You can read the previous entries of Sunsh Stein’s memoir in the following issues:
It was the early 1970s and magic permeated the air on the 165 lush acres of upstate New York called Chillum Farm. The world belonged to us — a scruffy, skinny bunch of passionate hippies — and unconditional love and marijuana made anything possible. We planned to change the world by example, living simply with no electricity, plumbing or telephone, working the land and growing much of our own food, and sharing everything. Our lives ran happily on circuits-overload as we worked and partied till we dropped. Celebrating the demise of the nuclear family we created a dysfunctional one of our own. And like the typical American family we lived with hopes, dreams, tractors, sex, chain saws, gardens, animals, births, food, nudity, singing, and ultimately, relationships that went awry.
Naked or semi-naked bodies abounded at Chillum Farm – it was a question of freedom from restraint – throwing off the shackles of the world. It was no big deal to skinny dip, or walk around, or sit around with various body parts exposed. Nudity had less to do with sex than with making a statement for comfort in the heat of summer. Did it lead to sex? I don’t think so. Living in a house with no doors and the intensity of our lives more likely did, along with the idea that we could to do what we wanted. We slept around, but not a lot. Maybe we were just too worn out from working so hard. In any case, while no one was shocked at seeing Spindle, Joy, and Shadow having sex together, it wasn’t the norm. But, of course, I was now living in a place where there wasn’t really a norm, or where it changed daily.
The morning after the Spindle/Shadow/Joy threesome Spindle had a new glow. In this short season where she already constantly glowed, it was almost other-worldly. I wanted to get her alone and talk about what was going on, but right after breakfast she and Joy left the house together. I dumped the water from the breakfast dishes I just finished washing and went after them thinking to catch up. Talking to both of them wasn’t my first choice, but since they were together I might as well get two sides of the story. I saw them on the path just past the garden walking toward the wheat field in the back. The morning was already hot and I started to sweat as I trotted along watching them up ahead; they looked like sisters with their similar height and their dark brown hair in braids, both of them dressed in cut-offs and tank tops. Then as I got closer I saw that they were holding hands, and I noticed they were so into each other that they were oblivious I was following them. I sensed I’d be an unwanted unneeded presence.
I was jealous, and hurt. In the nine years Spindle and I had been best friends I’d never felt shut out like this. She now had an intimacy with another woman that she and I didn’t have. Lovers had come and gone in our lives and it was no big deal; but Joy — not only was she a woman but we all lived together — that made it way different. As these new lovers rounded a corner of the wheat field, a slight breeze stirred the heads on the stalks of wheat, and as the stalks swayed they seemed to be waving me away. Suddenly I knew I didn’t want Spindle and Joy to see me. I turned around and hurried dejectedly toward the house not knowing where to go with my feelings. I was embarrassed to admit to anyone that I felt this way – it was so uncool. So not the mantra of more love.
I saw Midge in the garden weeding tomatoes. I went in and sat down in the dirt next to her. ”You look heavied out,” she said.
“Yeah. I want Spindle to be happy but I’m not sure how to deal with this.” I gave Midge a weak smile; if there was anyone I could talk to it was her, but I wasn’t ready. “Tell me about how wonderful these tomatoes are going to be,” I said, reaching down to pull a weed. And so we chattered about the garden while our hands created a spotless environment for what I was primed to believe was one of the key crops.
“I’m hungry,” she said after we’d covered a lot of ground.
“Follow me,” she said, and led the way to the alleys created by rows of tall green corn plants. She plucked two small ears, handed me one and started shucking hers.
“But Midge, the corn isn’t even close to ready,” I said.
“That’s what makes it so far out.”
I watched as she took a big bite, cob and all. “Yum,” she said, practically smacking her lips. “Go ahead!” I did as she did, somewhat skeptically, but after the first bite – sweet and crunchy — I polished it off and wanted another. It was delectable and it sure beat hell out of the brown rice and onions we’d probably have for lunch.
I’d been learning that the garden was a snacker’s paradise; I’d already munched on peas or a handful of young green or wax beans, but the corn, what a revelation! Actually, the whole garden was — I watched it explode. And eating fresh vegetables for the first time in my life – right off the vine or right out of the ground – well, they didn’t get any fresher. Or tastier.
Midge and I polished off a few more little ears then went back to our work. By late afternoon I felt better. Spindle found me at the creek washing off the day’s labors. “I’ve hardly seen you,” she said, sliding into the creek next to me. “What a night and day!” She swirled her hair around in the water. She was too high on her life to notice my tension.
“Yeah, you’ve been pretty occupied. So what’s happening with you three?” I asked, vigorously rubbing dirt from my knees. I didn’t want sexual details — it wasn’t prurient knowledge I was after. “What does this mean?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I love them, they love me, and last night was a natural progression of that love.”
But where do I fit in? I wanted to ask. Instead I said, “What about Patrick?”
“What about him? He’s so far out; I love him too.”
Patrick, who had been visiting Pierce’s Corners, where he lived before he fell in love with Spindle and moved in with us, came back a few days later. Spindle told him that she had become lovers with Joy and Shadow. Patrick was a free spirit, he was loose about it, and she slept with him the next few nights. But Spindle’s night with Joy and Shadow was not a one-night stand, and the time she spent with them increased — both at night and during the day. After lunch we usually suspended work for a while to digest our food and escape the midday heat. Shadow and Joy often gravitated to their room to hang out, and now Spindle found her way there as well; the three of them appeared deep in conversation whenever I went by.
Patrick liked to draw during that time period and would catch up with Spindle at some point in the afternoon. But at the end of the day, he could no longer assume she’d be going to bed with him. It got to be that no one knew where she would end up at bedtime. She continued to be enormously happy; in her world anything was possible. Shadow and Joy built an extension onto their swinging bed to accommodate Spindle. Patrick tried to go with the flow.
One night, a few weeks into the shifting relationships, we all sat in the new room eating dinner. The crickets created a racket outside the screened in windows and the kerosene lanterns flickered occasionally from a heat-relief-giving breeze. “More salad, please,” was a common refrain. Enough tomatoes had ripened to the point where they had the starring role in the salad bowl, leaving the greens as bit players.
”I need some volunteers to help spread lime tomorrow morning,” Lem said. “It’s on that new field I just plowed behind the wheat.” He reached a long arm across the round table and picked a tomato out of the salad bowl. “I want to do it early before it gets too hot.”
“I’ll go,” Patrick said.
“Oh man, you’re gonna get up early to do that? I don’t believe it,” was Lem’s response. In a house full of early risers Patrick was noticeably not among them.
“Well just how early?” Patrick asked, and the rest of us started to laugh.
“Lem will be your alarm clock, Patrick,” Shadow said.
“I can get up as early as anybody else. I’m on the bus,” Patrick said firmly.
“I need one more body,” said Lem.
“I’ll go,” I volunteered. I hadn’t worked in the fields, this would be a good opportunity to see and learn. Plus, the thought of hanging out with those two and a dubie sounded like a good time.
It was maybe an hour past sunrise when Lem roused Patrick and me. He herded us out of the house, coffeeless, and practically pushed us onto a two-wheeled open cart that was hooked to the back of the tractor. Sharing the cart with us was a 100 pound bag of lime. The morning was cool, clear, dewy, and beautiful. Patrick and I sat with our legs dangling over the back end of the cart, and as we bumped along we watched the house and garden recede in the growing brightness.
“How ya doing?” I asked him.
“Okay,” he said. “But I wish I knew what the fuck was going on.”
“Yeah, none of us really does. But Spindle seems so happy.” Having Patrick around was fun and I wanted him to stay. I liked him a lot and felt bad for him. But Spindle’s happiness was more my priority, even though I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how she was obtaining it.
“She does seem happy. I gotta try to get behind this,” he said with a big sigh.
We reached the edge of the field. Lem jumped down from the tractor, opened the bag of lime and instructed us on spreading techniques. Basically, we’d be sticking our hands in the bag and throwing the lime onto the ground as we drove around the field. We passed around a joint before getting started, then Lem resumed his tractor perch and off we went. It was a slow uneven ride and we giggled a lot as we tried to maintain our balance while standing on the back of the cart. “God, this day is so incredible,” I said. And as if on cue, Patrick and I both started singing, “What a day for a daydream…I’ve been lost in a sweet dream…” as the lime flew up and collected on our clothes and in our hair.
Try as he might to “get behind this,” sharing Spindle with Shadow and Joy was not what Patrick had in mind when he moved in with us. Spindle kept telling him that there was more love to go around, but he knew he was getting distinctly less. I couldn’t help asking Spindle about it periodically. “I love Shadow and Joy, and I love Patrick,” was her consistent, straightforward reply. In her mind it was simplistic and it made her happy; I made a supreme effort to swallow my jealousy and be supportive. Tensions developed between Patrick and Shadow, while the rest of us fell in line with the group of three – it had an undeniable power.
As Spindle spent more time with Joy and Shadow so did I. I wasn’t going to be left out if I could help it. I didn’t want to sleep with the three of them – I was still wary of Shadow and found him physically unappealing, and I wasn’t into women, at least I didn’t think I was — but I did want to try to understand the attraction. What Spindle gained from being with Patrick was obvious, but this was not so clear. It was easy to see from Shadow’s perspective, now that Spindle was so strong and beautiful he wanted her back; this was a Spindle he had never seen. But he was not about to give up Joy. And maybe Spindle had never stopped loving him and so she followed his call. As for Joy, I didn’t know what she was thinking or feeling, but it appeared she was deeply in love with Shadow, and loved and admired Spindle. She and Spindle grew tighter by the day. There was a strong spiritual component to the threesome’s connection and Shadow once again, but more subtly, assumed the role of Spindle’s teacher. There were always books by Georges Gurdjieff or on Indian mysticism in their room.
Patrick was a spiritual being also, but his major spirits were the gods of love, dope, and art, not necessarily in that order. Much as he tried to regain ground with Spindle it was a losing battle; her actions confirmed his secondary status daily.
Joy’s husband Gitch, who had left in the spring after Joy got together with Shadow, came back for a visit. It didn’t take him long to size up the scene and experience déjà vu. “What’s going on here?” he kept asking as he pretty quickly bonded with Patrick. His presence was not benign and tensions grew into hostilities. The family definitely suffered from a lack of dialogue, but it was easier to ignore what was going on than to deal with it. The warmth, however, was getting frayed.
Not long after Gitch arrived, an unintentional family meeting occurred one night after dinner. Spindle, Joy, and Shadow went upstairs first and were hanging out on their bed in the middle room. Lem went up next and stopped in to shoot the shit with them on his way to the big room we shared. A while later Midge and I came upstairs, and when we saw the four of them, we climbed onto the bed too. We stretched out, smoked a dubie, and were giggling about the reaction of the local men to seeing us topless. Laurie finished putting her son Jason to bed and heard us, so instead of going back downstairs she came in to see what was happening. Never one to miss a good time, Laurie joined us on the bed. We were missing only Patrick and Gitch.
“Bob LaVack gets so nervous, he has to look away,” Laurie said. “But Leonard Strait…”
“Ah, Strait-man,” Shadow grinned. “Can’t move his eyes from a woman’s chest.”
“Yup,” Midge cut in. “Leonard, I have a face you know.”
We all cracked up.
“What’s so funny?” Patrick and Gitch stood in the doorway. Tension hung around them like a black cloud. The laughter died away. “Hi guys, join the party,” Midge said. In they came, and the rest of us shifted to make room for them on the bed. With its expanded size we all fit. There wasn’t much space anywhere else in the room, and with the action up on the bed no one wanted to be sitting on the floor anyway.
So we were nine hippies of various shapes and sizes lounging close together on a platform suspended from the ceiling. With the addition of Gitch and Patrick the casual ease of hanging out ceased. Their presence drastically altered the energy, reflecting the negativity that was happening more and more in the house. Now the bed became a flurry of nervous activity with joints rolled and the turquoise can of Bugler tobacco passed around; smoke from both floated through the air.
“So what’s going on?” Gitch started. “You stole my woman and now you’ve done the same to Patrick.” He directed this, of course, to Shadow.
Joy and Spindle, sitting on either side of Shadow, who sat cross-legged at the top of the bed, both opened their mouths to speak, but Shadow beat them to it. “I didn’t steal anyone from anybody,” he said. “Joy and Spindle aren’t here against their will.”
“Very funny. You know what I mean,” Gitch reacted.
“Well, maybe Joy was waiting for the right time to leave you,” Shadow said.
“Were you, Joy?” Gitch asked, looking at her. She didn’t say anything.
“What about that Joy?” Laurie asked, almost accusingly.
“Well, I wasn’t so happy in our relationship,” Joy spoke up. “And you didn’t want to be here and I did. It was just a matter of time.”
“I don’t know,” said Gitch angrily. “I came here in good faith, agreed to the vegetarian diet, worked hard, and did my part. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.”
“Maybe there isn’t a supposed to,” said Lem.
“Oh, so this is part of the flow I just go with?” Gitch looked around at us.
“This sure isn’t the flow I planned to go with,” said Patrick.
“I didn’t have a plan,” said Spindle. “I am going with the flow.”
“Maybe that’s not working so well, Spins,” said Midge.
“Yeah, Spindle,” put in Patrick. “It’s not working for me.” He reached out a hand toward her.
“But I love you.” For the first time, Spindle looked pained.
“Then why can’t it be like it was?”
“I love Joy and Shadow too.”
“Back to where we started,” I piped up. “Pass the tobacco, Joy.”
“I didn’t do this to hurt anyone,” said Shadow. “I want us all to love each other.”
“I guess you weren’t too successful,” said Laurie.
“Well, there’s loving and then there’s loving,” said Lem. “Shadow, you love me, but do you love me the same way you love Joy?” He sat with his arm around Midge.
“I don’t make a distinction,” said Shadow.
“That’s bullshit and you know it!” Gitchie was totally pissed. “Who’s got the godamn joint?”
“Is it? Maybe for you,” Shadow answered.
“Calm down, Gitchie,” Joy passed a dubie his way.
“Quit talking in circles,” this from Patrick. “If there’s no distinction then why aren’t you with Lem too?”
“I am, in a way,” Shadow answered. “We’re together on many levels, just because we don’t have sex doesn’t mean I love him less.”
“I don’t need you to prove it,” Lem threw in.
“But bottom line, you’re fucking Joy and Spindle, and it’s not making for good energy,” said Laurie. She was lying down with her head in Midge’s lap and her legs over mine.
“I can’t help that.”
“Oh man…” Gitch leaned forward.
Suddenly we heard a crack and a snap. With a big jolt we all hit the floor. “What the fuck…” someone said. We looked at each other. Then we looked up as one. The ropes holding the bed had broken. “Holy shit!” We sat there, slumped against each other, stunned — all nine of us. It was a message, but exactly what we weren’t sure. We looked at each other again. “Guess we’re sleeping on the floor tonight,” Shadow made a halfhearted attempt at a joke, but no one laughed. We were too heavied out. We untangled ourselves from the ropes and each other and got up. There was an awkward silence as one by one we left the room and went to our own beds leaving Shadow, Joy, and Spindle behind. No one said anything. It was late; this was too much to deal with. Tomorrow maybe we could begin again.