Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Sociopath or Saint?

This will be the third and last post involving Steven, a pivotal figure in the history of Big Gray. As a result of Steven's tenure as our Fire Chief, we made several changes in the way we did things in the house, in the people we accepted and even in the way we held parties. For better or worse, Big Gray would continue on for another thirteen years after Steven. We would accept twenty-seven more members and end our experiment as we began it, together.

I've been reading a blog entitled"Farmie," (Sorry, I haven't figured out yet how to link) which tells the story of The Farm, a commune in Tennessee founded by Steven and Ina May Gaskin, two sixties activists/revolutionaries. Theirs was a much bigger, rural based commune. They were able to grow their own food, provide midwifery services to unwed mothers and do humanitarian work in third world countries. They followed Buddhist principles and had lots of rules and two dynamic leaders. At Big Gray, we were a lot smaller and had no real purpose other than to grow individually while we nurtured our alternative family. As I've stated before, our relative success or failure depended largely on the individual's response to the concept of family.

With Steven at the reins, we did prosper, albeit amidst a lot of turmoil. He really did believe and follow the concept of living as an anarchistic group without rules of governance, working out our difficulties by confrontation and integration. Many who lived there with him and several who came after him would never be able to survive in that atmosphere. After he left, we changed a great deal, and the people we took in changed too. I will leave it to you readers to decide if Steven was, as stated in the title of this post, saint or sociopath.

I'll recount a few 0f my memories of encounters with Steven and I invite others, as Mike did in an earlier post, to add their stories if there are any from that era who read my blog. I know that Abby and Kim for example, can add stories that would be illuminative.

To Steven's eye, I blocked my energy. In other words, he saw me as repressed. Now, coming as I did from a Catholic school, middle class background, this may have been true. I believe that my years in therapy and my experimentation with hallucinogens changed much of that, but I'm sure that even now, there remains some aspect of my past. This, to Steven was unacceptable. His Gestalt training made it impossible for him to "be at ease in the presence of someone else's disease." Whether this was an excuse for his behavior or a real response always was a question for me. I'll tell you about two incidents.

The first involves my kids again. As I recall, it was a day they were home from school. They were in our back yard , and I was on the back porch. At that time, Steven who later moved to the (cheaper) attic bedroom, had the bedroom directly over the kitchen. Now, it was later in the afternoon, possibly 2:00 PM. Steven had been working some night shifts as a car service driver in the neighborhood (you recall he had no green card). Apparently, the kids and I awakened him. His reaction was immediate and explosive. He came roaring downstairs screaming that we were inconsiderate and rude. I complained that it was afternoon and didn't realize he was still asleep, etc., but he continued to roar around the dining room now. It was very upsetting to me, but more so to my daughters who were frightened by Steven's manner. I will say that he pushed me into a physical confrontation. Before I knew it, we were grappling, and I was throwing largely ineffective punches as I rolled on the floor enveloped in his arms. Afterwards, I realized that I wasn't hurt at all. Now Steven was 6'4". He was certainly capable of doing damage to me if he wished. Instead, he seemed satisfied that he had provoked a reaction in me, and seemed to bear no ill feelings.

On another occasion, years later , we were in the kitchen together. I was angry with him over some issue and again, he seemed to want a reaction. He was drinking a cup of water at the time, and in the course of our argument, threw the water at me. This time, I backed down from a physical confrontation,even though I would have liked to punch him in the face. I turned my back on him, and he punched me once in the small of my back. It hurt for weeks afterward. I thought he might have ruptured a kidney.

I have also experienced tenderness and caring from Steven. When his drug use and debt to the house became too acute, we voted to remove him. Matt and John went up to his attic room and threw all his belongings out the window. He had bought an old truck which was parked in the yard. Without a word, he packed his things in the truck, and left. We never saw or heard from him again. He had been talking about going down to Florida. He was suffering from a chronic gum infection which he treated himself. I don't honestly know whether he's alive or dead. I know he had maintained contact with his family in England. I hope he was able to get back home again.


Anonymous said...

Steven may not have caused any lasting physical harm but at least one of the incidents described (and there were others) was deeply scarring to the young children who witnessed it.

Cheman said...

Granted. That was always my objection to him. He justified his "responses" as being genuine, without regard for who he hurt by his actions. Not, in my opinion, the way of an enlightened individual.