BY AARON STELLA This week, Imma gonna tell ya a little somethin’ about me, a.k.a I’m going to start prattling on like a drunk blonde at a frat party, with a whole bunch of “No one understands me!” and “Oh my God, I love this song!” OK, not really, but what I’m about to tell you about my life usually redirects whatever the present conversation is to a relentless onslaught of who, what, where, when, why, and “what the fuck?” If you missed last week’s edition, check it out and get yourself up to speed. Alright, let’s get this show on the road.
I was born August 5th in 1985 in Augusta, GA. I’m the oldest of three. My father is from Chicago, was raised Catholic, ended up in Georgia during his stay at the medical college of Oxford-Emery. My Mother is from the Bronx, was raised Jewish. After her father died, she lived a very “shower with a friend” existence until Jesus revealed himself to her while she was studying art in Italy. She worked at the Savannah River plant in Georgia; later some friends of hers introduced her to my father.
The cult calls itself the Alleluia Community. There are thousands of these Post-Vatican II Neo-Evangelist cults scattered throughout the states disguised as innocent suburbanite communes, where plastic smiles hide the sorrows: theocracies such as these are magnets for the codependent, the socially outcast, and the zealous bible-thumper, or as I like to call them, “Taliban Christians.” Usually, the more sensationalized breeds hog most of the attention (people just eat up stories about moonlight orgies a thousand polygamists strong and fruit punch suicides), however, the Alleluia community is relatively tame in comparison.
Still, it was hardly the real world. It is a closed society. Only community members could attend community meetings, and only kids of community members could attend the community school. Those looking to join took the pledge of loyalty at an induction GCG — community meetings, basically — where they were bestowed cult garments to symbolize membership. The women were given white veils, and the men, cream-colored tallits — a shawl traditionally worn by Jewish men at prayer. Children of community members could join when they were four. It was customary for the the youngsters to say something or do a song and dance at their induction GCC. I recited a fire and brimstone chapter from the bible, which was a real crowd pleaser, and made my father beam with pride.
How did my family wind up joining a cult, you ask? Well, my mom joined first because she wanted to live a more Christian life and felt she need to surround herself by other Christians. But my father (ugh), he was befriended by one of the church Elders — basically the founders elected themselves Church Elders For Life and oversaw all aspects of the cult. Everyone paid a tithe –about 10 percent of your income — to help fund community programs and upkeep the school and retreat households and other things. They must have licked their chops when they heard that my dad was an obscenely over-paid ER physician. A little cajoling was all it took, and a feigned interest in my father’s incessant pontifications on religion — one of his favorite past-times. My father’s the kind of Christian who extols God for his wrath rather than his mercy, and he found like-minded company in the ranks of the community. Long story short, he joined, married my mom, had us kids, blah blah blah we lived in a cult. Until one day my mom noticed something fishy. You know that tithe everyone has to pay? The money was supposed to be for community collective funds, to improve the school, fund programs, and all that? My mom didn’t realize it until one day when she was walking past an elder’s house. He was out in his front lawn, watering his plants. At that moment, she wondered to herself how he managed to pay his water bill without working. My mom became a stay-at-home mom when she had us kids, so she knew who was around during the work day and who wasn’t. Well, this guy was never away, nor was his wife or 13-something kids, some of them, far past due to the workforce. Well, she put two and two together and it became apparent where the tithe dough was really going: landing right into the the elders bank account. Just your typical cash scam folks. Of course, none of her friends believed her.
And then there was the sex thing. Between October 3rd to the 8th, the parents would go away on retreats. In their absence, the teenagers were left in charge to take care of the younger kids, which at the time included me and my sisters. The funny thing is is that after a while the parents started taking the whole family on these retreats. Hmm , I wonder why? Let’s see: what happens when you leave, say, a little over a 300 raging hormonal teenagers who’ve been told to “sit still or else god will smite you” their whole lives? They smoke, fuck, drink, fuck some more, and in a matter of hours, transform quiet ol’ Faith Village — the neighborhood in which most the members lived—into iniquitous Sodom and Gomorrah. During this time, I survived on burnt banana pancakes and fought for possession of my Nintendo Entertainment System. Jerome, who took care of and my sister (a.k.a the burnt banana pancake extraordinaire), used let all the kids who bullied me at school into our house to play with my things. Not to mention, people having sex all over the place, all over our house, which was the biggest house in the community. So much shit happened. I remember waking up one day finding two complete strangers pulling each other’s hair and licking each other’s faces. Obviously, my protests went unhonored; most of those days, I stayed outside, wandering to parts of the village I wasn’t allowed to go, and into the forests surrounding. Faith Village used to be a pecan orchard. Later, the land was tilled and low-income suburban housing spurng up, but not in blocks, in circles, with the house situated along the perimeter. And in the center, no fences were erected, just wide open communal space open to anyone who wised to graze, or, when the parents are gone, island-hop for booze and drugs. They traveled in groups — rogue bands of adolescents gallivanting through Christendom guided by the wind of their whimsy. At night, the only light one could find other than from the houses was from cigarettes, joints, and the distant sounds of squelching noises.
Oh yeah, I still don’t really know what all went on at those parent retreats; however, I do know that the elders taught our parents the “holier than thou” way to have sex (something tells me God probably frowns on double-sided dildos and cock-rings). On a final note (cause I could on forever), something I learned about organized religion and cult life while in the mix was of the terrifying power humans have to say “no: to ignore blatantly obvious realities; to reject facts of science; to assume a pejorative, natural hierarchy among humankind; to oppress out of fear rather than accept with love; to blame rather than admit error. (Oh god, now I sound like one of the elders. I’m still trying to work this shit out of my system. Ex-cult members who befriended my family after we left the cult told us that of the amount of years one spends in the cult equals the time it takes one to fully recover from all the bullshit. I’ll leave it at that, for now)