After I came back into the States in November 1979, a year after so many of my friends and family died in Jonestown, I had no real interest in visiting the gravesite in Oakland. There was no particular reason, I just didn’t feel a need. But as the years passed, I became more interested in seeing the gravesite. I knew that some day I would make it back to California and that I would make it a point to visit and share a moment with those we lost in Jonestown.
My opportunity came when my father Charlie passed away a few years ago, and I came out for his memorial service. Before I flew out, I told a few people that the one thing I had to do before I flew back to Florida was to visit the gravesite. I had no idea of what my reaction would be, because in all truthfulness, I never gave it much thought.
But once I saw the headstone, all the emotions I experienced when I went back to Jonestown came rushing back. I sobbed and cried like a baby. The loneliness, hurt, pain and even guilt flooded me. I saw the faces of the ones I loved and missed. Not just my family, but the ones that I was closest to. The memories of building Jonestown, the good times and the bad. And how much I missed living in Guyana. Because it’s true, I loved – I mean I loved – building and living in Jonestown. It was one part of my life that I miss.
But most of all, I remember the people! I believe we were all special, from the babies to the seniors and all of us in-between. I thought especially of my family, and most especially of my mom, and – as I often do – how much I wished that they could have seen and gotten to know my kids and my grandbabies.
After what seemed hours, I kissed the headstone, and told them I loved and missed them. And I left.
Over the years I have always wanted to go to some of the gatherings around November 18, but there was always some thing that would stop me. But when I heard about the dedication, I knew that I would be there.
As the time grew closer, I thought about my emotions during my earlier visit and wondered if I would react the same way I did a few years ago. I did, but I didn’t. I think with all of you there, the ones that I had not seen in so many years, helped to my emotions in check. Wayne, Lena, Grace, Smitty, Vera, Jim, Stephan, Neva, Don, Jordan, Mac, all of you, I cannot express what it meant to me to see all of you.
Still, I had my moments. As I listened to the dedication service, I could only think about the ones whose names were on the plaques, as well as the names that weren’t, the ones we have lost since. And the ones that should have been with me, like Debbie. And Paul, I love and miss you, my brother.
I did not spend hardly any time at all looking at the plaques. Too many faces I knew, too many I didn’t know, too much media. I need to go back and spend time looking at the names and remembering.
Even though there was no private time for me there, in some ways as the day unfolded I was alone as I am now, thinking and crying about the ones I love and miss with all my heart.
(Mike Touchette was in Georgetown on November 18, 1978. He may be reached at MichTouc@aol.com .)