Break Free

From Darkness to Light

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From Darkness To Light

“Is that you John?” came a familiar voice from the other end.

Hearing that voice broke him down…. the sobs that wracked his body rose to a crescendo as they turned into howls. Words were stuck in his throat.

“John, I know it’s you. Where are you? Are you in trouble? Are you alright?” the voice continued, the concern quite apparent in her tone.

“Hello, I am nurse Patricia. I hope I’m speaking to Isabelle,” came the reply.

“Ah… Yes, I’m Isabelle. I’m sorry but do I know you?”

“No, actually we don’t know each other. It’s about your brother John. He met with an accident-” …. Patricia heard a gasp. She continued, “Don’t worry, he’s fine. He’s had a surgery but is recovering well. We connected him to you as was his wish. Unfortunately, he’s too emotional right now, so I am speaking on his behalf.”

“Thank you so much. Please tell me which hospital is this and may I request you not to discharge him till I am there,” Isabelle replied, on the verge of breaking down herself.

“Yes of course, please take the address. And as for discharging him, he’s going to be here for a while.”

Rummaging around for a pen and a piece of paper, profusely apologising for the chaos, Isabelle finally got the address written down.

Once the receiver was back on the hook, she sat herself down, elbows resting on the table and her head between her hands. Trembling all over, too shocked to cry… to react…to even breathe… she just sat there, absorbing the information.

It took her a few minutes to gather herself, knowing well she didn’t have much time. The phone call had opened a small window of hope and she had to reach out before it shut back again.

She made a few phone calls, sharing whatever little details she had, and an hour later she was in a cab to meet John.

John, his bright and vivacious little brother was so full of life. A natural singer, their home was filled with music as he sung the songs, some of which he’d composed himself. He and his guitar were inseparable and coupled with his charm, girls found him hard to resist.

He had managed to secure a scholarship for higher studies but that meant moving out of his parental home. They were all sad to see him go to the hostel, but happy in the thought that he was on his way to make a better life for himself. His grades justified his scholarship and soon he was also a part of the local college band. His visits back home were a high point for everyone as he would regale them with wonderful stories about his campus life.

A year and a half in college, suddenly the phone calls dwindled along with his visits and the grades. Every time his parents would enquire, he’d brush it off saying he was just too busy. It was the note from college that alarmed them. The college expressed regret about withdrawing the scholarship owing to his miserable grades and an even poorer attendance.

Isabelle and her parents immediately went down to meet John. They were shocked to see a thin, pale version of the John they knew. He smiled a wan smile and the eyes had lost their twinkle. They were glassy…. like a doll.

When they tried talking to him, he answered in monosyllables. They wanted to take him home. He refused…. calling his family, messengers of Satan. And even as they talked, he got up and left the room. Unsure of what to do, they waited….

……And that was the last they saw of him…. up until now…almost five years to the date! It was 1979 already but for Isabelle and her parents they were stuck in a time warp.

They had enquired around and had been able to gather that a certain Samuel Crooner, a self-styled Godman, a Messiah as he liked to call himself, was behind John’s disappearance. His cult followers had bizarre practices and were colloquially called ‘croonies’. They tried their best to reach out to him but failed. Every time they went back dejected on being told that he didn’t want to meet them.

Isabelle spotted her parents Dave and Beth waiting for her in the hospital lobby. She could see that Brian was with them too. He was an ex-croony himself and part of a support group that helped ‘deprogramme’ other croonies who were trying to extricate themselves from Crooner’s influence.

Together they braced themselves to meet John but nothing could have prepared them for what they saw that day. The bright young man they’d known was nowhere to be seen. There lay a tired, haggard man who seemed so much older than his twenty-five years. He looked up and there was a hint of recognition in his eyes. That was a good sign compared to what they remembered from their last meeting.

They rushed forward to hug him and though his skinny frame felt odd but it felt like he was home when he put his arms around them. They looked up hopefully at Brian for a confirmation but he just gave them a non-committal nod.

“Brian isn’t it heartening? John seemed a little like his old self,” said Beth wringing her hands in excitement.

“John’s response is definitely encouraging, Beth. But I want you to be prepared for the rocky road to recovery. I’ve walked on that one and I can say that with some authority,” replied Brian gravely. The three of them nodded in agreement though it was hard to keep their emotions in check.

The consensus was, that someone would always be around John till he was out of the hospital. Of course, they’d need to take hospital’s permission for that. Delighted at the prospect of having him back, his old friends rallied too. John’s friends and family had long been plotting to ‘kidnap’ him from the commune as a desperate bid to rescue him. But it was a risky proposition and illegal even, to attempt to hold anyone confined against his will. In the past, a few such cases had backfired and despite their best intentions those families were facing litigations.

John’s accident proved to be a blessing in disguise for them. The flower delivery van that he used to drive, as part of his job in the commune, rammed into a speeding vehicle. His injuries had landed him in the hospital. His fellow cult members visited him the moment they got to know. They left him with some audio cassettes of Crooner’s recordings to keep him occupied. The fact that he was physically away from the commune, there were no fellow cult members around to hold hands and chant him into numbness or just the cold hospital environment…. whatever the trigger was…. thankfully he reached out to his sister.

John’s parents and Brian took the hospital authorities into confidence, requesting them to allow one of them to stay around John as well to prohibit any cult members to visit him. Thankfully they understood and complied. The staff on duty did their best, making some or the other excuse to ward them off. That was one problem less to worry about.

As Brian had predicted, John was in for tough times. He would have bizarre nightmares…. he’d wake up chanting gibberish…had flashes of hand holding and jumping in a mad frenzy…. Selling flowers on the street for the Messiah…. the sleep deprivation…and then his mind would go blank. He’d go into spells of gloom but Brian’s forewarning helped them come to terms with the situation. The love and tenderness did work its magic and soon enough, John was declared fit to be discharged.

Once home, though physically much better, he experienced the aches and pains, a sign of his nutritional deficiencies. Some of his teeth had fallen and his hair too were sparse. But the bigger problem was his lapses, when he would be withdrawn and would float between his past and present. They were interspersed with unpredictable mood swings and temper outbursts.

As part of the deprogramming, Brian would often lock himself up with John in a room…. for hours…. questioning him… encouraging him to think on his own… independently and critically. Reprimanding and encouraging him in turns, surrounded with love, Brian gently helped re-establish the emotional connect with his life before Crooner happened to him. During the sessions, Dave and Beth would nervously pace outside when they would hear loud argumentative voices or hear John cry.

“Brian, please move away from me. I am sure Satan has sent you here to vilify me. The Messiah had warned us about you,” John would sometimes be heard saying.

“Have you ever tried asking the Messiah why he is so scared of Satan,” Brian would retort.

Brian’s persuasion was a powerful tool and there were days when everyone would catch a glimpse of the old John… like the rays of sun appear briefly from behind the grey clouds.

For John, it was terrifying to walk away, from what Crooner’s indoctrination had made him believe was right. He had been brainwashed into assuming that questioning and doubting meant sin…… a sign of Satan overpowering him. And what Brian here was trying was an antithesis to all that. John was scared, very scared. He’d feel dirty, impure even…and thoughts of jumping off a high rise would often come to him. He felt as if walking away from Crooner was akin to disappointing God.

Two years of relentless punching and deprogramming finally showed some results. The fact that none of the croonies tried to make a contact with John was a huge relief, else it would have set them back or worse they could have lost John altogether.

John would sometimes step out of his room to have dinner with his parents. Isabelle, who was now teaching at the nearby college, would try to be home in time for their family time. There was so much to catch up for the five years that they had lost. He would really warm up every time Isabelle would be around. On one of the good days, she suggested if John would like to pick his education where he had left it. Everyone felt it was a good idea but were sceptical if they were up to it… not to mention the financial strain.

When they bounced it over to Brian, he was surprisingly quite receptive and since Isabelle would be around in the college, it gave everyone the confidence to move ahead, especially to John.

Back in college, as he stood at the gate, he wondered if this would work and then somewhere from within a voice told him, how would you know if you never tried. He smiled to himself and went looking for his classroom.

There were panic attacks…. grey, dark periods…that would claw away at his confidence but just like a baby takes his first steps tentatively and then gathers the courage to walk and even run…John did too….

On one really bright day, as John crossed the music room, he was drawn to the sounds of drumbeats. He peeked through, to see a jam session in progress. One of them gestured him to come in. Hesitantly he came inside and picked up the guitar, running his hands over it, caressing it lovingly as if meeting a long-lost love. Instinctively, he strummed the strings, as the onlookers nodded in appreciation.

Looking up, he smiled and thrust his hand out in introduction, “Hi, I’m John. I am a cult survivor.”

(Word count-1937, excluding the title)

Author’s Note: This piece is inspired from the cult that was started in South Korea in 1954 by Reverend Sun Myung Moon by the name of Unification Church. He put forth a theology that mixed Judeo-Christian and Eastern philosophies and proclaimed it would unite all world religions and bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. 

According to Moon, Jesus (who appeared to him in a vision) had been meant to marry and have children so that he and his wife could become the True Parents of mankind and erase original sin from humanity. But Jesus was crucified before he could fulfill his mission, so God had sent him as the second Messiah.

Moon was born in what is now North Korea in 1920 and married Hak Ja Han, and the Church taught that they were the new designated True Parents who would bring God’s Kingdom to Earth. The arranged marriages and mass weddings of members were called Blessings and the Church believed they erased original sin from members and their future children.

Following Moon’s death in 2012, the Church splintered, with his widow and two sons taking over different factions.

Hak Ja Han has come to be called the co-Messiah by many followers; she founded the Women’s Federation for World Peace International. Supporters of Moon’s oldest living son, Hyun Jin Preston Moon, led the Family Peace Association; his youngest, Hyung Jin Moon, started Sanctuary Church.


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