Prologue to the award-winning memoir Cult, A Love Story
“God says that I need to move into the new millennium unencumbered.”
My boyfriend looked at me from across the kitchen table as he uttered these words. His facial expression was a mix of grief, shock and steely resolve to do what he felt was being requested of him by the Almighty. It took me a few seconds to realize that what he meant was that he was breaking up with me. I was the encumbrance he needed to be free of.
When we had begun to date, two and a half years earlier, I can only describe it as coming home. We were intellectually well matched and had similar tastes and interests in books and films, wine and food. It didn’t hurt that we were on the same spiritual path and had both chosen to follow Limori, a self-styled New Age spiritual guru of immense charm and charisma who espoused the seemingly unquestionable values of Love, Light and Truth.
There was enormous chemistry between Michael and I, of the like I’ve never experienced before or since, and I delighted in how happy we made each other. It felt like a great pleasure and privilege to experience such a force of nature as this love between us. I’ll risk possible accusations of hyperbole and say that the connection between us had such depth and resonance that every time our eyes met I felt a sizzle of recognition and peace. It was like having my soul walk around outside my body.
And now, it seemed, it was over. Without warning, without explanation and certainly without mercy.
He continued. “The karma that needed to be cleaned up between us is now complete, so there’s no longer any need for us to be in a relationship.”
We were in the kitchen of Wolf’s Den, a fishing resort that our guru owned and operated in central British Columbia, and Michael, my suddenly ex-boyfriend, had just emerged from a four-hour telephone conversation with Limori.
“I’ll move my things out of our cabin now,” he said, “and tonight I am to stay in Limori’s suite.” Underneath the look of grief and shock on his face, he looked smug and pleased with himself. Our leader was in Arizona at the moment with her travelling entourage, so as quickly as I was being demoted to ex-girlfriend, Michael was being vaulted to the status of someone spiritually important enough to occupy her palatial and sacred private suite in her absence. It was his pay-off for making a difficult and painful decision to choose “God” over me.
With this information, I was able to decipher a tiny bit about what was happening. Michael’s status as Limori’s trusted confidante, right-hand man and most obedient disciple was confirmed and affirmed by his invitation to spend the night in the hallowed halls of her private suite. It was also unfortunately dawning on me that I, on the other hand, was the spiritual miscreant in this scenario. There has to be a bad guy in every story and it seemed I was being cast in that role this time. I had seen this happen again and again over the years to so many of our peers in Limori’s group, but I had, until now, not personally been on the receiving end of a devastating, blind-siding blow of this magnitude. Its impact on my position in the group’s hierarchy was immediately becoming apparent; I felt myself plummeting toward the very lowest rungs of a perverse, real-life game of Snakes and Ladders. One minute I had been on vacation with my boyfriend, the next I was single, shunned and demonized.
To add insult to injury, Michael had chosen to (or had been instructed to) deliver his news not in private, but at the kitchen table in front of three of our fellow disciples, who lived and worked at Wolf’s Den year round. To my right sat Lisa, resident cook, housekeeper and den mother. Also at the table were Matthew, who had originally owned the resort and at one point been married to our guru, and John, another long-time group member. If the four at the table, and the guru who had been on the phone, could have sent me packing at that very minute to catch a flight back home, they would have.
“Today’s flight has already left, so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to go back to Vancouver,” Lisa said.
The next morning, after a sleepless night awash in shock, grief and self-loathing, I crunched my way along the snowy path from the cabin where I’d been staying to the main lodge. Lisa was cooking and said a brief hello, with no enquiry into how I was feeling or if I needed anything. Matthew joined me at the table.
“How was your night?” he asked, chuckling. “I’ll bet you didn’t get any sleep.”
I flinched, as though stung, from the cruelty of Matthew’s delight in my misery. He knew intimately what I was going through; he had been on the receiving end of a devastating spiritual pronouncement from Limori more than once. To him, and to all of us, the agony I was experiencing was simply the difficult row it was necessary to hoe if one wanted to truly serve the “God” that Limori had us believing in. If the lofty end result was our and the world’s salvation, then any and all ugly means it took to get there were justified.
Michael joined us then, looking at once drained and self-satisfied.
“How are you?” he asked severely.
There was a hint of blame in his voice, which confirmed my worst fears. Limori had obviously laid the necessity for our break-up squarely at my feet. I had done something wrong at what she would describe as an “energetic level”. It would be something invisible to the human eye but vastly important to the balance and order of the universe. As “God’s” messenger it was Limori’s duty to bring these transgressions to the attention of her followers. I was being put in the paradoxical position of being entirely responsible for what was happening to me and yet completely powerless to change or refute it, given that whatever was wrong was something only Limori could “see”.
I couldn’t answer Michael’s question and for the first time in seventeen hours I felt my eyes begin to tear up. My shock until that point had been so debilitating that through all the hours of agony and emotional turmoil the night before I hadn’t shed a single tear, which had only frightened me further. Why couldn’t I cry when the worst thing I had ever experienced had just happened? I turned my back to him and stared out the kitchen window, unwilling to let him see me weep, and tried to collect myself. I failed; the waterworks started then because of his question. They wouldn’t stop for years.
We ate breakfast as a group of five, or rather, a group of four and one outcast. The four around me began to play up the artificial mirth and collective bonding that comes with having a pariah in their midst. I was familiar with it because I’d done the same thing to others in our group who had been cast out in the past. They bantered and chatted while I stewed in my own pain at the table. I said nothing and attempted to choke down a piece of toast, but could barely swallow for fear, grief and confusion, and the stifled, unacknowledged outrage that filled my throat.
Michael got serious toward the end of the meal. I watched his “servant of God” mask develop on his face and knew I was in for it again.
“Alexandra, do you have any questions?” he asked in a scathing voice.
Questions!!? I have a million questions! Like, what the hell is going on? How is it that you agreed to dump me after a four-hour telephone conversation? What happened to us deciding to live together a few days ago? What in the hell did Limori say to you yesterday on that call that could make you jettison me in such a cruel and callous way? And how did I become the enemy so fast? When will you look at me again without that deep, dark contempt in your eyes? And how can I fix this? And why should I want to fix this? Is everyone here nuts? Can’t you see that this is CRAZY? It’s insanity to treat people like this and call it “God’s will”. Are you serious? THIS is what God wants? Misery and fear and terror and humiliation and desperate powerlessness? Really? THIS is what God wants?
But I was well trained from ten years of over-ruling these kinds of treasonous and dangerous thoughts and feelings. I voiced none of it. I didn’t even really allow myself to think or feel any of it. I had been tamping down most of my thoughts and almost all of my feelings for so long and become so skilled at it that it was like someone was whispering these questions to me from several miles away. In a snowstorm. At night. In a language I didn’t speak.
“No,” I said, quietly, “I don’t have any questions.”
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