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
No, he thought.
People would find out. He'd have to have that changed.
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.
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.
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
He'd sink into
depressions each November, the anniversary of the tragedy. He'd dream Yvette
back to life, then watch her vanish each time he drew near. He'd dream that his
father was coming after him. Then wake up, go to work and crack the Kool-Aid
jokes himself. But now it was '93—with Waco on everyone's lips and Jonestown
suddenly disinterred—and the coworkers to whom he'd confided his past kept
asking, "You O.K, Jim? You O.K.?"
O.K.?" he started snapping back. Something was bothering him, something
stirred by Waco—so many children, dead again—something that he just couldn't
reach. And now his child was asking about Jonestown. He could dodge it, keep
the kid in the dark. But that carried an explosive risk too.
He swallowed hard
and started in the shallow end. He started with the story of a minister and his
wife entering an Indianapolis orphanage in 1961 to adopt a Caucasian baby girl,
only to be distracted by a wailing 10-week-old African-American boy whose unwed
mother, age 15, couldn't raise him. Jim told Rob what his adoptive mother had
told him, how Jim had stopped crying the moment Marceline Jones lifted him into
her arms, and how she and her husband decided right then to make him the first
black child in Indianapolis ever adopted by a white couple, and to consecrate
their belief in racial equality by giving him his father's name.