The following experience has been one of the most traumatic of my life. Partly because of that, I am more unsure of the accuracy of my memory on this episode than of most episodes I have recounted. It was very emotional, humiliating, distressing … Consequently, I am not going to mention, by name, any of those involved. Conclusions & judgments are purely my own …
It was late summer, 1992. My family and I had moved to North Carolina the previous year with the intention of living in a restored farm-house in Green Hill, NC – a hamlet about halfway between Rutherfordton & Lake Lure – owned by a brother-in-law – and maintaining, to some degree, the 170 acres it was situated on until my brother-in-law and his family could have their own home built and move down from New York. He and his wife had hopes of building some sort of Catholic community on this property in the future. Why I was chosen for this endeavor was something of a mystery to me, and I asked about that before I left my job at the Postal Service in Sharon, CT and relocated my family some 700 miles south. Though Catholic by birth, I was hardly devout. I was told, in short, that it was felt that I was “on the path” and coupled with some limited experience with homesteader-type farming, my [now estranged] wife & I would make a good choice. After much discussion & deliberation, south we went.
Earlier that summer of ’92, some of my ex-bandmates came down to visit for about a week. We tubed down the Broad River, went to Chimney Rock Park, and had a little band reunion. It was a blast. It was a video tape of these events that indirectly caused me the grief that was to come. [half-naked on the river, long hair – perceived as drug users – and rock’n’roll – soft country rock and bluegrass, actually] OK. That’s the stage … Without notice to me, we were suddenly presented with a house guest. My brother-in-law asked a Priest friend of his to stay at our place for a brief period, essentially, I could suppose later, “to check me out.” So this man comes over … a Priest operating without a parish in Kentucky – a friend of mine would later dub him, “The Renegade.” For good reason! He seemed like a nice guy, at first. I believe it was a Saturday when he asked me if I could give him a ride to the Forest City Catholic Church, where he was intending to offer evening Mass along with the regular Priest of the parish. Not a problem. We got in the car and chatted. It wasn’t long before he began questioning me about some things I had dangling from my rear-view mirror … a Tiki-like thing someone had given me from Mexico, a 4-winds braided circle a Lakota friend had given me, a couple of other things I cannot recall. He started by accusing me of being a pagan. Why did I have such an interest in the American Indian? Don’t I know that they are heathens? You don’t worship the Devil, do you? The questions, a barrage of them, kept coming. My own personal inquisition had begun. I raised my voice as we reached our destination. He got out of the car and I drove home, unsure of what had just happened. My recollection of how he got back to the house is fuzzy. All I know, is that the next time I saw him I apologized. Not sure for what. He seemed to accept that and all was well. I thought. Perhaps, it was all just a misunderstanding. After all, he was a Priest! All my life I have had interactions with Priests … before, during, and after this experience. Save this one, all of them were positive influences on my life. Every Priest I have ever encountered on a personal level, except this one, was a great man … humble, instructive, understanding, blessed. So, in the back of my mind, as things unfolded, I kept thinking, “But, the man is a Priest. There must be a point to this. He must have my best interests at heart.” I guess it was the next day. I was sitting in the living room watching the VHS of the recent reunion I had with my bandmates. Some of my children might have been in there with me. The Priest came in and sat next to me.
“Who are those people?” “Oh, my friends and their wives and kids. And my brother, his wife, and kids.” “They don’t look like a good influence.” “Huh?” What do you mean?” “Well, all that hair. And, that music.” [ironically, my brother is now an ordained Catholic Deacon]
“Do you know that you are influencing your children to become homosexual?” “Huh, what do you mean?” “By you not sitting with them at Church.”
“Your wife wanted me here … she needs to separate from you.” “Huh, what do you mean?” “Yes, she is concerned that you are … blah, blah, blah …”
On it went. For 6 full hours. I am not exaggerating. 6 hours of this and worse. I cannot recall most of it. I guess I have blocked out as much of the memory as I could. But it was all in this vein … what a horrible person, in every conceivable way, I am. He poked, he prodded, he bullied. He told me, in so many words, that I was a useless human being. He was wedging a divide between myself and my family … and cloaking it with Catholicism. He kept on hammering. For the better part of this 6 hours, I was cool, calm, and collected. I tried to show restraint and respect. He must have a helpful point, after all, he is a Priest! He was tearing me apart and this is what I was thinking. Nobody who was present said a thing in my defense. After a long while, it began to get louder … and louder … and louder. I finally could not take any more of it. This was happening in a house full of children … mine. I went off to my bedroom and closed the door. He had followed me. The argument continued through a closed door. I had reached my breaking point. “Get out of here or I’m going to kill you!” He had pressed one too many buttons. Of course, I wasn’t going to kill anybody. It just came out. But he made a big deal about it. I guess I had just proved to him that he was correct. I am evil. I went to sleep thinking THAT!
So, 2 or 3 weeks pass. He was long ago out of the house. The inquisition had taken place and I was now going to have to be tried, and I would assume, be burned at the stake following. I sat at a table with the Renegade. My wife was there, 2 sets of brother & sister-in-laws, perhaps a few others, AND, the Priest from Forest City – who knew me fairly well – presided. It was all very surreal. It was now going to be determined if I was worthy enough to continue to live in that house. The Renegade declared that I was, or was severely influenced by, the Devil; that I hated Priests; that I was a poor excuse for a husband and as a father. One set of brother/sister-in-law were there to defend me. Nobody else who was present said a word in my defense. Again. That was the gist. It’s all a blur to me. I never saw the Renegade again. I can’t even remember his name. To this day, I have never received an apology from those involved. Not a one. For a long time, I have carried a huge grudge and a lot of pain from this event. I have mostly put that in the past, but not all of it … it will always be with me to some degree. I still sometimes wonder, “Am I evil?” I am still Catholic and still respect the fraternity of Priests. I don’t know what that guy really was/is. I bought a house in Marion and headed out of Dodge.
Oh … and my verdict? The Priest from Forest City acquitted me of all charges, saying, and I paraphrase part of what he had to say, “Let’s start my dropping the Devil from all this. We are all in a fight against the Devil. Richard and I have had several discussions. He has never shown any feeling of malice toward me or the Priesthood.”
I am afraid that I have not done this experience justice. It was life-altering for me. I never have fully recovered and my life went to pot steadily from this point on. And some of his insinuations actually came to fruition. Do I blame the Renegade for all of it? Certainly not, but it was one of the most detrimental & traumatic exercises I have ever been unwittingly – and unwillingly – subjected to. OK — outta here …