The life cycle of a bethelite is fairly simple. One begins work at Bethel and after 90 days there is a review. If the review is favorable, then the volunteer is required to work for a minimum of one year. After their year is up, there is no fanfare, there is no acknowledgement or notice. Bethel, Inc. assumes one will continue to work. However, should someone want to leave, a letter of intent is written to their overseer. This is considered a “30-day notice.” In the event someone is excommunicated (disfellowshipped) or in other ways required to vacate the premises quickly, brothers are assigned to pack up the room, place everything on a pallet, and ship it off.
The first in the group of friends to leave is Jake. He put in his letter shortly after the accident with James’s knee. Jake was having a very difficult time with his job. Being a waiter at Bethel is demanding and every single item on each of the dining room tables has to be arranged in a very specific “Bethel standard” format. The place settings, food delivery, how to pour the water, and how much to give in refills is all meticulously regulated. Jake is an artistic, fun, bouncing free spirit, and it is impossible for him to be that detailed oriented. Plus the hours are long, waiters have to be there before breakfast and stay to clean up after dinner. They eat later than everyone else, and although they are given extra time off to compensate for the hours worked, the time is when everyone else is working, so there’s nothing for them to do.
He was the first to confront James about his emotional fluctuations. Dude, you are like a completely different person. It’s like your nerves are shot to hell.
They were shot to hell, still. James couldn’t seem to get a grip on his emotions and having a talented illustrator and sketch artist like Jake leave Bethel was nothing but heavy-hearted sadness. It looks like I might be right behind you, James told him as he left to the airport.
After the meeting with Brother Friar, he realized that he might be leaving… for real. It was a realization that had yet to sink in. Aaron has been amazing, putting up with the bipolar apogees of what was once a very well put together, controlled, and disciplined mad-man. The Vicodin had stripped away all the tools of emotional management that are used to deal with everything from not cuddling to how the eggs were cooked at breakfast. James hates not being in control, for the emotion he contains is vast and plentiful, and without proper moderation and restraint, they can travel endless distances and cause a tremendous amount of harm.
James still keeps a bottle of Vicodin around, just in case. Stairs are difficult, standing is stiff, but at least he can walk on it now with the help of a cane. He realizes that he owes Aaron… everything. James has never put another person through so much emotionally than he has Aaron in the past two months. He had never been as close to anyone, opened up emotionally and physically, he had never cared about someone else’s well being as much as he cared about Aaron, and with the pain pills, all that seemed to have been grotesquely thrown back in Aaron’s face relentlessly.
James decided it was time for a ‘thank you’, an apology, and to tell Aaron that it looks like he’s going home.
He makes reservations for dinner at the Mohonk Mountain House which offers a seasonal menu at $75.00 a plate. Aaron comes home from work and James tells him the plans for the evening. Aaron sits down… he is surprised and overwhelmed. He is noticeably excited, something James hasn’t seen in months. The dining hall was set on a lake, an elegantly wood carved room with large dignified windows giving an awe-inspiring view of the sun setting over the Hudson Valley. The table for two was set in the corner and each are allowed three items off the menu.
After dinner there was a walk on the wooden railed boardwalk that runs along the side of the water. There wasn’t a lot of talking during dinner, but there were smiles and the energy from the table was balanced for the first time since the injury.
James needs to take a break from walking. There are little alcoves with benches set over the water. The two sit down on one. Aaron sits unusually close to James. It feels comforting.
I cannot think of anything less Bethel than this.
It’s wonderful. And to you I must apologize for my behavior and thank you for tolerating me.
Oh James. It’s okay. I know all this has been tough.
But there is not another person on this planet I want to hurt, and I know I’ve hurt you, some of the things I’ve said…
James, stop. You’re making this harder.
He gets the feeling they are talking in two different directions. Making what harder?
Aaron takes a breath. Looking down he says, They are making move out.
What? Of Bethel?
No, your room. They think we’re a band influence on each other. They said… Aaron stops for a second as his eyes are beginning to water and turn red. This is hard. They said if I don’t move out, they will send me home.
James is stunned. He’s angry but he’s also in disbelief. His emotions are fluctuating between the feeling of betrayal for Aaron not telling him sooner and the feeling of indignation that this is something they can protest. Aaron can see the tidal clash of two liquid emotions crashing inside his friend and tries to continue, I don’t want to move out. Nothing in me wants to… please believe me. But if it means staying at Bethel, I have no choice.
James focuses on the water around them and gets a grip on his feelings. Do you think this is Bechman?
I think so. I mean, Brother Kelly was pretty uncomfortable with the conversation.
What do you mean?
All the other times he’s talked to me he has been really concerned, like he’s really trying to help me out. But this time he had no facts or any information, it was just a message he was delivering. Plus he kept talking about involvement with the congregation, so…
James wants to get up and fight, but he has no fight left in him. I can’t believe this. All those little comments that people keep making about Beckman… I couldn’t ever figure out why people are so scared of him.
Aaron is sitting even closer to James with tears streaming down his face, but still speaking close to normally. I don’t know what to do, James. I want to stand up to them and say ‘No. Kick me out if you want to but don’t kick me out because of the opinion of someone else’.
James give Aaron a hug. Wow. The new Aaron. Ballsy. I like it. I like it a lot better than the new James.
Awe. It hasn’t been that bad.
Aaron, please. I know it’s been awful. I’m been pissing myself off.
It’s okay, he says while rubbing James’s back.
And I’m trying not to take any more pain pills to hopefully balance all this out, but it’s slow in coming and it’s affecting my work… so… James takes a moment to breathe, because of this knee… it is suggested that I go home.
It wasn’t a work related injury, so my choices are to either take time off to get it taken care of or go home, and I don’t have enough vacation time to take off to get knee surgery.
Aaron puts his arm around James’s shoulders and pulls him in close. I’m so sorry.
James rests his head on Aaron’s chest. If everyone could just wait, I will be gone in a month and you will have the room to yourself. With the sound of Aaron’s beating heart James feel the quivering tension of an explosion subside. In his head he is screaming and yelling… hitting random people with his cane just to exert some energy equal to the level of disappointment and frustration he was feeling. He is in tears, but he is keeping it together like he has never done before.
He lifts his head and Aaron takes back his arm. This is going to tear me up on the inside. You can’t leave the room. Not now. Wait a month.
No, I can’t.
Please? Tell them you will think about it and wait a month.
I already told them I would move.
Don’t get mad. I didn’t have a choice… just like you didn’t have a choice.
I have a choice, just one that really sucks.
Aaron faces James. Please know I didn’t want any of this to happen.
James sees Aaron’e eyes and exhales. I believe you. I’m sorry. James tries to regather his thoughts. Do you think these two incidents are connected?
Uh… yeah. Aaron, such a flare with the obvious.
I just want to freeze time and savor the moment so that I will always know how wonderful life can be.
Aaron scrunches his face, Can we save a moment from a few months back?
James smiles, Yeah, that’s a better idea.
Aaron moves close to James and grabs his hand. I like that a lot. He then rests his head on James’s shoulder.
It seems Aaron had it in him all along. The close, intimate moment against the lights of the resort and the lap of the lake behind them… people passing by, smiling, accepting, walking along without discrimination. It was a moment of perfect peace set against the most tumultuous tempest that he had ever faced. It was the eye of the storm and it was calming, comforting, a pillow of clouds against the cold concrete of Bechman’s Bethel.
Aren’t you feeling brave with the public display of affection?
Aaron sits up and smiles and gestures, What? This is the one place no bethelite would ever be. And very few Witnesses would pay 75 bucks for a meal. So… He extends his arm around James again, pulls him in with a smile and kisses him on the cheek.
James laughs. Here we are, only 5 miles from Bethel and yet a million miles away.
We’ve always been a million miles away.
Yeah, but we were a million miles away together.
Yeah. I like it that way.
James tries to look Aaron in the eye. It’s hard. Aaron, I can say with the most honest and pure heart that I completely and truly love you.
Thank you, because I love you too. You’re the one person I honestly feel I cannot live without.
What the hell are we going to do?
The two stopped talking for a while and just absorbed the nature, the surroundings, the air, each other. There was nothing that could be done… they both knew this. They wanted to fight but there was nothing to fight against… it would be like trying to scratch a way inside a fortified cube with no windows or openings.
The next day, James drafts his letter of intent to leave Bethel.
Watchtower Farms owns various little farmhouses and barns scattered in the area acquired as Bethel purchased more and more property over the years. Usually these buildings are left standing and are renovated for one purpose or another. Aaron was moved to a single occupant bedroom in a small white farmhouse on Steen Road, 1/2 mile farther from the Watchtower Farms main buildings than the already distant A Building. It now takes him twice as long to walk home, and he has to catch a ride in the mornings to be on time for breakfast.
Aaron tries to recreate the look of A314 in his room but it was still cold, isolated, and lonely… and everyone could see the look of defeat upon his face. He tried to smile and laugh, but the fire he held in his chest is starting to grow cold.
A week after his letter is submitted, James is called into a judicial committee meeting. No information was given, just a note that came to his room and nothing more. The next day at the scheduled time, he shows up to a meeting room and goes into the door. Inside there are three older brothers he has never seen before sitting in a half-circle, each with pad of paper, a pen, and one or two manila folders of paperwork. There is a chair in the middle, presumable for James.
(Brother 1) Brother Perez. Please have a seat.
He takes his seat and places the cane on the floor.
(Brother 2) How is the knee doing?
Not very well. I have loose cartilage and a messed up tendon. It hurts a lot, and the pain killers have given me a nervous condition.
(Brother 3) When did you have this accident?
It’s been over two months ago. I should have already been taken care of and back to work by now.
(Brother 3) And was this a work related accident? I don’t know, I didn’t get any paperwork on this.
My understanding is that if this was a work related accident, it would have been taken care of. Since it was not, I have to go months without treatment.
(Brother 1) James, I can tell you are upset about this. And with your Bethel letter alerting us to your 30-day notice, we can see the same anger.
Brothers, I certainly don’t mean to present a lot of anger. How else does one react to a total lack of concern for my health? No one seems to care that I am in severe pain with little chunks of cartilage floating around every time my knee moves.
(Brother 2) You had several weeks of physical therapy. Why didn’t you bring this up then?
I have been asking for an MRI scan and an orthopedic specialist from the first day I walked into the infirmary. All I got were rubber band exercises and an endless supply of Vicodin.
(Brother 1) Well, we will get to that in a second because your drug dosage is at a dangerously high level. And recently you asked for an increase.
No I didn’t.
(Brother 1) You went in to complain about the pain.
Because it hurts and the best way to solve the pain is to correct the problem, not cover it over with pain pills. Brother Friar knows that.
(Brother 2) Okay, we will get to that in a second. First let’s talk about your breakfast attendance, which you know is mandatory.
It was every conversation he has had about his knee with every bethelite since the accident… all over again. Because of the nature of judicial committees, the main focus is not on facts or justice, but on a person’s attitude and humility when it comes to the structure of Jehovah’s Organization. Two people can commit the same sin (adultery for example, considered a “natural” sin). One person may go into the judicial committee filled with remorse and tell them everything that happened. The other may go in, admit it was wrong, but refuse to give the details of the sexual act claiming it’s ‘none of their business.’ This person would be disfellowshipped because of his attitude and unwillingness to cooperate with the elders in disclosing all the intimate details.
At Bethel, one’s attitude must be that of unity and cohesion. There is a militaristic compliance in listening to one’s superiors, whether they are correct or not. It is a concern that James kept bucking the wishes of the medical staff and his insistence in wanting alternative treatment showed a lack of flexibility in working with the brothers and sisters in the infirmary. The end result of the pain medication shows his inability to be rational with this circumstance. His resulting anger and frustration were considered attitudes not befitting the dignified nature of a Bethel worker. His emotions may be justified, but his expression of them were considered disruptive and dangerous.
With it all being presented so simplistically, James found he didn’t disagree with the brothers at all. You’re right, I am angry, irrational, and frustrated. I want to go home get this knee taken care of.
(Brother 3) How is your heart?Broken. I was really hoping to stay here longer and now I’m going home because of an accident no one wants to touch. My heart is broken.
The end result is the committee deciding not to hold James at Bethel for the full 30 days. Instead, they are going to ask him to leave. It was requested he be out by Thursday. However, they would accept Friday if three days wasn’t enough time to arrange his affairs.
James… Aaron said, shocked without breath, That’s so soon.
I don’t know, Aaron. They want me out and they want me away.
They were sitting in Aaron’s room on the futon, side by side. I am so sorry.
Technically speaking I’m being ‘asked to leave.’
What the fuck? They won’t even let you have your own exit? You’re the one who said you were leaving, not them.
They are asking me to leave early because of my attitude. And that’s the part that gets me because that is the part that they put down on paper and send back to the congregation.
I fought on that one, Aaron, I really fought. But it was no use. The more I fight the worse of an attitude I have.
So what are you going to do?
Like so many other issues in the past month, James was so preoccupied with the emotional side of things he failed to realize there was action needing to be taken. It wasn’t suppose to end like this.
Aaron put his arm around him and the two huddled motionless, almost realizing that this may be the last days they will have together. The inability to digest life without the other person being there was something they didn’t want to face. James had come to grips with it, but now things are… different. Aaron really pulled through a massive haul with James’s Vicodin addiction. James’s heart was captivated by so much love… but now, in addition there are levels of appreciation and honor, faith and thankfulness that supersedes any romantic intent James was enjoying. It was no longer about sex or comfort… it was about this bright lighthouse of a good and decent human being whose light was flickering dimmer and dimmer by the day. That can’t happen.
James is so over taken by his feelings he fails to understand that he needs to pack his entire room into his tiny car and drive to Texas, where his parents are living, in three days time. He has to physically remove himself from Watchtower Farms, the friends he made, the fun in the City, his work, the brothers and sisters in Saugerties, and everyone he knows… and leave Aaron, the one person who showed him so many different aspects that can captivate another human being.
He doesn’t know how to let go.
Centuries of artists and poets come from the depths of the earth and begin screaming in his ear all their anguish of all their lost loves in one groundshaking screech. This… is heartbreak. Both men were feeling two separate versions of it at the same time. This is what it feels like to have the soul ripped out through the heart. It hurts.
It hurts… a lot.
James P. Perez © 2013