I am trying to remember whether this was still in October or into November of 1980. I know we spent my birthday in Portland...we were there when John Lennon was shot as well. I just don't quite remember when we arrived.
In any event, on the West Coast a chill was in the air. Keshava rented a VW vanagon and we loaded up our kids and our most essential possessions, leaving the rest in storage, and headed out of Santa Cruz at 7 p.m. one night. We drove for a few hours and found a motel where we all shared a room. The next day we continued up the coast through some incredible scenery, Sequoia territory, coastal towns, all with fall leaves dotting the countryside. I tried to put aside my fears and simply enjoy the sights of nature or of colorful Victorian homes in some of the towns.
We arrived in Portland, stayed in another motel, and then looked for an apartment to rent together. We found a two bedroom on Stark Avenue in a Portland suburb. We explored Portland and ate at a wonderful vegetarian restaurant. They had recently renovated the downtown and they had shiny new bus kiosks which really impressed us. As we walked down one street I heard a crash and looked across the street and up just in time to see a pane of glass fall out of a window and hit the car below! That was a rush! I saw a person step back quickly from the window, as if they didn't want to be identified. I shrugged and walked on.
Keshava and Mahasraya did find the office of the person selling land, but he was never there. It was just a tiny storefront office. They were frustrated.
I was supposed to apply for aid but Oregon's economy was in a serious slump (we were all in a recession) and they were screening aid recipients very carefully, giving us the third degree and informing us that they would send investigators out to see who was really living with us. Of course I was living with my husband so that would have been a disaster for me. I went home and told the guys what was going on with the aid and they concluded that we all should leave Oregon. Problem is, we had moved the rest of our stuff up to the apartment in a second van load. We had one van and two loads of stuff. Plus the van was a stick shift and Mahasraya didn't know how to drive a stick. Keshava was heading off to his Mom's house in Hawaii, since she sent him a ticket. So Keshava left and we were stuck. We ran out of money and food. Mahasraya tried to teach himself how to drive the van, consulted with Keshava over the phone, but he had no luck. By this time the van was "misappropriated," meaning it hadn't been returned to the rental place on time. Mahasraya was afraid to be seen driving so poorly in this vehicle. I had never learned to drive at all, so I was no help.
I called around from the pay phone and found out where a food bank was, several blocks away. Mahasraya stayed with the kids while I went to get a box of food. They loaded me up with a box I could just barely carry. Then I had to get it home without a car!
I'd carry it half a block, put it down and rest. I'd pick it up again and carry it a bit farther. We needed this food! I tried putting it on my hip, but it was too large to carry that way. I just kept on resting and carrying until I got it back home. Is it any wonder that years later, though I have a car, I won't get rid of a grocery cart that I bought later on?
Mahasraya got in touch with his dad, who was working temporarily with a painting crew in Simi Valley, living with a friend of his named Dody. The head of the crew was her live in boyfriend. His Dad, John, said we could come and stay with them. He could drive us down if we had the money for gas and his train fare up.
I pawned my wedding ring set, given to me by my Mom (her old set), for $60.00. That was the last I saw of those rings.
We had to get rid of half of our stuff since we had two van loads and one van. We just left it all behind in the apartment. I lost furniture and so many things...
Mahasraya had a bunch of books stolen from various libraries. He was really a thief at heart! I convinced him that we couldn't take them anyway so why not turn them in at the local library which would probably send them back to the libraries they belonged to. So we took them to the depository at the local library. (I got a card at every library we lived close to so of course I knew where it was.) I can only imagine their surprise at the pile of books that landed in their library that night.
Mahasraya's dad arrived and we took off to drive straight through to Simi Valley. We drove through incredible fog at one point, and one car we were following crashed, spewing the contents of their U-Haul all over the road. They had kids--we'd seen them at a rest stop. I always wondered if they all survived but it was so foggy we couldn't see anything more than their stuff on the road and the lights of the emergency vehicles.
Finally we arrived at Dody's. We were sitting on her couch, getting acquainted, when she said, "So where are you staying?"
I was stunned. John hadn't told her we were going to stay with her? I was so humiliated! One of the hardest parts of living with Mahasraya was that we were always mooching off people in one way or another. I just hated that! And here we were, beggars at the door...
John explained his plan and so began our awkward sojourn in Simi Valley. Dody was disabled and I made it my mission to cook and clean for everyone to make our stay more palatable to her.
During our stay there I had to transfer my welfare from Sacramento to Simi Valley, and I tried to put my foot down and tell Mahasraya that I wasn't willing to lie anymore and that he should sign up for welfare with me. I was tired of living in fear of getting caught for welfare fraud. At one point the argument grew so fierce that I felt I should just leave him--that way I would be telling the truth. I took my kids and walked out, down the street. He followed me, hit me in the face, and tore my daughter out of my arms, took my son's hand and walked away. This marked the resumption of physical violence in our relationship.
We stayed for a couple of months, through the New Year celebration, during which I had dental surgery to remove my wisdom teeth. Just after this, while I was still recovering and on pain medication, her boyfriend Ken's daughter left her husband and they needed our room for her and her children.
Off we all went to Leo Carillo State Park in Malibu. We had the VW van and John's little Datsun which he and his son Shawn were living out of. (John had lived on the road for all of Shawn's life, stopping periodically to mooch off people along the way, then hitting the road again. He was and is an alcoholic.)
The first night I slept in the van because we got there late and didn't have time to put up the big tent. (We had an 8x10 green canvas tent and a little nylon tent meant for two.) I woke up in pain from my surgery--I'd had all 4 wisdom teeth surgically removed--and took more pain medication then zonked out again.
We spent a few days at the camp ground and then Mahasraya made contact with his friend Bob, the one who knew the drug dealer. It turned out the drug dealer was anxious because there was evidence that someone had been peaking into their windows and had climbed on a roof to look into their second floor, where they conducted "business." So arrangements were made for Mahasraya to do some more guard work for them as long as I and the children could stay there too.
We arrived at the dealer's house in Hollywood, not far off Sunset and Vine. They had a beautiful downstairs sitting area with a stone coffee table and its own bathroom and shower. The washer and dryer were there too but we were told that they had plumbing problems and not to use it. Just up the stairs was the kitchen, then the den and their bedrooms. The drug dealer's wife (I can't remember any of their names) fancied herself to be an artist and painted a similar motif over and over again in a variety of colors--something involving pyramids. She had purchased a sari with gold and sequins all over and wanted to know how to put it on, so I taught her how to wrap a sari. We got along ok.
The drug dealer's brother, however, was displaced by our arrival. He ended up sleeping on the floor in the den, with less comfort and privacy than we had. He took to criticizing me for "doing nothing" other than watching my children. He only got himself chewed out by his brother for saying such things.
Again I tried to cook for my hosts. This time it turned out to be wasted effort because these cocaine addicts had no use for food! They appeared to live on carrot juice and vitamin supplements. They all seemed amazed that I consistently turned down their offered "lines." I figured I'd already tried it and hated it so why bother?
Their friends would come over and do coke with them. I remember the young girl, maybe 19-20, who was skeletally thin and always shivering, wearing a puffy down jacket for warmth. I was thinking that although I'd always wanted to be thin, there really was such a thing as too thin and using coke was too high a price to pay for getting there.
For distraction I took refuge of their amazing stereo system and their album collection. I remember falling in love with Elton John's song, "Where To Now, St. Peter?"
There came a day when Mahasraya helped them put up a plastic film on the walls that reminded me we were in some danger. They didn't want anyone looking in again. I thought about the locks on the inside of the doors which required a key to get out of and looked at my children, imagining them in the middle of some drug inspired shoot out. I began to argue with Mahasraya about staying there. Our relationship was deteriorating rapidly--not that it had ever been strong.
Even the drug dealer noticed. One day he took me aside and asked me, "Why doesn't your husband give you any energy?"
I remember thinking, "Wow, it is as bad as I think it is if this guy notices!"
I could only reply, "I don't know." I didn't try to dispute his assessment--it would have been pointless.
Finally even Mahasraya had had enough and it was clearer every day that having our kids there was an increasing imposition on our hosts. We returned to the camp ground once again, arriving late in the day and sleeping in the little tent. Winter storms were causing flash floods in the canyon and in the next few days we discovered that our green tent had sprung some leaks. (It had been in a flood of the dealer's plumbing and we had not dried it out quickly enough. Some of the waterproofing had suffered.) Eventually almost all of our clothing got wet and we had piles of our books and possessions in the "dry" areas of the tent. The van had been left on the streets of Hollywood to be found by the police and returned to the rental company, so we had nothing but our tents and our meager possessions. (Our other things were in the Space 4 You storage facility in Simi Valley, which I made payments to for four years.)
I remember listening on the radio to Reagan's inauguration. Just more depressing news as far as I was concerned.
I vividly recall one wretched night when I had to go to the bathroom. It was pouring down rain and I had to walk to the campground bathroom. I put on my rain coat and boots and went out, only to discover that there was a foot or more of water surrounding one side of our tent. I grabbed our little camp shovel and had to dig a trench in the booming thunderstorm and torrential rain. Finally I made it to the bathroom and back, only to find that despite the rain coat my last dry clothes were too damp to wear to bed. I stripped down and went to sleep huddled in my underwear.
Mahasraya continued to spin plans for get rich quick schemes. His final plan was that we would get a ride back to Santa Cruz, set up our tents in the New Brighton camp ground, and he would watch the kids by day while I made cannolis to sell in health food stores on our little propane stove. (I love how ALL of his get rich quick schemes involved me doing all the work--other than his occasional efforts to teach martial arts or sell/grow pot.)
Mahasraya also began yelling and hitting me over how "messy" the tent was, with its piles of things in the "dry" areas and drying puddles in the leaking sections. Not for the first time I wondered why I bothered to put up with him. I knew I had promised to leave him if he hit me even once, the last time we got back together. My stress level was at the breaking point and I didn't see how I could put up with much more.
He left us and went into town to arrange for transportation to Santa Cruz. Over the weekend he was gone we ran out of propane. All the food we had needed to be cooked, things like split peas and rice. I used up our few potatoes on the first night, cooking them in the coals of a fire. I had some honey and mixed it with water for my son, and nursed my daughter. The phones were down because of the storm and I couldn't even call my local friends.
Finally on Monday the phone service was restored and I called two of my friends, one to take me to a motel and another to take me to the train station. I called my family and let them know I would be taking the train to Burlington, Iowa. I packed up three duffle bags of stuff, left a note about why I was leaving for the sake of my children's well being, and left the tent behind.
--to be continued.