Patriarchy Across Cultures: What It’s Like To Sing The Blues

 by Tapati

ChicagoCemetery
God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to sing the blues
–Everlast

Previously we had just received word that Mike’s mom had passed away. Mike wanted to go to her funeral but we were broke. We called his dad. It turned out he was nearby and he offered to take us to Chicago in his van. John said he felt bad for not being there while his son was growing up and that this was the least he could do. So we let Mike’s grandma Emma know we were on our way and drove off, all five of us crammed into their aging van, determined to make it to Chicago in three days, just in time for the services.

We headed up through Nevada to Highway 80 and followed it across country. During the final night of our trip, the van made an awful sound and came to a halt. Something in the front end had broken and needed to be replaced. We were in Iowa, near Amana, and we had AAA service but everything was closed. We wouldn’t be able to even start repairs until the following day. Mike decided to hitchhike. He caught a ride with a semi driver a short while later and was on his way. He missed the funeral but arrived at the cemetery in time for the burial.

We finally arrived and spent a few days in Chicago. Mike had to go through Pat’s things. We acquired some much needed household items to bring back with us. I got to meet his maternal family. We heard from Emma that Mike’s ex-wife Cindy had attended the funeral and given her some pictures of their son. She passed on those pictures to us. What a cute little boy!

On the trip back we stopped in Iowa to see my family, and in Nebraska to see his paternal uncle and his family. We even managed to see my great-grandma in Memphis. My grandma, Velma, took John aside and made him promise to get us married once she learned that I was pregnant. She gave us a silver plated sugar and creamer set as a wedding present. I saw my mom as well, and my aunt Gin. I even got to see my friend Jeanne briefly and she gave me a pillow she’d made as a wedding present, a huge orange floor pillow. We got a lot of use out of that pillow!

When we reached Las Vegas we stayed with some of John’s friends and got the wedding license. We had to wait for the ceremony until the following day. I had no nice dress to wear so the lady who lived there—I cannot remember her name at all but she was very sweet—loaned me a skirt which we pinned in back since it didn’t quite meet. I was just beginning to show. She had some gladiolas in her yard and put them together for a bouquet. Off we all went to get married, with John and Lori as our witnesses. We were melting in the blazing heat—114 degrees, the headlines said “hotter than hell.”

The justice of the peace gave us a stern lecture on the importance of marriage and then performed the traditional ceremony while we affirmed that yes, we took each other for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, until death do us part. I was all choked up; this was my wedding and my vows, and we were going to be united for the rest of our lives! It wasn’t the kind of wedding I had pictured but it was my wedding and I was filled with love and excitement. My mom had given me her old wedding rings, a white gold set. They fit together perfectly and I was happy to have such nice rings. We didn’t have any pictures taken, unfortunately. All I have to show for it is our marriage certificate.

marriagecertMaha

Our marriage certificate

We drove to Culver City that night. I was happy to be home. I wanted to do a good cleaning because the state of our little apartment had suffered while I was sick. As I cleaned my little home I realized that my pregnancy meant that sooner or later we’d have to leave. Children were not allowed in our building. Most of the apartments were studio apartments and there just wasn’t room for children. So we planned to give notice at the beginning of October so I could be settled in well before my late December due date. Meanwhile I was happy to be going back to the morning and evening services and classes at the temple and reconnecting with my friends. I’d really been out of commission for some time and was feeling so much better.

I looked at the pictures of Mike’s first child, Matt*, many times. He’d named him Ramachandra, but the boy’s mother Cindy* named him Matt on the birth certificate. Sometimes Mike would say that we should “rescue” him from his karmi mother, who would also raise him as a karmi, knowing nothing of spiritual life. I was alarmed at this idea but I began to think that maybe she would allow some contact with him if we showed a willingness to offer child support payments. I decided to write her a letter and see if I could initiate contact.

We received a response, which Mike discovered in the mailbox. Cindy was not interested, though she thanked me for writing, and told us that she wished for that chapter of her life to remain closed. She had remarried and her new husband was raising Mark as his own, and they weren’t planning to tell him who his real dad was.

Mike was furious with me, and launched into a tirade about my having no right to go behind his back. As usual, his yelling ended with a few quick blows to my head. This time my head hit the wall behind me, hard, and also caused a nose bleed. I was crying hysterically and my head felt like it was going to explode from the pain. I was shocked that he would hit me while I was pregnant. I guessed he didn’t think the baby would suffer if he only hit me in the head. He was remorseful, as usual, and helped me clean up.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “Why do you make me do this? You should’ve known better!”

I felt guilty for going behind his back. I knew he wouldn’t want me to write to Cindy but I felt strongly that we ought to be paying child support and I really hoped that even if she was still mad at him she might be touched at the offer of support. I felt bad for her raising her son alone (I had thought).

As usual I tried to put this fight out of my mind and focus on something more pleasant–my baby. I had a lingering headache, though, that lasted for three days. I wondered if I had a concussion. I stopped worrying once it went away. I focused instead on the kicks and movements I was feeling inside. I talked and sang to my baby and tried to imagine whether it was a boy or a girl. Mike enjoyed feeling the baby kick but I think he was apprehensive about having another child.

YashodaKrishna

Mother Yashoda and baby Krishna

Mike made a new friend named Keshava and soon they were inseparable. Keshava was to play a role in our lives for some time to come. Keshava had been a devotee since the 1960s, along with his brother Karandhara, and was several years older than we were. He told stories of corruption in ISKCON that shocked me. We began to see the organization in a different light as we heard so many stories of people in authority exploiting others and getting carried away with power. As Srila Prabhupada drew closer to death, those in charge of ISKCON were left to their own devices with little or no oversight.

I was surprised one day to answer a knock at my door and find my mother standing there, her poodle Misty in her arms. She hadn’t told me she was coming out to Culver City! Of course I invited her in but I was puzzled and not too happy to see her. Dogs weren’t allowed in our building, even. She assured me that she was going to get her own place and figured she’d be able to do so as quickly as she had in Chicago. After a stressful couple of days she was unable to find an apartment and it became clear that she couldn’t stay in our little studio with her poodle. I called back home and spoke to my mom’s sister, Aunt Gin, who told me Mom had said she was going to San Francisco, not Los Angeles! Aunt Gin offered to talk to her and I told Mom that her sister wanted her to call. I guess Aunt Gin talked her into returning to Iowa, because she left the next day. I felt like I’d dodged a bullet. I wasn’t ready yet to live near my mom. I had barely gotten away from her and would have felt smothered, I’m sure. I felt a little sorry for her but I just couldn’t take any more.

On October first we let the managers know that we were giving notice. We expected that the Book Trust would pay for a different apartment for us where they accepted children. But when Mike went to talk to them about helping us with the rent and deposit for a new apartment, they informed him they were letting him go! Since Srila Prabhupada was so ill, he was no longer keeping up the fast pace that had necessitated two typesetters working day and night. Mike asked around to find another department to work for, and was told there was nothing currently available.

We were in shock. Devotees told us that I should apply for welfare and say that Mike wasn’t in the home. I hated the idea of such deception but we were going to be homeless unless I did so. I went to the welfare office, seven months pregnant–big as a house it seemed—and was told I needed proof of pregnancy! They needed a doctor’s note, I guess because others had faked pregnancy before me. I suppose one could use a pillow or something but when my baby moved you could easily see it. I had no money to see a doctor so I wasn’t sure what to do. Finally I decided to go to the ER and tell them I’d passed out. Surely they’d check me over thoroughly after that. Then I could also ask for a note.

At the hospital they determined that I was very anemic. I was surprised because I thought my diet had been very good. I didn’t know that blood volume increases during pregnancy. I was told to take iron supplements. Armed with the doctor’s note, I returned to the welfare office and got through the application process. I was told that it could take a couple of months for it all to go through the system but that it would be retroactive to the current month.

I returned home to tell Mike and we began to pack. He started looking for jobs outside the temple but didn’t feel confident about his chances of finding something in time. I had picked up some amateur massage skills so I advertised around the temple community that I would give massages to women for $2.50 an hour. This provided some money for groceries. Word spread of our dilemma and a nice devotee couple, Jamadagni and his wife Jayasri, offered to let me stay with them in Big Bear for a few weeks, until her own due date drew near. It was quite a distance from the temple and she was lonely for some company. I didn’t know what would happen after that but at least it was someplace to go.

BigBearLake

Big Bear Lake

We arranged with the couple who rented our studio to let us keep some boxes there for a few weeks and in return they could use our dishes and household things. At the end of the month, I drove off with my friends and Mike had arranged to sleep in his friend Bruce’s laundry room. It was next to the garage and had the same cement floors and no heat. I felt sorry for him because I was going to a much nicer place. I was sad and worried for both of us—and for my baby who would soon be arriving. I had the nesting instinct, but no nest in sight. I remember thinking that I must have some very bad karma, to be going through all of these hardships.

*Not their real names.

tapati

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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