In January of 1982 there were some serious storms sweeping across the country and floods in Santa Cruz county killed some people and washed out a major bridge in Santa Cruz itself. I was worried about Mahasraya, who had been living at times in the redwood forest, still homeless. I wrote to my friend Isabella, (not her real name) to ask if she had seen or heard from him. I wrote also to the mailing address I had for him. The same storm reached Keokuk and we lost power for part of a night. I later heard from him that he was fine and hadn't been in the forest during the storm.
One morning in March of 1982 I answered a knock on my door and there was my husband! I was stunned but fell into his arms with joy. We talked and talked, and as soon as we had the privacy we made love.
At first everything seemed so wonderful but as he talked about having the equipment shipped to my home to make knives (his latest scheme), I worried again about being caught and getting in trouble for receiving aid while he lived with me. We lived in a small town and word travels quickly. It wasn't like the impersonal big city. I was filled with anxiety but knew that opening the subject would cause an explosion. How quickly I reverted to tiptoeing around him to avoid violence!
Lakshmana quickly responded to Mahasraya and resumed their relationship but my daughter, Ramya, held back out of shyness. She barely remembered him, but gradually warmed up and got to know him again.
I noticed some odd things about his behavior--he seemed to need to go to the pay phone a lot, making calls to friends, he said. He started talking about making plans to go back to the west coast in a few months. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but my intuition told me something was off, that I didn't know everything that was going on with him. I couldn't understand why he would ship his equipment to Iowa but then start talking about returning so soon.
In April, he received a letter from his best friend Keshava in the mail. I have never done this before or since, but I opened the letter, thinking I would carefully seal it back up again. I expected to gain some insight as to what was worrying him--and boy, did I.
I took the letter with me into the bathroom and read, "Bella told me that you were coming back to her soon. I don't understand why you are changing your plan to live with Tapati and make knives there..." There was more that I can't remember, mainly because those words were blazed into my mind and I couldn't help but read them over and over again. Bella told me that you were coming back to her soon. Isabella! My good friend! I felt like I'd been stabbed in the solar plexus.
I sat in the bathroom and cried, reading it over and over. Finally I came out and went back to the master bedroom, where he was reading. I threw the letter at him and stalked out, not trusting myself to speak. I went into the kitchen and began washing dishes, slamming cupboard doors, trying not to cry in front of the kids. They went out to play and finally he came into the kitchen, and we started arguing. I lit into him about the affair, when he shocked me more than I thought I could be at that point.
"You don't understand," he said, "this isn't just an affair. I love Isabella; she's going to be my wife too. It's destiny!"
My life had just turned into a nightmare. It's a measure of my dependency on this man that I didn't already see that it had been for quite some time. This hurt me more than all of the beatings combined because it hurt me where I lived. In this one moment I became convinced that he must not really love me. He couldn't love me and do something like this! I felt worthless and abandoned. Not just abandoned. Thrown away.
He went on talking about how wonderful it would be since she and I were already friends. I just looked at him like he had gone mad. When he finally ran out of words to describe this wonderful life where everything was beautiful and his two wives got along just fine, I looked at him with tears in my eyes.
"What about your vows? What about forsaking all others?" I asked.
Now he looked at me like I was the crazy one.
"I didn't mean any of that!" He sounded shocked that I would think he ever did. Those were karmi vows, he seemed to be saying. That was just a formality, I imagine he was thinking.
Yes we never had a fire sacrifice. Did that mean we weren't really married? Then why was I faithful to him all of those months we were apart?
I was literally sick. I had a knot in the pit of my stomach and I was shaking. I was still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that my friend and my husband had an affair, much less that she was supposed to be my co-wife now. Co-wife. It was like something out of a Hare Krsna soap opera. I had a friend who had a co-wife--devotees talked behind her back, which I'm sure she knew. I felt sorry for her because I had guessed it must be very painful. Now I was going to find out for myself. I realized I ought to write to her for advice.
A handful of Hare Krsna men have done this, emulating a so-called "Vedic" standard that allowed for men to take more than one wife. Our spiritual master had discouraged the practice in our day and age and given modern laws, but still there were men who tried to legitimize their extra-marital affairs as Mahasraya tried to do.
I don't remember how this painful conversation ended. Much of the following month is a blur. I think I ran upstairs to cry, and I spent a great deal of time during the next month in tears. I couldn't eat much past that knot in my stomach and I would only sleep for a couple of hours before I would jerk awake and realize that yes, this nightmare was really happening. I thought about suicide often and sometimes I even thought about murder.
We had many agonizing fights and discussions, including a long talk between myself and Bella who explained that she thought we were not getting back together again, that we were through. I thought a friend was supposed to ask if you minded if she dated your ex?
Trying to discuss things with Mahasraya only led to more violence. He had started hitting me again in Simi Valley and at the campground at Malibu. Now he seemed to feel like I wouldn't follow through on my threat to leave--and where was there to go? I was already home in Iowa with no where else to run.
Objecting to his relationship with Bella, even saying I didn't think I could do this, invariably led to a beating. I remember being beaten in almost every room of the home that had been completely peaceful before he arrived. In my mind's eye, I am curled into a ball on the kitchen floor, back to the cupboards, arms shielding my head. Oh how that enrages him! He begins kicking me, frustrated that he can't easily bash me in the head like he normally does. Normal, my God, normal. This is our normal.
One day when I tried to say that I wouldn't do this, that he should just leave and go to her and I'd live alone with the kids, he flew into a rage and grabbed me by the throat.
"I'm going to kill you, this time I'm really going to kill you," he screamed as he repeatedly banged my head into the wall, choking me until my lungs were straining for air. It was just like the night he choked me when I was pregnant with Ramya, and every bit as terrifying.
Suddenly he released my neck and gathered me in his arms, crying, "I can't live without you."
I can barely believe it now, but I actually felt glad to hear those words. But they didn't mean that he had given up on his scheme to have Bella as his second wife.
In desperation I wrote to Keshava, hoping he could fill in the gaps and maybe talk some sense into Mahasraya. I know he wrote to Mahasraya and told him he should take care of me because I didn't sound good, or words to that effect.
I tried to have a conversation with Mahasraya about the way he was treating me, hoping to come to some agreement that he wouldn't hit me, hoping to get some of the positive things I hoped for. After I broached the subject, he gave me that same disbelieving look as before and said, "I don't treat you that bad!"
That stuck in my mind and I later realized, if the other spouse won't agree that there's even a problem, then it's impossible to work on it and solve it. One person can't make a marriage work.
The violence continued to escalate. I didn't even have to do or say anything to get a beating. I remember once that Lakshmana came in crying after a disagreement with his friends. He was having a bad day with them and it was the third time he came in, upset. I heard him and thought maybe this time I should let him deal with his feelings on his own. Running to comfort him didn't seem to help the situation.
I was at the table, bent over a letter I was writing. Suddenly I felt the intense pain of a blow to the back of my neck. It took my breath away! Mahasraya had just hit me with a hammerfist at the base of my neck. That blow causes me pain to this day as the vertebrae are compressed and pinching a nerve in that same spot.
A normal man might have asked, "Aren't you going to do something about that?" I would have explained why I wasn't, this time around. Perhaps a father might even go comfort his own son, instead of hit his mother. People often ask battered women, "What did you do to set him off?" The answer, all too often is, "I was breathing." Simply, we were there when they needed someone to beat on, a way to release their stress.
Early in May a letter arrived, and I saw Isabella's handwriting. The envelope was addressed to me, and I tore it open eagerly. I scanned to find the words I so wanted to hear.
"This letter you may accept as my definite resignation in the matter of co-wife..."
The relief I felt was immense, immediately followed by apprehension. I had to squelch my reaction and quickly if I wanted to avoid another beating. With the abused woman's six sense about such things, I knew that emotional upset for Mahasraya meant a beating for me. I prepared myself to tiptoe around and try not to upset him more than the letter itself would.
Of course I was unsuccessful. I remember being beaten in front of the stairs that day, quick blows that rained down on my head and knocked me onto the bottom steps.
I had thought if Bella resigned as my co-wife, I would be happy, having "won" my husband back. But the victory was hollow as I wondered, looking at him later that evening, do I even want him? How can I ever trust him again? Before it had never occurred to me that he would cheat. Now I wondered how he could ever be faithful. Somehow that still mattered to me more than the beatings.
He decided to return to the West Coast once again, and it was with some measure of relief that I watched him go early in July. I even agreed to send him money for knife-making, on top of what I was paying each month for our storage place in Simi Valley.
I had had a chance to examine the difference between life with him and life without him, and life without him was, surprisingly, better. Sure I missed him when he wasn't there, but I made myself look at it logically, and list the benefits of each side. I was still as in love as I'd ever been, but my faith in him, in our marriage, was shaken to the core. He was unfaithful, he was violent, and he was apparently unwilling to hold down a job or create a small, self-sustaining business with which to support us. He had turned down my offer of watching our children so that I could work. I didn't see how life with him would ever succeed.
I began an intense period of self evaluation and contemplation about my marriage and my choices in life. This went on for months as I tortured myself with the pros and cons of being married to Mahasraya, contemplated my love for him, my fear of being alone and raising my children alone.
I remember getting letters that helped me see the reality of my marriage, or to be more accurate, the reality of the man I was married to.
There was this letter, postmarked Jan 17 1983 (spelling unchanged from original):
I have just recently heard from Kesava that he has a B.V. Ramans book or magazine that say’s 1984 around Feb-March will be the conjunction most likely for The Nuk War to happen. Well that do’sent give anyone to much time to make enough $ cash to make enough preparation for anything unless started by summer of this year. B V Raman is the best well knowen you of course know so. My plan however Crazy it may sound is to 1. get togeather my knife making gear before summer Make enough knives to sell to buy survival gear food, seeds, clothing, tools, a few small gun’s. 2. Go up to Oregon no matter how much or littlle of the above comes togeather and dig secret tunnel caverns into the mountains in the national forest 100,00 acres of [indecipherable] forest with very free rent and they will have heating and ventilations systems built into the floor and ceilings. Just how it will be constructed I was inspired by a David Carter who works and writes for Mother Earth News. Book about Underground Building and Tunneling. I read one of his books here at the bookstore and it had a whole chapter on it. Plus he has written 2 others whole books on just tunneling I need to get soon. I must no be so crazy for when I brought up my plans to Bill, Kesava, and 2 other people I trust here they all want to do it with me and I know Ken will also. One very good thing about such a structure is that not even the most expensive bomb shelters protect as well as a Mountain cavern. from shock waves, blasts, or fallout.
Oh yeah, his cronies think it is cool so I should take our kids miles into the forest to live. My practical mind tried to imagine how we would save our children in a medical emergency, how we would feed them. I actually made a list of basic things that one would need to pull something like this off--and the cost. Obviously it was impossible. I had read Mahasraya's "Surviving Doomsday" book when he was visiting and I decided that I'd rather be at ground zero than scratching out a meager existence and shooting people that came to steal our food. All the scenarios seemed to boil down to that.
So I continued to doubt and he continued to send letters about ever-changing plans, though nothing ever came together. I never got the letter that I was hoping for, the letter that said, "I have an apartment for you and a steady income. Please come back."
I was saving up money for the trip and I was supposed to come out in September. In my heart I wanted things to work out and I wanted to be back together, but on my terms--no beatings, a decent standard of living, food and shelter and heat and running water. The basics. I wasn't a greedy person. But I didn't ever want to see my children suffer like they had at the campground, ever again.
I remember he softened my heart when he sent me a Mother's Day card and said some sweet things. He was rarely demonstrative and didn't celebrate special days at all, so it really touched me.
I swung back and forth, back and forth, like a pendulum, as I contemplated my marriage. It was one of the biggest decisions I'd ever make, I knew.
In the meantime, that summer, I finally learned how to drive a car. This was quite a milestone.
--To be continued