Stephanie: Heart-Break

[This is the ninth installment of my memoir, The Long Walk Home. Click here for a complete table of contents.]

In the previous excerpt from my book The Long Walk Home, I described Dulcinea, the alternative bookshop created by the guru Gulliver, where I worked for three years, 1973–1976. Gulliver had seduced me in 1971, when I was nineteen and he was thirty-nine. For the first two years of Dulcinea, our relationship continued on the same mixed basis. That is, Gulliver was my spiritual teacher, my boss, and my lover in spite of myself. 

In the summer of 1975, without knocking, I entered an apartment adjoining the bookshop, which Gulliver reserved for his own use as personal office and get-away. I found him there in bed with another young man. If this victim of Gulliver’s amorous attentions was eighteen years old, it was only by a matter of days. In other words, their liaison was legal but just barely. I didn’t think in those terms then. Instead, I was embarrassed, and I turned and left the apartment, knowing both of them had seen me. I dreaded what Gulliver would say to me the next time we were alone. Violated myself, I felt guilty for violating him. Go figure. 

Instead of speaking, Gulliver ignored the incident. He never mentioned it. Instead, he began making it clear that he was no longer interested in me for sex. This may have been his means of revenge for intruding on his private space; but I think probably he was just moving on. Time passed. Still, no sex. This was a huge relief to me. I had never enjoyed it in the first place. I had allowed it in the first place because I considered it a key to enlightenment, which could come only by proximity to the master. Then I had become trapped in a pattern of sick behavior. Now I tiptoed around the issue until I was confident that the monster had gone back in the closet and closed the door behind him. I locked the closet from the outside and literally forgot about the monster for thirty-five years. I have since learned from professionals who understand these things that such forgetting is typical of men and women who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Now in late 1975 and early 1976, instead of homosexual conquest, Gulliver entered into a new campaign of manipulation against me. What happened next was surprising, in its way delightful, and finally more devastating than even his sexual abuse.

Around Thanksgiving 1975 Gulliver suggested that I begin dating one of my female colleagues, Stephanie, a bright, talented, and voluptuous graduate of the community college where Gulliver taught, who was now working at  Dulcinea. In fact, he went farther than suggesting that Stephanie and I date. Gulliver told me that he wanted me to marry Stephanie, speaking as though her acceptance of my proposal were a foregone conclusion.

I didn’t need much coaching or convincing. Stephanie was just incredibly beautiful. I had always liked her, worshiped her even though from a distance; but I had never seen space for her in my complex life alongside Gulliver. Now it looked as though my years of self-sacrifice would pay off in an arranged marriage. Well, OK then. Let’s do it.

I immediately arranged a date with Stephanie for a Saturday evening in December. On that Saturday morning Gulliver announced a staff meeting for 8 p.m. that night. What was I supposed to do? Cancel my date with the woman I had been ordered to marry? Of course not. Stephanie and I went ahead with our date, ignoring the meeting. When I came back to my apartment from the date at 11 p.m., I found Gulliver waiting for me at the door. He was shouting.

I had blown off an important meeting for a first date with a woman I didn’t even know! I had abandoned him for a woman! (He used a more vulgar term than woman.) How could I be so thoughtless?! How could I be such a sheep?! One whiff of perfume had turned me into a brainless idiot! Didn’t I know that one woman’s pubic hair pulls harder than a team of oxen? (He used a more vulgar term than pubic.) It was the same [expletive] story! he shouted at me. I had failed in valuation! Valuation of the Work (as in the Gurdjieff work) boiled down to unflinching loyalty to him. This was a foundational principle of his community. It was Gulliver’s way or the highway. As president of his organization, I should have known this better than anyone.

I was struck speechless by his rant. I was devastated. And I was contrite. When I could put words together, I pled with Gulliver to be reasonable. The tirade finally subsided and we retired to our separate apartments and beds. But with one quick yank, Gulliver had pulled the rug out from under my love life. I didn’t dare approach Stephanie again after that night—not until Gulliver asked me four weeks later, like I was stupid or something, why I wasn’t following orders.

“Why aren’t you married yet?” he inquired.

[In fact, I am collapsing chronology in this excerpt. The manipulations of Gulliver the marionettiste continued over some months, repeatedly dropping me into Stephanie’s path, then yanking me back again, over and over.]

I dutifully climbed back into the dating game, though less spontaneously than the first time. Now I looked over over my shoulder every time Stephanie and I even talked about seeing one another. It didn’t take long for my fears to be confirmed. One afternoon, Stephanie and I met behind the shop during a coffee break. We were holding hands when Gulliver came suddenly out the back door. He looked at us as though he had caught us in flagrante, or as I had caught him with a young man some months before. He stared, said nothing, went back inside; but that evening I paid the price. At the close of business he said we were going for a ride. I thought of Jimmy Hoffa, of gangsters taken for a ride and ending in cement overcoats. My fate wasn’t much better than that.

He ordered another young man to drive us in his car. Gulliver sat in the passenger seat up front, I in the back. For five hours, while the sun fell and the moon rose and my heart collapsed like a dying star, Gulliver screamed at me for stupidity, failure of duty, lack of valuation. A thousand grievances came pouring out in one terrifying fusillade after another. He spent his ammo, sat back while I bargained, then he reloaded and set in on me again. And again. And again. I got to bed by 1:30 a.m. but never went to sleep that night.

Later the following morning, Stephanie and I took a secret walk through town. I know this only because she recalled the event years later. I remember nothing of the aftermath of Gulliver’s final terrible attack from the front seat of his chauffeured ride. Stephanie told me years later that I stopped  and asked her behind the single supermarket in Nowheresville, “If I asked you to run away to New York City with me, would you do it?”

Her reply was, “Yes if Gulliver were sending us there.”

I was completely torn up inside. I desperately needed to know what was what. I was ready to run away and clearly I was begging her to run with me. When I quizzed her years later, wondering how I had looked at that moment behind the supermarket, she said that I had looked distraught.

For the next week, I literally could not eat. I know what an eating disorder is because I had one. Not even a cracker would go down. Hardly a glass of water. I was at the end of my rope. So I did the only thing I could think of doing. One morning before dawn, I packed my bags and left Nowheresville. I showed up at my mother’s table in time for lunch. Mercifully, she made me a sandwich and heated up some soup. For the next month I did nothing but eat her cooking and sleep in my old bed.

Then [and again I am collapsing chronology here] I moved to Massachusetts, where I heard that my brother was involved with another Gurdjieff group that had bought a theatre in a small town north of Boston. I thought I had separated the teacher from the teaching. Gulliver, I knew, was corrupt. The Gurdjieff Work, I believed, was not. I still believed that it was the royal road to enlightenment. Within a few weeks, accepted by his teacher, I had hooked on with my brother’s group.

I thought I had left Gulliver behind. The emphasis in that last sentence is on the word thought.

NOTE: This is a brief excerpt from my book-length memoir The Long Walk Home, copyright © 2015 by Webster L. Bull. All rights reserved.

To read the next excerpt, “Films That Lighted My Path,” click here.

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