Escape From Jonestown (cont.)
Posted: Monday December 24, 2007 12:36PM; Updated: Thursday December 27, 2007 11:25AM
Wait a minute. Where's Jim? He's not sitting with his brothers in the upper section anymore. He's down in the lower section, beside his wife, Erin. He winces as his son misses a chippy, outmuscles everyone for a putback that misses as well, and then, dammitall, goes up again... yes! Jim raises his fist as Rob takes a feed a moment later and slams. The kid's 6' 5 1/2", 230, a furniture truck with springs and speed.
But Jim remembers the pipsqueak he could lift overhead. Back when he still thought he had plenty of time to figure out how and what he'd tell his son; hell, the kid was only four...
Oh, God. For 15 years Jim had been going there and fleeing there in his head, and finally -- he'd thought -- found refuge, a nice numb little cove. At first, of course, that had been impossible. A Secret Service agent, a customs agent and a Treasury agent were assigned to him and each other player on their way home to the U.S. He'd been interrogated in an airport hangar the moment he'd set foot in America, then placed under police surveillance for months while he lived in Suzanne's Bay Area apartment. For weeks he'd been mobbed by reporters on his way in and out of federal courthouse hearings on the Jonestown tragedy, splashed across San Francisco newspapers and, when people pointed at him in malls, made to feel like a leper. He was 18 years old.
He'd swallowed his fears and shown up at a half-dozen funerals for temple members whose bodies had been shipped back to the Bay Area. Then the mother of one of the dead, at a post-funeral gathering, put a gun to his head and hissed, "Why should you be alive when my daughter's dead?"
"I don't want to be alive," Jim replied. "Kill me now."
Mourners grabbed the gun and gave him some advice: Stay away from the survivors; they'll blame you. Hell, he blamed himself, mostly for having sent Yvette, the pregnant bride who had wanted to stay at his side, back to Jonestown a few weeks after their wedding in Georgetown while he remained in the Guyanese capital to do public relations and liaison work for Jonestown's economic and outreach projects, including the basketball games against the host country's Olympic team.
"So you're Jim Jones, huh?" said his boss at his first job in his new life, as he prepared to head out on his route as a bank courier. "You going to pick up some Kool-Aid on your drive tonight?"
"That's not funny," said Jim. "That's my father."
"That's my father."
"You can't be serious. Jim Jones was white."
"I was adopted by him."
His boss looked at him and said, "You're fired."
The stain was deeper than Jim had feared. He tried college but quickly dropped out. Too much mind static. He tried the office-furniture delivery business alongside brothers Tim and Stephan and former Jonestown teammate Johnny Cobb. He tried Buddhism, Islam, Pentecostalism and Catholicism. He tried Telisa and Alice and Danette, hasty engagements to three tall, light-skinned, curly-haired African-Americans born under the sign of Scorpio... just like Yvette. He became the last thing that his socialist father could've imagined: a Republican.
Why not a new identity -- or his original one? He considered changing back to his birth name. He settled on James Jones, safe but not a lie, and winced through 11 years of Kool-Aid jokes from people who never dreamed that a man so likable, a black man, could be the mega-killer's son.
Then one day in 1989, after he'd gotten a two-year degree in respiratory therapy from California Pacific College and gone from hospital orderly to respiratory therapist to director of cardiopulmonary services at a San Mateo hospital, he stared at the name affixed to his new office door. Apparently all the certification initials listed after his name -- CRT, CPFT, RCP -- had made James Jones Jr. too long for his name plate, and someone had shortened it. To Jim Jones Jr.
No, he thought. People would find out. He'd have to have that changed.
Something stopped him. Jim Jones Jr. was who he was. Sure, it would be risky. The woman he loved, a neonatal nurse named Erin Fowler, had bolted from his car on their first date, just a few years earlier, when his relationship to the Rev. Jim Jones had spilled out of him. But she'd calmed down. Even married him.
He began introducing himself as Jim Jones and letting a few people know that he was the cult leader's son. The dispassion with which he spoke of it sometimes perplexed them. But they'd marvel at the miracle that a man who'd lived through what he had could come out the other end as successful and affable as Jim. He felt a little better now, at least.
Two places remained off-limits. The first was the basketball court. The sport that had taken him away from where 24 members of his family had died still flushed him with guilt. The second place was inside himself. He refused psychotherapy. "The mind's a dangerous neighborhood," he'd say. "Don't go there unless you have to." He wouldn't, he couldn't disturb the buried pain, because then he couldn't be Jim, the charismatic guy with the deep, rich voice that boomed down hospital corridors. Besides, it was just too difficult to convey to a stranger, even a hired empathizer, what it felt like to be him. The closest he could come was this: Imagine there's a painting of you, he'd say, with the background all there, right behind you. And 20 years later, you're still there in the painting, but all the background's gone. There's nothing behind you. The people, the setting, your way of life and belief system -- gone.