Update on And Then They Were Gone

by Judy Bebelaar and Ron Cabral

(A Peoples Temple timeline which will appear in the book And Then They Were Gone is here. A poem by Judy Bebelaar in this edition of the jonestown report is here. Judy Bebelaar can be reached at judy@judybebelaar.com. Ron Cabral can be reached at larbac67@astound.net.)

08-02c-bebelaar
Artwork by Ralph Solonitz

Our book is on its way to a copyeditor for finishing touches after further revision with the help of a second great content editor, Kirsten Janene-Nelson. It has grown and changed immensely since the first draft six years ago. Ron has collected many photographs, including some from Opportunity High. We do not yet have a publisher and would appreciate any suggestions, as well as responses to the excerpt below.

What follows is an excerpt from the penultimate chapter of the book, which begins with the call to gather at the pavilion as the sun was setting on November 18, 1978, followed by an imagined scenario of some of the book’s young characters, arriving with a friend or relative, or alone.

Jones makes his arguments for death, and Christine Miller bravely takes him on. Jones’s words and those of others who speak are taken from the Tape Q42, with many of the 31 edits indicated—where presumably Jones chose not to record some of the words spoken that night.

Don Sly, known in Jonestown as Ujara – and who was the father of our student Mark Sly – offers to give himself up as the one who made an attempt on Ryan’s life. Jones refuses, insists “it’s all over” and tells the gathering “the congressman is dead.” Obeying Jones’ admonition that “we had better not have any of our children left when it’s over,” the adults bring the children up to the table with small cups and needleless syringes, all filled with purple liquid, and begin administering the poison.

The excerpt begins midway through the final segment of the chapter, consisting of fragments from the tape – which symbolize both the fragmentary nature of our knowledge of those last hours and our necessarily fragmentary picture of Jonestown and its people – and the chapter’s ending.

“The Last White Night”

Judy Bebelaar

(from Chapter 18 of And Then They Were Gone: Children of Peoples Temple from San Francisco to Jonestown by Judy Bebelaar and Ron Cabral)

*****

Fragments

Jim Jones: Hurry, hurry, my children. Hurry. All I think (unintelligible) from the hands of the enemy. Hurry, my children. Hurry. . . . quickly, quickly.

(tape edit)

Good knowing you. (pause) No more pain now. No more pain. . .

. . .

Jones: (clapping in reprimand) Stop this, stop this, stop this (unintelligible). Stop this crying, all of you.

. . .

Jones: All they’re doing is taking a drink. They take it to go to sleep. That’s what death is, sleep.

(tape edit)

—of it. I’m tired of it all.

. . .

Jones: Where’s the vat with the Green C on it? . . . Bring it here so the adults can begin.

. . .

Jones:  . . . Take some.

(tape edit)

Take our life from us. We laid it down. We got tired.

(tape edit)

We didn’t commit suicide, we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world. [Tape Number Q42.]

*****

Children, the children. The sound of their crying echoes. These are the words and sounds that circumscribe the last White Night. First the babies and the children, then the young adults. That image from the news: the fans of bodies in bright clothes against the dark earth, arms encircling waists, shoulders.

Mark, I know you didn’t want to die. I’m glad you and Michelle found one another before you left—I’m glad that thought comforts your mother a little. Perhaps your father’s offer to give himself up was in large part to try to save you. Perhaps you knew that, and stood by his side when he spoke.

Billy and Bruce, you must have been thinking of your parents, who tried so hard to save you.

And Dorothy, with your sweet round cheeks, your pure high-mindedness. Did you drink obediently? Did they have to force you? Just a little more than a year earlier your life had stretched out in front of you, a shining road. Did you dream of escaping from Jonestown? Or did it simply never occur to you to leave your family and these people who had been part of your life for so long? Your poem about your dead brother comes full circle. Did you think you would see him in the next world? Or had all your hope and happiness been drained away?

“I’m happy with my friends,
like a bluebird when it sings its happy song.

…the streetlights on my face like the stars
looking down on the earth my earth mother earth.

…Wanting my brother to come home,
But he won’t never come back.
Empty and dark like a cave,
I’m afraid to face reality.
Just like I can’t go in that cave,
My heart grasps me
I bite my tongue in pain
I miss you my brother.
You did it for something meaningless,
I still love you my brother.”

And you, Marilee, tough and defiant to the end, the red kerchief knotted in your short-cut hair, the one holdout in your family, refusing to leave.

Candy, you with your soft honey-blonde hair and smiling eyes, and Cindy, with your pretty, bright face—arm in arm I see you, there with your mother and big brother, your little brother and sister. Did the two of you say goodbye to your father when he left with the others? You must have seen your dreams twisted, soiled, you who believed in doing good, doing right. Maybe both of you stayed because girls so often remain loyal to their mothers when the father leaves for another.

And you, Cindy, I hear your voice too. In San Francisco, you made sure the world knew about the young people’s work in the Church, how they visited seniors and the “sick and lonely,” sang and danced for shows, put on bake sales, tutored children and organized field trips, even cleaned “the church’s eleven busses spotless and without supervision,” how you never touched alcohol or drugs.

Ollie, I see you with little Martin in your arms. You were so certain this was the best place to bring up your child. Martin was old enough to have sensed the confusion and sadness, so he was probably crying. Maybe you were singing to him, trying to calm him, or maybe crying yourself. I know you must have been thinking of Eugene, in Georgetown, wondering if he had already died. I think of the actor playing Eugene in the play I saw in Berkeley, The People’s Temple. His fellow workers back in the States (Eugene lived) were teasing him, telling him how lucky he was to be young, single, and free, no children, no worries. The actor spoke Eugene’s thoughts to the audience, If they only knew, if they only knew.

Wesley, you with your Afro-permed hair, your long sad face, and your quiet, serious eyes—did you use the gun you carried with you to the airstrip to kill people? It’s hard to think so, even hard to wonder. I think it must have been you who brought the news back of the killings there. Were you feeling it had all gone wrong, gone crazy? I remember the way you told the umpire at the baseball game it “wasn’t right, wasn’t right” not to let Mondo have his run home. Then, you had a young person’s certain knowledge of what’s right and what’s wrong. That knowledge must have gotten muddy in Jonestown. Did you ever have time to talk about ideas, time to talk to a friend who understood you? Probably not; the strong young men were kept working hard. I know you had a partner: elegant, dark-skinned Avis, born in Belize and a year older than you at twenty. But you didn’t live together, probably weren’t allowed. Were you building a cottage for the two of you? You must have had dreams of your life together when things were right, when times got better, fooled by that man who brought you here. Were you bitter at the end, or did you remain a true believer?

Teddy, you were a serious one too. I have imagined you on one of the Temple buses, arm around your sleeping pregnant wife, headed to Jonestown, excited about your future. Both of you with proud Afros, hers red and fluffy against her white skin, yours black against your tan-colored face. Did Elaine give the baby the poison? Were you with them as all of you died? If you were still among the guards at the perimeter, I think there were tears in your eyes. You really weren’t as tough as you sometimes pretended to be.

Billy, I don’t think you believed it would end this way. At least you were with your mother for a little while, and you saw that she was sure the congressman would get you out.

Ricky, did you reunite with your girlfriend Christine? Did you die together after all?

And Willie, tall and proud and beautiful. Did you write any poems in Jonestown? I think you might have been a singer, a strong voice in the choir. And you were so levelheaded, so strong and independent, like Christine Miller. You must have heard what she said. Did it give you hope for a moment? I’m surprised somehow that you didn’t leave with Monica. If you’d had time, been free to talk, you would have seen eye to eye, I think. You would have—maybe—lived, like she did, though she hasn’t had an easy time of it. Who did, of those who survived, after all of that? Your words come back to me too:

“They’re laying down a little black child . . .
Who killed that little boy?
Somebody tell me
Who killed him?”

And Joyce, full of grace and poetry. Was that you, running up the stairs in Lamaha Gardens, free and happy for at least a few days? Was there a special boy in your life—one of the musicians, maybe? There must have been. Did he love you? He must have, couldn’t have helped himself. Did you write poems for him? What happened to your romantic vision, the white cottage, the clear stream, the beautiful horse, the island?

“O trade wind, when the nice breezes blow,
As the rain tingles on the roof of the
Tropic island. Birds fly to the nest in the
Tropic trees, little creatures hiding from
The small rain.”

Mondo, your smooth young face, the dark eyes, clear and sincere. Did you have tears in your eyes? You didn’t stop Stanley Clayton. You must have known he was leaving. Why didn’t you follow him? Perhaps you went back, into the rows of the dead and the dying, to take your girlfriend in your arms. One of your poems echoes strangely, sadly:

“I was sitting in the dark
not waiting for the dark
the dark is like no sound around
it’s quiet
very quiet.”

Originally posted on October 13th, 2013.

Last modified on October 3rd, 2014.
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