“All things must pass, none of life’s strings can last.” –George Harrison
Previously I described how my mom and Aunt Gin came to take me back home to Keokuk, Iowa. I rode in the backseat, resigned, tearful, but filled with resentment. I had been assured by our temple president, Makanlal, that he would challenge my mother in court for custody. She didn’t know it yet but I hadn’t given up on going back to the temple for good.
Back home I tried to pick up from where I left off in terms of doing my own worship, chanting my rounds, and staying focused on service to Krishna. I started writing my friends from the registered membership program, Pastora, Allen, Wayne, and of course I wrote to Swarupa Das:
September 4, 1975
My dear Godbrother Swarupa,
Hare Krsna! All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
My mother changed her mind suddenly, so here I am out in material energy once again. I can’t believe how hellish it is out here! Everything’s crazy! If I stay out of maya it will only be by Prabhupada’s causeless mercy.
Makanlal Das is going to start legal proceedings immediately to get me back home. My mom thinks I’m going to stay until I’m 18 and go to college. Makanlal says I’m definitely not staying until I’m 18. So I’m simply praying for Krsna to get me out of here. Please pray for me. All I can do is the same things I did in the temple; rise at 3:30, offer arotik, chant 16 rounds, wear a sari, listen to tapes of Prabhupada giving class. But it’s so much harder out here without association of devotees. If I could see Carolyn more it would help, but even that is difficult if not impossible.
Life with my mom became even more of a Cold War situation with occasional outbreaks of overt hostility. I began to act out in various ways as well as try to avoid her by visiting my grandma, though she and my grandpa weren’t any happier with my involvement in the Hare Krishna movement. They loved to make fun of my diet and my nose piercing, and Grandma commonly referred to my beliefs as “that crazy religion.”
I ran into my old friend Jeanne Long one day. We had had a falling out and weren’t friends through most of ninth grade but we made up and I started talking to her on the phone regularly and hanging out as much as possible. She was busy with school. Being a dropout and cut off from the temple, I was very lonely.
I ended up in the hospital. All summer I’d been plagued by stomach pain. It was something I’d experienced before I went to the temple as well, and my mom suspected that it was gallbladder disease. But since I was so young and x-rays didn’t reveal any gallstones, the doctors decided it might be psychosomatic, especially given my involvement in this crazy cult. So after all tests had been run they ordered a psychiatric consultation.
In walked Dr. Kim, head of the county mental health department. Before he would even talk to me he ordered the nurse to get a washcloth and remove the tilak marking from my forehead. He then proceeded to interrogate me about why I was involved with the Hare Krishna movement and concluded that I was looking for a father figure in the spiritual master, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. While there was a grain of truth there, it was a lesser motivation than both relief from suffering and needing to leave home. Years later I was finally diagnosed with gallbladder disease and vindicated in my opinion that it was not psychosomatic. I was discharged and returned to my home.
While I was in the hospital, an unsettling thing happened. I was talking to Carolyn over the phone, which was still forbidden and not possible if her father was home to notice. At some point in the conversation she stopped responding. It was surreal. She wouldn’t hang up, she wouldn’t complain about anything I had said, she just listened silently.
That was to be the pattern for all subsequent calls. Unnerved, I wracked my brains for what could have caused her to behave this way. I was sure it was something I had said or done. This was early after my return home so my anticipated reunion with Carolyn was not to be. I was broken hearted. This was my best friend, like a sister to me. We had started this journey together. Now I was all alone, surrounded by people who either didn’t believe or were actively hostile to my beliefs. I was very glad to have renewed my friendship with Jeanne and it turned out to be a good thing that I did.
As the legal situation heated up, I was assigned a lawyer and I also had a counselor at the mental health department. I was gathering information for him and we were gearing up for a hearing, awaiting a court date.
One day I received a phone call from Aunt Gin. She told me that she just got home from a trip and that her gun was missing. Mom had been given the key to feed Aunt Gin’s dogs, so I immediately understood the implications of this since Mom had attempted suicide before. Aunt Gin instructed me to put my mom on the phone without mentioning why, and that while she kept Mom on the line, I should go and remove the gun from the bedroom if I could find it. She told me to look on or around the bed first.
I was petrified! I’d watched enough TV shows to have images in my head of us struggling for the gun and the gun going off. I didn’t want to do this at all. Yet my residual training to obey my elders kicked in and I quietly went to find the gun while my mom was in the hall talking on the phone. I found it under Mom’s pillow and held it against my body while I went into my room, finding a place to hide it quickly. I shut my door and sat shaking in my room. I prayed that everything would be OK and that I could get out of there safely.
I don’t remember how it all came about but Aunt Gin came over and I ended up spending the night at Jeanne’s house, welcomed by my Godmother, Grace. She had always been very kind to me when Jeanne and I were close friends during eighth grade. I think she recognized even then that my home life was sadly lacking. She wasn’t happy that I had abandoned Catholicism (my first foray into spiritual life) and she was worried that Jeanne might get involved with Krishna, but still she took me in that night. I owe her a lot. I always thought of her home as a refuge.
The only bright spot was the realization that this might positively affect the custody hearing. When I thought about it I realized that the whole awful experience was quite a plus for our side. Obviously my mother was unsuitable and the county had offered nothing better than the institutional “County Home.” Surely a judge would see that I was happier at the temple and that it was a clean, wholesome, drug-free environment.
Our court date was assigned sometime in late October for December first. I had returned home, assured that things had calmed down. I was still very worried about the strained relationship with Carolyn, so in late October or early November—the letter isn’t dated—I wrote to Swarupa again:
Hare Krsna! All glories to Prabhupada!
I’m sorry to bother you but I have a problem. Bhaktin Carolyn is in maya and I don’t know what else to do. She won’t talk to me at all, and hasn’t for a month and a half. She won’t tell me what’s wrong, and I’ve heard from some people at school that she’s given up Krsna Consciousness. I’ve heard that she even went to a party recently and had a blind date. Part of her problem seems to be (yes-you guessed it) George Harrison and Beatle albums. When I left for St. Louis in my ignorance I gave her 22 albums. Now it seems she is attached to them. I suggested she get rid of them and that’s about the time she stopped talking to me. It’s my ignorance and tactlessness that is to blame, but knowing that doesn’t help now. I wrote her a letter telling her it doesn’t matter to me if she keeps them–it’s Krsna she should worry about. But she still won’t talk to me.
I was wondering if she has been sending in donations even though she hasn’t written to you for a few months. I thought maybe you could get through to her since she admires you so much…
PS The hearing is in a few weeks and Makanlal, Tilak and Keli Chanchala are coming to Keokuk for it! Please pray for me. Jai. Haribol!
Swarupa Das replied on November 13, 1975:
Regarding Carolyn, I have not heard from her since last June and she also stopped sending donations at that time as well. It seems that she has been overwhelmed by Maya. What can we do? Sometimes it is better to let things take the natural course. Carolyn cannot simply wipe all traces of her memory. And in her memory there is Krsna and the sweet taste of chanting, hearing and remembering the Lord. She has done nice service and she knows deep within herself that Krsna is the Supreme Lord and that she is His eternal servant. But Maya is very strong and Carolyn has fallen victim of the illusory energy. She is trying to forget Krsna by filling her life up with so much nonsense family life, parties, dates, schooling, etc. Persons in this material world think that these things are very important and chanting Hare Krsna and engaging in bhakti yoga is a waste of time. But transcendentalists see in just the opposite way. They say that we are crazy and we say that they are crazy. So who is right? The test is Guru-Shastra-Sadhu. We must hear from the bona fide [sic] spiritual master who possesses the perfect knowledge, the self-revealed Scriptures that contain the Absolute Truth and the great sages and saints who are pure in mind and character. That is how we know that we are rightly situated and that those who are engaged in material advancement of life are in a diseased condition. An insane man thinks that he is well and that everyone else is crazy. But we have to take judgment from the undisturbed authorities…if we try to go after her at this point she will only rebel and become more and more bitter. We can write her nice letters and by humble persuasion try to get her to think about Krsna.
I stopped trying to call her and finally just followed Swarupa’s lead and sent her letters occasionally. I realize now that the influence of her parents outweighed anything I had said to offend her. I wrote a poem about our friendship and I often cried over her loss but soon I had other things on my mind.
Before we could go to court, Mom found a job and moved us to Memphis, Missouri in November! This removed us from the court’s jurisdiction. She had mentioned doing this so I talked to my lawyer and also wrote to Makanlal about the possibility. My lawyer suggested that according to what he knew of Missouri law, a minor could leave home upon reaching the age of 17. I told Makanlal this and he said he’d check with his lawyer since they practiced in Missouri and would be very familiar with the laws.
On December 9th, 1975, Makanlal called me in Memphis and told me that I could come home. Mom and I were scheduled to go into Keokuk for Christmas shopping on Saturday the 13th. So I planned to leave once I was in town. The plan I came up with was to pack secretly the night before, and load the suitcase into the trunk of the car. I knew I wasn’t getting a ride to Keokuk to catch the bus if I told Mom what I was doing.
That’s exactly what I did. The only flaw in my plan is that Mom often bought cigarettes at a particular gas station in Alexandria, Missouri, near Keokuk. She went to put the cigarettes in her trunk and saw my suitcase! She got in the car and began ranting; I can’t remember what she said exactly. She drove back towards Memphis and I thought we were going back home but she ended up taking me to Grandma’s in Wayland, a few miles away.
At Grandma’s there was quite a scene with Mom saying she would never speak to me again if I went to the temple and Grandma saying, “Now Bonnie, you don’t want to leave it like that.” Grandma’s strategy was one that had worked for her with Mom for many years: money. She told me that if I chose to go to the temple now I would not get the money from my savings bonds which had been one of my birthday gifts each year of my life. I told her I didn’t need her money. That was satisfying!
Mom ended up taking me to Keokuk and after a few errands, leaving me at the bus stop in time to catch the Greyhound bus. I was on my way back to St. Louis! I couldn’t believe it! The nightmare was over. Once again I watched the scenery of my home town recede in the background, expecting that I might never see it again. I refused to let myself think about Mom, sad and teary eyed under the anger, feeling abandoned. It had always been my job to meet her emotional needs, but no longer, no longer. I was free!
Next installment: I end up in the Chicago temple where I meet my future husband.