In 1976 I was living in the Chicago temple from January to early April. This is where I saw my first husband, Michael Cody, known at that time as Bhakta Mike and later as Mahasraya.
One day he appeared at the temple services for the first time since I had come to Evanston, a suburb of Chicago where the temple was located. I had been sent from the St. Louis temple because all the women had gone to India and the remaining two had been sent to Chicago. With the strict segregation between the sexes I would have had no one to talk to if I had remained in St. Louis.
I noticed him right away because he was so much taller than the other men and he had hair. The other men were shaved in the distinctive Hare Krsna pattern with a pony tail, known as a sikha, in back. He had shoulder length brown hair, though he dressed as a devotee.
Of course we were not introduced, in keeping with the strict etiquette of temple life. We were not to speak except as absolutely necessary to carry out our service. I think the only words we ever spoke inside the temple was an “excuse me” as we passed in the narrow confines of the room where food was transferred from the Deities’ plates and plates were cleaned and polished. It was not really a kitchen because the food was cooked upstairs.
I didn’t really think about him much at the time. I suppose that in comparison to the shaved heads surrounding him he stood out as being more attractive. Strangely, when I lived in the temple I really didn’t think that much about men. I was content to remain single—after all, I was just seventeen.
I became increasingly frustrated with other factors of temple life as spring bloomed in Evanston. I was always tired, not able to sleep enough between ten and three-thirty a.m. Later I was to learn that teens need eleven hours of sleep and this made more sense to me. I was allowed to take an hour nap in the morning after the long program of chanting, class, and singing that ran from 4-9 a.m. However, I couldn’t get to sleep in that time, too keyed up by exhaustion to relax sufficiently.
I was unhappy in general with how I was treated if I got sick as well. I had petitioned to become a Chicago temple devotee and not return to St. Louis. Now I seemed to be under more pressure to perform for the temple. I felt like I was working hard. Things came to a head when I was being chewed out (preached to) when I had a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit and had the flu. I decided to leave, and I packed my stuff one night and crept out of the temple, past the sleeping temple guard and out the back door and down the outside steps. I had arranged to join a friend at her house, a former temple devotee who had left and went home to her dad’s apartment. Her name was Suprabha.
The El didn’t start running until a few hours later. It was two in the morning and the El started running at five. I dragged my stuff (a suitcase and sleeping bag) to the stairs behind the Laundromat and hid out there, huddled in my sleeping bag. I remember the despair I felt as I tried to figure out what I would do with myself on my own, no family and no temple. Going home to my family was not an option in my mind.
Finally I was able to get on the El and followed Suprabha’s directions as to which stop to get off and how to find her apartment building. I arrived and buzzed to get her attention (I called ahead so she would expect me) and get through the security door. The apartment was very nice—her dad had a good income so it was an upper middle class home, a long apartment that seemed to go on forever. I was to have my own room, in fact, back near the kitchen. She said her dad hardly ever stayed there because he travelled.
For a few days we had fun hanging out and cooking together, seeing the sights in Chicago and so on. She took me to see a guidance counselor at her college who gave me some references for jobs that would include a place to live. In fact, I met with a Jewish family who wanted me to stay with them and care for their three young sons, and their close friend who had a daughter and occasionally needed a sitter in the evening. I was clearly their favorite of the applicants and we were close to reaching an agreement.
Her father came to stay and told her I would have to find other accommodations. She took me to meet an Indian family that had been very friendly with her and offered to let her stay with them once. They were very friendly and we set a date for when I could bring my few things and stay there. I resolved to be out of their hair during the day and just spend the night. As it turned out, the woman of the house (I can no longer remember their names) was seeing me as someone who could help with the kids and housework.
While I was still at Suprabha’s, Bhakta Mike came to visit. I was surprised to learn that they had been spending time together for a few months by that point, even though he was staying at the temple. I guess I was pretty naïve in those days. I assumed every devotee was following the rules of no association between the sexes, and even though I had left I didn’t think I should throw the rulebook out.
Initially I was uncomfortable spending time with a male devotee like this, but I loosened up as they continued to joke and enjoy each others’ company, and I began to join in too. We all enjoyed music so that was a way to bond.
I’m not sure if Suprabha truly felt herself to be in love with Bhakta Mike or if she was merely infatuated and happy to have someone to spend time with. I think things would have gone differently if she had, for instance, told me that he was the love of her life and that she wanted to marry him. I don’t think they had reached that level yet.
Soon after this I went to stay with the Indian family and true to my intentions I attempted to spend as little time there as possible. I did get pressed into service by the mother, who had me sit on the floor and cut vegetables and help with the laundry. She did the family’s laundry by hand in the bathtub. This experience was to help me later on in my life when we were too broke to go to a Laundromat and I ended up doing the same. She had a washboard, though, which was something I never owned. But it gave me a sense of how it could be done, so when I couldn’t use a machine I knew there was an alternative.
After a few weeks things began to get uncomfortable at the Indian home. The man seemed to be paying too much attention to me, and the woman wanted to fix me up with a relative of hers. I felt obligated to go out for a day to meet this young Indian man in order to please her.
I ended up spending time at Loyola University while he was in a class, then he had me go to the bank with him where I was given a glimpse of his bank balance. Was this meant to impress me? I’m still not sure. Then he suggested we cook dinner together at his home. I offered to cook lasagna, one of the few dishes I knew how to make, vegetarian of course.
However, when we got there I found that he had something else in mind for the main dish. Namely, me. He began a hard sell campaign to talk me into bed with him. I was not at all tempted to surrender my virginity to some guy I was merely tolerating out of obligation in the first place. He was so insistent that I began to worry I was not going to be allowed to leave. I made a call to Suprabha to tell her what was happening and she told me simply to leave and come to her house. Finally I faked feeling ill and literally fled, making the elevator just as the door closed. I ran all the way to the El.
I had to tell my hostess that her relative was pressuring me for sex and she was understanding. Her husband, meanwhile, wished to be very understanding. He tried to talk me literally into his bed one night while his wife was at work. The writing was on the wall and I had to find another place to land. I called up the social worker we’d talked to before and she suggested the Salvation Army runaway shelter. I went to check it out and they gave me a little tour. One of the conditions was that my mother would have to be contacted. I hoped she wouldn’t try to interfere. I figured she ought to be happy to be free of me.
I got my stuff and moved in, happy to have my very own room. Food was a little problematic but they had a stock of cereals I could eat and plenty of milk. There was a pool table and I had a lot of fun with my peers, learning to play. We had a pay phone we could take turns using and we each got a small allowance.
One day Suprabha and I were talking about getting together, and then Bhakta Mike also called me. I told him about our plans and he suggested we meet up and go over there together. So we met at the El stop near her home. But instead of going right there, we got to talking and went for a long walk. I assumed we’d get there eventually.
I remember that at one point a bumblebee showed up and Bhakta Mike took off running. When I caught up he explained that once he had an acid trip and saw a bee blown up many times its size, a giant bee, and it came after him. Since then he has flashbacks whenever he sees a bee.
I was young and inexperienced enough that this sounded exciting to me, rather than merely lame. LSD was something I never dared try. It made him seem more interesting and experienced. I knew he was four years older than I, and it seemed like he’d packed a lot of experience in those years.
We ended up by the lake, and as we watched the waves he put his arm around my shoulders. I was surprised, and up to that point I hadn’t really believed he was interested in me. After all, he already had a thinner girl. I weighed 165 pounds and I felt enormous by comparison.
I turned towards him and he kissed me. It wasn’t my first kiss. It was only the first kiss where I really wanted to be kissed. Finally, someone I found attractive was attracted to me. I was amazed at my good fortune. My heart felt like it would burst. This kiss was everything I had imagined a kiss could be, everything it had never been before. It was April 17, 1976.
Afterwards I felt awkward and somewhat speechless, and guilty. I had stolen this kiss. I knew Suprabha was waiting for us and expected us. I can no longer recall what Bhakta Mike said to me at that point, though I do remember he claimed he was never serious about Suprabha. That made me feel a little less guilty but I knew I shouldn’t have gone off with him that day. Suprabha had helped me and this is how I repaid her.
It was late and he walked me to the El so I could go home to the shelter. I was walking on air. I came down with a crash when Suprabha called and said that we had been seen. (I can’t remember now who had reported this to her—a relative or friend, it’s been so long.) I explained that we had planned to come over but got to talking, and that I was sorry. This whole situation was so awkward but gradually we got past it and even hung out together later on.
I came over that Sunday evening and when Suprabha came back from the temple she told me my mother had shown up there. She said she didn’t know what to do and told my mom where I was staying. I figured she was hoping my mom would take me out of the picture and she’d have Mike back.
My mom was waiting for me at the shelter. According to Illinois law (unlike Missouri law which had allowed me to leave home) I had to go with her until I was 18. She was living in Iowa, where that was also the case. There seemed to be no escape this time. I pleaded with her and pointed out that I had a job lined up and a new boyfriend. She suggested I bring him along if he was willing to come! It sounds crazy, but this is how she believed she could hold onto me a while longer.
I called him via the temple and suggested we meet nearby. I told him my mom was taking me back to Keokuk and that she had offered to let him come along and stay with us if he wanted to. To my surprise he agreed, and went and got his stuff. Soon we were all on our way to Keokuk.
to be continued--