She would grab his shirt with her toes when he held her on his hip. And he loved her from a place he did not know he had, and to which he is determined never to return.
We managed to get the floor for a storage and tool room up on stilts before Dad said we had no money for the walls and roof. Without walls and a roof, the floor took up about the same area as two greyhound buses side by side (now there was a measurement the people of Peoples Temple could understand). But for its precipitous – we made them adventurous – edges, it was practically ready made for a basketball court.
I can’t remember if Dad had said outright that we couldn’t have a court. Everyone in town knew he didn’t approve of competitive sport. We probably made a point of not asking, figured we’d deal with the consequences when they came. Towards the end of it all, it seemed like we were always trying to see how far we could get before our drug-whacked leader noticed. He and his “power” were so shaky at that point, that it was a lot harder for him to take something away than to snuff it while it was just between our ears. The worst that could have happened is that he could have ordered us to take it down, and we would have had another opportunity to yawn, grit, and smirk our way through another one of his diatribes about our lack of commitment, and our completely bourgeois priorities.
Once we got the idea, we didn’t hesitate. A pole, some angle-iron to extend the backboard away from the pole, the backboard, the hoop with net, and we had that sucker together and in the ground in a couple of hours. It felt like we were erecting a monument to defiance as that pole chimed against the still green wood about midpoint of the long edge of the floor.
Our ball playing almost immediately became a force to be reckoned with in Jonestown. We needed the release of basketball, of competitive sport, legal aggression with an undercurrent of communion. And the communion was of our own creation, our own volition, from the bottom up and not the top down. Genuine instead of demanded. The court was birthed in rebellion, and even Dad knew that a larger rebellion lay in trying to stop what Mike and I had started. We were on that court just about every free minute we were given, and some that we took. Much steam was let off there – literally and figuratively.
It took us a minute to notice them the first time. We were deep in the reverie and rivalry of hoop. On they came, across the bare field that lay between the main path and our makeshift goal on the raised floor that never became a building. I may have noticed them first as I watched the game from the sidelines. I could not imagine why they were headed our way. What a waste of time and energy it was to play – let alone watch – sports when there were revolutions to be plotted, fascists to be killed.
On they came. I could make out my brother Tim’s wife and love, Sandy. And she was carrying his true love, their daughter, Monyelle. On they came. I could see, but barely hear that Monyelle was inconsolable. The women clucked and fussed as they shuffled in our direction.
Tim, one of the very best of us on that hazard we called a court, was hips, knees, forearms, and shoulders – with only an occasional, no doubt deserved, elbow – as he had his way with his challengers. Tim did not notice them yet, did not notice Monyelle yet. When he did – and he felt her before he saw her – the game was over. He stepped out of the space he’d carved for himself, leaving a vacuum for the other players to stumble into.
“What is it, Baby?” he asked Sandy.
“You know what it is,” she said. And he did.
No one but Papa. No one. Monyelle was reaching up to him at 20 paces. It would have been a lunge if not for her Mama’s grip. Tim’s hands came up on bent arms as if on the same impulse. When he pulled her up the three feet from Sandy’s level to his, Monyelle could not hold him enough. Her dimpled fists were full of his tank top as he pulled her in, her bowed legs a perfect fit to his torso. And as Tim swiveled her around to his left hip, she looked down at her Mama and smiled that all-healing, wet, puffy, red-faced smile that follows an answered cry. And once in position, she did what she always did. She completed her anchoring by curling the fabric of his shirt up in her toes, and tugging it with a downward flex of her foot.
There was no question that we would wait for them as long as they needed.
She could not get enough of the safety of his hard body and soft heart.
Tim knew this.
And he will not forgive his absence when her life was taken.
(Stephan Jones is a frequent contributor to the jonestown report. His other articles in this edition are Restored Humanity and The Deluded Heir. His earlier writings for this website appear here. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)