Patriarchy Across Cultures: Magic Man

by Tapati

Chicago

Chicago, Illinois

Cold late night so long ago
When I was not so strong you know
A pretty man came to me
Never seen eyes so blue
I could not run away
It seemed we’d seen each other in a dream
It seemed like he knew me
He looked right through me

–Heart

Previously I described how I left the Chicago Hare Krishna temple. I was headed for my friend Suprabha’s apartment. I had her phone number and address written down, and knew which El stop to look for. When I got off the El I called Suprabha and she gave me directions to her dad’s home. She’d told me that he traveled a lot and wouldn’t be around.

Suprabha greeted me warmly and we talked and cooked together and generally enjoyed hanging out. There was a George Harrison special on the radio, with interviews and music, and we taped it. I was given my own room in the large apartment and for the next several days I settled in to life in Chicago. Suprabha took me to visit a counselor at her college who gave me job referrals for child care. I met a couple of parents who were friends and was well on my way to getting a live-in job with a very nice Jewish couple. They invited me to dinner and were so respectful of my beliefs that they offered to leave the room while I offered my food—what a change from my family!

One day Suprabha told me a friend was coming over. It turned out to be Bhakta Mike, the new guy from the temple. It was a little awkward socializing with him since just a few days before I wasn’t supposed to give him the time of day. He seemed a bit shy too, though he and Suprabha got along well and had been spending time together. I wasn’t quite sure what their relationship was—were they a couple or just friends or something in between? It seemed rude to ask. We spent a few hours together and I enjoyed myself. Bhakta Mike had a good sense of humor and he seemed so nice after the cold and distant brahmacaris at the temple. We had fun listening to karmi music, something we couldn’t do at the temple. The three of us were dipping our toes into the pool of maya, trying to find some comfortable balance between devotee and karmi life. We didn’t want to get in too deep—but we weren’t ready to fully commit to the temple either.

Not long after this meeting Suprabha got a call from her dad. He was coming back soon. Suddenly she had to find another place for me to stay, and she remembered this Indian couple she’d met. She arranged for me to meet up with them because they’d offered once to let her stay with them. They were very nice and agreed to let me sleep there. I figured I would spend all day out of the apartment to give them some space. What I didn’t realize is that the wife hoped I would help around the house. She also planned to fix me up with her nephew, although that meeting didn’t go well. I thought I’d be polite and at least spend a little time with him, then tell her he wasn’t my type. He thought I’d be a loose American woman he could talk right into bed. I ended up having to just run out of there!

salvationarmy
Her husband also began to get a little too friendly and at one point asked me to sit beside him on the bed as we talked. The arrangement wasn’t working out and Suprabha’s counselor gave me the number of the Salvation Army shelter for runaways. I called them and they had a bed available, so I moved in. They were wonderful; I can’t say enough about the Salvation Army in Chicago. I had my own room, a small allowance for transportation on the El and bus, and a nice common space with a pool table. I was nearing the time that I would likely be moving in with the Jewish family but this bridged the gap nicely. The only catch was that I had to let them contact my mother.

On Saturday of that week, Bhakta Mike called me just before I was leaving to go to Suprabha’s. He suggested we meet at the El stop and walk to her house together. I agreed, and met him at the bottom of the stairs. We walked towards Suprabha’s and got to talking. Instead of going right there, Bhakta Mike suggested we walk for a bit first, towards the lake. I was enjoying myself so I agreed. It was a beautiful day and we were engrossed in our conversation. We ended up at the lake, watching the waves, and I was startled when Mike put his arm around me. I thought he was gorgeous but I figured he was more attracted to Suprabha. She was much thinner than I was and I just assumed he’d prefer her. I felt guilty because I still didn’t know if they were a couple or not.

chicagobeach
A beach in Chicago

This was a first: a boy I was attracted to returned the feeling! I had begun to think this would never happen and as a devotee I’d put the whole romance thing out of my mind. I wasn’t popular in school and the only people who were really interested in me were older men, not boys from my own class. I had a brief dating relationship with a younger boy, mainly to save face. I only liked him as a friend. This moment was a monumental shift and I felt like I was walking on air. Then he pulled me to face him and kissed me, and it was everything I’d imagined a kiss could be.

It was one of those moments where you’re tempted to pinch yourself. Is this really happening? I thought. Can this be true? We spent the rest of the day at the lake, talking, kissing, two people in love. I thought a few times about Suprabha, and Mike assured me that they weren’t serious about each other. I knew she expected us to show up at her house and that I’d have to call her. I had a lot of explaining to do.

Mike gave me the number to the brahmacari ashram and told me to say I was his mom if I called. He was still staying at the temple and doing some service there, but wasn’t “surrendered” completely and they expected him to spend some time outside every day. He walked me back to the El and when I reached the shelter I got a call from Suprabha. It turned out that her sister had seen us walking and had already told her. So I had a very tense conversation and tried to explain that all along I had thought we’d end up at her house and how surprised I was that he was interested in me. It had the virtue of being true, but that made it no less uncomfortable. She was more interested in him than she’d let on and I’d truly hurt her feelings. We agreed to meet the next day to talk about it.

The next day everything changed. I went to Suprabha’s, and we had a chance to talk and work through our feelings about my budding relationship with Mike. She was going to the Sunday feast, and although I’d been to the temple since I’d left I didn’t feel like going this time. I stayed behind and we were going to talk some more when she got back. I had a curfew but we had plenty of time.

When Suprabha got home I found out she had run into my mom at the temple! Apparently Mom got a letter from the temple inviting me to a festival and wondered why they’d be sending it if I was at the temple. She called them and was told that I’d left.

mombhface
My mom, Bonnie McPherson in the late 60s with her trademark beehive and dyed-red hair.

Well, that sent her into hysterical overdrive! She imagined all sorts of horrible things happening to me in the big city, a city she’d lived briefly in years ago. So she called a newspaper and asked them if they could run an ad asking me to call her or if anyone had seen me. I had no idea—what 17-year-old reads anything in the paper but classifieds? Someone told Mom that Suprabha would know where I was, and so she had to tell Mom that I was at the shelter.

I began to panic. This was a catastrophe! Of course she would call the shelter and they had to tell her I was there. I hoped she would see that I had a job lined up and was doing fine. I knew, though, that in Illinois the law was no longer on my side. I’d already asked about that when I saw the counselor. Until I was 18 I was a minor and under my mother’s control if she chose to take me back.

With a knot in my stomach I made my way back to the Salvation Army shelter. I figured my mom would have called them by now. I was braced to hear that she would be coming to talk to me. But when I arrived it was worse than I thought: she was there, waiting for me. There was no one in the world I less wanted to see.

We had a tense meeting with the Salvation Army counselor. I tried to argue that I didn’t need or want to return to Iowa, where my mother was living once again. I had a job lined up and a wonderful family to live with. I could go to college if I wanted. I was close to a temple. It seemed obvious that I was ready and able to live on my own.

Mom, on the other hand, wanted another chance to make things work out between us. She wanted to know what it would take for me to be happy at home, she promised things would be better, and so on. I tried to explain, falsely, that it was not about our relationship. I was still trying to take care of her, to spare her feelings out of years of habit. She persisted and finally, out of desperation, I gave her a piece of the truth.

“I’m afraid of you!” I said.

“I wish you’d told me that! That’s what I needed to know to change.” Mom said, breaking into tears. “Now I have to insist that you come back with me so I can make things right.”

“But I just met someone, I’m in love, I can’t leave now!” I replied, desperately.

“Bring him along; I have an extra room he can stay in.” Mom said, willing to do anything at this point.

“I can ask but I don’t know what he’ll say.” I said, thinking this is crazy; we just kissed for the first time yesterday. There’s no way he’ll want to come to some little town in Iowa.

I could tell the counselor was sympathetic but her hands were tied, so I gathered my things and reluctantly accompanied my mom to her hotel. The next day I called the temple and asked for Mike. We met in an alley a few blocks away and I told him my mom was taking me to Iowa but said he could come along. I was braced for him to say no but to my surprise he was willing to come along. He just had to get his stuff first.

Soon we were all three on our way to Keokuk, Iowa. No matter how hard I tried to leave, I kept ending up back there with my mom, like some bad dream where you can never quite wake up. My only consolation was that I wouldn’t be living alone with mom and Mike and I would have a chance. I felt like we were meant to be together.

Come on home, girl mama cried on the phone
Too soon to lose my baby yet my girl should be at home!
But try to understand, try to understand
Try try try to understand
He’s a magic man, mama
He’s a magic man

–Heart

BonnieTerilynhrsm
Bonnie and Terilyn (Tapati) in happier times

Tapati McDaniels is a freelance writer who started a forum designed to meet the needs of former Hare Krishna devotees at http://www.gaudiya-repercussions.com .

She is working on a memoir and her personal blog can be found at http://tapati.livejournal.com .

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