The Longest Twenty Years

(Our email address is The “k” is for Kris; the first “b” is for me; “bsherdt” in Yiddish means “meant to be.” And so we are.)

For twenty years after November 18, 1978, I felt that there was something missing. Of course, I had lost my family and friends in Jonestown, but I was afraid I had lost more than that. I felt I had lost myself, my capability to love, even my ability to reach out to my fellow human beings.

I stayed alone for thirteen years trying to persuade myself to keep living. I lived hidden in basements, and even when I came in contact with a person I knew from Peoples Temple, I would smile politely. That was about all.

During the thirteenth year, I told a co-worker that I was a Jonestown survivor. He told me he had a friend who was also from Peoples Temple. He brought Garry and me together, and I had my first real conversation with someone about what we had, and what our lives since November 1978 had been like.

Four years later, in 1995, I went to my first memorial service at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland. I was still not feeling very comfortable, but that day, I was forced to change my mind. As I stood by the marker commemorating the Jonestown dead, Jeanette came up to me, and we embraced. It must have been a picture perfect moment, because the next morning, my picture was on the front page of the Oakland Tribune. From that point, I felt there was no longer a need to hide. During the next few years, I would become very open about my life. It felt good.

And then, in 1998, I was at the twentieth memorial service, and Kris Johnston walked up to me and said, “Hello, Bryan.” It felt so good to see her, but I wasn’t sure why. Kris was my best friend, Ron’s girlfriend. He died in Jonestown. We both missed him very much.

During the next year, Kris and I spoke several times and had made plans to talk after the summer. Around Labor Day, while working at a department store, Kris saw the car I had brought to Peoples Temple from the east coast. It was the same car, a little yellow car. It had the old style California license plate and that same old frame. This was the car that everyone who lived communally in Redwood Valley had driven. She stopped the young man driving the car and asked him where the it came from. He said that it had been in his family over 20 years and he was from Ukiah.

We started seeing each other and a little over a year later, we moved in together. We married the following year. I had missed so much from my life for the twenty years, that I never thought I could have such joy. Not having her in my life was like missing an arm. I love her so much, and I had felt so empty without her. There is a part of Ron in both of our hearts; that is part of our connection.