My cult leader grandma had a gift for narration. She spun stories like a spider spinning silk. In my mind I can practically see her building worlds and mythologies with her hands as she spoke. As if fine spider silk flowed from them toward me, barely discernible yet unmistakable. Beautiful in a certain light.
Until her gossamer strands of story wrapped themselves around us. She didn’t swallow her prey whole, but kept us immobilized with toxic tales and hypnotic powers. If she’d said the sky was green, I would have believed her. What’s more, I would have believed if she’d said it always was.
She told me there was life and death in the power of her tongue, and she wasn’t being metaphoric. Cult experts call this “dispensation of existence.” She narrated whether I lived or died. I never struggled to imagine Creation, to envision God making something out of nothing but the power of his words. I witnessed my grandmother doing it every day.
She convinced me my mother was absent for most of my childhood, in the home but sequestered in her bedroom studying. My mother swears she dedicated time to each child despite her busy schedule. I can’t know what was true, because I can’t trust either account. I’m hard wired for bad choices and bad emotional reactions. I keep a diary now and trust no other sources.
It’s impossible to explain how magical my malignant grandmother was, how she sparkled and shone as if a spotlight followed her always. How fun and funny she was, how she would throw us into the swimming pool at her request, how she would hold me in her lap in her rocking chair and sing a hymn about peace, and how I have never felt as safe and loved and important in my post cult life as I did then.
Or how much I wish she hadn’t killed people for my own selfish desire to love her feeely again. She was otherworldly, strange and powerful and fey and every better human being seems less exciting, certainly less all consuming, after her. I’m realizing I don’t understand love, that idolatry and self sacrifice feel like what I’m supposed to do to get that high back.