getting beaten up by some black kids in Texas once. That really hurt, they knew how to hit hard. At least now I knew how to tighten up my stomach and take a hit. But I didn’t think it was going to be that bad. All the other kids, about 20 or so showed up to the fit and made a big circle in the snow. I told most of my friends that I wasn’t going to fight. I told Dan that I wasn’t going to fight, and the truth is, I wasn’t going to. He pushed me a couple times, then did a wrestling move to bring me to the ground. I let it happen. He punched me in the ear, but I didn’t really feel it. It was winter outside. We rolled in the snow a bit, and I wasn’t resisting. “Fight!” he yelled. “I’m not going to fight you.” I responded. I laid there sort of tucked in the snow to block his fists from my face. I let him hit me everywhere else, that way my father wouldn’t know. I punched me a few more times, got up and left. The other kids seemed disappointed, and probably wanted to see more action. I moaned a little to make it look bad, but it wasn’t bad. Within forty minutes I was able to get back home and pretend like nothing had happened. I don’t think my father ever knew what had happened that day. One of my friends told me it might have been best that I didn’t fight back, just because it made Dan look like an asshole. And he was, there was never a reason for the fight. But maybe there was a reason why I felt I needed to be beaten. You always feel guilty about something when you grow up under a religion like I did.
Then the summer came. The school year was over, I was going to work at Summerfest again, but as a 15 year-old. It was in the back of my mind that I would have to confess whatever I did, so I tried to figure out ways to downplay the confession before I committed the “sin.” I suppose that was a bit silly of me. Fornication is fornication, and smoking pot is what it is as well. But I kind of had a shitty year, there was steam to be let out.
At the Summerfest grounds, there was this club area called Club Kiss, where all the kids would get together and dance. This didn’t happen in my hometown, and I liked to dance. I always liked to dance. But hey, now there’s girls, and a lot of them. Tall ones, short ones, blondes, Hispanics, and it felt good to get attention from them. Even some of the older guys who were in their 20s were nice to me and brought me into their circles.
I looked a lot older than I was. I told everyone that I was 18, so when they saw that I was carrying my own flask full of everclear, they didn’t think twice about offering to buy me beer, or to pass the joint my way. Needless to say, a couple of nights I became what they say “Blew Back.”
And then I met this girl, named Jenny. She liked to dance and flirt. Blonde, voluptuous, a couple tattoos and 19. She too, thought I was 18. We had met up a couple nights at Club Kiss to dance and make out. She gave me her phone number so that I could go meet up with her and her friends, and not one but two, nights we did. The first night was actually more of a bizarre night for “losing ones virginity,” but I’m not sure anything else usually happens for anyone. The first half was normal, and even romantic by itself; taking place on the shore of Lake Michigan under the stars, even the smell of rotting fish was absent that day. Although the other half, with her friend, younger sister (who was also older than me) and two random African American guys from Kansas, watching from the distance. I remember thinking the experience being about as mediocre as it could possibly be. Even up-playing the climax so I didn’t seem bored. But that’s funny, because it was the first time and I’m sure it appeared as silly.
I tried not to think about the potential repercussions of this experience. It caused too much cognitive dissonance, and besides, the last thing I wanted to think about during my time in Milwaukee was the wrath I would experience from the elders after I was to confess this stuff. A few days after, Jenny and I had met up again to fool around in a park. I figured “What difference does it make if I do it twice?” At least the second time wasn’t quite as mediocre.
I was used to feeling alone in most of my experiences. I couldn’t talk to my dad about certain things for obvious reasons, and say if I were to have mentioned the fight to my mother, she might talk to my dad about it. She also told my father about Christine eventually, which caused me to hold back from talking about other things with her. Although I did ask her “Mom, what would you say if I had sex with Jenny?” “I would sue her statutory rape. You didn’t sleep with her did you?” “No, mom. Of course not.” I said. “I thought so. Don’t even try to make me think that you did.” She responded. She almost thought I did as well. Jenny had left one of the most disgusting hickies on my neck. “What’s your father going to think of that?” She said while laughing. And I was a bit paranoid. So paranoid that I didn’t know how to hide it. I knew it wasn’t going to go away in a couple days, so I needed to do something. So I took a cigar, one of those Churchill-sized cigars, got it burning real good, took a shot of Everclear, and burned the hicky. At least this way, I could make up another story.
When I got home to my father, he looked at my neck and said “What’s that?” I responded with intensity, lying, that a guy at Summerfest poked my neck with a cigar. I’m not sure he believed me, but he was at least gullible enough to not take it any further. My father was gullible, and I often had to use it to my advantage.
School time came around, and I was a bit more relieved that I would be back with the kids that I had already spent part of my childhood with. I knew I needed to behave differently around them this time. I couldn’t be cocky, I couldn’t try to stand out, and because I somehow always did that naturally, I needed to hold back as much as I could. Just so they would give me another chance. Which, they did.
Shortly after school the feast of Tabernacles was again, coming up. I would be leaving to Texas, and I would have to make up all my homework while being gone. This was something that I never really did. I just let my grades suffer. The elders would even tell me “Just pass, they’re not teaching you Yahweh’s Laws, they’re disciples of Satan. Tribulation will be here before you graduate from high school anyway.” I was even considering dropping out of school, since that was what a lot of other kids did in the House of Yahweh, but that would’ve caused a bit of complication between my mother and father, and perhaps the public and my father. So the elders didn’t really see that as a viable option just yet.
We were even making more preparations for the “time of tribulation.” Everyone was investing in gas masks, charcoal impregnated chemical suits, water purifiers. We were the first doomsday preppers, and what you see on the T.V. shows today, was more or less what it was, minus heavy fire-power (Thank God.)
This paranoia often brought out goofy behavior. I remember standing outside my camper while I was talking with Jake. It was about 80-degrees outside in the dry Texas heat, and there was my father in the distance. He walked with a bounce, so I could always see that it was him. But this time, I could see him clearly, as he was walking toward the camper with a bright yellow rain-suit on. “What the fuck?” I’m thinking. He had a gas mask hanging around his neck like he was trying to re-enact a scene from Back to the Future. “Here’s your gas mask.” As he hands me this olive-drab canvas back. “What the hell are you doing?” I said has Jake is trying to hold back his laughter. “Contrails, Brandon. Some planes just flew over and they left their contrails. Just be prepared.” He told me.
I had much bigger things on my mind anyway. How was I going to tell my councilor that I fornicated? I confessed it to the elders during confession, and they told me that I needed to talk to my councilor about it before I could be forgiven. The Day of Atonement was coming up too. A day that we celebrated every year, where we wouldn’t eat or drink anything for 24 hours. It was a practice of fasting that was suppose to bring us closer to Yahweh and holiness.
I had planned to talk to my councilor, Jeff Heimerman, about this before that day. A man that was so sheltered from anything but the House of Yahweh, I’m not sure he knew much about the subject. So I told him. I told him that I had sex with a girl, twice. And boy did he lay it into me. He asked me if she was on birth control, and I said I didn’t know. He asked me if I wore a condom, and I said I did. And then he proceeded to tell me that she could still be pregnant, and that I could have a lot of diseases from what I did. I was scared, and continually paranoid about STD’s, before, but much more so after this. He told me that I needed to fast to be forgiven of this. I needed to fast for at least two days. I cried in front of him. I said I was sorry, but he showed no empathy. He told me I needed to pray, and that I would also need to do cleanses in order to purify my body from sexual diseases. “Yisrayl Hawkins says that no matter what, if you fornicate, you will get diseases. You have diseases now, and you need to cleanse yourself.” There was a side to me that wanted to call bull-shit on all this. When he told me she could be pregnant, my first mental response was “Yeah right.” But if I didn’t believe at least a little bit, in the House of Yahweh, I wouldn’t have been confessing it in the first place.
So I didn’t eat for two days. I didn’t drink water for those two days either. I let the feeling of guilt take the place of my hunger. And then shortly after that, I was back in Michigan, and back to school. I was taking two math classes at that time. I wanted to take what was called “Fifth Year” math in high school, and in order to do that, I needed to double up on algebra 2 and geometry. My teacher for both of those back-to-back classes was with a teacher named Mr. Wigg. He was a hard-ass on me, and that’s one of the biggest reasons why I liked him. When I got back to his class after this feast, he asked me about what it was that I was doing there, and I told him a little bit about it. His eyes opened, and I saw a great amount of empathy that I would never forget. He knew, and soon, all the teachers would know. Somehow, they would all have my back in such a subtle way, that I wouldn’t be aware of until after high school.
A lot had happened in the House of Yahweh around this time. Its own sect had broken off and tried to grab a bunch of followers. They even set up a camp ground not too far from the one in Clyde, during one feast. It was shortly after we started practicing confession. Some elders had gotten together and wrote this letter. I was never able to read the letter, or hear it read, I just heard about it, and rumors ran rampant through the House of Yahweh of what was going on. It was elders from Wisconsin that seemed to be the biggest part of it. Families were torn a part because of it too. It was quite the dramatic scenario. From my understanding, the story on the opposite side of the House of Yahweh had something to do with how Yisrayl Hawkins did his confession, and how it was only him and two elders that were running everything in the Cult. These were just rumors though, I had never actually spoken to anyone about, or read anything. Then the rumors on the House of Yahweh side were much more entertaining. They said that they were contacting spirits, becoming mediums and having conversations with the dead. They said that they came up with their own interpretation of the bible, and were ultimately being ruled by Satan. Obviously, anything that goes against the House of Yahweh’s teaching is ruled by Satan according to their standards, but looking back, I wonder what these elders knew about Yisrayl, and why they chose to do what they did. There was no violence witnessed by me. Just petty drama if anything. Shortly after this sect broke off, they broke up as a group, from my understanding, and I don’t recall any of them re-joining the House of Yahweh again.
This event was most likely the biggest event that happened within the Cult. A lot of spooky stories and rumors were going around how people were talking to demons. A truth may be, that in all forms of extreme fundamental religions like these, you have people who are convinced they can talk to spirits. Even when I was a child there, I remember seeing a man who looked like he was having some kind of episode. Not epilepsy, nowhere near extreme as that. It happened during the middle of services in the feast. To elders came right away, picked him up out of his chair, and carried him away. Rumors happened from that as well. The story with this situation was that he was speaking in tongues after coming possessed by demons, and that’s why the elders needed to take him away to prey over him. Looking back on it, it was theatrical, but during the moment, it was unusual and uncomfortable.
Rumors always happened in the House of Yahweh. With anything and everything, but when you think about it, what else was there to do? Keeping the laws to the “T” was impossible anyway, mainly because they were always changing and often open to interpretation. I remember the rumors that spread about me and this girl I was “talking to” in the House of Yahweh. Her name was Karen. She was a little older than me, and very pretty. We liked each other, and enjoyed each other’s company. We had spoke with each other before the rules on that changed, which would happen very soon. Every feast there would be a new story about her, about us, what people thought we were doing. One day, my father and an elder came up to me and told me that she had fornicated at some point in time and that I could never have her as a wife. I could have her as a maidservant, but not a wife, that is, if I ever wanted to be a priest. Eventually, her family had left the House of Yahweh and continued life in California.
The rules on talking to women changed shortly after. The whole dynamic between men and women changed shortly after. Soon, some men, and just about all women would be wearing burkas like the Muslim women wore. Then, in the sanctuary, there would be a barrier running completely down the center, separating the men from the women. New teachings came out on how we were never to speak with women who we weren’t related to, or who weren’t our wives. The only reason, ever, why we would speak to a woman, would be to pursue marriage with her. If you wanted to do this, and you were a young man, then you needed to talk to your father, then to your councilors (who were elders) then they would go to the girls councilors, and then to her father, and then to the councilors of the girl (who were elders wives) and then to the girl. Talk about anticipation of rejection. Although, in reality, by this point, it was really hard to create any interest in women due to the circumstances.
If men were caught talking to girls in public, they would surely be spoken to by an elder about it. People were of course, always willing to tell on people in the House of Yahweh. It was a dog-eat-dog cult in many regards. The buildings were restructured too, encouraging the separation between men and women. No longer would the opposite sex be seen eating together, and rarely, would they be seen shopping in the same area. Wives and Husbands would only be able to share their time together behind the closed doors of their homes.
Then there was this idea of the bride’s price, where men had to pay the fathers of the girl, whatever he demanded in money to marry his daughter. But this changed too, instead of the father getting the money, we were instructed to pay the house of Yahweh this money. Basically pay Yisrayl the money, because he set the price. I believe the minimum amount was $15,000. It seemed like a great deal for Yisrayl, especially if it were coming from someone who worked for the House of Yahweh. They probably didn’t work for much more than $3 an hour, and would most likely end up being some form of slave for the duration of his time in the Cult. I’m sure the man would also have to sign a lot of papers agreeing to that as well. This would be a rare problem if completely non-existent. Most men, especially young men, were left out of the circle. The young girls who one would think would be pursued by young men, were being pursued by elders who already had wives. Although there was this one instance, and perhaps a very significant one for me. A girl named Gabriella wanted to talk to me when I was around the age of 15. She was pretty, young, and it definitely took me by surprise, but I will get more to that story later.
We had a class for young men called “Yeshivah” This started around 2001-2002. It was considered a training program more or less to raise young men to be priests. This was a daily activity throughout all the feasts. There was more bible studies, more work, more what to and not to do. There was even a bit of financial scam involved too, outside of the free labour. Because we would be spending the whole days under this Yeshivah class, we needed to eat, and therefore we needed to buy food from them. Went spent upwards of $18 dollars per meal in advance to be given a smaller meal than what you’d receive on a 3 hour flight. Some people were really pissed. I remember another guy named Brandon, who was an elder’s son that couldn’t help but show off his frustration. He was right, and justified. It was a total scam. I’ll also never forget the day that they salted the water. You see, everything that we ate was to be salted, because the bible says “Salt every sacrifice.” This was instruction for us for a few years now. We had to salt everything, and we were only allowed to use a certain type of salt sold by the House of Yahweh. “Real Salt” is what it was called. Perhaps people will start to realize the relationships between brands being sold and how Bill Hawkins made his investment profits outside of his cult. Shortly after we were instructed to salt all of our food, someone asked Yisrayl (Bill) if we should salt our drinks, and he said “Why not?” And soon after that, people were putting excess amounts of salt in everything, especially their water. One guy said to me one day, after I put a small (Tiny) dash of salt in my drink, “You know, Yisrayl will put a teaspoon of salt in his water.” As if now it were becoming a law to make certain measurements of salt. During Yeshivah in the hot dry fields of Clyde Texas, we had only one 5 gallon container of water for everyone, and there was so much salt put in the water that it became undrinkable to most. Those of us who didn’t want to drink the salt water were more or less ostracized from the group at the time.
Yeshivah studies were a chore, but they were also a way to separate us from the rest of the followers and give us some sort of praise. Other boys who weren’t in Yeshivah were often looked at as less serious about following Yahweh’s laws. I honestly couldn’t blame them for not wanting to be a part of this. It was utterly boring at times, and it took up at least 12 hours of the day. I had no choice in being in it, and neither did anyone else really, and then the kids who wanted to be in it, they more or less were left out. I only wonder how this fit into the structure of the whole scheme of things. I look back on all these days and I recall the veracity of the elders as they gazed over us boys with what I can only see now as false encouragement. For years I wondered how many of these elders were fooled, and now it’s stronger in my mind that most of them too, were in on the scheme. But why would they not be, with having such controlling access to take young women as wives, and have all the others look up to you with praise?
A few years before this point, when I was around the age of 12, the congregation was being encouraged to change their names. Everyone, most definitely, would change their last name to Hawkins. It was apart of being “apart of the family.” And then, Yisrayl would choose Hebrew names for all of us. Even my father, had his name legally changed to Yishayah Eben Salo Hawkins. At school one day, a teacher asked me about his name change. I had my name changed socially, but never legally, and I am thankful for this. The name that I was referred to by mainly by my father and priests was Nehemyah. My full Hebrew name was Nehemyah Neri Hawkins. My father had originally chosen another name for me, but after speaking with Bill, he gave me this one. Bill Hawkins more or less chose the names for everyone. At this point in the House of Yahweh, his behavior was shifting from that of a leader to more of a dictator. “Nehemyah” an elder would say, another boy in Yeshivah would speak, or from the downstairs my father would call. I have many memories of hearing this name. Perhaps I never got my name legally changed because it would have caused complications in the public school, or maybe the elders were worried that my mother would raise complications over this. I do believe in the importance of a name, and as random as mine seemed to be, or last minute rather, because my mother wouldn’t let my father name me Jalmer, being named Brandon Walter Salo I’m sure has shaped my life in some way. There was only one lady in my life who thought Jalmer was a better name than Brandon, and she was a rather “Old School” Finnish lady I met in Helsinki. “Jalmer!” Nina said, rolling the “r” dramatically, “Is a much better name than Brandon.”
What’s in a name, I was asked in English class when we were reading the Crucible. Mr. Bradley has us write about this, and perhaps this is when the wheels of my subconscious really started to turn. In the classes I had with him, I was offered many rhetorical questions to ponder, and I even remember starting to like him, because at first I didn’t. And one day, I thought he would make a great man in the House of Yahweh, so I decided to share with him some things about the religion. He looked at me with widely opened eyes, similar to those that Mr. Wigg had given me when I returned from Texas. He said “Brandon, if this is what you believe in, then that’s great, you need to do this, but I’m sorry, it’s not for me.” I don’t remember being that disappointed, but I do remember that being almost everything I needed to hear. In a way, that is the beginning to me being saved.
It was very unusual having two names. It was like officially having two identities. I even had an ID card with the name on it. I rarely showed it to anyone.
In my mind I always seemed as if I was going back and forth on issues in the House of Yahweh. I wanted to try, I wanted to believe, I wanted to keep the laws that we were instructed to keep. But often I would go back and forth with the willingness of these things, especially with pursuing girls outside of the cult. I was lonely in so many ways, and desiring attention from females was a huge weakness of mine. A weakness that would seem to never end as it morphed through shape and circumstance while life went on. A habit of anxiety that started from a young age, would be when the phone rang. There were times that a random girl would look my number up in the phone book and give me a call. It was the worst if it happened on a Saturday. The girl would call, and I would stand there in front of my father and stepmother while talking to her. It couldn’t have been more awkward. Then after the conversation was over, I would be questioned on what I was doing and why she called. More than half the times I didn’t even know why they called. They just simply wanted to talk. So from the age of about 12 years old on, every time the phone rang, a jolt of anxiety would shoot from my gut to my teeth. And as my teeth tingled I would clench my fists and hope it wasn’t a girl that was calling.
I succumbed to the fantasy of romance at a very young age. The ideal of falling in love was so exciting for me. I wanted to be in love. All the time, and the week long relationships a child has in middle school only teased these ideas. I fell in love so quickly, and became hurt so fast, but all of these times were escape from that which I was dealing with in my family. It was the only way I could deal with being lonely. It was the only way I could escape that part of it, and it was worth it, even though it was always short-lived.
As I became older and moved towards the end of my puberty, my fascination with sex paralleled my longing for romance and a sustainable relationship. I looked at pornography still, as did my peers at school, but I also read a lot about sex. You could say it was one of the few things I actually studied. It was so fascinating it seemed. And because it was such a taboo and seemed to far removed from the life that I was supposed to be having, it drove my curiosity through the roof. Because of this I wasn’t able to hold back the desire from pursuing girls who I was around in school, and eventually, I came across a relationship that would be the strongest I’d had at that point.
I liked a girl who was blonde, shorter than me, and who I thought was really cute. And one day, it might have been the last day of my Junior year, I was sitting on a brick ledge inside the school. She walked by while my good friend that was talking to me. I asked her for her phone number, and she gave it to me. It became the beginning of that “one” relationship many of us had in high school.
At this point in time I was in the process of being betrothed or engaged to a girl in the House of Yahweh. This sounds extreme, and in some ways it was, because it was somewhat of an arranged ordeal, but in no way, did this circumstance really allow any emotions into the situation. It was like it wasn’t even real to me, and it wasn’t, but it became a very difficult situation for many people as time went on.
A girl named Samantha (pseudonym) had pursued conversation with me. I was approached by my father one day, and he had told me that she was interested in pursuing marriage, and that if I decided to speak with her, it would be an opportunity to get to know her, but that if I didn’t want to marry her, I didn’t have to. I was fifteen years old, and although it seems a bit extreme to be pursued for marriage, this was the only reason why two single people of the opposite sex would communicate.
We would talk face to face during the feasts. Maybe two or three times a feast was all, and it would happen under the supervision of two elders and two elder’s wives while we spoke across a table or through a corridor. The truth is, I really don’t remember much of the conversation, and the reason for that is because there wasn’t much conversation. I’m sure we both were more distracted by the authority figures that hovered over us. I feel there was some sort of attraction. She was pretty, I think she thought similar things about me, but all in all, we had no chance of getting to know each other.
I had a romantic fantasy about her because of this situation. Not romantic in the typical sense, but rather one that paralleled the dynamics of the cult. I would think about what it might be like to actually be married to this girl. How I would go about doing it. How I would get a job down in Texas, how I would provide a dwelling space, how we would have children, and how we would grow together in Yahweh’s laws as we waited for the times of tribulation that were ahead. And the images in my head, even though the idea felt romantic, how it would’ve most likely played out was far from the norm. Bear in mind the conditions of Clyde Texas. It’s sparse, it’s dusty, and the Mesquite trees were distantly separated by thorn plants and small grass patches. It was something that no one in the right mind would desire, especially when you would consider your neighbors. Those would be the ones who were constantly judging you and worrying about your sins, never afraid to turn you in to the elders for counselling, and the elders were always ready to give their council. No, this what not the environment that either of us would have wanted. Because it would have been all that, and dealing with the close confinements of a camper trailer, most likely anyways. But when you’re young, naïve, have a strong desire for romance coupled with an anticipation for the “end times,” you might think like this. I sure did anyway.
And then one Sunday morning I received a phone call. This was one of the few Sundays I was able to sleep in. My father would often wake me up around 7:00am on a Sunday morning to bring me to work where we would burn the piles of brush in the brisk cold that we had built in the hot and humid, mosquito-ridden forests in the summer. After a night of staying up late drinking Castillo’s rum and coke, this was far from desirable, even despite the fact I had never had a hangover yet.
Jeff Heimerman, who’s Hebrew name was Zaphanyah, called me this Sunday morning and said “Brandon, I called to let you know that you can no longer speak to Samantha. It’s finished.” I had responded with “Ok.” And I didn’t proceed to ask any more questions. “you know, sometimes this is how things go, and Yahweh always has a plan for us.” Is what he finished with. It wasn’t a shock to me, and like I said, it was practically impossible for us to have any sort of emotional involvement with each other. Also, there was my involvement with a girl from school who had all of my attention, and this circumstance only allowed me to further my feelings for her.
Throughout high school I played sports. My freshman year I did wrestling and cross-country, and when I went to Westwood High School I was on the swim team. My parents didn’t encourage any sports, really, because it was such a “wordly activity.” But I wanted to do sports, and since I wasn’t able to leave the house on Saturdays, these sports were the only ones that I was able to do without missing so many meets. I had an interest in playing football, and I was probably a little bigger than the average, so my peers always encouraged me to play as well. But this didn’t go over well with my father. Whenever I talked about my friends and doing things with them his response was “They don’t care about you, and they’re not your friends. They’re evil and they will only bring you closer to sin.” It was a hard message to hear at this point, because by my second year at Westwood, the kids had given me another chance. It was obvious that they didn’t hate me anymore. Of course I got picked on here and there because of my quirks, but who doesn’t. All and all, we were kids, and the kids at this point, for the first time in my life, I felt like they kind of had my back.
I started to realize the mixed messages coming from the House of Yahweh. There was this idea that they loved people, and that they had compassion for everyone. It was as if they were ready to forgive everyone. But then I was told how evil Catholics were, and how evil Homosexuals were. We were being taught that these are the most evil types of people out there, and that they are Yahweh’s biggest enemy. So I went along with this to some degree. More so in the jokes that people would share amongst themselves, socially. However it started to dawn on me that this mindset was unfair. It started to become formulated in my mind, that these assumptions were simply inappropriate, and that homosexuality or Catholicism had nothing to do gaging someone’s level of evil. Somehow, bits and pieces of gravel were being poured into the machine of my belief system, and logic itself was stopping the gears to shift smoothly.
I couldn’t hate these people, and when I said that out loud I was told “Don’t hate them, we’re not suppose to.” But when all we’re taught is how evil they are, how are we to feel? What are we to think of them? Others who denied their hatred clearly demonstrated hatred. How these people deserved to burn. How homosexuals deserved to get aids, or how they all deserve to have the diseases they don’t even know they have. And we were also told “Those who leave the House of Yahweh will become homosexuals.” As if the homophobia they planted in us, would later be used as one more scare tactic to keep us in. There was all this talk of forgiveness and acceptance, but there was such a readiness to condemn.
It was because I knew Catholics, and I knew a homosexual. Even at that time I wasn’t afraid to say for myself, “These are good people.” My choir director, and even some conservatives within the local community shamed him for rumors, but I knew. I knew it didn’t matter. He was a good person, and regardless of whatever rumor someone could spread about him in terms of his sexuality, had nothing to do with his interactions at school. I don’t know why it didn’t matter to me, but it didn’t. And then this idea of Catholics being evil. It was a Catholic who encouraged my faith in the House of Yahweh, who said, “If this is what you believe, then you need to do it.” Setting that aside, he was also a good person. One who I knew intuitively that I could trust. It’s not that I didn’t want to believe these teachings of hate, it’s just that I couldn’t.
My close friend Edward was having tremendous difficulties as well, and his behaviours were getting him in much more trouble than Jake and I had at the time. Even though we had confession, and even though we would be scolded for our behaviours, we didn’t change them. We still did what we would’ve done anyway, and just stood ready for the consequences. Ed was having similar difficulties as I did. He also, wanted to date girls outside of the cult, and why he and I bothered to actually confess these things probably boggled Jake’s mind.
Every feast we showed up with our baggage. A luggage of sorts that we would need to unpack in front of two priests in order to be scolded and made felt guilty. One day, Ed had it really rough. He was in tears. Despite our parallel of problems, we all; All of us, Ed, Jake and I, tried to encourage each other to keep the faith. Which is what I attempted to do with Ed during this moment. He had been sleeping with a girl from his hometown. It was an ongoing relationship, and something you’d expect for an 18 year old. When he confessed it though, the elders dove deep into him, and they told him that he wasn’t called. This was like telling him that he didn’t even belong in the House of Yahweh, or as if all the time he spent meant nothing. Ed was ordained a deacon, and was ordained at a fairly young age. You see, his father was one of the elders that left when that sect broke off. He lost his father, his youngest brother, and now two elders that hadn’t even been in the House of Yahweh as long as he was, were guiding him through his shame. I had never seem him so hurt before. This was his last feast, and it would be years until I saw him again. I sat there next to him in a small tent as I watched him cry. Looking back, I know that those were tears of shame, but rather tears of frustration, confusion, and the feeling of “what am I going to do next?” He was ready to make the next step, and he knew he had to.
Ed came into the House of Yahweh before Jake and I. He really was the third leg to our tripod of friendship, between the three of us, and without him there, it was like a piece of ourselves weren’t there. He was the first of close friends that any of us had seen leave.
Of course, Jake and I visited other people and had other friends, but Ed, had been with us the longest, and we had been with him the longest. We all had our own struggles, and when they hurt, we were more or less honest with each other about it. Perhaps we might have been more honest with the priest than some, and in the end, this honesty still worked out for the best.
About three months after I received that phone call from my councilor about not speaking to Samantha any more, I had a conversation with another friend down in Texas named Jones. Jones and I often spoke on instant messenger through AOL or something similar. He had asked me if I heard of any news about Samantha, and I said no. He said I shouldn’t talk about what he was going to tell me, and that he wasn’t even supposed to have known what happened. How he learned this is still beyond me, although all the information turned out to be true.
Jones was the type of guy who seemed to be always in the know. Why he bothered with knowing all the gossip is also beyond me. In some ways I found it distasteful, but when we are young, what things can we really be judged for? Jones was kind, but the alpha-male type, just like me, and most of the guys that were in my circle of friends, both in and outside of the cult. He always seemed to have somewhat of a mischievous smile that carried its own tone.
We had spoken on the internet and he told me that Samantha had gotten married. I wasn’t sure what his motives were for telling me this, but I thought there was a chance that he was trying to make me jealous or something. So I inquired more about the situation, and he assured me that I wasn’t to tell anyone, no one, not my father, not my friends. He also told me that he couldn’t tell me all of it, and that he would fill me in on more of the story the next time I would come to Texas.
Samantha was now married. She was most likely 15 at the time, or maybe 16. I’m not sure, but I most definitely know, she was younger than 18. She had married Yisrayl Hawkins (Bill Hawkins).
My reaction to this, was more or less nonchalant. I didn’t really care that much because I didn’t have much emotional involvement in my previous communication with her. But what concerned me, was what he wasn’t able to tell me at that time. I was curious to know more.
At this time, Bill allegedly had over 30 wives. Women of all different ages, but most of them were young. He was 70 at this time, so the only thing I found weird was that he was so old and Samantha was so young. Yes, a part of the situation did disgust me, although I didn’t let it get to me too much. She had married the Overseer, and because of that, she would have a guaranteed ticket into the Kingdom of Heaven.
All Jones told me was that she got married and who she got married to. That, and re-inferred the idea that she would have a ticket into the kingdom of heaven because of this. Bill was affluent, and everyone knew this. He drove around in nice cars, wore linen suits, and had several houses. Bill had money. He had more money than anyone else in his cult.
The cult started to become strange. Following confession came the burkas, came the separation, and soon would Yisrayl be known as our king. “He is our King!” Jeff Heimerman told me; but I will get back to that later. Then there was also the sacrifice of the heifer that would soon come out. This was quite the bizarre ritual that was knew to us all. It was to cleanse us all from the dead.
According to the bible, when anyone becomes in contact with a dead body, or say within the same area or room as a dead body, they will be unclean until the ashes are sprayed on them off of barely leaves by a priest. And looking back, this form of superstition was written off simply because of who told us all it was what we needed. I look back, and I think that of all the organized and practiced rituals that the House of Yahweh came up with, this was most likely the spookiest ones of all.
You see, all of us were unclean from because of the dead. If you were a child and had never been around a dead body, you were unclean because of your parents, or your parents parents. There was no way of getting around it. Just like STD’s. Everyone in the House of Yahweh was told they had STD’s. We were all told that no matter what, we needed to cleanse ourselves, both physically and spiritually. By spiritually we had the means of confession and adhearing to the laws of Yahweh, and to the commandments that our King gave us. And these commandments bear in mind, changed as various individuals observed the behaviours of our “King.” Take for instance the drinking of salt water that I spoke of earlier.
We cleansed ourselves physically by endless cleanses. Endless supplements, endless bottles of the newest “soon to be trends” on the market. And it was odd watching all of this. Looking back, whatever the House of Yahweh told us we needed to buy, turned out to be the hottest health food on the market. The House of Yahweh would tell us we needed to do a cleanse, or use a certain product, and then within a couple years after that, it was a popular thing to do.
Young Living oils for instance rose their prices tremendously after a couple years, and soon their products were found everywhere. Then there was the colon cleanse by doctor Schultz, and after all the other various supplements, vitamins, herbs and cleanses, there were things like coconut oil. I assure you, that the House of Yahweh preached about them first.
I would hear people talking about them too. In such a tone that they really believed was scientific. Yisrayl assure us that he had scientists behind all of this research, but we never questioned it. We just believed it, and took it as truth. None of us were scientist anyways. We really wanted to believe that we were, but we were only able to take the information that was given to us, and encouraged to believe that it was scientific, and that it was truth.
Bringing any of this information out into the public raised eyebrows. People with wits knew to stay away, and people of weak logical talent would listen.
Chapter 4 Building Armor
I was a senior in high school when I started a short-lived hobby. A good friend of mine who brought a sincere amount of excitement into my life introduced me to chainmail. Tom Pasco and I had many days spent with each other. We would travel to nearby towns, take part in simple mischief that any pair of young boys would, and with him indeed did I share many laughs with. He was a significant part of my life, and he added energy to mine. Tom taught me an introduction to making chainmale. A technique of building armor that was hundreds of years old. And because I have obsessive tendencies, I quickly became hooked on creating items made from chainmail.
That time was right before my senior year in high school where I started this, and I recall being at the feast of Tabernacles in the early fall where I showed my friend Jake the new hobby that I had started with. He showed moderate interest, but we were both more concerned with the fact that Ed wasn’t at the feast with us. This was our first feast without him, and Jake was upset. I couldn’t blame him. We both missed him, and we both wished he was there with us.
After that feast was when I knew I was going to have to confront the elders about the situation with Samantha, and during the time before that, was my preparation. A preparation that happened more naturally than I can still imagine.
I built two significant pieces of armor after learning chainmail. The first piece was called a coif, which was a head covering that protected the head and neck of a soldier. I was commissioned to build this by the vice principal of my high school. He had wanted it for his son, as a Christmas present. The second piece took quite sometime, but it protected the core of the body, and most importantly, the heart. I didn’t build this by myself though. Tom and I had both worked on this for some time together. We had discussed its construction, and thought about many ways we could implement design. The piece was heavy, and intended for battle. We used 14guage steel. Indeed, it was going to be very heavy.
As I pursued my interest in building chainmail, I built many items out of brass, steel, copper, as well as silver. I made armor, I made jewelry, I made random sculptures. But one day, I showed a piece of the armour to my friend, Matt Nash, and he looked at me and said “Brandon, You’re building Armour.” I said, “I know.”
Shortly after this moment, I was on my way to Texas, and this time, I had a good idea that I wasn’t coming back.
I had spoken a little more with the young man who told me about Samantha. He told me that there were some rather dark sides to her involvement with Yisrayl. Also at this time, I had increased feelings for my high school sweetheart. I thought that I was ready to begin the end of my time in the cult. As I packed for this trip, I packed lightly. I had a good idea that this might be the last time I would be there.
It was a long right, but now they all blend together. The Midwest is mainly flat, minus the hills of Missouri where the roads are cut through sandstone. The sun is warm and all the ground is similar to the colour of sand. I made it to the feast grounds, and shortly after, I was looking for Jake. He was the only one I wanted to see. I knew Ed wouldn’t be there, but Jake might be. I felt like I needed him, or I should say, I knew I needed him. But he wasn’t there. His father told me that he didn’t come. I walked back slowly from his father’s Silver Bullet camper, back to the bus my father had turned into his feasts dwelling space. I wanted to leave that minute. I wanted to walk off the feast grounds, the 30 miles to the bus station, and take a bus back home. I didn’t want to be there anymore. But I stayed.
I hadn’t learned of the details behind Samantha’s marriage, but soon I would. Samantha’s father went to Yisrayl and asked him “Why didn’t you ask me for permission to talk to my daughter?” (This is what we do. It’s tradition, and out of respect for the father.) Yisrayls response was “I don’t have to ask you for your permission. I’m your King.” This blew his mind, and rumor had it, he was pretty upset about it. I was also upset, and this had nothing to do with Samantha. The whole idea multiple wives for me was like this: “It’s not for me.” And this was one of the first things that I started to disagree with, especially when this situation came about.
This was the feast of Passover, and I went to give my confession before Yashuah’s memorial ceremony. I confessed in an open way. A way were linguistically I could describe my shortcomings, but so they could use their imagination to think that I was being about a righteous as one could be. Even in hindsight they might feel cheated, it’s exactly what I did, and it was righteous. Somehow, I started to grasp the simple mindset that they all functioned on. I was able to take their realm of logic and hold it in my hand. However, my biggest battle now, was to be sure, and it was to endure. I needed to ask questions, and let them tell me in their own answers, that it’s okay for me to leave. I needed to allow them to expose their flaws. But not only that, I needed to keep it to myself, because it wasn’t up to me to convince anyone else that this place was wrong. I knew that I needed to keep to myself.
After my last confession and after Yashuah’s memorial, we had the Seder meal. We were all dressed in black and white suits and we had all finished our 8 glasses of wine. We were waiting in line for our food, and I made sure that I would be in line to be served by Yisrayl Hawkins.
There I was, getting closer and closer. I stared at him, but he wouldn’t make much, if any eye contact. But I knew he knew I was coming. When I arrived to his presence I look at him, I look at him in his eyes and I said “May Yahweh bless your marriage with Samantha.” He looked down and pretended as if he didn’t hear me. Here, he ended his eye contact. So I said it again with a little more strength in my voice “May Yahweh Bless Your Marriage with Samantha.” And he still wouldn’t make eye contact with me. What a coward I thought. And he had the nerve to convince everyone that he was King, and to take praise from everyone as if he were a king.
A couple days had passed after that event, and within that time I had told my father what I did. He really didn’t have much of an answer for it, but it wasn’t even two days after that until Jeff Heimerman spoke to me. He scolded me for it, and he said to me “Of course he wouldn’t acknowledge you, why should he? And how dare you for saying that to him. He is our king, and whatever he says goes. He will not be judged for it. He is our King, and we need to accept everything he does.” In my thoughts I said to myself that this is all I needed to hear. That’s it, and now I can be done with it. I responded to Jeff, “thank you for telling me this.” And I smiled at him. He said “You know, Brandon, we just need to follow Yahweh’s laws as they’re presented to us by the chosen one. That’s it.” I said “you’re right.” I nodded, shook my head in pretended agree, and walked away.
From that moment became the most difficult time of my life at that point. Not only did I want to leave, but I didn’t want to affect anyone. So I had to pretend. Just for a few more days. I simply didn’t feel it was my part to share my feelings with those around me. I felt as if it were only my burden, and when it came time for others to make a decision like this, they would. I just knew it wasn’t up to me.
There were many moments where I sat by myself, wearing my holy garments with my arms crossed in the sanctuary. I just wanted time to pass. I just wanted to go home to face my next obstacle. One time, Gary Matilla stopped by me and said “You know, you’re so strong for still being here. You’re friends are gone, but you’re still here.” I nodded and continued to sit there, wrapped in my “holy garments” and continued to stare off into the distance of the sanctuary.
My father, Linda and I had returned to Michigan, and the feast of Pentecost was only 50 days away. At this point I knew I was never going to go back to the House of Yahweh. I knew I was done with it. There was no way that I could possibly believe it were the right thing to follow. And at this point, it wasn’t about the question on whether or not they were right or wrong, righteous or evil, or the only way to salvation or not. I simply didn’t care. I said to myself in my heart “I disagree with Yisrayl Hawkins so much, that I’m willing to burn quietly in hell for it.”
We got back from Texas and I was ready to go back to school and start my own routine. Listen to my friends, who I was told by my father “They’re not your friends, they don’t care about you.” To spend time with my girlfriend and feel less guilty about it, and to prepare for a life that I never planned on having.
I even went to prom, and this was a task that was difficult to pull off without my father getting really upset. I had taken care of getting the suit ready. My mother helped me with this, and she helped organize other parts of being able to go. Prom was on a Saturday, and leaving the house before Sunset was something that was going to be difficult to do. I knew it would cause confrontation between my father and I, but I also knew that my father would give in, and that he ultimately couldn’t stop me anyway. I lied to him, and told him that I was going for a drive, and that later that night I would be spending it at my mother’s house. Instead I would go to prom, and then stay at a hotel room with my date. And to be honest, nothing really happened at the hotel room, other than innocent time spent cuddling and watching movies between two teens.
Time had passed quickly. It was my senior year of high school and the fest of Pentecost was quickly approaching. Soon I would have to make the move. Soon I would have to make the hardest decision of my life; that would set me free.
Freedom sounds grand. It sounds wonderful and something everyone wants. But visiting a wider spectrum of this subject will reveal a side that’s full of possibilities. And any possible outcome can be subconsciously difficult to accept at a young age.
And then the time came were I would break the news to my father. I was in the middle of organizing my belongings in my bedroom and I had made a mention to my father that I didn’t want to go down to the next feast. As he was walking by my bedroom door in the hallway, he walked in my room and proceeded to further this conversation with me. I told him that I didn’t agree with the teachings. I told him that I didn’t agree with the fact that Yisrayl Hawkins was immune to sin, and could do whatever he pleased. I told him that he didn’t have the right to be disrespectful to people, regardless if he was the chosen one or not. I also told him, that I would rather burn in the Lake of Fire than to keep following this religion. My father looked me in the eyes with his fingers pointed toward the ground and his palms facing me and said “You’re committing spiritual suicide.” I responded by saying “I don’t agree with it. It’s better for me to be apart from you than to follow something I don’t believe in.”
Right after we spoke about me leaving the house of Yahweh, my father knew that he couldn’t change my mind. He knew that something needed to be worked out. He said, “Well I suppose you will have to stay here while we go to Texas, but I will need to ask David Heimerman first, to see if that’s okay.”
He called David Heimerman and came back upstairs to my bedroom to tell me that the Elders said I can’t stay at the house, and that I have a week to get out. My response was with a lifted eyebrow, and I said “Really?” My father replied “David Heimerman told me to kick the asshole out of the house right now.” And that no one was expecting that I was planning on leaving the House of Yahweh so suddenly. But I knew they wouldn’t expect it. I knew by then the façade they were looking for, and the truth is, all of them were easily fooled. Perhaps just as easily fooled as many others were when Yedidyah Hawkins (Now in prison for child molestation) told some of them that they could pretty much do whatever they wanted, as long as they paid their tithes.
I already had a bag packed, and when my father relayed back to me what his “councilor” told him to do, I grabbed it and I left. I had no idea where to go. I was still in high school with just a little bit more to go. I guess you could say I did what any young boy would do. I went to my mother’s house.
I tossed my backpack on the seat of the red 1985 Ford Ranger I drove, and headed to the outskirts of Marquette. I called my mother and told her what I did, and she said she was so glad, and told me I needed to come over. I said I was already on my way. “Great honey. I’m so happy.”
I showed up at the house with my backpack over one shoulder, I opened the screen door and walked in. “How are you?” She said. “I’m ok.” I replied. “I just got a package in the mail with a new coffee table in it. Could you put it together for me?” she asked. “Yeah.. okay.”
I sat on the floor and built her furniture. I think I recall at least a couple boxes of items bought from a catalogue. She stayed in the kitchen while I was in the living room. The feeling of loneliness was perhaps so strong and so numbing that I didn’t even realize it was there.
Shortly after that I left. I went to spend the night at a friend’s house, where I slept on his floor. We didn’t stay up too late because we had school the next day. During the morning before class I was walking into the school, and that’s where I saw Mr. Bradley. I walked up to him as we were walking into the school and I said “I told my father that I didn’t want to be a part of the House of Yahweh anymore.” “What did he say?” He asked. “He kicked me out of the house.” “Oh no. Brandon, if you need any help, I’m here for you.” “I’ll be okay. Thank you.”
I had roughly one month before I finished high school. It was my senior year, and I didn’t have much to worry about academically. What was done was done. I had roughly a C-minus grade point average. I suppose it’s not all that bad considering the trips I would take to Texas three times during the school year. My excuse was, “Well hey, I thought the world was going to end.” But no one really asked me about it anyways. The good part was, I was getting a high school diploma.
A friend of mine, Kyle, and I teamed together a little before this all happened and had started a petition to omit the senior class from taking final exams. We had a good idea that we organized on paper, and shortly it changed several hands and just about everyone was on board. Only a few teachers were opposed to it, but eventually, we were able to get the entire senior class out of taking final exams in all of our classes. We had already had “final exams” throughout high school anyway, what’s one extra set of them when most of us had already been accepted into the college we’re going to anyway?
That was one bright note about my senior year. Aside from that, I needed to find a place to live. Sleeping at friend’s houses or in the back of my truck in the school parking lot could only last for so long. I couldn’t stay at my mother’s house with her fiancé. Not because I wasn’t allowed to, but because the household dynamic was the same as it was when I was a child. I couldn’t handle it, especially at this point in my life. I felt as if there was no way I could get help from my parents unless I lived a life that they expected me to live, which on both sides, was completely irrational.
My mother’s fiancé was into real estate. He would be low-end properties, fix them up a tiny bit and then rent them out for the average price in the area. To make a long story short, he didn’t have the best reputation in the community. However, he knew someone who had an apartment for rent in a tri-plex. It was a one bedroom. It was a bit run down. The entrance door didn’t work, but I knew I could fix that and probably get my rent lowered for one month. About a week before high school graduation I moved into the apartment. I paid a security deposit, and the first five weeks for rent.
My girlfriend at the time knew that the door didn’t work, and one day I came home and realized that her and her mother had bought me nearly a month worth the food, a toaster, and other kitchen supplies. “What a nice thing to come home to.” I thought.
High school graduation came, and I was ready to start the summer. I had a job doing landscaping for some of my father’s clients, but I knew that would only last for so long. I wouldn’t be able to work near my father, especially without arguing with him. And when you argue with someone who’s in a cult, you end up arguing against circular reasoning, or something similar to a wall without logical reasoning. (But it’s not like I understood this at this time.) The feeling that I had for my father wasn’t that of hate, but deep frustration for the fact that he would do what he was told so easily from someone who historically never truly showed any interest in his well-being. I remember one time the house of Yahweh had over charged him for dues on his trailer by several thousand dollars, and he needed the money. David Heimerman told him “Why not just give it as a free-will offering?” As if, the money wasn’t a lot of money, or as if he didn’t need it. Basically I saw him telling him this as if nothing else was more important than paying in money to the cult. Yes, I was frustrated that my father would listen to this goon and easily let go of his son. I never would have thought letting go of a child could be so easily. For some parents it’s possible, and for some it would never cross their minds. Only someone in such a strong sect with such mind control could be able to do this.
I understood the dynamic of the house of Yahweh, and when it came to “Fallaways” we were the most evil of them all. We were the ones who knowingly rejected the teachings from the cult. It was something that no one else could understand unless they had been in my shoes. I was alone from my immediate family, and I was alone from anyone understanding what I was dealing with. People often handed me answers as if they knew of a solution. It was easy to know what to listen to, and that was no one, because anyone who had answers, didn’t know anything. It was frustrating, confusing, and that was just the beginning of what I would have to deal with emotionally as time went on. The best advice I received was rhetoric from lifelong mentors.
My father never showed up to my graduation. Maybe he was told not to by the elders, or “Kahans” as they started calling them shortly before I left. (An imp is an imp, call it what you want.) Maybe he did that on his own. I remember opening the graduation cards from my friends, sister, brother, mother, and being overwhelmed with emotion for the financial help I was getting. I received about $500, and that would surely help me get through the next month as I looked for another job.
June 13th came around, and I was hired at one of the main hardware stores in Marquette. I had a lot of experience in the trades, and that seemed to be the trick to get me hired. Perhaps all those weekends and Christmas days spent in the woods with my father paid off. The pay was a little higher than average at the time. I believe it was around seven dollars an hour. I got around 30 hours a week on average, and this was enough to make ends meet with paying for my apartment and other bills. I needed the job, and my mother helped with my persistence in getting it. Probably because of her, I had the talking skills to succeed in the interview.
The summer went by fast. I spent most of it working, and trying to figure out what I was going to do when college started. I was considering buying the triplex that I lived in, and the duplex next door. The owner of the buildings had offered me a good deal to buy them on a land contract. My mother’s fiancé was also interested in the buildings, and this became another variable in our relationship. He was highly opposed to me buying the buildings, even though he encouraged me years before to “get into real estate.” It seemed pretty obvious to me that he was more concerned with his empire of slum-shacks than anything else. I was pretty close to signing the contract. The owner would have rather done business with me than my mother’s fiancé, but if I didn’t sign the contract, he would sell them to him. He just needed to get rid of the buildings.
As the summer ended I was getting ready to organize all my classes for my first semester of University. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I should do something with music. My grades were low coming out of high school, and this didn’t look good to many professors on campus.
I went to the music department and started talking with the head of the program, Donald Grant. He seemed fairly stand-off-ish, and didn’t seem to think that I would be a good fit for the program because of my high-school grades. We were standing in a temporary office of his, which was an older music classroom. A whole new music building was being renovated. I asked if I could play the piano, and he said sure, and told me to go right ahead.
I started playing the Tempest Sonata by Beethoven, and he stood behind his desk in pause, holding his papers in his left hand. I stopped playing and said “I’m still working on this.” His response was “We need to get you into this music program.”
All the practicing I did on the piano throughout my childhood, got my foot in the door with the music department at our local university. I didn’t really see it as a huge accomplishment, but it set the trajectory for the rest of my college years. Dr. Grant sold me on the music education program. He was a good salesman with that, and this I let slip by me. How I was going to pay for this was beyond me. My father had already filled out the paperwork for financial aid, so what I would get would be based on his income. He surely wouldn’t help me go to college. He was more or less against the idea anyway. I needed a co-sign for a student loan. I was told that I should ask my mother to co-sign for a student loan. I told the office that she wouldn’t because of her previous debt experience. They said that it didn’t matter, and if she didn’t qualify, I could still get aid. She just needed to fill out the paper work. So I went to my mother, knowing what the answer would be. I asked her, and she surprised me. She told me “Maybe you don’t need to go to college.” I was stunned. She had told me my entire life that I needed to go to college. And now when the time of truth comes, this was the answer I received. There were no “ands, ifs or buts” about it. She wasn’t going to have anything to do with the paperwork. Why this was her response, was beyond me. But I was convinced by her at this point, that I would never have her, in any way, to fall back on.
I went back to the financial aid office, explaining to them what had happened. I had also previously explained my situation with the cult. I was told that they were investigating that, but I would still have to pay for the first semester out of pocket while they made their decision. How I would come up with over four thousand dollars was beyond me. I didn’t even have money to buy textbooks.
I went through the semester without textbooks. I was taking several classes a week. Most music courses were more time consuming than anything. They weren’t worth many credits, so a full time schedule could easily make for a 40 hour school week. I worked morning shifts at the hardware store before classes. My typical day was getting up around 3:30am to 4:00am, working for four hours, going to class until 9:00pm, and getting to bed around 10:00pm. It was exhausting, and only enough to just get by. I still lived in Ishpeming, and the drive between Marquette and there was very time consuming. Some nights were spent in dorm rooms, in my car, on couches or in a sleeping bag on the beach. This time was incredibly tiring, and soon I would need to find a way to move to Marquette so I wouldn’t have to commute any longer.
Just before time was about to run out on paying my bill to the university, I came across a glitch on this website that was selling computer parts. Someone on their end had added in an extra zero on a discount item, and when you went to check out, it put my balance in the negative, as in, they owed me money. In the end I was able to get a lot of computer parts and other random electronics for a very cheap price. In a month I had sold these items on Ebay, and made the four thousand that I needed to pay to the University.
I was feeling more confident about my situation. My grades were the best they had ever been, I was meeting knew people. It was like I could actually feel my mind opening up. There were so many things about life and society in general that I was held back from.
One early afternoon, I decided that I was ready to talk to my mother. I was ready to tell her about the things that I had felt separated us, and played a big part in the downfall of our relationship. I felt that getting these things off my chest would make me feel better, and potentially put us at better terms. I didn’t want to fight about these things, but they needed to be talked about, only because they never were talked about.
I sat on a bench under the sun outside of Bookworld on Washington street. I called my mother and said that we needed to talk. She said that she thought that would be a good idea. I said there were things that were bothering me, and she said there were things that were bothering her too. I brought up the time where she told my father and I that she would open a back account for me to help fund my college expenses. She told us this when she was with her third husband. She responded in denial. I expected that, and I let it go. And then I brought up the time where I was taken to the doctor right before my father was to have custody of me, when I was a young boy. I asked her why the idea of me being molested came about, and I told her how that really bothered me. I asked her why she took me to the doctor and how it led to her regaining custody of me. The conversation plotted in denial and ended in verbal violence. It was something that I needed to hear. One last push, so I could pick myself up, and continue on my independent journey.
“You’re a stubborn fucking Finlander. You’re just like you’re fucking father. Fuck you, you stubborn fucking Finlander.”
I hung up the phone, choking on my tears. I left the bench, head to campus, and sat under a tree. I could only think of one person to call. One person who wouldn’t throw clear defined answers at me, but who would just empathize. “Beeg.” I said after he picked up the phone. I told him what happened, and he listened.
We had our conversation, and I was able to pick myself up again. I headed towards the library to get back to studying. From this moment, I knew I wouldn’t talk to my mother for a long time. I knew I needed to protect myself from her. I couldn’t ask for anything from her, and I couldn’t talk about anything to her, especially if this was how it was going to end. I had too many confusions to deal with on top of brining that into my life.
College became full of the norm paired with the aftershocks of a somewhat unstable childhood. Partying, sex, marijuana, anxiety and depression. I wasn’t the only one who had these issues. There were other people who left the House of Yahweh who also had intermittent panic attacks. Sometimes they were bad. Completely irrational, but ever so real and intense. A college professor of mine, Dr. Englehart used the metaphor of a pendulum to describe something similar in conversation once. The idea that when a pendulum is lifted, has inertia to swing into another realm before it comes back, and eventually discovers equilibrium.
I could go on and on about the detail of my college years, but partying is partying. Meaningless sex weighs like meaningless arguments. I will mention the subtle feeling of guilt that always followed climax during those years. That reminds me of Pavlov’s bell in some ways. Years of cult’s lessons training one’s mind and emotions how and when to work. Can you even believe that they told us if we were to ever leave we would become homosexuals? As if that was suppose to scare us from not leaving? In a joking manner there were times I would say “I’m only waiting to find out I’m gay.” Sarcasm helped push light annoyances of my history aside, but watching my mother’s relationships from the sidelines coupled with the bizarre marriage rituals of the cult created heavy complications for me to understand how relationships could actually work. Guilt, fear, and confusion would be the obstacles to overcome through the years of college and then some.
We were taught to worry about the future of the world, the fragility of our health, the likelihood of STD’s and nuclear war. It was almost like growing up with FOX news in the background yelling “Death, War, Famine, AIDS.” I can hear Bill Hick’s voice saying those words. Although in the cult, you don’t know it’s simply FOX news, you don’t know it’s not real.
Although it was nice to be health conscious, there was a far extreme to it. Drinking too much colloidal silver and doing too many liver cleanses can’t be healthy either. And even though some of these worries sound very fallacious, the subconscious impact they had on my psyche drove me mad at times. My mind and body needed to readjust to a reality that I was striving to discover on my own.
I had to re-learn human interaction. I had to discover for myself, that the behaviours both of my parents taught me, were not as commonplace as I once believed. I needed to find myself. Discover the beliefs and values that I would choose independently to hold dear. The meaning in life that I wanted to believe in, and not what someone told me I needed to believe in, just because we shared a certain level of DNA or because it was written down somewhere.
This meant I would start searching for my own path through life A path were I would wander for years searching for self-discovery, and often finding myself with these words “Ah, nope, not yet. You thought so, but not just yet.” I even write these words now with that feeling.
Loneliness weighed heavy throughout college as it did in my early years. I was an adult now though, and I had my own place to go back to. I learned how to cook decently, I kept my place clean and organized. I wanted to be a good partner for someone; I wanted to find someone.
I sought out romance. I gave whatever I could that I thought girls wanted. Some girls found me weird, some crazy, but the wise ones could see that I was lost. And they held a safe distance while still sharing compassion. They were my friends, still are, and they watched me change. Just as the male counterparts in our group. Yes, in college we meet life-long friends. They inspire us, and we do all we can to make ourselves better because of that.
I entered in relationships fast, and became burned as often as I burned. There were times I was used by women, which only lead to me further questioning my past. “How can all this change?” I thought to myself. And then I met a girl where I fell heavily in love with. It was during my sophomore year of college that I met her. She was tall, beautiful, British, and cute in the typical girly way with proper nails and makeup. She was the first girl I lived with, and after we split up, it was the hardest breakup to deal with. We weren’t right for each other, but that didn’t matter at the time, because I couldn’t understand how. That would take quite some time. What I did realize though, was that the romance I dumped into the relationship was fake, and built on fantasy. It made things fun to a certain degree, but in the end it was like building a house on sand. And this was something that I would be certain to never to again.
Unfortunately this practice played a huge role in my following relationship. A blonde girl who I met through the music department ended up liking me around the time that the British girl and I were splitting up. She was young and confused just as I, and to a very large degree, wanted the fantasy that I wanted too, although because she was a little younger than I, we didn’t see things on the same level. We dated on and off for the remainder of college. We travelled together, cooked meals together, fought together, and in some ways grew together. We lived together at the end of our segmented relationship, and that was the last time we were together. It was an odd relationship in some ways, special too. But it taught me a very special thing about relationships; that people will always be who they themselves intend to be. One day in Ecuador she told me laughing toward the end of the phrase, “Brandon, when I’m 27 or so, I’m going to get married. I’m not waiting any longer than that. I hope it’s with you, but if not, then it is what it is. This is what I’m going to do.” And that was when I knew that I wouldn’t be the one.
Intentions were the one thing that stuck with me as time went on. I always had good intentions. Don’t get me wrong, there were many times I acted selfishly or cruel, but it was out of fear and unawareness. And as I realized my flaws, I changed them, and that is what I believe good intentions to be all about.
I hadn’t spoken with my mother in quite some time. It was my third year of college, and my brother would often question that. He couldn’t understand why, and looking back, I couldn’t expect him to. I was hurt enough by her, and I was indeed, still resentful of the way she treated me. But eventually we started talking again, and when we did, it was what I expected; the pretending that nothing had ever happened. Smiles and exaggerated laughter.
The family was having pizza next door in the apartment building. My brother and I lived across the hall from each other. After we ate, I invited my cousin and mother over to my apartment for coffee. I was proud of my well kept apartment. Nice things were placed evenly throughout. I felt sophisticated to a large degree, and at this time I was just starting to let go of this illusion.
I had a large bookshelf that was recycled from the University, and on it were various trinkets, vases, and large coffee table books. Since I had been given most of those things for free myself, or had paid very little for these things, anytime guests would come over, I would tell them that they could have anything on the bookshelf. Whatever they wanted. It was a good feeling to give something away. When I had offered the same gesture to my cousin and my mother, they both wanted the same vase. My mother said “Nope, I wanted it first.” I had to bite my tongue. They agreed that if she didn’t want it at some point, that she would give it to her.
My cousin had it difficult too. She moved around as a child, experienced social prejudice that few ever experience. Not knowing who she could be accepted by as a child. She was like my little sister though, even though she was almost the exact same age as I. We had a lot of similarities. Perhaps so many, it caused us to not get along at times. And now, looking back, we even share the most difficult moments of our lives are very similar.
My family and I had coffee in my place. I believe I played piano for them all. Then after that, we went back to my brother’s apartment to continue visiting. Nothing was serious. There was no fighting or bickering, Nothing felt empty, but nothing felt full. My brother and I had a bond, and from this point on, the bond would continue to grow as we would grow. He was a father at this point. A man. I was still young but scars from my past gave me a peculiar edge. We were finally able to engage in deeper dialogue and begin to open up to each other.
I was nearing my 4th year of college and the interest I had in Jazz had firmly set in. A year before this I had met a couple of guys at a bar who were performing. I had heard about Dane Bays before. I was told by many people that I should talk to him about music. At the bar he was playing at, I spoke to him with a hint of arrogance. He didn’t have many words, but the words that he did have were “You want to play? What do you want to play?” I asked if he knew On Green Dolphin Street, and said that I could probably read the chart if he had one. “Ok, lets play On Green Dolphin Street.” The truth is, my arrogance and naiveté put me in a position where I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I sat at the keyboard and I couldn’t keep up. At all. The truth is, I couldn’t play anything on this standard with Dane Bays and Alex Brooks. These guys were killing it, and they weren’t going to hold back to make it feel like someone was holding my hand. After we were done, Dane said to me “If you want to learn how to play Jazz, come to my house on Tuesday.”
So I did. I went to his house whenever he offered. Often twice a week. I did what he told me to do. I learned why singing with the music was important, I learned emotional intent, and I learned time. Musical qualities that didn’t seem too stressed in the Music School. Not before long, people started to notice that within 6 months of learning under Dane and Alex that my playing became transformed, and as far as I could tell, Donald Grant didn’t like what was happening. “Brandon, you’re the only person that kept coming. That’s what’s different about you. Then Jon came, you two are the only people who kept coming. No one else would.”
Jon was a bass player who Dane encouraged me to bring over. We both shared great interest in Jazz, and that’s what created our friendship. Little did we know that Jazz would make our Music Department experience very similar.
I can’t speak for Jon, because he has his own words for his story, although my story is very similar to his. Without doubt, my musical progress throughout University was something to be proud of, but thankfully for my training, it has taught me more humility than pride. Not only had I tackled difficult classical pieces, but I started the path of bebop, something incredibly difficult, and not taught at the University. My piano professor was incredibly kind and encouraging, and she stuck with me until the very end.
I cannot be dishonest about my behavior in the music department. I was most definitely indeed a smart ass, and the conservative atmosphere in the department fueled most of my comments. However, towards the end of my 4th year, I had my final piano proficiency. I played my scales, the 3rd movement to the Moonlight Sonata, and I sight read. Most definitely my sight-reading was the weakest, but still not horrible. The next weekday I got my results back and it said “Re-take.” Which was common, but it meant I needed to spend an entire year before I could re-do it. I was pissed. It didn’t make sense, especially considering the other kids who had already graduated. I didn’t talk about it to anyone for a week.
My next piano lesson I spoke with my piano teacher. She seemed happy. I told her that I failed and her jaw nearly dropped. She said she couldn’t believe that I failed. She quickly grabbed the papers out of filing cabinet, grabbed the papers only to find that the one deciding paper that determined whether I passed or failed was missing. I went to Donald Grant, and his only response as he walked away was “The papers were there.”
I told my piano teacher that was I going to change majors. She encouraged it, and said that she probably would too if she was in a similar circumstance. Shortly after that I was walking down the hallway near the recital hall where the jazz festival was being held. An African American man walked in the main entrance. He was a famous jazz trombonist who was paid to be there by the University. Donald Grant walks by him and says “Please take off your hat.” And walks away.
I switched my major to Sociology at the end of my 4th year in college. To much unexpectedness, my college years were easy sailing after this. My humor was accepted, my sarcasm fit, my grades got even higher, and I became good friends with almost the entire faculty; Still to this day. It took nearly five years for my anxiety to fade into something I felt I could control. That’s not to say, it still didn’t affect me. As always, I continued to experience my feelings of worry in my teeth and in my stomach. The subtle hue of anxiety frequently tickled the roots in my gums, and when something of discomfort struck quickly, my stomach would twist like when you caught your t-shirt in a screw-gun. My peers were worried about what they would do after college, but I wasn’t. It’s not that I knew what I was going to do, I was just preoccupied with keeping my emotions and thoughts under rational control. I was so much closer to this than I had ever been. I often looked back to when I was 19 or 20.
Back then I was in great shape. I could benchpress my bodyweight 15 times. I could drink like a tank and still speak like a shark, but my level of insecurity was through the roof. I had no idea how to accept myself, and as a result I struggled with accepting others. I always felt the need to prove myself back then. Not because I wanted to be better than my peers, but only because I didn’t know how to be comfortable with myself. There were times I would smoke splifs like cigarettes on the way to class then. I kept them in a pill jar in the inside of my black leather coat. I did this partly because it was cool, but mainly because it provided some means of escape. If anything it allowed me to have a different perspective on things for the time being, and at the time, this seemed to be what I needed. Of course I thought it was all hidden well, but of course the faculty knew what was going on.
I continued to look back on those years. I was 24, and I still knew I had some facades. I still knew I had a lot of growing to do. I wasn’t as macho then, as I was when I was 19 or 20. My substance usage grew into control and my behavior became refined as I looked up towards those who showed me benevolent compassion through their example and acceptance of me.
The bar scene died quickly for me. I was 24, and had been drinking at the local bars for six years by now. I still went to the bars occasionally, but for the most part I was bored with them. As I started to learn more about jazz, and find comfort in academics, a large amount of relief fell over me, and allowed me to feel guided into doing what I felt I needed to do. As ambiguous as this feeling was, I started to have faith in my actions. It was at this age that I started to believe for myself that there is nothing more important in my life than to have good intentions. Maybe it was jazz that started me on this, maybe it was my father, or maybe it was the naturally occurring swing of the pendulum; it doesn’t matter. This was a new trajectory, and things were just starting to get more exciting.
My fifth year of college I managed to get enrolled in a course that would take me overseas. My partner at the time had encouraged me to do this, and she helped with the logistics. I had imagined for a few years, what it was like over there, and for the most part I found out that I imagined it fairly well. What I imagined wasn’t what you would expect for the first time traveler though. Most of the time imagining things was spent imagining how I would accept my surroundings, and maybe this was just how I needed to do it to ensure a great time.
The study abroad course focused French art history and architecture. We would start in Amsterdam, then travel to Brussels and then Paris. By this time I had a grand interest in the art of Van Gogh and Picasso. I had some prints of their paintings hanging up in my apartment. In fact, a dentist that I did landscaping for show me some original fakes of their paintings, and his interest fostered mine.
It’s probably not surprising to say that when I actually saw the real paintings by Van Gogh that I was floored. I even cried after staring at one of the paintings for a while. I couldn’t believe that such tremendous, wizard-like things could be done with paint. I told myself at that moment that when I would return to the states I would throw all those prints away, and never take part in that nonsense again.
Aside from the art and the architecture, the energy from my surroundings that I felt was something that I couldn’t predict at all. I’m not sure if it was me or culture shock, but I felt like I belonged there. I felt free from judgement, free to express and explore. It was a great feeling, and the first time I ever had it as an adult. Then I visited the Monet Gardens in France.
Monet’s paintings never really spoke to me. I couldn’t for a second, ever disregard his work, but I had greater interest in other painters like Bosch, Van Gogh or Picasso. Although when I saw his gardens, there was truly something special to what he had built. With all the exotic flowers diversely and strategically placed throughout, I had an overwhelming sensation that reminded me of my stepmother, Linda.
Linda loved flowers. The memory of seeing her with flowers brings tears to my eyes. She in large part, was a simple lady. She was hard working, loving, and had an astonishing ability to find great joy in the simple things in life. When I saw these flowers, I thought of here, and now whenever I think of these flowers, I think of her.
As I said before, Linda and I had a very difficult relationship, and it wasn’t until shortly after leaving the cult that I realized how our relationship was tainted because of the religion. She had so much control over her. How she treated her body, how she was taught that others would view her presence simply because she was a women; she was more or less taught to believe she was unclean all the time, and because of that, she had to do more work in the religion than men to possibly be saved. Linda was sweet, with a heart full of honesty, and the Monet gardens brought me back to the memory of her.
I returned from Europe after a short, but packed trip of visiting three countries. It was a blast, and now it was time to enjoy the summer. Shortly after my return I had a piano gig booked for a private party at a local popular venue. Earlier in the day before the gig, I decided to play basketball with my brother. We were playing two on two with a couple guys who just got out of the joint. Needless to say, they probably had a bit more practice in the recent past than we did. Then it happened, in the middle of the game, I jumped up to get the rebound and I landed on someone’s foot the right way. “Pop!” my ankle goes. I dropped to the ground with concern. It didn’t hurt, it was completely numb. That’s how I knew it was bad. “Shit, I have a gig today.” I said out loud. Some guys were playing tennis nearby, they came over to double check that I was okay. They even said they were going to be at the show later that night. Being surrounding by concerned people was nice, but there was nothing anyone could do. I tightened up my shoe, hopped on my bike, and coasted downhill back to my apartment.
I tried playing the piano when I got back with my left foot soaking in a bucket of ice water. Then the pain kicked in, and boy did it hurt. I needed to lay down. I had called my partner, and she thankfully had some left over motrin and a walking splint. She rushed over to my aid, and shortly after the pain had died down. I tried to make a couple jokes, but I don’t think they went across that well. If it wasn’t for her, this situation would have been incredibly difficult.
Later that night I went to the gig, and things turned out ok. The men that were playing tennis showed up and said “So you went to the doctor?” I said that I hadn’t, but I was able to manage. I told them what I did and they said “Well it seems like you knew what you were doing. The music sounds good.” I went home and then went to bed with the splint on. I woke up the next day and visited my brother in the morning. He asked if my ankle was ok, and I said it was. “You know, I don’t like it when two guys wearing redneck boots beat us in basketball.” Was a phrase that I will never forget him saying.
It wasn’t until almost 6 weeks after that it finally healed. My brother told me “Good job on not going to the hospital.” Perhaps growing up with the disdain of the health system prevented this. I didn’t have the money anyways, and I never went for a sprained ankle. Although this is how I was raised. We don’t go to the hospital. My father never took me unless I needed stitches, and I never remember my stepmother or father ever going. It’s just the way things were.
I had begun to speak with my father hear and there around this time. The summer before my last year of college I was standing outside the public library and talking to him on the phone. “You know, I really think you should consider turning your ways back to Yahweh.” He said. “Dad, I will never turn my ways back to the House of Yahweh. Yisrayl Hawkins is a selfish manipulative person, and I was sure when I told you before that I would rather burn in hell than to follow his teachings.” I replied. “Well I still think you should reconsider.” He said. “It’s not going to happen.”
We didn’t argue that time, but there surely was tension in our conversation. I was still frustrated with his endurance in this cult. I still hadn’t accepted it by then, I still thought, maybe there’s some chance that he’ll turn around and be with those who have selfless love for him. Our conversation ended and I went on with my evening. I felt like our communication might be starting to build itself again, but I didn’t really start talking with him until a several months after.
The first semester of my final year of college was a busy one. I studied harder than I ever had, and put an honest effort into pursuing my interest in Jazz. I was taking difficult classes, but I found great interest in them. I only had one more difficult semester, and then an easy one before I would be done with school.
After that semester my friend and Jazz mentor offered me a room for rent in his house. There I could practice piano, and continue learning. Because of this and the price he offered, it was a deal that I couldn’t refuse. It turned out to be a great decision, and my piano playing continued to get better.
That last semester I had a huge itch to travel again, and my significant other wanted me to visit her in Ecuador. She was doing her student teaching, and she thought it would be a good idea to visit her during spring break. I figured, why not? I could take an extra week of school off and make up the work when I got back. I knew my research methods teacher wouldn’t agree with this, but both my peers and I had the idea that it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission in this situation. I managed to get a ticket from Marquette MI to Quito, to Atlanta (To visit my cousin) and then back to Marquette for $800. I thought it was a pretty good deal.
I had bought the ticket, and then right after I found out that Linda had just came down with cancer. I was a bit concerned about this, and so was my family. I spoke with her over the phone, and she had nothing but kind words to say to me. It had been a few years since we had spoken. I told her about the Monet gardens and how I would have loved for her to see them, and I told her how I was planning to travel again. She expressed excitement and joy for me, and encouraged me to go on my trip to Ecuador.
My roommate Thad brought me to the airport for my departure. I had two layovers, one in Chicago, and one in Miami. They were quick, but I didn’t get to Quito until late at night. I was a bit in a Daze, and I didn’t really know what to expect. My partner met me at the airport and we took a cab back to where she was staying. I took a shower, and we went to bed.
We explored as much of Ecuador together as we could in those few days, and in the middle of it, I got a phone call. My stepmother had passed away. My father and I were both in shock that she went so fast, and I knew my father was torn from this. He loved her. I was sad, but I had emotions that no one could understand, or except maybe those who grew up in the House of Yahweh. Death was a little different for us. Even us “fall-aways” We knew how they viewed. We also knew how sicknesses like these were taught to be from sin that we committed. Death to us who had left was dark. Those in the House of Yahweh were taught not how to grieve if anything. All my father would speak of was the “resurrection,” where he could see her again.
I left Quito, and flew to Atlanta to see my cousin. It was short but sweet. We were able to connect in ways that we hadn’t before. We were older now, and had more of our lives together. She had been through a lot, and she was in the process of blossoming into a beautiful lady. The last day there I emptied my checking account to pay a credit card bill online. The credit card itself was still in Michigan. This was a big mistake.
I got to the airport and I had a flight delay due to “slight rain.” I was flying from Atlanta to Chicago, and I had another flight to catch. After a six hour delay I missed my flight, and I had to spend the night in the airport. When I got to Chicago I learned that my next possible flight out was in two days. “Two fucking days? Are you kidding me?” I said in my head while reminding myself that I had $4 in my checking account. I was stressed, stunned, and probably not seeing as clearly as I could’ve been. I called my friends, and I called my brother. Thad offered to drive. He said his brakes were bad but he would still make the run if I wanted him to. My brother told me to call mom in the morning. “She’s not really happy with you, being that you went on the trip to Ecuador, but I’m sure she’ll help you out, get a warm meal in you, you know? She’s only an hour away, just wait until the morning to call her. She’s sleeping now.” “I don’t know man.” I said. “She’s you’re mother, dude.”
A couple of ladies were sitting next to me as I had this conversation with my brother. When I hung up the phone they came over with a bag filled with toiletries, a couple energy bars, and a few extra dollars. “We heard your story, and we’re really sorry. Hopefully this will help not make things so difficult.” “Thank you, that’s very kind of you. I really appreciate it.” I said. “Just make sure you tell people if anyone asks that it was two nice ladies from Seattle that offered some help.” “Will do.” I replied with a smile on my face.
I went to bed and the few hours filled with loud lobby music passed too quickly. I was woke up by a security officer and I was told I needed to move. It was four in the morning and I needed to wait a few hours before I called my mother. I found some benches that I could actually lay down on in the Canadian section of O’Hare. 6:30 rolled around, and then came the moment of truth.
I called my mother. On the other end of the phone I was greeted with “Why are you calling me so early in the morning?” I explained to her that I had waited 14 hours to call her and that I knew she tends to get up early. “Well what do you want?” I explained to her my situation, and the tone in her voice grew with aggression. I don’t remember her exact words but a fight was about to grow. She wasn’t going to do anything to help me, and I expected this. Maybe I was only asking because a part of me want to say “Yeah Erik, I called her and I already knew what the answer was.” I don’t remember the exact words that my mother said, or what I said to her. I know I didn’t fight back with her though. I was too tired. I did tell her though, I hadn’t asked for anything since before I went to college.
I called back my brother and told him what happened. He couldn’t believe it. I called my housemate, he became furious. No one could believe that that’s what happened. She was only an hour away, and it was a weekend.
After getting back to my hometown, my friends picked me up from the airport and were sorry to hear about my stepmother. Regardless of everything, when we got back to the pad and poured our drinks my friends began their relentless dialogue over my situation between my mother and I at the airport. Loud shouts expressed disbeliefs in what a mother could do. Looking back, I’m glad I had the support I did. I was learning that friends too, can be family. Even though situations can seem to be incredibly difficult at times, things will work out. Maybe this is what my mother was trying to teach me, but at the time, I was only being taught “Who not to ask” and who to keep a distance from.
A few weekends after my return I had scheduled a time to meet up with my father at a coffee shop in Marquette. We hadn’t sat down together for years, but now, I felt empathy for him. But eve still, there were things that I needed to express to him, for both of our own good. I expressed these feelings to Athena, and she did her best to understand, but I needed to say them to him directly.
We sat down at the coffee table and I looked at him and said “You know, I know Linda was begging for forgiveness before she died.” I was interrupted by uncontrollable tears. He didn’t know how I knew that. But I knew, because this was the dynamic of the cult. “I felt really bad for her.” I said. “She prayed every night to Yahweh asking for forgiveness.” He said. “And she didn’t need to. She did nothing wrong.” I replied. “I think she was taking too much colloidal silver. I found many empty bottles next to her bed. John Bragg’s wife must have been telling her to take that.” I had no response in regards to their superstitious cleanses. I felt sincere pain for my father, and what Linda had gone through.
My father put his wife’s body in a black body bag, tagged with the proper licensing and drove her from Marquette Michigan to Clyde Texas, to have her buried in the House of Yahweh cemetery. This is where Linda wanted to be buried. Later that summer her sister would come and visit. It was a peaceful time, and it was nice to see her. She reminded me of Linda, just as a sister should.
College graduation was rolling around, and I was excited to be done. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do, but I knew I was leaving Marquette. I didn’t for how long, but I knew I was going and I knew I needed to go. My grades were good, and I even made it on the Dean’s lists. No one would’ve expected this given my history in college that followed my history in high school.
As graduation came closer I knew that I wasn’t going to go to the ceremony. I didn’t want to pay for the gown, and I didn’t want to have to wake up early to hear Dr. Wong’s meaningless and repetitive speeches. I know it sounds a bit cynical, but performing solo piano for student orientations proved to me that Wong had used the same speeches for years on end. They were what you would expect from a politician.
The other main reason why I chose not to go to graduation was because I didn’t want my mother there. A large part of me felt that if she could so effortlessly refuse to help me with anything throughout college, then she wouldn’t get to take part of the joy and pride of me walking. “She wasn’t a part of any of it.” I said to myself, exhaling cigarette smoke one day. I was getting a degree and that was good enough.
My aunt was kind enough to throw me a graduation party. The Salo side of the family definitely indeed knows how to throw a party. My good friends were there, my partner was there, and my father was there. He was able to see who my friends were, and he could see who I had become at that point in my life. I was secure with who I was, and finally, I was able to share at least a little bit of love with him. I knew he was proud of me, and glad that I was able to figure out a way to make it on my own.
I was working as a technical writer before I graduated from university. A friend of mine through school helped me get tailor my resume to get the job. It was convenient work, because it allowed me to work from anywhere where I had internet. This is what I planned to do for a while before I progressed with whatever my career would turn out to be. Some days I wrote almost 10,000 words, but because it was often technical jargon that was as far from art as one could get, I never considered myself a writer at that point.
My Aunt and Uncle invited me to stay with them before I moved to Colorado, so many mornings were spent on their couch in front of the television, socializing over coffee while I worked. It was nice to spend time with them before I left on a new journey.
I planned to go to Colorado for a while before I would leave to Ecuador again, where I would live with my partner for a period of time. One of my college professors, who was a dear friend of mine, was planning on driving to California to visit family. So on the way, she figure she could drop me off. And as a part of the deal, I could do most of the driving on the way there.
My friend who I was going to see was a man that I worked with throughout college. We worked as maintenance men for a real estate company in Marquette. Our jobs were anything from painting, plastering, to ceiling tiles, lawn maintenance, or using carpet extractors to suck up sewage from basements with short ceilings on hot summer days.
Dave was the type of guy that you could refer to as a “tough mother fucker.” He didn’t really look like it from a distance per say, but with one quick glance at his fighting Irish blue eyes, you knew he was a fighter, just as much as he was a lover. Tall, slender and darkened from the sun, born in Detroit, just like my father. He had a few years on me, but that never stopped us from “shooting the shit” or shooting pool. We were friends throughout college, and I never saw his dark side. Speaking of shoot pool, one night at a bar when I was 19, we were having drinks and cleaning up the house. (My cousin would’ve been proud.) “Don’t get too friendly with him Brandon.” Dave whispered firmly in my ear. “He’s a cop.” He said. It was like he could smell him from a mile away.
Dave graduated from university a couple years before I did. With a 4.0 GPA mind you. Again, looking at this man from a distance, would only give you a fuzzy color image of a large book. He had worked all over the United States. He was a sailor, a mechanic, a carpenter, chess player, reader, debater, geologist, and another handful of things. By the time I was done with school he had invited me to stay with him for a few months out in Durango, and this was the plan. It was time to make some changes, and have a change of scenery.
My professor, Jeanne, and I drove from Marquette to Durango. Along the way as we were visiting her niece I Wisconsin, she had the wonderful news of becoming tenured at the University. She, and all of her friends and family were thrilled. And she was so thrilled, she treated us to Don Perignon champagne, a decadent treat.
There wasn’t one dull moment during that trip. Even during the drive from Madison to Boulder, which we did in one shot. A couple days later we arrived in Durango at night time. She was surprised how easy I took all the driving, but I reminded her of the 36 times I had driven to Texas from Marquette. Arriving at my friend’s house, they had Chinese food ready to munch on, and beds prepared. It sure was nice to see Dave. Jeanne had really sensitive allergies, and was a little cautious about the cats and the free-roaming ferret throughout the place, and she felt more comfortable grabbing a hotel room.
Durango was something new. A small town, and people were quite friendly around town. The first couple of weeks were spent writing my technical articles at a coffee shop in the mornings. A shop where I randomly ran into a guy also named Brandon who was working for the same company. The afternoons were spent helping Dave with some odd jobs, and then after work we went on hikes or played disc golf. Dave knew how to have a good time, and he never let bullshit get in the way.
One day in Durango, I was in a shoe store on Main St. This was the nicest shoe store in miles, and I was only in there to browse. After about 10 minutes or so, I realized I was standing next to a cheerful man who was looking at the same shoes as I was. “These are pretty nice shoes.” I said to him. “Yes indeed, if only it were as easy to find a nice pair of socks.” He replied. Me, being the ebay aficionado, having recently bought an extremely comfortable pair of socks made from bamboo, I stood straight with charisma and told him all about them. “What do you do?” he asked me, and I told him that I was a technical writer. “Well I have a web design company right down the street, why don’t you come down around 5pm. I might have a job for you.
I went down to his office and met his other work partner. He told me what he did, which was online business marketing, and he thought that I might be a good fit with his company for some projects that he had going on. He wanted to test me, by giving me the opportunity to build my own website. He set me up with my own domain, brandonsalo.com, and said “Let’s see what you can do by Monday.”
After a weekend of partying, I woke up Monday morning, not having done anything with the website, and went to the coffee shop that I frequented to do what I normally did. Then I remembered, and started to work on the site a bit. About 40 minutes after I made some changes, and updated things, I get a message from Bill, “I like your site, why don’t you come down to the office and start work today.”
I show up to the office, and he says, “You know, most people won’t do anything with their site. The fact that you did, says something.” I was glad I did at least something.
Bill, at E7 Systems introduced me to the real world of business. Being 25, I was still young, naïve, and I still had a little bit of an attitude about things. I thank my memory for learning from the lessons he taught me, years after the fact.
He had me working as a liaison between clients and programmers, someone who would give presentations to clients, and also one who would organize information for the company. I owe much of my business knowledge to him and his company, and despite my moments of immaturity, his patience and my growth into adulthood has allowed us to continue a warm relationship.
It was a few weeks before I had left the company to live in Ecuador that he helped me build the website “Cultsurvivor.com.” We had a fairly long discussion over deciding the right name for it. This was when I first thought I was ready to start writing the book about growing up in a cult. The time wasn’t quite right, but if it wasn’t for Bill, it probably wouldn’t be getting written like this.
I have to say that I should owe it to my mother, for teaching me to have such an outgoing personality that is perceived to be friendly and charismatic. Without her, I most likely wouldn’t have been able to accomplish the things that I have, especially with employment or public speaking. People seemed to like me, and the older I got, the more I began to see myself in a clearer light, and perhaps after time, this is what made people like me even more.
I purchased my ticket from Denver to Quito. I remember it costing me exactly $613 for the round trip. This was going to be the “make it, or break it” experience for my partner and I, and a good chance for me to discover a different part of the globe, and a different part of myself.
My partner taught elementary students at one of the local schools. She had the typical 8 to 4 schedule during the week. While she was at work, I would generally work from 8 to noon. After I was done working, I would spend the rest of the normal working hours exploring Quito. I would go to the local food markets to buy food for dinner, I would play piano at the local restaurants and hotels, and I would make friends with various locals. Quito was a different world for me. The people were kind and relaxed. Much more so than I had ever experienced in the United States. Quito was also at an altitude of 3-thousand meters. The air felt thin, but the horizon gave view to spectacular ice-capped mountains. There was something special about these mountains. I liked the altitude as well. Something about it made me feel fresh, clean and clear headed.
On night in Quito I went to a jam session where a trio was playing. A bass player, guitarist and drummer were playing some standards at a place called “El Libro.” I showed to the musicians that I was really paying attention, and after they recognized that, the guitarist called out Giant Steps. A Coltrane tune that is rather difficult to play. He counted of the tempo so the half-note equaled 120 beats per minute. It was way too slow, and it was the last thing that I wanted to hear. Afterwards, a saxophone player told me that it’s really hard to play it on the bass. I just looked at her, and she stopped talking. I walked out of the bar and then I met three people. A photographer, a sax player and his wife. Three people that would become dear friends of mine for the rest of my life.
The photographer was from Chicago, but born in Russia. The sax player, Alejo, and his wife Moni, were both from Ecuador. From that time on we would continue meeting up with each other. We would spent countless hours playing music with each other. The photographer wasn’t a musician himself, but a great appreciator of it, and he would also spend these countless hours with us as we rehearsed. When we were together but not rehearsing, we would be partying, and partying in Ecuador consisted of everything you could imagine in South America. This was most likely the tip of the wedge that drove my partner and I apart. She cared for more aspects of the partying than I did. And one night, it lead to me picking her limp body up off of a tile floor at a pub, panicking if she would ever come back. After a few slaps on her face and shouts to her ears there was no response. Without thinking, I looked to my surroundings and grabbed a bottle of water of the table and threw it on her face. She came back, but was in a daze.
Our normal friends weren’t with us that night, but another good friend was. His nickname was “The Fighter.” A smart and easy going man, who also liked to party. He was also a musician, and this is how we started our friendship. He left the pub to go get a cab. The pub owners were closing the place, so we had to wait outside. Low and behold, we were surrounded by thugs. Not a good situation to be in when you have to take care of a half conscious gringa. The “fighter” returned with the taxi, and shortly after one of the thugs tried to steal my partner’s purse. It was a poor attempt, and I’m glad they didn’t succeed. Later that night she told me the most heart breaking words I had ever heard from her “Next time, I just won’t do as much.”
My partner and I had travelled through a lot of Ecuador. We had seen most of the country together, and she was even there to hold my hand when I had amoebic dysentery and was seeking treatment in the emergency room. Living in Ecuador doesn’t get more spectacular than this. I had fluids screaming out of both ends of my body. Intense stomach cramps, kidney pains from dehydration, and incredible fatigue. The cab driver that took us from the apartment to the Hospital Metropolitano made haste in getting us there. Five hours later I had received an I.V. medication, blood test, stool test, and a comfortable rest in the hospital bed. I said to Athena “Take a picture.” She did, and shortly after, we could hear other camera shutters going off through the curtains of the beds that were next to us. The hospital visit came to $100. I couldn’t believe it. Incredibly cheap, and I thought that the care was excellent. After the visit, I was more or less bed bound for a couple weeks with a special diet. Thankfully my job could be done from bed, because in those two weeks I accomplished a lot of work.
We had travelled a little more before we left Ecuador. We visited the Amazon and the cloud forests of Santa Lucia. By the time we left, the relationship had some serious wounds. We fought often in the mornings, and on some of those days, I had to dodge flying dishware. Her intentions were to go teach abroad again in another country, and I was going to go back to Michigan to see my brother’s second child.
After arriving back to Marquette, I stayed with my friends for a month. I was still writing, but there was shift in the work flow. The work that was available started to decline. Soon I would be looking for other work, and what I least expected, was that finding decent work would be so difficult. Within a couple months I was applying for work everywhere. Looking for jobs that started at 8 or 10 dollars an hour, and no one was hiring.
I had so many published articles by this time. Good work experience, and a degree. However, I couldn’t find anything that was worth staying in Michigan for. I eventually got a job managing a liquor store for $7 an hour. My boss and I had a fluctuating relationship. Sometimes we got along great, sometimes he more or less expressed that he was having a very bad day. The job was very depressing for me. My entire situation was depressing. In fact, I was the most depressed with my life I had ever been.
There were thoughts of suicide that seem to come naturally to me at this point. I didn’t really talk about them to anyone, because I knew I wasn’t going to act on them. But I knew I needed to make a change.
I was playing in a band that didn’t seem to go anywhere. Often I was confused if the lead singer was seeking what others in the band were seeking, or was simply guided by his ego. If felt like a dead end, just like my job that dealt with the local alcoholics at 11:00am. I felt pity for them, but there was nothing I could do.
One day at work I found myself looking out the liquor store window at my bicycle, and I thought to myself “I’m going to ride my bike to Maine. I’m sure I can find at least another liquor store there to work at, and at least it will be a different scene.” So that was my plan. I would ride my bike across the country to escape the dead-end mundanity that I was surrounded by. I needed to do something, I was in an incredibly dark place.
There was another side to my mental ailments that were most likely provoked from another issue that I had going on. Shortly after returning to my hometown, I noticed that I had a cough, and frequent bloody noses. Later those coughs turned into joint aches and massive headaches. I had no idea what was going on. I was able to work out, but I had trouble gaining weight. I was also eating a lot.
About two weeks before I was departing on my bicycle trip, I passed what turned out to be a giant round worm. I was horrified. “Thad!” I yelled, “What the fuck dude? Look what happened?” That in his nonchalance said “Yea, this happens. It’s not a big deal.” “Dude, don’t tell anyone.” “I won’t.” he replied. It turns out that these things can live inside someone for years before they know. They only leave your body once they die. I most likely had hundreds of them inside me. I was disgusted.
Shortly after I accepted my condition, I was no longer shy about it, and found myself talking openly about it to anyone. This was one of the ways I got over things that were bothering. I wasn’t sure what to do to get rid of it, because I didn’t have the money to see a doctor. I spoke with a friend of mine who I met in Ecuador, and he told me to get Ivermectin. I did some research on the medication, and it seemed to be what I needed.
I searched through the internet to find where I could by this drug, and a pet store in Missouri had it for sale. They also sold syringes. I bought the medication, and the syringes. I was determined to finish this mess. In the meantime while waiting for the medication to arrive, I spoke with a friend of mine who was an MD. He said that I was right about the medication that I needed, but he wasn’t sure about the medication I bought. He wrote me a prescription to pick up from Walgreens. I cancelled my order and picked up the pills. “You must be a good host.” The doctor told me.
I took the pills, and the next day everything seemed to have passed. From that moment on, there were no more headaches, joint pains, heart palpitations or hunger pains. Shortly I would be on my bicycle to a different life.
About one month after I had decided that I was going to ride my bike to Maine, I thought to myself that maybe I could try my luck in Montreal. It was on the way since I was going through Canada. I figured that I could play piano there, and probably have good luck doing other types of work as well. Montreal seemed like a good bet. Plus, I had an interest in French, and maybe I could learn more of that too.
I saved up about $400 for this trip. I didn’t have a cell phone, but I had a folding keyboard that fit inside my B.O.B. bicycle trailer. With only $400, I knew that I wouldn’t have much money for food, so that’s where my food stamps came in. Since I was making so little money to support myself, the government pitched in for my food. I saved up about 40 days worth the food for this trip. Some of my friends thought I was crazy, and some of my friends thought it was really cool. My mother told me it was the stupidest idea I had ever had, but when she said that, it reminded me how I always felt that she was resentful that I travelled in general. My cousin asked me “When are you coming back?” I said “Well I sure as hell aint riding my bike back.” He laughed. The truth is, I didn’t plan on coming back. I didn’t know if I ever would. There wasn’t anything in Marquette for me, and I knew I needed a long break from it, especially after I would clear my head by spending countless hours pedaling through the Canadian summer.
I left on June 13th. I planned this date, because it’s a special date for me. My father gave me a hug before I left, and he showed excitement, joy and concern for me. We both had a bit of gloss in our eyes from that moment.
I asked Thad to drive me to Munising to get me started. I wanted it this way because I knew if I started a little fart out of town, that I would be less likely to turn back. There was no turning back, and I needed to be sure of this. Thad’s the type of person who would generally do anything for anyone, and he gladly gave me a ride. Hell, it’s hard for him to get out of bed for work, but if a friend calls him at an even more inconvenient time, he’s right there.
Thad dropped me off at a gas station and watched me set up my rig. I had four saddle bags, a tool bag, a hiking pack, and a trailer. This was three times the weight that any sane person would ever tour with. Thad wanted to give the bike a ride before I left, so I let him. He got a kick out of it. We hugged and parted ways. Later that night I slept in my hammock off the side of the road, tucked away between two spruce trees. I cooked breakfast the next morning and continued heading east. I needed to make it to Sault St. Marie that day, a friend from my childhood was waiting for me. He was going to host me for a few nights before I continued into Canada.
17 miles towards the end of the trip to Sault St. Marie, the word “Challenge” has proposed new meaning to me. The wind was forcefully coming at me, and I couldn’t pedal myself faster than 4 miles per hour. I stopped to lay in the grass. The sky was receding, and I was overcame by dizziness. I had never been this exhausted before.
I got on my bike and I continued pedaling. Within a couple hours I had made it to my destination. Dizzy, nauseous, and dramatically tired, I went to the bathroom to see myself urinate a brown liquid that would normally bring a sensation of anxiety to me. I had never seen this before, but I was too tired to care. I needed to eat, but I wasn’t even hungry.
We bought steaks that night, and it helped me regain my strength. Later that night, Isaac and I were on the town. He was showing me his current stomping grounds. It felt great to catch up with him.
Couchsurfing was something that I had planned on doing if I wasn’t going to stay in the woods, and that’s what the plan was the night after I left my friend’s house. I would cycle from his town to Thessalon Ontario, where I would meet my first host. He had chickens, a cat, and a performing arts theatre. He was interested in doing a music project with me. Tom turned out to be a good friend that I would stay in contact with from then on. We shared a lot of the same values.
Later I would stay with another host in Sudbury, there I would make good friends who I would stay in contact with from then on as well. I managed to get several piano gigs in Sudbury, and my finances were more or less staying even. My hosts even took me out to eat here and there. Something that I didn’t expect at all. Shortly after being in Sudbury though, I got a phone call from a girl that I had been seeing before I left. “I’m late.” She said. “Very late.”
I was nervous, and in shock. I believed her, because she wasn’t lying, she was only being honest. I was sure that I was going to have to get to Montreal, only to pack up my things and go back to start a family. She had taken pregnancy tests, but they showed up as inconclusive. My worst fear was that I was going to have to go back to the town that I ended up despising to settle down with a family that I wasn’t ready to have; as well as further face the depression that put me on the bicycle in the first place. I thought to myself “Well at least it’s with her.”
I headed to North Bay Ontario. I made it there in one day, and again I was exhausted. I held the weight of what might happen with my journey and tried to continue through it, without it getting to me too much. I just had to wait and see what happened. After a few performances and an interview, I left to Ottawa. It was Canada day, and on that day, I got a phone call. “I got my period, I’m not pregnant.” We were both happy. We were able to continue in our intended paths.
Often I would speak to people on Facebook who had also left the House of Yahweh. It turns out that a lot of people had left since I left. There was a boy that cried when I left. Or at least that’s what my father told me that happened. It turned out that he had left has well. I couldn’t believe how many people had left. I wasn’t sure why, but my guess at the time was that it continued to evolved for the worse.
I found Samantha on Facebook. I was so happy to see that she was gone. After being married to a man in his 70s for a few years, I could only imagine what she had gone through. Around this time, Yisrayl Hawkins was being prosecuted for Polygamy, and his bond was set at 10 million dollars. One of the highest ranking elders was also being prosecuted for child molestation. Yedidyah Hawkins was said to have been checking his stepdaughter’s vagina with cotton swabs and medical equipment to see if she was still a virgin or if she had cervical cancer. This was the tip of the ice-berg from the rumors that were spread, but many people were sure that he was guilty, and some people were kicked out of the House of Yahweh for testifying against Yedidyah.
“Yahweh will be the final judge.” Is what Yisrayl said, and anyone getting in the way of that would be guilty of great sin. Yedidyah was put in prison for several years. Unfortunately, many people who are still in the house of Yahweh, believe that he shouldn’t be there. I’m sure there are also some people there that believe he had every right to violate this young girl in such a way. Remember, women are owned by the men, who are the heads of their households. In this light, it is believed that women have no rights. They simply need to do as they’re instructed. And the first and foremost rule of Yisrayl Hawkins is “Don’t question and don’t doubt the teachings.”
Yisrayl Hawkins got off on all charges. His Lawyer, David Young, managed to get the bail reduced to something that Yisrayl could throw cash at and not look suspicious. I saw Young’s name in the news and I thought to myself “Is he related to Gary Young? Because if that’s the case, his business plan with Young Living Essential oils would paint a clear picture for making a lot of money.”
I heard some other stories about Samantha. Not from her directly, but through word of mouth of other people that knew of her situation. Yisrayl Hawkins was said to have stored his semen in ice-trays, and kept it in the freezer. He would later use this for pregnancies; according to someone who knew one of his wives closely.
Hearing the news about Yedidyah and Yisrayl made me think of the time that I saw Yisrayl on the Nancy Grace show. Yisrayl was asked question after question, and just continued to lie about everything. Hey, lying for righteousness sake was ok, and he was really good at it. While watching the show people were allowed to call in and ask questions. I stood in front of the television screen watching his lips as he said that scientists were doing research that paralleled prophecy from the bible. My thumb kept hitting redial so I could get through. “What scientists?” Nancy said. “I can’t tell you what scientists, but I can tell you that they are.” Yisrayl responded with a smirk on his face.
I tried to get through to talk to him directly in front of the public. I was not afraid to say that he was lying about everything. That he lied about his wives, or that he lied about the trained guards who watch and protect the House of Yahweh compound; that he made up everything he was saying. Then low and behold a familiar voice comes on the air. “Hi Yisrayl, can you tell me more about the science and bible prophecy.” Nancy’s eyes role back into her head. It was David Heimerman who got through with the phone call. “Of course” Yisrayl says as he goes back to his sales pitch.
I saw a movie in my mind of several members from the House of Yahweh in Wisconsin trying to make the phone call, and that when one got through, they would hand the phone over to David. In my mind, I could hear all the chants as David spoke to Yisrayl “Praise Yahweh!” I could hear all their voices in my head.
From there I started to wonder if David himself was lost, or in on the business plan himself. He had a degree in Engineering, so you would assume that he was pretty intelligent, and would be unlikely to find himself in a moment of desperation that would lead him to believing a lot of what Yisrayl had to say. Could Heimerman be profiting from all this as well? This was a question that I really started to ask myself. If this were the case, it would make sense why he gave so much attention to my father paying his tithes, giving freewill offerings, as well as spending so much time working for free for the house of Yahweh, directly under his supervision.
I eventually made it to Montreal, just in time to blow some steam at a jam session in one of the Hyatt hotels. Two outstanding musicians from Boston shared the stage with me. After the first tune we played, the trumpet player ran up to me and said, “You want to play some blues? How about some blues in F?” “Yeah.” I replied. “You start” He said. My left hand hit a F and a C in the bass of the Yamaha grand. I closed my eyes and laid down a groove with the bassist and the drummer. The horn players started to kill it. When it came time for my solo, I kept my eyes clothes and played the way Dane and Alex taught me how to play, which was with all the heart that I have. Shortly into my solo I could hear the two horn players shouting. “Yeah! Yeah!!”
I couldn’t tell you what either of my hands did. I just played as honestly as I could. And even though to some it seemed louder than the other piano players, the two brothers from Boston appreciated it most, and that’s all that mattered to me.
“Don’t hold back. Ever.” That was my lesson. And why should I? When it comes time to say something, we need to say it. If it’s not time, then wait. The time will come.
Montreal treated me well. I worked as a Jazz pianist, I played with many great musicians there. I played at McGill as well as the University of Montreal. I worked as a Carpenter and a landscaper. I even fell in love with one of the kindest ladies I had ever met. She was the first lady I had a relationship with who was truly passionate about something. Cooking. And wow could she cook. And to top all of that off, her entire family was kind, and she came from a background that was much more stable than mine. Something that I saw as being very important for someone who I would be with for a long time.
One day, I left her house to head back my apartment on bicycle. I went to take a left turn and “Smash.” A car hits me. I had a split second to accept what was going to happen. I saw the car, stood up and let go of the handle bars. Sliding on to the windshield, I hit my head pretty hard. I continued sliding over the top of the car and landed on my back. The one rare time when I wasn’t wearing a helmet. By the time I got home, I realized that I needed to go to the hospital. The guy who hit me made a quick check to see if I was alive. I told him that I was worried my teeth were gone. He wrote down a fake phone number and took off.
“You need an MRI, but it’s going to cost $900.” Said the nurse in the emergency room. “But my vital signs are okay, right?” I didn’t want to pay the $900 because a week before that my $3000 keyboard was stolen. So I neglected it, and decided to tough out the next few days with some rest. That night, Katheryn woke me up every couple of hours to make sure I was okay.
As special and as kind as she was, she wasn’t able to undo the knots that life had tightened for me up at this point. Not that I was thinking she had to, I (subconsciously) thought maybe they would become undone naturally while being with her, but I was wrong. I needed to part ways again with a person that I would always care about. I wished that things could’ve been simpler. I wished I wouldn’t have done that to her. Despite the fact that the relationship came to an end, her kindness made the breakup as easy as it could be. She was truly a great person.
She encouraged me to write about my story, and I tried. But at that point, I wasn’t able to stay with it. She and her entire family encouraged me to write it down, and if it wasn’t for their encouragement, it might have never gotten written down.
Toward the end of my stay in Montreal I decided that I would work on a TEFL certificate to teach English abroad. Here I created the idea that maybe I could find a job that I could tolerate while I travelled. I figured I could save money over a few years to eventually invest in some property in Ecuador. I’ve always thought it would be nice to retire there.
As my departure from Montreal became closer, a friend of mine who ran a foundation in Ecuador offered me work down there. He said he would fly me down there if I worked for his foundation, but that he needed me down there now. I originally wanted to leave towards the end of summer, but I figured “why not.” I packed up my things and left. I was getting completely worn out over my work situations. The more I stayed at both of my jobs, the more I felt taken advantage of. It wasn’t worth it to continue.
I was picked up by someone who worked for the foundation in Rousse’s Point and we headed to Albany New York, where the headquarters were located. On the way there, the car broke down, and we needed to get a tow. This was where things got weird. Greg had AAA insurance, but was never in the country to use it, and at this point, he was in India, so he had me pretend that I was him, so he wouldn’t have to pay the cost for the tow. I went along with it. After it worked out, he called back to apologize, and he gave what seemed to be a sincere apology. Later that night, his worker and I arrived to the house that was the headquarters. This was where I started to see how everything was very unorganized.
I went to sleep, and woke up the next day to start helping with the work. Things needed to be more organized, so that’s what I helped to do. A couple days had passed, and it was found out by Greg, that I had two cans of beer in the fridge. I wasn’t aware that this was a big “no, no” and I was on the verge of being kicked out of the foundation. I was furious. I couldn’t believe that something so simple would put me on the streets. Because of this, my skepticism started to grow.
I found a local bar down the street that had a piano. I would go there every night while in Albany to play the piano for tips and soup before I left to Ecuador. One night, after four hours of playing, several rounds of applause and $4 in tips I was a bit annoyed. A dark gentleman and his lover asked me to play for them, so I did. They enjoyed it and offered to take me out for drinks and dancing. This seemed to be exactly what I needed. Just to let loose.
Later that night we danced to Latin music, just the three of us, and it was great. Off in a dark corner I noticed a lady who was dancing alone. I said to myself, “She seems like a groovy chick.” I walked over to see if she wanted to dance, and she put me off. I figured that was ok. So I went on and had a good time. Eventually I went outside to get some fresh air, and soon the three of us would be off to another bar. The girl in her flower dress and jean jacket came running out. It appeared she wanted to talk to me. And so we did. We started talking and soon we became interested in each other. That night was perhaps the most romantic night I had ever had in my life. I wasn’t looking for it (consciously anyways) and I knew it was something that I couldn’t turn my back on.
She was leaving the next morning to meet her sister in New York City. She wouldn’t be back for a week, and in a week was the time that I was suppose to fly out to Ecuador. I delayed my flight by another week so I could spend time with her.
I was skeptical about the foundation, but I felt that I needed to go anyway. I needed to learn more about the foundation, and say hello and goodbye to some dear friends. The lady and I spent a week together. We visited with her sister and friends and soaked up the summer sun of Albany NY.
I arrived to Quito in the night time. From the previous layover in Bogota, I had met up with a Korean guy, and we had decided to team up and grab a cab together. A cab is much quicker than the bus, and not so expensive when the cost is split and separated between a few people. After we arrived, I saw a couple who also looked American or Canadian. Mind you, even though there’s only 40 million Canadians, it seems that one is more likely to run into them than Americans. It turns out that they had a hostel booked. I told them that it would be more convenient and quicker to get to the hostel if we all shared a cab, and that the Korean guy and I could maybe stay at the same hostel if there was a vacancy. They agreed and it cost us $5 a piece for a 45 minute cab ride. It worked out very well.
The next day I walked around a bit and ate some of my favourite Ecuadorian foods. I tried to get in contact with Greg, but he was always hard to get ahold of. When he did respond, he just said “get on a bus to Tosagua, they’re waiting for you. It’s a small village. They know you’re coming.”
He expected me to go there with no contacts, no phone number, and just to be relaxed about it. He made it seem like it was a town of 400 people, when in fact it was a town of 40,000 people. When I brought this up later, he handed me a census from 2008. “Here, it’s 30,000 people, see?”
Eventually I find the right bus to get there. My transfer involved a 200yd hike through a field at 2:00am. It was pitch black, and I could barely see the lights of the bus station that I was headed towards. No one spoke English, but that was okay. I find the bus that’s headed to Tosagua, and I hop on. Within a few minutes I ask the guy how far it is away, and he said 15-minutes. I sat back and relaxed. 15 minutes later I asked if we were there yet, and he said we passed it. I recognized the town, I had been through there before, and they didn’t even stop. He handed me 50 cents to catch the next bus back.
I arrived in Tosagua at about 8:00am. I asked several people if they knew about the foundation, and no one knew anything. “Of course not.” I thought to myself. An hour and a half later I was picked up by a motorcycle taxi and I was taken to my host family’s house. I unpacked a few of my things and I went and checked out the church where I would be working at.
Everything seemed okay until I started to realize what these people were being paid and how they were being paid. As time when on I became more and more aggravated. It seemed that for every dollar these people were getting paid, $50 was going to the foundation. And even though I was a part of that foundation, I wasn’t getting paid. No one was getting paid. Except for the “accountant.” Who was the guy that was running the foundation.
Shortly after being there I realized that I was coming down with a stomach infection. I started to take some Cipro, and I scheduled a doctor’s appointment the next day. I always buy Cipro when I get to Quito; just in case.
When I got to the doctor’s office I was examined, and told that I needed to be tested for Dengue Fever. Little did I know that I was in a dengue epidemic area. I had no warning, and was given no precautions to take. I figured that sleeping under a mosquito net was more for comfort and not for safety.
While waiting for the blood test results I was told to rest and drink a lot of fluids. Not to drink any alcohol or take Ibuprofen. Only acetometophin. The time came to get my results. I woke up from my nap and realized that no one was there. I went to leave the house and found that I was locked inside by a padlock. “What the hell?” I thought to myself. I had two options, pick the lock or climb an 8-feet tall picket bamboo fence. Thankfully I was able to find a smaller padlock that was easy to pick. Perhaps spending a little time with mischief in your childhood can pay off later in life.
I was a little perturbed that I was locked inside alone like that. It turned out that I did have Dengue Fever, and a stomach infection. The fatigue, joint pains and headaches increased as time went on, and it took almost a month for everything to heal properly.
The more time I spent working with the locals and trying to organize their work, the more frustrated I became. I couldn’t stand the fact that they were being taken advantage of so subtly. I was working for free, but that was agreed. This was simply someone who business savvy, taking advantage of people who weren’t as fortunate to be as intelligent.
I couldn’t blame the locals for not having access to decent education. I knew I was smarter than them. But I also have ethics, and that’s not reason to use them as a means only. I tried to explain this to them as tactfully as I could. I think they got somewhat of an understanding, but Greg is very charismatic, and they buy into that.
I left Tosagua and stayed with some friends that invited me in to their home. They were always calm and kind, and it was quite the treat to share meals with them. A couple days after arriving to their place, I was walking their dog. As we went to cross a busy street, I ran with the dog, and it ran around me only to wrap the leash around my legs. Face first my forehead and mouth slammed into the curb. I stood up and looked down to my friend “Mis dentes!” as I pointed to my teeth. I thought they were gone. “No, todo bien.” He said. I was okay. But then he pointed to my forehead as I felt the blood rush down my face. I pulled some tissue paper out of my pocket as I waited for traffic to clear. Indeed it looked a lot worse than it was, but I needed to go get a few stitches. As always, I never seem to have worries about visiting hospitals in foreign countries. Even when it’s in a town like Tosagua where the cost is $5 and there’s a horse tied up outside the entrance.
I was planning on heading back to N.Y. I wanted to see this lady again. I knew that if I didn’t that I would regret it for the rest of my life. I also knew that it would be complicating to separate myself from the foundation, being that they were my only source of work and housing. Plus, all of my things were there.
I felt confident that I would be able to find work in Albany. I figure that if it was so easy in Montreal to find work under the table, then it should be even easier finding legal work in Albany. I started looking for work as a carpenter. I had enough experience in the trades to do that, and in the meantime I could also look for more professional work using my degree and other experience.
I left my friend’s house in Quito and toured Ecuador for a little bit. I met up with a Brit named Dave. Him and I became pretty good friends. We travelled to the coast together, and that was quite the adventure. We decided to take what seemed to be a short detour to see some waterfalls, and it turned out to be an extra day worth the bus rides to eventually make it to Puerto Lopez, where we would see the whales.
After seeing the water falls we had a few transfers of buses. Our last bus dropped us off in a very small town, and while they were letting us go, they pointed to a truck and told us to run to it and get in. So we did. We spent the last hour of our trip riding in the back of truck to get to our destination.
More days of site-seeing and nights of booze and laughter were our memories of Puerto Lopez. Dave was heading back to Quito and I was heading to Montanita, a tourist town where I had planned on surfing. I said goodbye and I was on my way. I arrived to Montanita and met up with an American who was studying there, before he continued off to grad-school. I took it easy that night. The next day I had planned on spending the morning surfing, and then I would hop on the bus and go to Guayaquil, where I would fly to Lima. I had a layover in Lima before I flew back to N.Y.
While trying to surf, I was lying flat on the board and the waves came and threw me off the board a bit. I landed on the board sideways and it pushed a couple of my lower ribs in. It hurt quite a bit. I figured maybe it’s not that bad. I tried to get on the board again, and the pain was excruciating. “Nope, that’s it.” I said to myself. These ribs were either broken or severely bruised.
Later than night I would sleep on an airport bench before my flight left to Lima. I was a bit uncomfortable to say the least. I bought an alarm clock to make sure that I wouldn’t miss my flight. Missing my flight would be the last thing that Lucila would want to hear. I got to Lima, met up with a French couple, and soon we were off to try and find the cheapest cab we could.
I might advise that it’s not always good being cheap in new countries. We found a cab that offered a low price, and when he told us where his car was, I started to get a little skeptical. We walked up to his cab, and I proceeded to get in the front seat. “No, get in back.” He said. This is when I knew something wasn’t right. He then said that he was picking up a friend before he dropped us off. I hesitated, but still got in the back with the French couple. I started to prepare for the worst case scenario. Shortly after I closed the door, and before he took off, we were surrounded by cop cars.
They took us out of the cab, and arrested the guy who was trying to take us. “He was going to rob or kidnap you.” The police stated. After that incident, we went with the first cab driver and headed to the center of Lima. “There’s always some sort of rush in South America.” I said to myself.
After a day packed with sightseeing, I was off to New York. Two zopiclones, a couple glasses of merlot, and I was out like a light. I woke up, and took a series of trains and buses to my bus stop on 34th and broadway. This was a $10 bus ride back to Albany. I couldn’t beat it.
Still somewhat fatigued from the Dengue fever, and sensitive due to my broken ribs, adjusting to a new life in Albany wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. I was starting off again, with $200. Just like I did in Montreal. At least this time I had carpentry tools.
I looked for work, and eventually found something that paid $15 dollars an hour. Brad was the contractor that I worked for. Me and two other guys worked underneath him. He told me the stories of the other guys who had been hired and fired by him a few times in the past, but that now times were good. He asked me if I had any injuries and I said no. Of course, I had to lie.
I worked pretty hard for this guy, and things were seeming to go well. Although one morning he came in looking more hung-over than usual and fired me out of the blue. I was devastated. There was no reason given, and even the other carpenter couldn’t believe it. The other carpenter insisted that it was because the other guy kept calling in, and he was pissed, but it’s easier to let the new guy go. I took it pretty hard. It took me a few weeks to find this job, and all of a sudden it was done, just like that.
The next day I got a phone call from a wine store that I applied to. They wanted to hire me. They didn’t have many hours, but it was just enough to get by. I would be making about $90 a week. I’m not sure how I could stretch the money that far, but I somehow made it work. I liked it there. The people were nice, and it gave me an opportunity to meet people in the community.
A week after I started working at the Wine store in Downtown Albany, Brad calls me and asks how I’m doing. He asked me if I wanted to do some drywall work for him. Not having much pride to swallow, I said yes, thinking that I could really use the money.
I went back to work for him while working at the wine store. After a few days of just him and I working together, I began to get very tired of him bashing his two other workers. “What kind of boss complains all the time about his employees? Especially when they’re reasonable people?” I thought to myself. I was done. I looked down at him from the stepladder holding a paintbrush in my hand and said “Brad, is it possible to get paid today, in cash?” His eyebrows lowered and voice quieted “Yeah.” He responded. “thank you” I said, and went back to work. At the end of the day he handed me my money and I walked away. “I’ll call you later.” He replied. I didn’t respond, and he never called.
I felt valued at the wine store, and I was content with that for the time being. The owner, Mark, was leaving town for an uncertain amount of time to travel to Italy. During that time, the stockboy quit showing up to work. I could use the hours so I picked up the slack.
During the meantime of stocking the wine, I took it upon myself to make a tremendous change in the storage room. I organized the pallets, and made it a lot easier to unload all of our shipments. All of my co-workers were pleased, and said that it really needed it. I was the youngest and strongest guy working there, so why not? I thought to myself. I wasn’t looking for a raise or praise, I just simply wanted to show that I liked where I was working. How better to do with than with a lot of sweat?
After a few weeks Mark returned, and he was not happy. He was in the worst mood I had ever seen. It turned out that the man he left in charge, Bill, had not gone through with the orders like he should have, and because of that, we were behind on stock. Mark took me down to the storage room and yelled “It should not look this empty.” I started to become really angry. I was at the store for not much longer than a couple weeks, I had busted my ass simply to put a smile on his face, and now I’m being chastised for not being a better manager? I had to hurry with bringing boxes of wine up, and boxes of wine down. In the mix of things I learn that there was a bottle of booze stolen, a very expensive bottle.
I was told that it was me who bumped a stool which touched a cord and knocked out a specific camera. “I didn’t put the stool there, Bill did.” But that didn’t matter. “Who moved the bottle to the counter? It shouldn’t have been moved there?” Mark asked. They spent more time reviewing the cameras. “Who moved the bottle?” I asked. “Bill did.” Mark said.
The wine store was Bill’s retirement job. Mark liked him, and wouldn’t question him about anything. I didn’t get it. Bill was conservative, not shy about his tea-party-like views, and, well, Mark had more of a flower-like dainty personality with a slight lisp in his phrasing at times. These two people are the types that you would think would mesh well.
So Bill moved the bottle of booze, Bill put the stool where it shouldn’t have been. When the camera was knocked out, I asked Bill about it, and he said “I don’t know anything about that, you’ll have to wait for Mark to get back.” Later that weekend, Bill through a party at his house.
As I kept working that day that Mark got back, I slammed my head on a rafter. I was full of outrage and ready to cuss out Mark for treating me like he was. I walked upstairs and I said “Mark, I hit my head, and I need to go home.” “Okay.” He said.
The next day I called a few hours before my shift and left a message saying that I my head was still hurting, and I needed to rest. I also sent a text saying the same thing. He messaged me back saying that things weren’t working out, and that I should let him know if I change my address in case the police wanted to talk to me about the stolen bottle of booze. This was my second job in Albany NY. As if I would risk the only form of income I had and desperately needed for a bottle of booze.
In the mean time I was enrolled in an EMT course. I had classes twice a week and I would make new friends. Here and there I would get a few piano gigs at one of the fanciest venues in Albany. They had $14 beers, plenty of scotches, and one of the most beat up pianos I had ever seen. The guy in charge of booking the gigs made things messy as well.
Dylan Perillo was that guy that I was suppose to get in contact with to book gigs. At first he seemed to be very helpful. He told me that he was always late on booking musicians, and that I needed to contact him towards the end of the previous month that I needed to play. After weeks of trying to work with him, I had a conversation with the bar manager of Speakeasy. “Dylan is really good at booking gigs months in advance.” “Really?” I said. I didn’t take it any further. I bit my tongue and just accepted the fact that I was being lied to and lead on for months on end. My view of Albany really started to dim. “Where am I?” I asked myself. “Is it me?”
Albany was difficult, and the only thing I had going for me was this EMT course. I posted an ad on Craigslist to offer my services as a pianist, and I got a few replies. The first was from this guy named James Kirk. I never dawned on me who had that name until after we talked about Start Trek. James was a bass player, and a guy that I could get along with tremendously well. We became good friends and ended up playing a few shows together.
Another response I got was from a guy named Jim Kelly. He wanted to build a band with his friends and they wanted a keyboard player. Working with Jim and his band probably turned out to be the best decision of my life. I didn’t have a huge interest in the music. I was more or less concerned with getting gigs so I could get by and pay for my living. At the time my grocery bill was $30 a week. I shopped at a local Dominican store on Morton Ave, where Stefon Harris grew up; one of my Jazz Idols. To pay my rent I was buying low on craigslist and selling high on ebay. I was somehow managing to get by like this, and my roommate and now good friend, was often impressed.
The Jim Kelly band presented a few gigs here and there. But what became more valuable was the friendship we had all created. Especially between the Bass Player and the Drummer and I. The Bass player, Mike Coleman, and his cousin, John, did me many favors as we got to know each other. In the meantime, John and Mike were always the ones giving me rides to rehearsals, sharing drinks and smokes, and making me feel like I was a friend. John was a little skeptical of me at first, but who could blame him. I kept a bit to myself at first too.
December rolled around and James and I had a gig playing for the first female Mayor of Albany. We were playing at the University Club. My good friends Jim and Gordon help coordinate the gig. Little to our expectations, Mark was doing a wine tasting across the room for the even as well. I have to admit, my chest swelled with confidence as I learned that I would be performing in front of him the entire night. If it wasn’t for my training from Dane and Alex, I wouldn’t be able to play with such confidence under any situation. I knew for the most part, I would sound good. And I also knew, that playing with James, we would only make each other sound good. We had a ball that time, and only received the nicest of compliments and applauses.
Our gigs were few, whether it was James and I or the Jim Kelly band. There seemed to be a clear lockdown on the available gigs in this small town. I was used to it more or less. It wasn’t about how good you were, how versatile you were, it was about who you knew, and who liked you. And from my experience as often being the new guy, when you’re knew, you don’t know many people, and when you meet people in the same field, they might not like you.
February was rolling around and I had promised my friend Sean, down in Florida that I would stand in his wedding. I had no idea if I could afford it or not. My relationship with Lucila had been on thin ice since November. She didn’t want me to go, because she also knew that I probably couldn’t afford it. But, I never make promises without the intention of keeping them. That’s why I rarely make them. I had to go. After selling a few things on ebay, I made enough money for the trip. (Barely.) The day before I left, I had two interviews. One at the state tax office, and another at a local bike shop. I told the employer at the bike shop that I was confident in getting hired full time at the tax office, and that I still wanted the job, regardless. I knew that if I hadn’t gotten the jobs, that I would be coming back to Albany from Florida, only to pack up my life again on a bicycle to try again somewhere else.
While down in Florida I received an e-mail from the Dave, the owner of the bike shop. He wanted to hire me. This was great, and I knew it was a start. Also, seeing my good friend in Florida so happy with his beautiful bride, made me feel happy as well.
When I left Montreal, I had planned on flying to Florida from Ecuador, and then going to South Korea to teach English. It’s funny how things sometimes work out. I have to admit, that staying positive with my circumstances in Albany nearly seemed impossible. That was something incredibly difficult to do. I was tired of just barely getting by, and I was tired of being in a relationship that was constantly struggling. I wondered if my entire life would always be that of a struggle.
I started working at the bike shop shortly after returning. It was an hour bus ride away from my house. Still winter, I couldn’t ride my bike, but soon summer would come and I would be able to get there faster. After a couple weeks of working there I got a call from the Tax office and they would be hiring me. I was excited. This would be the first job I had ever had that offered health benefits.
I had applied to the local ambulance companies back in January that year, right after receiving my EMT card. I didn’t get a call from them until after a couple of months of working at the Tax office. The wanted me to come in for an interview around 4:00pm, and I told them that I couldn’t do it. “Well it says on your application that you have full availability.” The girl said over the phone. “Yeah I did. Four months ago when I submitted it. But if I waited that long for you to call me I would have starved to death by now.” I responded. Something about that really annoyed me, especially when they were offering the same pay that the bike shop offered me.
The next few months were spent working at the tax office. There were a couple local shops in the buildings that we worked at. They sold everything you would find at a gas station. None of the food was healthy, and the most consumed items were Monster Energy drinks and candy. Thousands of people worked on this campus, and constantly being surrounded by people who were not encouraged to live healthy lifestyles was deeply depressing.
I would leave work with a bit of anger, often. If I saw candy, my stomach would turn. I felt that the tax office was draining. I liked the pay, I liked the benefits, but it caused a lot more stress than I felt was necessary. After I started to get the hang of things I began listening to lectures on Buddhism in the background while I did my work. If I couldn’t have conversations of substance with those around me, then I would seek it on my own. I found Herbie Hancock’s lectures that he gave at Harvard. I listened to those lectures over and over again. I thought they were beautiful, and perhaps the most beneficial words I could hear at that time. Soon I would be meditating on the concepts of compassion, uncertainty and acceptance. This was when my path was just starting to become clear.
We had been at the tax office for four months, and summer had set in. A couple days after we had our team meeting, and when we were told that there were no talks of layoffs, we were laid off. They laid 500 people off, and that was that. Torn again, let go, no reason other than money this time. I was warned by my girlfriend that she couldn’t handle me getting upset over again, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to help it. It was what it was.
Chapter 7.4 A New Beginning
I still had the job at the bike shop, and that was great. I never really felt like my job was on the line, but with my experiences, who know? I always kind of felt that things could suddenly change at the last minute. I knew I wasn’t needed anywhere, where I worked. But none the less, I did my best and kept being a good worker, hoping that Dave was different. Shortly after being let go of the Tax office, Dave gave me a little raise and more hours. I felt happy, and grew trust with him. I felt that things were stable there, and that he really was reasonable. Something that seemed pretty new to me. I had never had a reasonable employer as him.
As the summer went on, the relationship grew thinner. We managed to get a car together, and that helped me pick up an extra carpentry gig down in Pennsylvania. My partner and I were living together at this time. We moved in with each other a few weeks before I got laid off from the state. I spent a week down in PA, and that seemed to give the relationship a bit of breathing room, but it wasn’t enough. We had many things that were pulling us apart. Perhaps to explain it best, is that we just had different paths. I think in most breakups, where no one did any particular thing wrong, no one is really to blame. It doesn’t take away from its sadness, but in this type of end, no one was at fault.
Later that summer James had told me that his company needed a new driver, and that since I had a car, I could be a good candidate for the job. I would need to get a business license, up my insurance, and do a few other things before I got started. I would be making twice as much money as I did at the Tax Office, and I would essentially be my own boss. It sounded like a good deal.
In the meantime I was visiting Mike Coleman. He had a few projects that he needed help with, and since I wasn’t a banana with a tape measure or paintbrush, he could use an extra hand here and there. He was never shy with offering my drinks or dinner, and they were always a great treat. There were many times that he would invite me over just to visit, and these times he even offered me money. I always refused the money, but I was glad he was offering his help. “Why don’t you move in with me? I have an empty nest, the kids are gone. I’m going to be heating the place anyways.” He said one day over a pint. I thought about it, and it seemed too good to be true. He knew me for a year at this point, and he saw everything that I had already gone through. He felt I needed a break, and didn’t feel it was too difficult for him to give it to me. The relationship was nearing its end with Lucila, and we needed to be apart anyways. I took him up on his offer.
Before I met Lucila, I said to myself, if I don’t try this out, I will regret it for the rest of my life. And after everything that’s happened, I wouldn’t take back any minute of it. So still, I can say with my life; I have no regrets.
“You know why you don’t fuck with an old man, Brandon?” “Why?” I asked. “Because he’ll kill you.” Mike said as he stood in the kitchen. It didn’t take me more than a few minutes to understand that this man was showing me trust and love, and that if I ever did have the nerve to fuck him over, that he would only be killing me out of love.
Chapter 7.5 A New Perspective
One night, Mike sat me down with his wife to discuss the terms of me staying there. “Brandon’s going to be staying here for an undetermined amount of time. He won’t be here forever, but we’re giving him a break for a bit to help him out.” Mike said. Peri responded “You’re not too much older than our children, so don’t be surprised if we treat you like them. And please let us know if you’re not coming home at night so we don’t worry about you.” I smiled in reply. The truth is, I didn’t know how big of a treat I was in for.
Shortly after moving in, I became settled in a routine. I was working as a courier during the week, and then on the weekends I was working at the bike shop. The mornings were spent at the gym and the evenings were spent visiting with my new family. Sharing meals almost every evening was the warming feeling I’d had since I was a child. Even the playful bickering that takes place between any couple who’ve loved each other over decades made me feel at home. And one evening, their daughter looked at me over the dinner table during a pause of one of these moments and said “I think since you’ve been here, my parents fight less.”
There were mornings where I had a lot of free time, and sometimes Mike would need an extra hand with some odd jobs. I was more than willing to jump on anything he asked me to do, and after some of these jobs he said he would pay me. I always had to refuse, and avoid payment. I simply couldn’t believe his generosity. It’s not like he didn’t know how big of a help he already was, he was simply sharing what he could. An example of compassion that begun to seep into my being that pushed me further on a path that I was already headed.
During my long drives from Albany to Utica and back, I had many hours to think to myself about everything in my life. And for the first time in my life, my living circumstances not only provided me with financial stability, I was also provided with emotional freedom and acceptance. By this I mean, all of my expressed feelings were accepted as valid, and never once was I questioned about anything; ever. Nor did I ever feel that someone was questioning me in their minds. The feeling was completely surreal to me. It still is.
On these long drives I listened to recordings of TED talks, lectures on Buddhism, and endless recordings of Herbie Hancock, Donald Byrd and many other great Jazz artists. I began to feel centered in my being. I felt comfortable with who I was. I worried less, and I began to understand the value of family; and this made me feel nothing but a growing sense of compassion for all those around me. It taught me a greater understanding meta-cognition, and how to guide my actions towards what I can prudently decide is right for me.
As fall rolled in, I decided that my circumstances had provided a great opportunity for me to pick up on my old plans, and go teach English in South Korea. For this, I needed to get paperwork together, and the easiest ways to get one of my documents, was to go back to Marquette, and get an Apostilled diploma. I scheduled time off from work, and wondered if my Honda Civic with 240,000 miles on it would make the 2000 mile round trip.
The night that I left, Peri packed me a lunch bag with sandwiches and snacks. I was off on the road. Thinking that I could make it quite a ways without sleeping, I had to pull over at a rest area and sleep for a few hours after the first 250 miles. Eventually I made it to the U.P. I would be staying at my Aunt and Uncles house for the time being, and to my surprise, my father was staying there temporarily as well. I hadn’t seen my father since the day I left for Montreal.
It was nice seeing my father. He was a little quiet and stoic like the typical Finnish man. His skin looked healthy, and he looked good in general. But like always, his topics of discussion always tended to revolve health cleanses and dietary supplements that was more or less propaganda from the House of Yahweh. Backing his claims on why doing various liver cleanses continuously, were books written in the 1920s. If the house of Yahweh told him it was science, he believed it. There honestly was no logic with many of his statements. I knew this many years back, but what I started to see the last time I saw him began to break my heart. I felt like the religion he had dedicated the past 25 years of his life to, had rotted his brain.
“The other day I was adding 6 and 9 and I wrote down 13. That’s not the sum when you add 6 and 9.” My father said as we were driving to my grandmother’s house. I couldn’t believe his words. It seems like a simple mistake anyone could make, but his words during this moment paralleled too many previous thoughts and feelings that I already had about him. I started to see an image in my mind, of certain parts of his brain that were neurologically cut off, due to not being used over the past couple of decades. I’m not a neuroscientist or even a psychologist, but it made perfect sense to me, that if someone forces themselves to think in a particular way, that eventually they will not be able to see things any other way. I remember a conversation with my father “I’ve spent 25 years already in the House of Yahweh, why give up now?”
During those moments, I still loved my father, and I showed him this the best way I could. We had some moments of laughter, but there was a moment where I expressed something to him that I needed to get off my chest, and it needed to happen in front of everyone in the family. It took him by surprise, but I needed to say it out loud to him. I had just poured myself a small glass of scotch after getting out of the sauna. I sat down in the living room across from my father. We started to talk about Linda.
I looked at my father, right in his eyes and said “Remember how I told you that I knew Linda was begging for forgiveness before she died? How she stayed up praying for forgiveness?” “Yes” He replied softly. “That’s fucking bullshit dad. No one should have to do that, and she didn’t need to be forgiven for anything. And that’s one thing that’s wrong about the House of Yahweh, for that environment to make her feel those things, right before she died.” My father turned his head and chin up to his left, and looked up to his left with his eyes open. He tried to hold back his tears, but his eyes still teared up. My family members were silent for that time, but they knew that I was just in saying that to him. We all knew it wasn’t to hurt him, but only to hopefully make him see that, that was the most unfair thing that happened to a lady that he truly loved.
My father had made the plans to move to Texas, and this was the whole reason why he was staying at his sister’s house temporarily in the first place. When I first learned that he was sure he was moving to Texas, I was in New York. I was worried, because I thought that I might never see him again once he moved. I wasn’t the only person in the family who felt like this either. We all were worried about him moving down there, and we all had the same fear; that we might never see him again.
When I left back to New York, my father gave me the strongest hug he ever had. His left hand was clenched on my upper back, and his right hand was clenched on my lower back with the right side of his head pressed against mine. “I love you.” He said. “I love you too, Dad.” I replied.
I was back on the road, and headed back to Albany. I had touched base with some good friends and mentors while being there. “This guy left on a bicycle, and now he came back in a car.” Was a quote that made me feel good. On the drive back, I was anticipating the drama that was going to take place between my mother and I. She had found out through the grapevine that I visited the Upper Peninsula. I could only think to myself, if she really wanted to see me over these years, she would have bought me the bus ticket when I had the time and no money to do anything. “I really want to see you, do you want to see me?” She asked. “Yes.” I replied. “If you had a bus ticket to come see me, would you come and visit me?” She asked, “Yes, mother.” “Well I will have to think about that then.” She said back in June when I was in my last low in New York. She never called back after that until I had returned to New York from trip.
The last thing I wanted was to argue with my mother, so I put off the conversation as long as I could. I was glad to get back to my family, and back to my routine. The thing is, at that house, no matter how bad of a day you might be having, the moment you walk through that main door, you feel good. “Welcome back!” I was greeted with hugs and great company. I was so happy to be back.
Eventually I had to speak with my mother about the trip, and she did try to make me feel bad about not taking an extra day to go and see her in Milwaukee. The truth is, I didn’t have the time to drive there. My schedule was tight as it was. She said that I was able to visit my father and not her, and that made her feel bad. I said that I wasn’t there for him, and that wasn’t a lie. She said that I visited my sister and not her, and I said that it was because it was on the way. Then I told her that I thought she was going to help me with the bus ticket back in June, and she told me that she didn’t because I never called her back to ask for it.
I don’t mean to batter my mother, because at this point was when I started to learned about her illnesses that she never spoke to me about. I wasn’t aware of all the medications she was on. I wasn’t aware that she was bipolar. I knew she had a lot of other serious struggles, but at this time, I started to see a clearer picture of things. At this moment, I finally able to not be angry with her over her current or past actions. I started to accept them as things that were completely out of her control. Through this perspective, I started to discover a new type of love for her.
Despite the fact that I could view our relationship in a new light, the conversations with here still became emotionally exhausting. And it was around thanksgiving of 2014 that my siblings, my mother, and her new husband engaged in more drama.
“Moms in the hospital. She can’t talk, and John had to carry her into the E.R.” my sister told me frantically. “I’m really worried, and I feel guilty for not being there.” She said. My mother had fallen into some form of paralysis. The doctors gave her two MRI’s and a CAT scan. They couldn’t tell what was wrong. This was on Thanksgiving evening. I was driving back to Albany from Utica during the greatest snowstorm of the year, thus far.
I engaged in an hour long conversation with her husband. He insisted on my telling him what my mother did to her children that was so bad, and without going into detail, I only spoke of ambiguities and simply tried to express how being an honest person was one of the few important things in life. He told me that my brother could care less about his relationship with his mother, and I butted in said that it’s a lot more complicated than that. We also spoke about the bus ticket issue back in June. He said had he known that he wouldn’t have thought twice about buying me the ticket. To me, john seemed like a simple guy with genuine intentions, and I told him that I was glad that he was there to take care of my mother. We ended our conversation on a good note.
“John just texted me and said that mom wants to know what her two sons think about her being in the hospital.” My sister said to me. This shocked me and put me in a bought of skepticism. “I thought she couldn’t speak?” I said.
The next morning I got a text saying that my mother had recovered fully, and was exiting the E.R. They don’t know what happened, but they’re glad it’s over. “It sure was scary.”
Chapter 7.6 Then Christmas Came
One of the greatest moto’s in the Coleman house was “No bullshit.” And I wasn’t going to let anything come in and ruin my Thanksgiving with them. I was surrounded by joy and honesty with them, and not even my mother could make me feel shame in that. The food, the people, the wine, the laughter and hugs; this is what thanksgiving is all about.
Back in the routine, my mail route eventually doubled, and soon I was driving 8 hours a day, up from 4. Along with this came greater pay, and the ability to save up for my next adventure. Now I had even more time to think about things, as well as plan the trip.
Around this time I had an epiphany, and it was one of the greatest feelings in my life. As simple as it was, it felt tremendous. As tremendous as it was, it wasn’t an answer as much as it was a clear understanding of a stepping stone. My epiphany was a sense of purpose, and the purpose that I found, was that the only important thing in my life is to practice compassion. It was really simple. To practice compassion using the tools that I had been given. Music, writing, conversation, just that. And during that moment, I realized that everything purpose has its place, and that would be the next stepping stone to come. To find a place for my purpose, wherever it may be. And the feeling from this experience never wore off. It still feels great to this day, because once you’ve found something that you can say you’re willing to die for, life becomes much more fulfilling.
Christmas was getting closer and the rest of the family would soon be staying at the house. I was a little nervous, because I was concerned that maybe Mike’s children would be a little annoyed that some “dude” had moved into their father’s home. Shortly after they got there, that wasn’t the case at all, and they made me feel just as welcomed as their parents did.
I have to say, that celebrating Christmas at their place was the greatest Christmas I had ever had. There wasn’t one dull moment, no fights, no drama, and as Mike would like to say “no bullshit.” I can’t describe how great it made me feel. My life was truly changing.
Christmas day I bought my plane ticket to Sweden. The family knew I was going on a trip eventually, and they knew not to burden me with gifts that I couldn’t use. They did however buy me gifts of chocolate and greetings cards, and I couldn’t believe it, but I was even given money in these cards. Again, the generosity.
I bought my ticket to Sweden, and then to Finland, Germany and Spain. I was going to plan this trip as I saved money. This was going to be a one way journey around the globe to end up teaching English in South Korea.
I decided that once I got to Spain, I would cycle across Spain up to Brussels. My heart pounded as I bought the ticket, because that was it. I’m definitely going. I guess you could say that it was my Christmas present to myself. Not so much the ticket, but the decision to embark on the greatest journey of my life thus far.
Chapter 7.7 From Honesty and Compassion
The day after Christmas my mother had called me leaving a message saying that I needed to call her. I called her back and an unpleasant conversation was about to begin. “Thanks for calling me to say Merry Christmas.” She said. “I’m sorry mother, I meant to call you, but I got caught up in a lot of things yesterday. I meant to call you, but I’m glad I’m talking to you now.” I replied. “How many phone numbers do you have? I never know what number to call.” “I have the same phone numbers that I’ve had for the past several months. The same two.” I said. “Well I have to go, I will call you back later.” She said.
I went to the gym. This was the time that I started to train, and prepare for my cycling journey. I wanted to build up muscle mass in my upper body, because the last time I went on a cycling trip, my biceps became the size of my wrists, and I have small wrists. I was sitting on the weight bench doing curls, and I got a phone call from my mother. I answer the phone and she proceeded with trying to start an argument. As her speech became more vulgar and rapid, I set the phone down and continued to do curls. I picked up the phone when I was done and she had just finished yelling and hung up. I texted her back saying “I think we got disconnected. I’m sorry you’re upset, I hope you feel better.”
After returning from the gym, I showed Peri some of the texts that my mother had sent me. She hugged me, and said she was sorry. It felt good to be in her arms, because she too, knew what it was like to suffer, even though she might not have experienced the same things that I had. I said to her and Mike, well at least there was no “bullshit” during Christmas.
The first day of 2015 turned around. I got out of a bed feeling energized and I continued with my day. Without thinking, I picked up my computer later that day and started to write on my website, cultsurvivor.com. The topic I wrote about surrounded the ideas of honesty, acceptance and compassion. For some uncanny reason I felt compelled to write. The next day I wrote again, and the day after I wrote again as well. And then I realized I started writing on the first day of the year, like some sort of subconscious new-year resolution or something, which I don’t really believe in anyway. None the less, I said to myself, “Why not keep writing every day for this month?” And so I did. I wrote from my heart, every morning from that day on.
Every day, seven days a week more or less; I would wake up, write, go to the gym, work, come home, visit and/or read, and sleep. That was it. I thought to myself during this time that if I’m going to reach anyone, ever, my best chance of doing it is through actions of compassion, and the only way I will discover compassion in its fullest form is through practicing self-honesty and self-acceptance. “How can I be honest with others, or accept others, if I can’t do the same for myself?” I asked myself. From this moment I thought that maybe this would be the only way I could reach my parents. This might be my only chance for my parents to see who I had become, and who I wanted to become.
In the mornings I would write, and during the drives, I would think about what I would write about. Often I would call friends of mine and talk to them about these topics. I would particularly call my friend Thad often. Talking to him help make the drives go by faster. One day I spoke with my father and we talked about these topics; acceptance, honesty and compassion, and soon we had engaged in a very heartfelt conversation that brought me to tears in the end.
We had expressed our love for each other, as well as our acceptance for each other for all of our actions that had taken place in the past. I felt, for the first time, that I was on the same page with my father. And after that phone conversation I said to myself “Had I never had that conversation with my father, it would be a very sad thing.”
Chapter 7.8 Beginning the Next Journey
For years I had thought to myself while cooking meals, playing music, or engaging in deep conversations; “I wish my parents could see who I am.” I often would wish that my mother or my father could see the person that I had become. The tastes I had developed, the dialogues I had often engaged in, or the music that I had accomplished. I often thought about how great it would be to show my parents what I had blossomed into. And even though I was separated from them on large part, that there was no resentment. Especially now. I told my mother shortly after I had started writing that I was writing, and that I would be happy for her to read it.
I continued with my routine and I bought more tickets to further my travels. The month after I arrived to Spain, I would be travelling from Italy to Egypt, then to Kenya, and then to Nepal. However, after about two months of doing stream of conscious writing, I had a conversation with Mike, and as an Elder, he helped put some things in my life into perspective. The next morning, I decided that I would start to write the book, and that now I was ready. Now I could dedicate time every day to write about my life, growing up in a cult. But this time, it would be from a perspective of compassion. A perspective whose purpose would be to turn poison into medicine.
From there on out, I knew what my travels would be about. They would be a time for me to potentially purge things that might need to be purged, and to write this book. The story of a rather bizarre life that was filled with ups and downs. A life accompanied by handfuls of lemons, and some with jewels stuffed inside. A path in life that led to many doors, but where there was a door that seemed to be the only option; the one that opened to compassion. The journey began before I left. My dreams became more bizarre and more vivid. Often filled with great symbolism, I had no idea what they were about, but I would surely remember them.
The middle of March came around, and I would be visiting my family in Michigan once again. It might be a long time before I see them again. I also needed one extra document in case something were to happen during my long journey around the globe. I also knew, that me vising the U.P. again would surface more drama between my mother and I, but I tried not to think about it.
I got back to the U.P. and I learned that my father was having health issues. He told me that he had Jaundice, difficulty breathing, constipation, and abdominal pain. He told me this over the phone while I sat in my aunt’s living room. “What have you been eating?” I asked “Oh you know, the meals that they serve at the house of Yahweh.” “What meals?” I said. “Well the meals that they prepare on the campgrounds.” He said. “What are you eating, Dad?” I said firmly. “Chicken potatoes and greens.” He said. “What kind of work are you doing?” I asked “Oh you know, the work that the house of Yahweh needs done.” “What work is that?” “The work the needs to be done.” He said. “Are you working with metals?” I asked as I started to reveal frustration in my voice. “Yeah.” He said. “Which ones?” I asked, trying to understand if this could be the result of his jaundice. “All kinds.”
“Why can’t you just be honest with me Dad?” I said, and he responded saying “You have you’re things going on, you’re going to travel, why can’t you just let me do my things?” He said. “Dad, I’ve been honest with you about everything in my life, more so than most people will likely ever be with anyone. Why can’t you just be honest with me?” I said. “Well you’re better at it than I am.” After hearing this my heart began to sink. “Well you can be too, dad.”
I didn’t know what to think, but I was worried about my father. I told him that he needed to go to the doctor, and that he needed to get checked out. I made him promise me that he would, and I said to him, at that moment, I don’t want to go off on my trip, and learn later that you’ve ended up in a box. “That won’t happened right?” I asked. “No, it won’t.” He said.
Chapter 7.85 The Grasshopper
I had taken care of the last bit of things that I needed to take care of in Marquette. I put some things in storage and gave away a few things to some friends in need. I headed back to New York with some home-made tea from my friend Peter, and two meals of Rice Paddy from Aoy in Marquette. Arguably the best food in Marquette. I got back to New York, and was in the process of preparing for my journey. My family and my friends where all happy for me, and gave me great encouragement for what I was about to embark on. They knew as well as I did, that this trip wasn’t about having fun. It was definitely a learning experience, and we all knew it was going to be treated as such.
I eventually spoke with my mother while I was one the road. She insisted that I didn’t see her this time because it was priorities that I had. I felt she was trying to make me feel guilty. I told her that I was writing still and she responded with “Oh, I know all about what you’re writing. You’re writing about how bad your life was and how ‘poor and pitiful’ you.” I said “Well, no, that’s not what I’m writing about.” “Oh I’m sure it’s not.” “Well, I don’t believe you’ve read it then, Mom.” “Well how do you know, Brandon?” “Because I can observe my web traffic coming from Milwaukee.” I said. That was followed by a sharp sudden sigh from my mother. “Well I lied to you.” She said. Shortly the conversation exploded into harsh words that I avoided listening to. “I love you, I love you.” I shouted over the phone to my mother repetitively. I had no other idea what to say to her. I felt there was no use to say mean things, or to call her out on her actions in the past. There was no use. She told me crying that if I were to go on this trip that I would never see her again. That she knew it. I told her that I didn’t know how she knew this, but I was sorry that she thought this.
I proceeded to go on with my day, and I continued with things the best that I could. As usual, I was happy to walk through that main door again. Because any weight that might be on one’s shoulders, definitely gets lifted, if not removed completely.
Later that night I slept, and I had a very vivid dream that involved my father. In the beginning of the dream, I was in Ed’s house, and many members from the house of Yahweh were there. There was an dark feeling that surrounded me, and I was compelled to warn everyone around me about the House of Yahweh. “I’m afraid things are getting really bad, and I’m afraid for you.” I said to Evan in my dream. In the dream, he wasn’t aware that his brother was going to die from a car accident, but he had died years ago. “You need to be careful.” I warned people in my dream. And later in that dream I was sitting at a picnic table with my father. I looked up in the pink and blue horizon over the trees, and I could see the house that I was just in, floating in the sky, just about the trees. The side of the house that was facing me appeared to be removed, and you could see the floors with the people inside. Just like a doll house that opened up. Between my father and I at the picnic table, was a large paper bag filled with freshly cut vegetables. The bag was to my left, and we tipped it over to my right, and the yellow peppers, red peppers, broccoli, celery, and dill rolled on to the center of the table. The dill was vivid, and stood out to me. I looked down again, and saw a green grasshopper walking across the vegetables. My father and I looked at each other and laughed. The sun shined down on us, and it was a very warm feeling. There was a lady that was walking away, I think she was the one who brought us the vegetables. Shortly after she left, a dog with antlers growing out of its head and back walked by us, and I became overwhelmed with a feeling of discomfort. The dog had changed into a wolf, and I had been standing on the bench of the picnic table to try and scar it away. It walked away, off on to a bridge in the distance and began to howl. I looked at my father with worry and said that he’s going to call more wolves. My father smiled and said calmly while gently raising his eyebrows; “It’s okay.”
Chapter 7.9 A Grand Journey
The last night in New York came, and the next morning I would be flying out. Earlier in the day, Mike saw me scrambling and said “You need to relax. Everything will get taken care of.” And I began to relax, and not worry so much. The excitement of what I was about to embark had me on edge. Not all of my things were packed, and that was why I felt the need to scramble. Also, I needed to remove my car insurance, and plates, and all that other legal stuff before I left. Later that night, we had a Delmonico steak dinner with his delicious home-made wine.
I sat with Peri and Mike individually that night, and I told them that if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be writing, and there’s a big chance that I wouldn’t be on the spiritual path that I’m on now. Peri sat across the living room from me when I told her this, and she said she had no idea that they had that impact on me. And I told her, that I wanted them to know that. A little bit later in the evening I was sitting next to Mike. I looked over at him and told him that there wasn’t a man that I knew that I had more respect for in this world. I shook his hand and a tear rolled down my cheek. Not only was he a hard worker, an artist of a woodworker, a musician, a philanthropist, but he was an amazing parent. What he and his wife accomplished collectively with their children, is truly amazing. Two educated, cultured, hardworking and compassionate people came together and raised caring and undoubtedly brilliant children. To me, that is amazing. It’s like it’s the golden apex of their collective and individual accomplishments. What could be more important in life to those who have children?
I went to bed late that night and woke up foggy. I slowly finished packing my 25kg hiking pack and I was on my way to the train station. (I only packed one book, which is a lot for someone who’s not much of a reader. B.G. Bradley gave me a copy of Walden by Thorough. “To Brandon, at the beginning of a grand journey.” He wrote. )Mark gave me a ride, and said he’s not too fond of goodbyes, but would rather say “until next time.” After a hug I was on my way to New York City to catch my flight.
Two nights before I left, I was asked give a short speech to a group of honourable men, in a large conference hall. They wanted to know about the journey I was going to embark on. I stood up and said that I would be travelling around the world, while writing a book about my life, as well as my experiences on the journey. The purpose of topics were to function as a beacon for any of those it might be able to help. This purpose that I spoke about became ever more clear as my journey went on.
I arrived to Sweden and was greeted by my dear friends with big smiles and warm hugs. To my surprise I wasn’t jetlagged, and I was ready to explore and enjoy my time with them. Later that night, we prepared dinner, and laying on the kitchen counter was a large piece of fresh dill. I learned right after, that Dill is very common in Sweden, but this was much to my surprise, as that moment took me right back to the dream I had before I left. And the feeling that the dill provided me with, was only a slight feeling of comfort and assurance, that I was right where I was suppose to be.
Chapter 7.95 What are Signs?
Aside from this subject of my dream, and this feeling that I got when I saw the dill while visiting my friend, this wouldn’t be quite the memoire I would want it to be had I not expressed another similar story that’s stuck with me, and progressed with me as I’ve continued on my independent journey after leaving the cult. It parallels the feeling that I sometimes get when I have vivid dreams that come back to me as I go on with life.
I think the story is best if I start it from a conversation that I had with a friend. A young man went by the name of L.C. We were good friends in the cult. L.C. was tall, thin, kind, but had “vibe” about him. He didn’t look too strong, but he was cut like a fighter and strong like a bear. He didn’t like to fight, but he wouldn’t hold back for a second if he had to.
He came to the house of Yahweh with some friends of his when he was about 19 or so, and after a couple years, there was a period when he left for almost a year. When he came back he had this story to tell me. “Brandon, it was like I was constantly having nightmares of seeing 613, and knowing that I was moving away from the laws. I knew I needed to come back, and I couldn’t handle the dreams any more. It was like Yahweh was telling me that I needed to go back.”
It was a short conversation with him that I had, but I never forgot it. This was at least a couple years before I left. The number 613, in the house of Yahweh represent the 613 laws of Yahweh that needed to be kept in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. 6 is the number of man, and 13 is the number of God. I suppose you could ask a conspiracy theorist or a fortune teller, and they could tell you a lot more about this number. All I really know, is what it meant to those in the Cult.
Now shortly after I left, I started noticing the number in various places. Of course, whenever I saw it on the clock, I noticed it. Just like shortly after 911, people would notice that time when it rolled around. But then odder things started to happen. I landed my first over the table job on that date. The next car I bought had that number on the odometer. I was at a party in college and I looked at the clock on the oven around midnight, and it was broken, but stuck on that time. No one knew my story of this number, because I kept it too myself. So I found this as odd to me. I didn’t know what or if it meant anything. It didn’t bother me though, I know that.
A few years later I was speaking with an older gentleman who was affluent, perhaps a little superstitious or religious in some ways. I told him my “experiences” with this number and he said “I know what that means.” He never told me though, but he told me eventually I would figure it out.
Then my ticket from Colorado to Ecuador was $613. I was walking through an underpass in Sudbury Ontario, to see the numbers spray-painted on a cement wall. And then there’s those odd times where I might take a wrong turn, or decide to go a different route, and I see the number on a license plate. It’s unusual I feel. Because the places that the number shows itself, always seems a little uncanny.
As I said, I never was bothered by the number, but eventually, I started to feel comfort in it. To this day I don’t know what it means, but when I see it in these odd places, I hear a voice saying that I’m suppose to be here.
Chapter 7.96 While Writing This Book
I was getting ready to leave Sweden, and it was my last night. I wouldn’t be honest to my readers if I were to pretend that since I’ve been writing about honesty, acceptance and compassion that my life has all of sudden become free of emotional turmoil. Like all of us, I too have my inner battles, and I knew on this trip that they wouldn’t leave me. I knew that I would need to figure out how to let go of things.
The subjects that I wrote about, and the way I wrote about them, was a way for me try and overcome my inner-battles. And although I wouldn’t say that they ended them, the process of writing as I did, surely did help.
You see, I’ve struggled with loneliness, with confusion about relationships and how to go about them. But who doesn’t as some point? I’ve felt intense emotions of jealousy that overcome me in the night and have woken me up with a pounding heart that wouldn’t let me fall back asleep. And because of the irrational existence of these emotions, I’ve struggled with understanding them. And indeed, I’ve done what I could to accept them, I’ve even confessed them while choking on my words as I expressed them to Mike one day, while making brie for the family. I feel that when you don’t know what to do in these moments, the best thing you can do is be as honest and compassionate as you possibly can. At least, when I was in those moments, I felt that, that was my only chance.
So this was also a part of this journey. To travel and find new perspectives to view myself. When a creator or artist of any sorts is in the midst of their creation, they step back and observe from many different angles. This might be with it is so frustrating to hear others spew out their answers for our problems; because their perspective is so far out of reach from our own.
I continued to right throughout this journey. I wrote about the darkest moments of my life, and prepared myself to continue writing about them. And here I am now, surprised to see that I’m writing about writing this book.
When I was in the train station in Stockholm I wrote about the time my mother took me away from my father, but I saw some sort of relief in this moment, and as I saw and felt the relief, tears poured down my face. But I didn’t pause in my writing. I wrote through it. Like I always do. A group of Swedish girls looked back at me, and I knew they thought it was odd, but I didn’t care. Just as when I play music, I know there is no better place to play from then my heart. The same goes for writing. And shortly after I posted that portion of my writing on my blog, I got a message from a lady that I went to school with, who knew me then. She told me that she was brought to tears when she read what I wrote.
I’m only human, but so are we all, and through honest expression of that we can, perhaps, all come together and discover that in various ways. This too, is the purpose of this book.
Chapter 8: One Last Moment of Preparation
I was off to Finland and excited to discover something new about my roots. I thought it was something special how the people looked the same as they did from my hometown. How they sort of spoke the same, acted the same; had the same last names. The area looked the same, and to my pleasant surprise, the food was better, but that was a given.
I met my family, and although distant in blood the spirit was right next to mine. Some of them treated me like a son, and some of them treated me like a brother. But in both regards, they made me feel like I was being treated like a King, as I was often presented with an array of cheeses, wines, meats, vegetables and other delicious foods. And although the foods were excellent, the most captivating moments where when they told me they could see my roots in me.
My cousin Teemu and I were in the Sauna. It’s a relaxing place in the States, but in Finland it’s a spiritual place. One where you’re naked, and the same as anyone else. And again, as Mike would say, it’s a place for No Bullshit. Because when that happens, you get more steam.
Sisu had been a topic of discussion for me and many other Finns. Whether they be friends or family, they would all say it’s something hard to describe. But then in the Sauna, I had a discussion with Teemu, and I told him the story of what it was like to tell my father that I was never going back to Texas. That I would rather burn in hell than to continue with something that I do not believe in. In this moment I knew that I would be giving up my father, and forcing him to give up me, if he chooses to stick with his beliefs. “That’s Sisu” Teemu said, and that’s when it made perfect sense to me, what that word meant. Because what I felt during that experience, I really can’t describe. There’s a feeling that you know in life, but you can’t describe. In Brazil they say “Saudate.”
Along with learning of my roots, another topic of discussion was suicide. Finns have a very high rate of suicide. It most likely relates to a brutal history paired with brutal conditions, and a sudden shift into modern times, where the individual doesn’t have to live such an extreme life to survive. In those extreme conditions there is neither a time nor a purpose to self-reflect or reveal emotions. Maybe this is why after living with Mike and Peri, emotional struggles that I didn’t have the time or capacity to deal with finally surfaced. Because they provided the emotional and physical space for that. The topic of suicide for me was a dark one, because I’ve battled with the feelings of that myself in the past. And although dark, it was a necessary discussion for me to have that with those in Finland.
The day that I left Finland, I received a message on my phone. It was my father, and he told me that he got his MRI results back, and that everything was fine. He said that all of his problems were likely caused from stress, and that he just needed to relax and take it easy. “Where are you at in the world?” he said with a hint of laughter in his voice.
Chapter 8.1 A Nightmare Came True
This journey had been filled with vivid dreams packed with so much symbolism. But one vivid dream I had was when I was in Estonia. I was next to Mike and he had his right hand wrapped around the back of my neck. It was like he was hugging me, and caring for me. It was odd, but an incredibly comforting feeling.
After a long night in Munich I got to Spain, and found a hostel to sleep at. The next day I organized the time to pick up my bike, and that would be the following day. So on my third day in Spain, I built my bike right inside of Customs, and was getting excited to go on my long cycling trip across Europe.
I walked around Madrid that night, visited with friends, had drinks and went to bed around midnight. Within a few hours of going to sleep I felt something touch my foot, and I jumped almost completely off my bed. Looking around with my hands flat on the bed sheets, I couldn’t see anything or anyone. I went back to sleep, woke up around 7:00am, picked up my phone and saw several messages. One was from my Aunt. She said I needed to call her. “Fuck” I said as I got out of bed. I knew it was about my father. I knew he was gone.
I walked down to the lobby of the hostel and called my Aunt. “It’s about your dad, they found him hanging from a rope in a shed.” She said has she broke out into tears over the phone. I cried as well. Tears poured relentlessly down my face as I couldn’t believe that this would be the scenario on how my father would die. We talked and cried and talked and cried. Filled with misery, disbelief, and blame for the house of Yahweh, our worst fear had came true. That he would move down to Texas, and we would never see him again. And at the same time, my worst fear with my trip and this book would come true. That I would indeed, be writing about my father’s death before I finished this book.
I called my friends, my family. Those who could answer were woken up out of their sleep. “I wish I could be there to hold you.” Mike said as he somehow reminded me of that dream. I walked up and down the streets of Madrid with tears pouring down my face. I didn’t even know where I was going to stay that night, but I didn’t care. The hostel was booked, but I would sleep in the street. I just didn’t care.
I didn’t know if I would even go back for the funeral. I was angry. I was torn. In shock. I kept walking, kept smoking cigarettes, and just tried to embrace as much as I could about this situation as I could. I needed to feel it, and I needed to let it out. It was as if all the writing I had done about honesty, acceptance and compassion was a preparation for this moment. “This can only happen once.” Mike reminded me.
I visited the Prado, knowing that that was the reason why I came to Madrid in the first place. Although I say I didn’t know if I was going to go back to bury him, deep down I knew that I was going to. I just didn’t know how it was going to work. Was the house of Yahweh going to take control over everything? Did they already seize his belongings like they’ve done to so many other people? Wait a second, why the hell would someone who is so worried about their health so that they can live such a long life, all of a sudden kill themselves out of the blue? Too many questions. Many of which will never be answered.
I was already suppose to meet a couch surfer that day. And speaking with her helped. I told her that I was having a really bad day, and she was thinking that I just couldn’t find a place to stay. When I expressed my news she hugged me, and it felt so good to have hug at that moment. I finished my non-alcoholic beer and walked around with her for a bit. Later that night I found a piano, and playing helped. I went back to the hostel, grabbed my things, and made it to another place that I would be sleeping at.
The next day I went for a run, and then I sat down later and wrote about my experience, and everything that I had learned. I wrote it under a post called “A message of Love.”
A Message of Love
It sounds arrogant to say this, but I have found my purpose in life. As big and grand as it may sound to some, what it really means to me is something very simple. My purpose is something that I’m willing to die for. Honestly. It’s something that I am able to fall back on during any time of need. And during the darkest of times, I’m able to create a fire in this purpose to further push myself in the direction that I’m headed.
Not too long ago, thousands of people lost their lives. So many people are hurting, and I feel for them. Tremendously. I feel that when dark times come over me, there’s always chance that I will lose sight of what’s important, and I guess in my current situation, I’m thankful that all my other superfluous issues have rendered silence. I’m indeed push further into the direction of pursuing my purpose, and that is to practice Compassion to its fullest extent.
Nothing, and I mean Nothing is more important in this life than having a positive influence on our surroundings. Selflessness is the purpose to existence and the key to discovering the strongest power of our existence.
I think I could almost say I had a great loss a few days ago. But the truth is, I didn’t lose anything. A couple months ago I had a conversation with my father, and it went a little something like this:
“Dad, I want you to know, that if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be pursuing a life of honesty, and a life filled with compassion. Because of you, I have a deep love for all those around me, and I know that you did everything you could for me. You taught me a lot, and even though you weren’t perfect, and even though you made some mistakes, I love you, and I’m very happy that you were my father. ”
And then he told me:
“When I was a young boy my father was very violent, and there were times that we didn’t know if he would kill us. He had a big alcohol problem, and he would beat your grandmother. I was scary, and I hated it. I could never want this for anyone, and so this is why I believe in kindness. I sorry I couldn’t have done more for you, and I’m sorry that I beat you that one time when you were a boy. It hurt me bad, but I love you.”
My father was moving to Texas to be with the cult, and his whole family was worried that this might be the last time we would see him. After he moved he became stressed out and started having what seemed to be severe health issues. He thought that he just needed to do some cleanses to fix his problems, and he really didn’t want to go to the doctor. His whole family tried to encourage him to go to the doctor. He had jaundice and difficulty breathing for crying out loud. So eventually he went. He went to the doctor to get an MRI, and according to his friends, he seemed cheerful about the results.
About two days after, this is the story that follows.
He was working on an air compressor with one of his friends in the House of Yahweh. This was going on in a shed where he had worked on the roof maybe not more than a day prior. Dan, his friend left the shed for about an hour to work on another project. He was gone for about an hour to an hour and a half. When Dan returned to the shed, the doors were locked and the lights were off. He broke open the door and saw a 6-foot, blue step ladder lying on the floor and my father’s body hanging above it.
I’ve thought to myself about this for going on three days now. Death is complicated. Suicide is even more complicated, and Suicide that takes place in an extreme fundamentalist cult maximizes the complications.
Dan, his friend called one of the elders near the property. Then the elder called Yisrayl Hawkins for instructions. The priest told Dan to go look at the body and to check his pulse to see if he was alive. Dan said the body felt cold and that there was no pulse. Whatever happened directly after or before that is unknown. Then the priest, David Heimerman called Don Wardon, the owner of the property, and instructed him to call the police. This is part of the complications that a cult can induce on death.
Several fire trucks, the local judge, squad cars and EMTs were on the scene within minutes. Pictures were taken, keys were taken, and everything seems to be on lock down. Indeed, it’s a shock to everyone.
I can’t imagine what my father was going through. Of course I wish he would’ve called me one last time. Of course I wish I could have seen him one last time. But the truth is, I know he loved me, and that is why I don’t feel like I’ve lost.
Suicide could make anyone think that the doer is coward, but indeed, how can anyone possibly know the deep inner struggles of another. My father suffered from unknown things. My family and I know that. However, now we can know that he is no longer suffering.
I had just got to Spain a couple days before this. The night before was a big day, and an exciting beginning to a journey that I would use to help clear my head and refresh my spirit. That night I went to sleep, and in the middle of my sleep, I felt something touch my foot. I jumped so strongly that my entire body almost lifted up into the air. I looked around, and there was nothing.
At 7:00am I looked at my phone and saw several text messages from random numbers, but I saw one from my Aunt, telling me to call her. I got up and said “Fuck.” I knew what it was about. I just didn’t know how.
I called her and she had explained to me the news. We had both cried. She had said that didn’t want to be the one to have told me, but in all reality, who could possibly have been a better person to break the most difficult news of my life. I am again, thankful for that.
So I left the Hostel I was staying at. The upcoming night was booked and I had no idea where I would sleep that night. Of course, I didn’t care. That was the last thing that was on my mind. I went and started to walk around Madrid. I stared up at the sky as tears ran down my face. The people in this city at this point were invisible to me. Something about the architecture was calming, and I thought to myself with surprise “I don’t feel alone.”
I made it to a coffee shop near the center of Madrid. By then I had bought a pack of cigarettes. I’m a drinker, but I didn’t want to drink. There was no desire, but I did decide to smoke. At the coffee shop, I sat outside and had coffee while I called those close to me to break the news and to help myself get through this. The feeling of shock I had was like none other. It was as if I was floating. Emotions hit me like tidal waves throughout the day, and tears would pour until my eyes hurt.
I had eventually found a place to stay. I had a couple beers after smoking my 10th or 11th cigarette. I went to sleep around midnight and woke up around 7:00am and prepared for a run. I stuck the cigarettes in my pocket. I left, ran by a guy smoking and quickly handed him the cigarettes. At that point, anyone who smoked needed them more than I did.
It’s been a few days, and my eyes still hurt. There are still tears that work their way out while writing this. People tell me that they can’t imagine what I’m going through, and I can’t imagine how long this pain is going to last, because there are so many good memories of this good man. He was a loving man, who loved to laugh, who loved to work, and most importantly, who loved to love. He truly is the reason why my intentions in life are to turn poison into medicine.
If I could give one message to my father right now, it would be that I love you, and I forgive you.
Chapter 8.1 Returning to the Cult Grounds
Within a day I had made the decision that I was going to go back to burry my father. My mother had called me a few times and told me that I needed to call her. I was a little taken back that my mother needed me to talk to her. I was caught up with so many things, and it was hard to focus on one thing, especially something that someone “needed” from me at the moment. Eventually I spoke with her and she offered that if there was anything she could do to help, that I shouldn’t hesitate to ask. A short while after that I decided to ask her to help me with getting my ticket to Chicago, from Madrid.
I found a ticket for a little less than $500, and to my surprise, my mother offered to pay for the ticket, so I could come back to the states to bury my father. This was the biggest financial help I had ever gotten from my mother. The plan was that I would my mother, my aunt, and my sister before my aunt, sister and I drove down to Texas. My mother put me under the impression that she wanted me to spend a night or two with her, but I didn’t have the time. I had a tight itinerary already, and this interruption would end up costing me two weeks of time. I told her that I would be able to meet her at the airport to have lunch with her.
As the time got closer she told me that she would not be able to drive down to Chicago because she wasn’t feeling well, and that she would meet my aunt in Milwaukee to give her the money for my plane ticket. I told her that I would let her know what day I would be back in Chicago before I left, so that we could see each other. She agreed and asked me to keep in touch while I was down there.
When my aunt and sister came to pick me up, we didn’t waste any time. We kept heading straight down to Abilene Texas. We left Chicago at 3:00pm, and arrived in Baird County the next day around 12:00pm. We went right to the Sheriff’s office where Terry Joy had my father’s police report, wallet, and keys to his property.
We were all tired, sweaty, sad, and the tears often accompanied the sweat as we went through this journey. The sheriff handed me the packet of papers and my stomach felt as if it were a heavy weight, hanging from a string that was attached to my throat. I read the first page of his preliminary autopsy report, I saw the pictures of his property, located near the House of Yahweh grounds. There was a big “Peaceful Solution” sign on his property. A subject he seemed to fully stand by. And then there were three pictures of his dead body hanging from a black and orange rope. The first picture was at a distance, the second picture was at the same angle but closer; his head was turned away. Then the last picture was a close-up of his face. Even though my father was closed, there was a sense of nakedness that I saw in him. Perhaps this came seeing his pants, wet with urine. My aunt grabbed me and held me. We all looked at the pictures and cried. We asked why, we had words of denial and words of love. This was the beginning to the end of receiving our closure over this dark circumstance.
From the sheriff’s office we went to the funeral home to speak with the mortician, the deputy of peace, and then to scene of the incident. Dan was the person who found my father, and he was the second person there when we arrived. I asked him how he was, and he said “Well I didn’t cry the first day, I cried the second day, but I haven’t cried since.” Before I spoke with him I spoke with Don. Don is in his early 70s, and didn’t have much to say. I remembered him from the Wisconsin branch of the house of Yahweh, from when I was a child. I asked what happened, and the two guys, Don and Daniel said it just happened out of the blue. That my father and Dan were working on an aircompressor, and Dan stepped away from the job scene for a couple hours, he came back and then saw my father hanging. Dan said that he was encouraged to empty out his bank account before getting the MRI done. That way they couldn’t take his money directly out of the bank in case he needed a big operation. This was their reasoning on why he was told to do this. They then told me that he had a strong box on his property with all of his money in it.
We packed up some things in his suburban and drove it off of Don’s property, and headed to my father’s property. We wondered if we would find anything. We heard rumors from people who had left that Yisrayl Hawkins and the elders were known to go through the belongings and take anything of value. I even heard Mattithyah Arcemont say this years ago; “It all belongs to Yisrayl anyways. Those heathens will never get what belongs to him.” Even the judge stated that he was notorious for this, but that this type of behavior died down since he was convicted of charges for multiple marriages. He didn’t want any more bad publicity. Despite not knowing if his valuables would be missing, we didn’t know if anything would happen to us, once the sheriff left use. The entire time, in the middle of these back woods of Texas, we felt watched the entire time. And the same people continually driving by in their rusty pick-up trucks, more or less confirmed it. At looking through his belongings, we couldn’t find anything of value. We decided that we would have to come back later, and spend at least a couple days going through his thing. One thing is for certain, there was no strong box, ever, and no sign of any note or medical records. All these things were missing. “Maybe he had some of his things on the bus that he stayed in during the feasts?” I said to myself. I asked the sheriff to call the elder Matt Stubbs to see if he would give us permission to go on the compound where the bus was. Matt said that he would call back later, and within a couple hours he told the sheriff, after us calling him back, that we could go on with his supervision.
After we left my father’s property, we headed back to the funeral home. Here we would see Dale’s body, and later be picked up from the funeral home by Matt Stubbs. Seeing my father would be the second to the last thing that I would have to do, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Baring the pain, I more or less floated through with the actions, and took everything in the best that I could. It didn’t look like him, and it barely felt like him, when I touched his face. Again, we all cried and held each other. It would have been incredibly hard for any two of us to deal with this on their own. We all needed each other here.
Chapter 8.2 Without Empathy
Matt (A House of Yahweh Elder) pulls up in a somewhat new silver suburban. He gets out of the vehicle and shows a slight smirk on his face. I had no idea what was going to happen, what he was going to say, but the truth is, I didn’t care one bit. I wasn’t about to start confrontation, but as the trip endured with Matt, I sensed that he wanted it.
My family and I got in the suburban, and headed to the compound. It had been 11 years since I had been on those grounds. I never planned on going back, and I surely never wanted to. Here I was reminded of the recurring dreams I had since I left. Being on the compound, and only wishing I wasn’t there.
“Do you have any idea why you’re father would’ve done this?” Matt said as he turned to me with a slight grin on his face. “No idea” I said. Matt didn’t seem to show any signs of empathy toward the situation at all, and I felt that I really needed to bite my tongue the majority of the time I was with him. We arrived to the grounds, got to the bus, and went and looked around, a Matt waited outside for us. Again, we didn’t find anything. We looked through his belongings, and found nothing that would lead to us learning his medical condition, and certainly no strong box. I looked in what used to be his liquor cabinet, and sure enough, it still was. My father hadn’t drank for years, so it was a surprise for me to find his liquor cabinet fully stocked. I grabbed a bottle of rye whiskey, and calmed my nerves, as I was becoming angry impatient with the entire situation.
I told Matt that my father had another trailer, and that I would like to take a look in it before I left the grounds. I pointed where it was, and I said it was just right over there, not even 100 yards. “Let’s drive over there” he said repetitively. “Okay” I said, and we drove the few feet. I felt as if he wanted it to seem like there was something he had to hide. Shortly after arriving, Mattithyah Arcemont shows up. We were friends in the past, but of course, I was a heathen. “Long time no see Brandon.” “Indeed.” I responded. “Too bad it had to be under these circumstances.” He said as he looked down while smiling slightly. “Yeah, it’s too bad. It’s a sad story.” I said. Both Matts stood next to each other as they watched us go through some of the things in the trailer.
“So you’re an elder now, eh, Mattithyah?” I said as he leaned up against a semi. “We’re called Kahans now. You’re a bit behind on the times. You know Brandon, I read almost you’re entire blog. You’re really behind on the times.” He said confidently, without thinking that it’s possible I watch my web traffic on my blog, and can see how much time people are spending on my site from places such as Clyde. That indeed is the case, so what he said seemed silly to me more than anything. “That’s good, I’m glad you’re reading it.” I said to Matt. “You knew he was a Kahan. “Stubbs said. “No, I didn’t, I just assumed that he would be by now. I guess you more or less confirmed it.” I responded.
As we were getting ready to leave, Matt Arcemont told me to check out the Peaceful Solution website, and I told him that I have. “I will make you guy some links to that website.” I said to him as he got in his car. “Oh, you don’t need to do that, I’m sure there’s already a lot.” He said as he left.
Chapter 8.3 Without Empathy pt2
The three of us rode back to the Funeral home with Stubbs. “So what are you doing these days?” Stubbs asked. “I’m a jazz musician and a writer.” I said. “Is that what you’re doing in Madrid?” “I’ve been travelling, writing a book, and playing music wherever I go.” I said. Stubbs goes on about remembering how I played music when I was younger, and he reminds me of another Saxophone player that used to be in the House of Yahweh. And then we start talking about the book that I’m writing.
On a side note, the writing of this book was a large concern for those to who were close to me. “Could someone come after you for this, Brandon?” “You need to be careful, Brandon, you’re in a journalist’s position right now.” And another truth, is in that these thoughts were already in my head. Especially when I went down there. “Can I trust Stubbs?” I texted an ex-member. I received a reply to that text, right as I was getting in the door of his vehicle. “No! Absolutely not. He ran me off the road the other night.” The reply said as I got in Stubbs silver suburban. It’s hard to predict what could possibly occur in a situation such as this. Odds are, nothing will happen indeed. However, this is the backwoods of Texas where people talk with an accent that requires subtitles at times. And a murder case solved, is probably a rare occurrence in the public eye. Rumors of other ex-members also receiving death threats. But due to the numbness caused from seeing my father minutes before all this, I was more concerned with the abundance of possibilities that could happen, more so than the physical damage that could take place. I guess in the moment, you could say I didn’t really care that much after all.
I thought deeply about the idea that this group used fear to control its followers. And a big part in using fear to get people to believe in what you’re saying, is that they need to fear the consequences of disobedience the most. Playing in the extremes is the way that I see it. The idea can be seen as setting up a psychological playground in someone’s mind where they need to continually running away from a made up sense of evil, and if they resist the temptation, they will receive unimaginable rewards. And within this playground, the excitement or muse, is what draws the individual away from their own logic. Now the tricky part comes like this, people often have their own demons, and sometimes these demons are really intense. Perhaps a young man who was a heroin addict most of his life; who lost his son in a car accident, speaks with a priest while in prison. And during this conversation, this young man finds a nirvana. Although completely made up and sold on material values, this young man is now a soldier for this priest/religion. He will now dedicate his work to his faith, and give as much money as they can encourage him to do so.
The ability for the individual to reason well under the most difficult moments, can sometimes be a determining factor, in whether or not they will likely join a cult. Some of us have been in difficult moments where we feel that we need an answer quick. It can be difficult to step away from that feeling and say, wait a second, I’m just going to live in this moment, and simply “feel” what life is handing me right now, even though it hurts tremendously. I think it’s safe to argue, that trying to manipulate a person under these circumstances, is nothing other than true evil. It is an act that completely removes someone from their social setting, outside of their will. They are stolen from their family and they are stolen from themselves.
For me, the ability to (Deconstruct this evil) see in my mind; how, when, if likely, or why; people are caught up in these walks of life, is the poison that the House of Yahweh gave me turned into medicine. Many have said that Yisrayl Hawkins stole their children, their wife, their brother or sister. Many people have said that Yisrayl Hawkins stole their money, their house, or their dead relative’s belongings. Many people have said these things quietly amongst themselves, but never to the public eye. And let me tell you another thing about the Fear that is learned in the House of Yahweh. It’s planted deep, and the worse things that we were taught about “fall-aways” is that they spoke against Yisrayl Hawkins. A big insurance policy implanted in the House of Yahweh members.
“You know, when I left, Stubbs, I left quietly, and didn’t try to take anyone with me.” He had his right arm extended over to the steering wheel, he look over his right shoulder and said quietly, “well. It’s a good thing you didn’t.”
I find the most beneficial way to look at fear, and that is this. I ask myself, “Do I fear?” if so, “What do I fear?” “Am I afraid I will suffer?” then I think, “I better not fear that, because then I am already suffering.”
I said to Stubbs “ You know, I believed in many things about the House of Yahweh, I paid my tithes, I just didn’t agree with it. Simply put, Yisrayl Hawkins said things that I just don’t agree with. And I would rather have burned in the Lake of fire, instead of following something that I didn’t believe in.
He didn’t really have much to say after that. He dropped us back off at the funeral home, and we left to find a hotel.
Chapter 8.4 Through the Motions
Perhaps the only nice thing about that hot exhausting day was the air-conditioning in my Aunts van. The heat wore us down, we were tremendously tired from the drive, and our emotions were perhaps shaken the most they had ever been. We did our best to stay joyful, and for the most part we did. But every now and then our company was interrupted by a random outburst of tears. But this happened from the beginning, since we found out.
We found a hotel with a pool, and managed to get a good night’s rest. The next day we were off to sift through my father’s belongings in hopes that we would discover the few sentimental things that he had left. Although we had slept and rested fairly well, we were still emotionally exhausted. None of us needed to be pushed in any way. I knew that however we were going to go about doing this, we needed to do it as a team.
During this day, we had a lot of work to do. My father had two storage units, the 40-foot kind that they use for international shipping; filled with odds and ends. Tools, shelving, a table from his sister, a cabinet that I built when I was 14. I was surprised to see that there. Pictures, books, more tools, House of Yahweh literature, and more house of Yahweh literature, and even a picture of him standing with Yisrayl Hawkins. And during this time I thought to myself, “You know, I just don’t fucking get it. He probably paid about a quarter million dollars throughout his life to the House of Yahweh. He kept the laws they told him to keep to the finest detail. Probably better than most elders there do. He bought all the books, he retired from the mine, and here I am hoping to the heavens that I can find his sterling silver wedding ring, with nothing other than sentimental value.” And the only way for me to get it, is to understand how such a kind and diligent person such as my father can be taken advantage of. I dance between sadness and anger over this in my heart, and I’m not sure if I will ever get over it.
My father’s two shipping containers rested on an acre plot that’s known as the “88.” A place where no one that’s not from the House of Yahweh likes to go, or even would go. The ground is muddy when wet, and hard as a rock when it’s dry. There’s about a month of green, and the rest of the year, these 5-foot tall bushes that cover the landscape turn brown and grey. The land is desolate. There’s nothing, and it’s surrounded by surveillance cameras so the House of Yahweh security knows what’s going on at all times. Yes, we all felt that we were being watched, and I feel that seeing the same people drive by several times proves this feeling; in a way.
I had to do something to help me get through this day, and as we started to go through his things, I let myself feel anger instead of sadness. Anger at the house of Yahweh, anger with my father (selfish anger, that is) and anger of what could have happened to his belongings.
I began to quickly go through his clothes in hopes that I would find something important, something that would provide an explanation. “Can we not go through his clothes right now.” My aunt says with tears in her eyes. I began to calm down a bit.
We went through as much of his belongings as we could. Almost everything, but to our dismay there was no strong box, no letter, and nothing that would offer a form of explanation on why this could have happened.
Chapter 8.5 Questions and Decisions
After we spent hours and hours going through his belongings, we began to have the conversation on where we would have him buried, and this was one of the hardest decisions we had to make. None of us wanted to be the ones to make the decision, but it had to be made.
We wanted to respect his wishes, but we also wanted to keep other family members in mind. He wanted to be buried next to his wife, but that was on property that was owned by the cult. “Do we bury him in another cemetery? Do we take him back to Michigan?” All these questions were on our mind, and we had no idea what to do. Expenses were also an issue, and taking him back to his hometown would not be cheap; that was almost out of the question.
We eventually decided later that day, that we would have him buried next to his wife in the cemetery that was owned by Yisrayl Hawkins. This was far from an easy decision, but I guess you could say that my father didn’t leave us in an easy position to make the decision. Again, he probably left a note if he actually hung himself. And if he did, the House of Yahweh took it. It was most likely David Heimerman that took the note as well, since he was the “kahan” that was on the scene, and waited hours before he called Don Wordon and instructed him to call 911. And this might be why David won’t speak to anyone. We called the funeral home and told them where we would have him buried, and we scheduled 10am for the next day. By this time I had already been preparing the things to say over his body.
I knew this was going to be somewhat of a “redneck” funeral. It was inexpensive, and in fact, probably the cheapest it could be. We did have a granite tombstone made with his name on it. At this cemetery they generally have nothing, or just the name Hawkins printed in cement. For me, all these things are superficial, and they really don’t matter anyway. Even if he didn’t have a tombstone, I would know where he is. I made sure his body was centered in his grave and they lowered him into the ground. I also made sure it was me who picked him up in his casket, out of the coach. I wanted to be the one, and no one else. I also wanted to be the one to say the words. Perhaps I felt that I was the only one in the family that could muster a few of them up, but I certainly didn’t want anyone else talking about my father. I didn’t want any religious jargon. This wasn’t about any religious faith, this was simply about a family’s love for someone who they knew was a beautiful person.
In the House of Yahweh, they believe that when someone dies, they simply go to sleep, and will be awaken at one point during the resurrection. This is why they don’t have funerals or tombstones, and perhaps this is also why none of the people who were close to my father showed any signs of the ability to grieve. I wrote about my father’s burial in “A message of Love pt. 2” a few days after it happened. He was buried on the first of May, 2015.
Preparing myself to perform the ceremony proved to me that it was the most draining thing I’ve ever done in my live. I was the most exhausted I had ever been shortly after. But I knew I needed to do it. I knew I needed for this experience to be difficult and painful if I were to deal with it appropriately. And because I have, I’m able to sit calmly and write about it. With that being said, it certainly has changed me. How could this not?
After his funeral we continued with the logistical work of trying to get the electricity turned off, and trying to learn about his MRI results. The secretary of where he got the test done said it shouldn’t be a problem, but this seemed a bit odd to us. Despite our doubts, we were still desperate to learn of the results, and we were hoping that we would get some information. And to our expected dismay, we were left with no information, and that’s why this situation couldn’t be more frustrating. In any suicide people will say that there’s no closure. And that’s because we always feel like there’s something that we could have done, and something that we should have known about the other person. But in this situation, too many pieces to the puzzle are missing, and there’s only one group of people who would have the answers to that, but they’re not talking. “How on earth, do we get the authorities to investigate this further?” His family and friends wonder.
Chapter 8.6 After the Burial
We go back to the hotel after running around, trying to find answers. We decided that, that was enough for the day. For me it definitely was. I needed to do something that would take my mind off things, and thankfully there was a friend in town that I was able to meet up with. We met in Marquette for the first time, and it happened because I said a joke about the House of Yahweh. She laughed like she knew what I was talking about, and she did. I made a joke to her this time saying that “See, the House of Yahweh brought two heathens together again. What do you know?” We both laughed over a few drinks that night. I think it’s fair to say that this was a well-deserved escape.
The next day we had decided that we were going to head back. I spoke with my mother on the phone again, and told her how the funeral went. She expressed a lot of sadness in her voice. I told her that I would let her know when we were getting to Chicago when we knew. I was eager to get out of Abilene myself, but I think my sister and aunt just wanted a good start on the trip. We made sure my father’s belongings were all locked up, and went to meet up with a friend from my childhood before we left. He invited me to see another mutual friend that I hadn’t seen for 11 years, and I agreed. During that time, another ex-member who I had been in touch with offered to drive an hour to see me. Even though it would just be for an hour. He showed up on the property and we chatted for a little before we head to a local brewery. It was nice to see everyone, but like everyone seemed to be saying “It’s too bad it’s under these circumstances.” But in reality, I can’t imagine why anyone would simply visit Abilene Texas. I leaned up against a tree during our conversation, looked down, and a green grasshopper jumped on my leg. “I guess the hard parts over.” I said to myself in my head.
We all headed towards the pub to have one last chat. The conversation lead to concerns about the danger that the House of Yahweh poses to its followers. I became fully convinced at this time that the house of Yahweh has become an unstable place.
We left, and we were on our way to Wichita Falls. We spent a night there, a night in Missouri, and we continued to make our way north to Chicago. We arrived a couple hours south of Chicago, and a friend of mine was expecting my call. I called him to let him know what was going on. “Why not just come all the way to Chicago?” he asked, and the conversation went on. “Well are you too tired? If you want me to come, I’ll come.” He said. And shortly after, he drove two hours to come and visit me. Almost exactly two hours after our phone conversation, he was there. I hadn’t seen him since I lived in Ecuador.
Earlier that day I had texted my mother and told her that I would be in Chicago the next day. And the next day I received a bundle of texts from her, and my only conclusion is that she was having a bipolar episode. There was a long text that expressed selfishness on my part, how she forgives me for having a family in New York, and cruel words that parents don’t say to their children. I showed the text to my aunt and within seconds she started crying “I’m sorry, Brandon. You sure don’t have it easy.”
I tried to explain to my mother that I didn’t know the exact time I was going to be in Chicago, and she insisted it was my fault that I didn’t see her. I was completely baffled by this situation, because she didn’t want to come see me in Chicago when I arrived, and now it happened twice. The feeling of bafflement didn’t stop either, because the last text she sent me was a message stating that she was disowning her son. I said to her “I’m not sure why a parent would ever let go over their children.” And there have been no words between us since. I hesitate to write this, but this book is a memoir of a 29 year old, and this is something significant that happened, as well as it parallels other moments in my past. I love my mother. She taught me charisma, how to dance, told me about women, and in round about ways she showed me how to teach myself independence. I love my mother, but I do not know how to not love her from a distance.
Finding the strength to let this form of rain roll off wasn’t too difficult. Because all I had to do was remind myself what the ropes felt like in my hand. The rope that my father hung himself with, and the ropes that I lifted to put in him the ground. Shortly I was on a plane back to Europe. I would eventually get back to writing this book, and further my journey. It’s what my father would’ve wanted.
Chapter 8.6 An Interlude
People always seem to end up telling me “You know, it’s a good thing you got out when you did.” Unfortunately this is very true, and it seems to have created potentially dangerous situations for many people. Rumours of domestic violence, extreme polygamy leading to wonders of how cruelly some young girls might be being treated. Or the stress that the followers endure, leading to heavy psychological issues. Or maybe this is just what these types of sects become over the span of five decades.
“The joy is gone, Brandon. There’s no more joy. You remember what it used to be like. There was fellowship, there was laughter, music. But then the wall went up and everything started to go downhill. People are working seven days a week now. There’s no day of rest anymore.
I think that’s what happened Brandon. You’re father started to wake up. He probably saw everything for what it was, and just couldn’t take it. You know how your father was, He was more diligent than anyone. Not one person here can say anything negative about your father.” –An Ex-member.
Contemplating this idea has left me convinced that this would rather be a good scenario; considering other plausible scenarios. But in my father’s case, there’s just too much information missing from this puzzle. Either way, it’s still a dangerous situation.
The evolution of small sects seem to have few outcomes. The sect can come to an end by dissipation, or by an act of extreme consequence. This is the balancing act that happens between the love of illusion against being consumed by it. Jim Jones, his Kool-Aid, Waco and the military tanks, are examples of sects that we don’t really hear about until the extremeness has reached its apex. I don’t any expert could predict when our how this would happen with any sect. Reflecting on my personal experience, I can’t seem to break the chaos that occurs in them.
What my friend said was right, about the House of Yahweh being a joyful and pleasant place. In the beginning, there was excitement for this. Sure it was a little odd in many ways, but at that time there was actually cohesion. It eventually faded, and just started to get more extreme shortly before I left.
What I saw alone allowed me to realize how individuals can be gradually swayed over time, into doing things that at the beginning, they wouldn’t think twice about doing those things. One time when I was younger, about the age of 8 or 9 maybe, I asked my father “Dad, what if they started hurting people, and they said we have to hurt ourselves. Would you follow them?” “No, I wouldn’t.” He said.
The rumors that I’ve heard about this place. What things have become, and how the changes that were being made when I left, played significant results in what’s happened now. Imagine now, the intensity; the evolution, of their practices that I spoke of earlier. What could have possibly become of those things now. Of course without actual proof, there’s no way of knowing.
They do a good job of hiding behind their biggest project; The Peaceful Solution. A claim to world peace through their workshops. If that was true, how come more than 2/3s of the sect had left? Of course we were always taught that three out of every four would turn away, but that’s just a sophisticated way of saying “Maybe only 25 percent of you will believe this story.” And the ones who did decide to leave, were simply told they weren’t called or chosen, so essentially, they didn’t even count in that equation. This adds to the alienation of the ex-members. Not just from the group, but from amongst themselves. They feel like they are alone, and that their own situation has the right to separate themselves from every other x-member. I’m not saying this is How it is, but rather how it can be for some. Only because it was, in part, this way for me.
The alienation works as an advantage to the sect as well, because by means of fear, they have already controlled the actions of its soon to be ex-followers. It’s hard not to see it as strategic insurance policy. If the ex-members were to organize in such a fashion, it might be just enough to result in a safe dissipation of the group. Of course this sort of discussion from the House of Yahweh would be seen as a pure attack. We were told that Yahweh punishes those the most that speak against Yisrayl and his teachings. He is believed to be “The one who rules as Yahweh.” So they’re his teachings now. There is a series of books with this in its title.
I’m not 100 percent sure that I can say that a bureaucracy is the reason why such social manipulation is allowed to take place, but due to particular words on paper, is the reason why sects like Jim Jones or Dave Koresh aren’t able to be stopped, or even investigated in the first place.
It’s so easy to say effortlessly, “Yeah, but polygamy is illegal.” But multiple marriages happen, and they continue to take place unless the government stops them. The Mormons practiced this, but then all of a sudden, God told them it wasn’t okay anymore. So they quit. But how did they and other sects actually get away with it in the first place, and how long did they practice it for? And bureaucracy is where it tends to end for those who have lost a tremendous amount, because of extreme sects. However, again, if people organize amongst themselves, then most reasonable goals can and will be achieved.