Kiss me once again
Don’t you never, never, never say that we we’re through
Cause I ain’t never, I ain’t never
I ain’t never, no, no, loved a man
The way that I, I love you
–Ronnie Shannon (sung by Aretha Franklin)
Sri Sri Rukmini-Dwarakadhish
Once we arrived at my mom’s apartment, our relationship was on fast forward. We spent a few weeks together every waking moment, with my mom at work and the run of the place. We cooked together, with Mike teaching me a lot about Indian cooking. He’d been hanging out around the temple for years and had learned a lot. He was four years older than me and seemed wise beyond his years. Like me he was raised by a single mom and had previously had a stepfather he despised. He told many stories of his life in Chicago and his travels, the concerts he’d seen, the martial arts he’d studied, his first marriage, the child he had as a result, and his “fall-down” into drugs and stealing. We talked about “surrendering” together and which temple we should move to. In a few months I’d be 18 and mom was even talking about signing the papers so we could get married.
I was so in love that I lost all my reservations about losing my virginity and we soon began a sexual relationship. Mike assured me that this was OK because in Vedic times there was something called “gandharva marriage” where a warrior would carry away a maiden and she would be considered his wife. I accepted this like I accepted many things in this whirlwind romance. I didn’t know about the heady cocktail of love chemicals that science has since discovered, but I was completely under their spell. I remember that summer Diana Ross released a song called Love Hangover that expressed my feelings exactly: If there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it, don’t want it.
Mike met the rest of my family and if they had doubts they didn’t say anything about them for once. My grandma did say “thank the Lord he’s white” because she had feared I would follow in Aunt Gin’s footsteps and marry a black man. I never ceased to be amazed at the racism of my grandma. I certainly hadn’t fallen for Mike based on his skin color!
My family did pressure him to apply at the local factory, Sheller Globe. They made automotive parts. My father and grandfather both worked there for many years. He put in an application and was hired, but lasted for a few days before he quit. He didn’t like the risks involved in working with chemicals. He decided there weren’t enough jobs in Keokuk and we talked about his return to Chicago where he would find a job and send for me. My mom agreed to sign the papers for us to get married once he had a job. She also pressured me to take the G.E.D. test so I could go to college. I went ahead and took it and passed.
I couldn’t stand to be away and after just a few weeks I wanted to join him. Mom decided to move to Chicago to be close to me. I tried to talk her out of this because she had a nice apartment and job in Keokuk and Mike and I were talking about moving to Los Angeles. She was determined, however, and quit her job and packed up her stuff. We were soon on our way to Chicago together.
It turned out that Mike’s mom wouldn’t let me stay at her house, so Mom and I ended up in a studio apartment together. It was the summer of 1976 and we attended the bicentennial fireworks display in the park. It was amazing!
Mike found a job and we hoped to move in together as soon as he had money for a place. Things were tense with my mom and it was clear I couldn’t stay with her much longer. She was moody and I never knew when she’d blow up at me, once trying to punch me in the head. Mike had taught me some martial arts and I blocked her, pushing her back away from me. I ran outside to cool down. Another time we came in to find that she’d broken the conch shell he’d given me to pieces. He’d modified it so I could blow it like they did in the temple, and we’d blown it once. Mom’s excuse for breaking it was that the neighbors might complain and get us thrown out of our apartment. Mike’s theory was that she was haunted by ghosts, because ghosts are driven away by the sound of a conch shell. They made her break it, he told me.
One night Mom was complaining to her friend about Mike and said something about him that really offended me. I don’t remember what but I was very angry. I had a handful of pennies I was counting and I threw them across the room, not directly at Mom but off to the side. I guess this embarrassed her. She just exploded in fury, yelling and trying to hit me. I blocked her and hit her back by reflex. This only enraged her further and she started pulling my hair, yelling, tearing at my shirt. I was mainly trying to stop her from pulling my hair out and pushing her away. Her friend was telling her to stop and I broke away, grabbed my purse, and ran out.
I was calling Mike on the pay phone in the lobby when Mom’s friend came in and offered me some money. I tried to turn it down but she insisted and of course I needed it for bus fare anyway. Mike told me to meet him at his mom’s. When I got there he told me he had a friend we could stay with. His mom still wouldn’t let me stay there. His friend, Rita, had told him she had a big apartment with an extra room and that he could stay there if he ever needed to.
We spent the rest of the summer with Rita and her boyfriend. Mike was at work during the day and I cooked dinner for him in the evening. We tried to get my stuff back while Mom was at work but she’d had the locks plugged and left me the following note saying I could pick up my things after she returned from work and that she’d talked to the police regarding her rights. She accused me of attacking her! Mike went with me and we got my suitcase and sleeping bag plus my Beatle albums while Mom looked on, grim-faced. I don’t remember if she said anything. I had never been as angry with her as I was after that fight. I didn’t care if I ever saw her again.
New Dwaraka (Los Angeles, CA)
Mike and I talked a lot about which temple we should go to and after meeting up with Swarupa as he went through Chicago on his way cross-country, we decided on Los Angeles—New Dwaraka as the temple community was named. We arrived by plane on August 11th, 1976. No one asked to see a marriage license. We were afraid if we told anyone we weren’t officially married they’d separate us for having a relationship that wasn’t arranged in a temple (maya, in other words). This robbed me of a wedding fire sacrifice according to Vedic custom. A fire sacrifice wedding is a very beautiful ceremony and I was sad not to have my own.
We spent a couple of nights with Swarupa and his family while he arranged for an apartment for us. The temple owned some apartment buildings and the devotees also rented from landlords who were friendly to us. Across Venice Blvd. there was a Spanish-style apartment building at 3816 Watseka, and a devotee named Nalinikanta and his wife Ratnesvari were moving out. Swarupa told us we could have that apartment and we met with the managers, Jack and Mary Miller, who were a little surprised that our stuff was already there. We’d assumed they already knew about us. Once we explained our confusion they understood that we’d meant no harm. They were always really sweet to us.
Mike found service with the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, across the street from the temple. He would be doing computer typesetting at night while guarding the building. Srila Prabhupada was translating at a rapid pace, trying to complete the work on two multi-volume scriptures while his health deteriorated. The Book Trust felt that the only way to keep up was to have typesetting done night and day. For Mike’s service we received our rent and a $100.00 stipend per month to cover our expenses. I had been writing to registered members in Chicago and Swarupa arranged for me to meet with his boss and propose that I officially be given this service. He lobbied for me to also be paid but we were turned down.
Since we’d arrived with our clothes, sleeping bags, and little in the way of cookware, the $100.00 per month turned out to be difficult for us. We really didn’t have everything we needed to start out as householders. Perhaps we should have asked for a one-time allotment to get a few pots, a broom, and an iron. I remember cooking meals in our two quart saucepan. I’d make the dal, a split pea or lentil soup, first. Then I’d pour it into a large bowl and cook the rice. Our plates consisted of a stainless steel pie plate and cake pan. We had two spoons, butter knives, and forks, and I had one small paring knife to cut all my vegetables with. We had two stainless steel cups to drink from.
To match my husband’s schedule, I stayed up all night. We attended the morning program and then went to sleep. The evening program was our morning. It was completely the opposite of what everyone else was doing and this made our social life difficult. Still I managed to make a few friends and found old faces in the temple as Midwestern devotees joined the New Dwaraka community. Almost everyone in the building was a devotee.
3816 Watseka Ave.I dived into domesticity and delighted in mending my husband’s clothes and other household arts. By night I wrote to new members and continued my correspondence with others, answering their questions and offering them spiritual counsel. I repeated the things Swarupa had once written to me or the things I had learned in my own reading of Bhagavad Gita and other scriptures. I sent recipes and shared bits of my life with them. It felt strange advising members, who were often older than I was, but I was firmly convinced of the truth and effectiveness of this yoga of devotion to Krishna, and I was moved to share it with others.
I missed Deity service, however. I couldn’t think of any way I could engage in service to Rukmini and Dwarakadhisa. I was sleeping all day—how could I do any of the tasks I had previously engaged in if I was not awake when others were? I never had quite the attachment to Rukmini-Dwarakadhish that I had felt for Kishora-Kishori. Also, at New Dwaraka women were relegated to the back of the temple, far away from the Deities.
About a month after we’d arrived in New Dwaraka, Mike’s friend Ken came to visit. He was thinking about joining the community but didn’t want to live directly in the brahmacari ashram. He stayed with us for a couple of weeks. This caused my first fight with Mike. We had a studio apartment and the strict rules of male-female relationships forbid me to be alone with a man who was not my husband. Yet Ken and I were sometimes alone at the apartment, and on more than one occasion one or the other of us needed to take a shower.
The dressing room and closet were just outside the bathroom, and we were not allowed to wear clothes that had been in the bathroom into the temple room in front of the Deities. However, the dressing room only had a curtain to separate it from the living room. I felt very self-conscious trying to dress and worry about the man on the other side of the curtain.
After a few days I thought that maybe I should just stay with the brahmacarinis until Ken found a place to stay. It seemed like the perfect solution and I figured the guys would be more comfortable that way. I got together some clothes and told Mike that I planned to sleep over there while Ken was apartment hunting.
Mike stormed over to me and knocked me down! Ken was there and looked at the floor, embarrassed to witness this altercation. As I started crying he left and Mike calmed down and apologized. I explained I wasn’t leaving him! I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I thought it would be better for everyone if I just slept somewhere else.
I was really shocked that he’d knocked me down but I thought it was a one time thing because he was afraid I was running out on him. I tried to put it out of my mind and concentrate on being a good, chaste wife according to the Vedic principles of our scriptures. I knew I had a lot to learn but I was head over heels in love with my husband and wanted to be the best wife I could be. I thought it was perfect that I was a virgin when I met him and that I would die having only ever been with him. I tried to behave without reproach when in the presence of other men. I wanted to do everything right.
We weren’t supposed to be having sex unless we wanted to conceive a child. I wavered between trying to follow this strictly and giving in to my good looking husband. I hated myself when I fell down from the ideal. I thought everyone else was able to do this but us. I can’t believe how naïve I was back then! Although I’ve met some former devotees who say they were chaste within marriage, most admit they weren’t. Of course Mike was having trouble with this too. Sometimes I’d wake up with him on top of me, pulling my panties aside, insistent on having sex. It was impossible to turn him away at that point.
As months passed we fell into a disturbing pattern. Mike would become distant and almost completely stop talking to me, absorbed in his books about living off the land, dropping out of society, herbal medicine or martial arts. I would try to get his attention until he became angry at me, hitting me several times with his fist. I learned to be wary of his temper yet I felt so abandoned that I would finally risk it.
He began to say I was haunted—that explained why I would bother him like that. We did a kind of exorcism with offered incense and chanting, ringing bells and blowing a conch. The cycle continued, and sometimes other things I did sparked violence. He would be very sad afterwards and apologize and ask me why I made him do it. At other times he could be so gentle and thoughtful and I was confused. How could the person who made me herbal teas when I had stomach pain be the same person who hit me with his fists or knocked me down?
The neighbors had to have heard it but said nothing. I was troubled and I remember reading a Reader’s Digest article about how marriages go through rough patches and you may feel like you no longer loved your husband, only to fall in love all over again. I was reassured by this and believed we’d make our marriage work. We didn’t believe in divorce and I didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of the women in my family.
Grandma had two husbands before she married my (step) Grandpa, Mom had two failed marriages and Aunt Gin had three. According to my religion, these marriages failed because the women weren’t submissive. If I could just be surrendered enough, my marriage would work. I just had to keep trying to be a better wife. My husband was my guru and I had to be a more submissive disciple. Then he would have no reason to hit me.
Looking back it is easy to see how much I had to learn about the dynamics of relationships, abuse, and how our respective dysfunctional families impacted our marriage. I was trying to figure it all out at the age of 17 with no previous experience with even a boyfriend, much less a husband. Neither of us knew the first thing about how to create a healthy relationship or get our needs met. We had no one to teach us these skills, either. We just muddled through on our own, looking to scripture and the public examples of other devotees as a guide.
Our first home
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.
- Connecting The Dots: Patriarchy Across Cultures (Intro.)
- (1) Living in the Material World
- (2) Summer of Transcendental Love
- (3) All Things Must Pass
- (4) Over The Rainbow
- (5) Magic man
- (6) I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
- (7) I Will Lay Me Down
- A Lifetime Commitment: Initiation
- From Generation to Generation
- No Turning Back
- Vegetarian for God
- (8) What It’s Like To Sing The Blues
- (9) When the Levee Breaks
- I Have Won
- (10) Hard Day’s Night
- (11) Family Affair
- (12) Cat’s In The Cradle
- (13) Smiling Faces
- (14) Kung Fu Fighting
Tapati’s Body Image Workshop: