To the Moon and Back A Childhood Under the Influence by Lisa Kohn

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At first I had no idea that anything was wrong with my childhood.

I have a vague memory as a very young child and a newscast of a lot of people marrying one another (strangers to each other) in Madison Square Garden, and my parents mumbling something about it being ‘crazy’. I was a kid, dazzled by the many brides so when reading this memoir about the Unification Church (which some still call the Moonies and consider a cult) it clicked that this is the group from that long ago newscast. People often talk of Bohemian childhoods, but Lisa’s far surpasses many ‘hippie’ stories, her parents were free spirits that ‘stuck out’ even among those of their generation. Sure, she watched Jefferson Airplane in central park but her childhood was anything but carefree and charmed. “Mimi had tried on religions and movements like some women try on clothes.” Mimi, her mother, falls under the spell of Father ( Reverend Moon)- not her real father Danny (whom isn’t one for the label father anyway) when hearing him speak she found her purpose in life. Her children are dragged along by her passion for the religion.

When her parents first met, her mother was a straight A student, daughter of a judge while her father, Danny was ‘the beatnik son of socialist intellectualists’. Rushing headfirst into marriage the summer they were out of highschool, having children, her father attending college for a time, their marriage didn’t last long and her parents divorced. Danny moved to New York while Lisa, her mother Mimi and brother Robbie lived in New Jersey.  Her father, a bartender and partaker of serious drugs had always been ‘anti-establishment’, and certainly isn’t able to provide stability anymore than her mother who is swallowed by the Church. A mother who once made the children suffer through micro-biotic diets, sugar-free living, a tv-less existence, an abusive boyfriend and whatever new fad caught her attention now pushes her children away to devote her entire being to the cause of Reverend Moon. While her mother needed to find truth and meaning, and their father came and went with the wind, Lisa and her brother relied on themselves confused by the differences in their parents lifestyles, slowly becoming aware just how strange their lives, their parents were in comparison to their peers.

“These were the beliefs that wrapped themselves like creeping vines around my mind as I grew up- during my most formative preadolescent and adolescent years- always clasping tighter and holding my life, my soul, and my sense of self together.” Lisa becomes just as enraptured as her mother, she learns to share the love and sell the ideas of the church on strangers, and friends alike. Love-bombing people with the hopes they will join, not exactly appealing to fellow students. Lisa and her brother Robbie fall in love with the positive energy and the always smiling fellow moonies. It isn’t long before they become close to the ‘True Children’, top of the hierarchy. The church becomes more their ‘real life’ than school and home, soon their mother is no longer living with them, her devotion solely to the church-  her ‘calling’. Living with their grandfather “Pop”, she begins to shoulder adult responsibilities. Rather than feeling anger towards her mom, she just assures herself that it’s an important sacrifice her mother has to make, and Lisa should feel proud. Easier said than done.

When her Pop is admitted to a psych hospital it is Danny’s turn to house Lisa and her brother. Danny’s lifestyle is loud, carefree, filled with late hours, crazy wild friends and there is little chance of him putting his partying ways and drug abuse aside. He is as passionate about coccaine as her mother is about Reverend Moon and his teachings. Living with their mother, not an option, Lisa is unwanted. Her ‘puritanical’ church beliefs begin to collide with her peers, who are more interested in skipping school and experimenting with drugs, sex, all things forbidden youth loves to flirt with. Danny’s way of life too is antithesis to the Church of Unification’s values, exposing his children to everything the church reviles.

As time goes on, her mother moves often and seems to drift further from her children. As Lisa comes of age, she becomes a groupie, discovers she and her brother are banished  (considered impure) for a time, and begins to question this church she once felt devoted to with all her being. Then there is Stuart, and first love. Her life is in turmoil -just what does she believe in? Church rules change, now she can’t even be with True Children, due to Reverend Moon’s latest decree, because people like her are a ‘satanic influence’. She begins to experience new forbidden things away from the church. Drinking, dancing, parties, boys and eventually Cornel. She begins to crack. It takes years, but she begins to emerge from her difficult childhood and the influence of both her parents and the church. While suffering with an eating disorder she proves even her therapist wrong with her pregnancy, already trying her best to be a better mother than her own. Finding that with her first-born child, old fears rise. A life spent distancing herself from her past involvement with the church comes full circle in the last chapter, Reunion.

I was thinking about the whole ‘cult/church’ aspect and thought ‘really families themselves are a little like cults’. What family is without its strange habits or demands? What family doesn’t warp the mind a little of each member? Now add an actual cult (outside influences) to your own family chaos and you can imagine Lisa’s struggle. If we spend our adulthood recovering from our families and childhood, how does one manage to recover from life in an actual cult? How does a woman learn to be a solid, present mother and wife?

This is a first person account of a life inside a cult, or church, depending on who you ask! Facing pain, rejection, abandonment, the confusing chaos of two parents who are equally destructive forces in her childhood, Lisa Koon somehow creates a stable, healthy beautiful life out of the ashes of her childhood.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Heliotrope Books

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Life Happens to Us: A True Story by Ashta-Deb

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We could not face each other, could not help each other, and could not love each other. The fog of grief and hurt was too thick to see through. It was every man for himself from this moment.

I have read many memoirs that leave me aching for the author, Debbie’s story left a lump in my throat. The death of her beloved older sister Neelam buried on October 9, 1972 at the tender age of 13 was just the beginning of the PTSD that made cause so much emotional destruction throughout her entire life. This is a journey that takes Debbie full circle, putting her sister at rest, and maybe freeing her own soul. It’s the in-between and the before that is so heart-breaking.

With parents that wanted to make more of themselves by being the first in their family to leave Guyana for Canada, Debbie and her sister Neelam and Priya learned quickly how different they were from their light-skinned Canadian peers.  Dreams of starting school as she is a curious child and making many friends dies when Debbie hears the ugly taunts hurled at her sisters and then herself, the racism of the 60’s openly hostile toward anyone foreign. While her mother and father enjoyed the envy and pride that greeted them when the family vacationed in Guyana, the reality of their ‘worldly life’ was a far cry from the wealth and privilege their relatives believed they were leading. Her parents marriage is crumbling, her mother is more attuned to the many male admirers that she seems to leave in her wake than in being a loving, nurturing mother to her attention starved daughters. Cruelties slip easily from her mouth, when she isn’t emasculating her husband she is pointing out her three girls many flaws, like their skin color, or their weight. Never wanting to be called Mom, as she is far too beautiful and young in appearance to be one, she tends to demand Debbie lie and pretend she isn’t her child, better to manipulate whichever man is her current lover.  Family members that come to stay aren’t much help with their own jealousies and deceit. Her father grows enraged with his wife’s philandering and takes his fury out on his daughters, one who can’t survive life under his rule. Debbie is conflicted, far too young to be accountable for witnessing her two sisters beatings, for being daddy’s helper, it takes a toll on her self-esteem. It will take a lifetime to come to terms with the things that she lived through.

Being shuffled between loyalties, homes, family,  and countries until she is completely homeless and at the mercy of strangers, Debbie longs to be nothing like her mother and father when she has her own children.Sadly, we tend to choose what’s familiar, and the bitter toxins of our abuse are patterns we repeat. Debbie finds herself failing as a mother, being too hard on her own children, easily pushed over the edge when she isn’t trying to be the perfect mother and wife. Carrying spouses who once seemed like the perfect love for her, she struggles with her own fidelity issues, stomachs abusive partners mirroring the chaos of her own parent’s disastrous marriage. Her mother and father continue to be unstable forces in her life, going from absentee, to volatile or insulting. Her father isn’t innocent either, degrading and shaming his girls by accusing them of being ‘whores’ like their mother, starting over with a new family, even possibly committing a crime in Canada that forced him to disappear one night. Debbie’s mother doesn’t have a nurturing bone in her body, always siding against her daughter, even when Debbie works hard to be the provider for her family and support her husbands and their dreams.

Debbie sinks into a dark depression, and it is through her spiritual journey that she learns what it means that ‘life happens to us’. We tend to think we are all steering this life we come into, but the reality is there are more things out of our control than under it. For Debbie, it isn’t just the tragic suicide of her sister Neelam, but the loss of Priya too whom, though alive, is unable to be close to her remaining little sister. It is also that she has parents whose own lives have spun so far out of control that all they know how to do is lash out and destroy others, and each other. They are never a family again, not really. She had a few loving family members, like her grandfather whom she shares a sort of  psychic gift with, known as he is to be a sort of magic man. But in her youth, this untapped gift isn’t of much use, where the hope for each day is simply survival and maybe some food for her belly. Debbie will never find what she needs outside of herself, and certainly not through the adults nor any man she may love along the way. Love is transitory in her life, just like her living arrangements seem to be. It is through Western medicine and Eastern Wisdom that she has a chance to heal the wounds in her mind and her soul.

She isn’t always likable, becoming more like her own cold mother at times, and that is how the sad cycle continues. It’s easy to gain spirituality for a day, be it through a retreat, a new love, or mantras, it’s keeping that spirituality intact when life comes at you full force that is the real journey. One thing is true, she has to confront the past in order to be able to shed the pain and rage that lurks within her own being. She has to treat her PTSD and allow herself the grieving that was denied her.

Available Now

FriesenPress

In The Midst Of Innocence: A Novel Deborah Hining

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Jake Hatton came by today, looking for a pint of whiskey. I told him never to come to the house, but to hide out in the woods by the creek and wait until he sees me out in the yard. He can whistle a hooty-owl call to me, and I will meet him down by the big  sycamore.

It is the Great Depression, 10-year-old Pearl Wallace lives in the mountains of rural Tennessee. In this holler, she makes money by skimming off her daddy’s homemade whiskey, in a time when prohibition is in effect, this dabbling in criminal activity is a bit of a worry for her, after all Al Capone has the law after him and he bootlegs, and it’s a sin but going without nice shoes and being unable to give much-needed to gifts to her loved ones makes it a sort of necessity, if you will. Her best friend Darlene is a ‘white Negro’, whose step daddy is a mean bully, beating on her and her mamma. She fears for her daily, even if she is a catholic!

Emily Weston is a missionary come to save the hillbillies  from their  savage ignorance, to be a holy guiding light to the boys and girls of the holler so they can one day become God faring young men and women. She has led a privileged life in the city among the elite, and while heart is in the right place, she is the one blinded by ignorance. She will be shocked by their sins of drunkenness and humming, Halloween celebrations. The charm of this novel is that the telling alternates between both Pearl and Emily. Pearl makes is delightfully humorous and tender.  Emily’s perspective is given through letters to her parents, much more reserved than the letters to her sister, and letters to Jonathan whom is in love with her. Pearl’s voice is heard through her journal entries for class (Miss Emily’s idea) and her own private, grittier version that she writes for herself. Her childlike innocence in not understanding why ‘kilts’ would scare ‘colored folks’ perfectly expresses childish naiveté. Emily will come off her high horse as she begins to see just how knowledgable these ‘hillbillies’ really are, their godliness is evident in their community, brotherhood. Some speak French, teach it to their children, not so uneducated as Emily thinks. Just like anywhere else, you have the good, bad and the ugly.

Emily is much more likable as the teacher becomes the student. Young herself, her heart is lost in confusion and she is all mixed up, with her feelings toward Jonathan in particular. Pearl wants so bad to be good herself, and is ashamed of her anger and sins (stealing and selling his moonshine), especially when she thinks life would be easier without her daddy and his drinking. To say times are lean is an enormous understatement, but the people of this community pull together to survive. Not everyone has someone to protect them, and sometimes standing up for someone who is different can endanger your own family. Pearl and her family have courage, even with the threat of violence, Pearl cannot allow fear to stand in the way of solving Darlene and her mamma’s troubles. Emily will be a changed woman, fall in love with the very people she once held in scorn, set out to save. There is a murder, and sometimes lies are necessary to save others.

Beautifully written, I felt like I was in the holler myself. I have a tender spot for mountain fiction, I’ve likely mentioned that so often that people are sick of hearing it. This book is a delight, but isn’t as light as it seems, it deals with some weighty topics of  bygone days. Most people will love Pearl, she is a fierce little thing!

Publication Date: April 17, 2018

Light Messages Publishing