When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly; it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But we still know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then – that is the real meeting.
C. S. Lewis ~ Out of the Silent Planet
Face’s friend Guthrie was a rolling stone, and when he rolled out of Fresno, his wife – who happened to be my friend Angela – rolled with him. I lost my nursery buddy. A girl named Holly took her place. Holly and I were the same age, having been in the same graduating class of Durango. She and her husband Baker had recently joined the commune.
I turned out that ours was a friendship waiting to happen; all we needed was the right environment and opportunity for it to bloom. When we weren’t in the nursery, we spent many hours together reading the Bible and talking about God. It was great. But no good deed goes unpunished, and soon Holly and I, along with our husbands, were summoned to a special meeting. I knew it was special as soon as I walked in the room because (1) Holly and I were the only women present, and (2) when the Captain attempted to join the meeting, he was turned away as it was by Invitation Only. Now when a meeting is by Invitation Only that means someone is going to get his chops busted. Those “someones” were Holly and me.
The Patriarch opened the meeting by quoting various scriptures about forsaking all, laying not up earthly treasures, and loving not the things of the world. It was standard commune doctrine, so I wasn’t all that fussed about it. The other brothers took up the theme and began talking about types and metaphors and, of course, the apocalypse. I had no idea what they were talking about – it was all Darmok and Jalad at Tangara. The conversation rumbled by like a train I had failed to catch. Holly, however, had managed to get on board because I saw that she was crying, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs. Then Baker spoke.
“There’s nothing wrong with their friendship.”
He was referring to Holly and me. Then Face spoke.
“They have been getting together to study the Bible,” he said. “What’s wrong with that?”
Then I understood. The Patriarch had called a meeting of the In Crowd brothers to put the kibosh on our friendship. They thought we were being too “clique-ish.” Baker and Face defended their wives and took us out of the meeting. They were both irate that the Patriarch thought to bust our chops publicly, as if the latter were the Boss of us. Face told me to pay no attention to him and to meet with Holly as much as I wanted. Unfortunately, Holly’s sensitive spirit was crushed by the rebuke and from then on, she kept her distance. She and Baker left the commune a short time later.
By then, Johnnie and Abigail, and Dixie and the Worm had also left the commune, so the Clan was reduced to Face and me. It was okay; Face and I formed a pretty tight bond of our own. In retrospect, I think the men’s meeting was really about Face, Johnnie, and the Worm; I think it was really the Clan that the In Crowd was after, and that through Holly and me, they rebuked the idea of friendship in general.
I can’t figure that out. We all need friends, someone that will crochet with you during the apocalypse. We all need a Person, someone who will be on our side when no one else will. This reminds me of another Special Meeting for the Purpose of Busting Someone’s Chops.
The Matriarch called this particular meeting. All the women were commanded to attend, and the person on the hot seat was Ununda. Ununda was one of the older women, closer to thirty than twenty. She was originally from New York where she was a student and part-time model. She described herself as a wild child who did a lot of drugs; she had a four-year old daughter named Rebecca.
Ununda was sweet, often smiling and always singing, which is fine except that most of her material came from the great beyond – in other words, she was a space cadet. Now at the commune, for all its talk of peace and love, there is no mercy shown to a space cadet. Spacey people tend to be the target of all the unrelieved anger, bitterness, and resentment that accumulates in those trying to live a godly life. Its like every religious community needs a safety valve to release pent up emotions – in ours, it was Ununda.
(Note to self: Resentment is an omnivorous beast; it can thrive on anything.)
The Matriarch opened the meeting by listing Ununda’s current sins: being spacey and being rebellious by being spacey when she was expressly forbidden not to be. The other sisters chimed in. Ununda started to cry.
“Stop that!” said the Matriarch.
Ununda, poor girl, tried to obey, but she was hard pressed to contain herself. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. All these women were saying mean things to Ununda, and yet she was not allowed to cry about it. Once again the train had left me at the station. The assault came to a head when Eliza, the crone, testified that the week before when Ununda spoke to her, she heard the devil’s voice. At this point, I realized this whole meeting was out of whack.
Explanation: About a week after I arrived at the commune, I got sick with a bug that made me feverish and nauseous for three days. On the third day, after a vigorous round of vomiting, Eliza came by to check on me. She leaned over and sniffed.
“She has death on her breath,” she declared.
Of course I do, I thought. I just puked my guts out!
Now this same woman was telling the assembly that Ununda had a demon on her tongue. I wasn’t buying it! One of the In Crowd sisters spoke up.
“The Bible teaches to let the least esteemed in the church judge,” said Tara. “Does anyone have anything else to say before we pass judgment?”
There was a pause, and then Susanna began to speak. She told of how kind and helpful Ununda had been to her and how last week in particular, she helped her in a very special way. She described Ununda’s good qualities, the ones she saw through the clouds in space. She stood by Ununda in her hour of need.
When she finished, there was silence.
“The least esteemed has spoken,” said Tara.
The meeting was soon adjourned, and I left thinking that sometimes the women at the commune were a little strange. I mean, I loved their singing and their music, and in general got along with them, but what the heck was that? Really? To designate Susanna as the least esteemed in the group? I did not get it. Like Jane Austen wrote: “No one can think more highly of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.”
Susanna left the commune after that. We did not reconnect until many years later, and today we are friends. She is still the gracious, thoughtful person she always was, only more so. I esteem her very highly and hope that the next time there is a special meeting to bust my chops, she is there. I appreciate all the friendships I have enjoyed in my life thus far. What they are making in me, I will not know until I lie down for the final sleep. One thing I know now, however, is that they have all taught me, each in her way, how to crochet during the apocalypse.