Santeria or How My Friend Donna Lost It

Santeria San Lazaro, originally uploaded by rapid eye movement.

Esotericwombat writes in his blog that he talks to strangers. Me too, all the time. I must have something in my face that attracts people to talk to me, or me to them. I don’t know why. This is not a post about talking to strangers, though. This is about a friend who became a stranger. For whatever reason, his post made me think of Donna, a girl I knew in the early 80’s. Or maybe what brought on the memory was listening to “Angie”, which was also posted there.

I was living in Sayville, NY at the time in a small apartment complex down on the bay. The cool thing was that there was a boat yard there used by a sailing club. I would fall asleep at night listening to the wind cut through the ropes on the sailboats. They made a singing sound that would lull me to sleep. The Sayville Ferry was next to the sailboat yard and I would watch the coming and goings of the day-trippers in the summer. I worked right next door at a little hole in the wall takeout fish market, The Clamdigger. I just had to step out of my place, walk down the driveway and viola!, I was at work. Life was good.

Donna moved into the apartment next to mine. It was a studio. She was an out of work gym teacher doing her time at Estee Lauder until she could find a real job, at the schools. We hit it off right away. She was a tiny thing, very bouncy and active as I imagine a gym teacher would be. I lived with my boyfriend, and future husband and future, future ex-husband, Bob; she was on her own. We would hang out in the front yard which fronted the bay, all for $125 a month, waterfront. I had a one bedroom so she probably paid $75-$80.

We hung out for a few months. There was not a thing wrong with her, I swear. I met her mom and step-dad. They gave no hint that anything was wrong or that anything ever was. One day she tells me she’s met a guy, Tom. Tom Kennedy. She met him at Estee Lauder. A few weeks later we meet him. He was cool, normal. Shortly after that Donna tells me that Tom is engaged to be married, but that he wants to break it off and be with Donna. The only thing is he’s not sure how to do it because he’s supposed to be getting married in two months or so. Things reach a critical stage-the wedding is imminent. He has to do something. He’s been staying at Donna’s house for weeks, off and on and he needs to tell this girl, who is Hispanic, by the way, that he is not going to marry her.

Donna stops by after work and tells me that Tom is going to the girl’s house that very day and he’s going to tell her grandmother, who she was raised by, that he can’t marry her granddaughter. Donna is pacing and worried because Tom is afraid of the grandmother because she practices Santoria. Santoria is a syncretic religion that combines elements of African and Catholic beliefs. I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about then. Later I did some research and found out about the practice. But at the time I just figured Tom was scared because he was ditching the girl days before their wedding.

Tom doesn’t show up that Friday night or Saturday either. It was a long weekend with Donna. When he does finally come back on Sunday he is visibly shaken. He has a huge leather-bound white bible with him and he tells us he has to read it to protect himself. At this point my boyfriend, Bob, goes to watch sports on T.V. I stay in the studio apartment with Tom and Donna. Tom proceeds to tell us the story after Donna pulls out the sleep-sofa and they both get in it, with the Bible on their laps. I sit in the kitchen chair I’ve pulled up.

Tom says he went to the girls house. She’s there. The Grandmother is there. The Grandmother is not happy with him and his current disappearing act.  He’s told the girl he can’t marry her.  That he’s found someone else.  That it has nothing to do with her.  It’s just the way it is.  She cries.  He is summoned to the Grandmother’s bedroom where she sits in bed with a white, leather-bound bible and a black-face doll.  She tells him he is cursed for what he has done to her grandchild.  He tells her he is sorry.  She hands him the bible and tells him the answer is in the bible and dismisses him.  She tells him to never darken their door again and reminds him he is cursed.

While Tom is telling us what happened he’s thumbing through the pages of the Bible.  When he’s done I tell them this is bullshit.  The curse will only work if he believes in it.  Otherwise, ditch the thought, the girlfriend and her grandmother.  Get on with his life with Donna.  The old woman is crazy.  He says he’s scared and they need to read the bible to get the answer to the curse.  I leave them to their on devices and go home.  I tell Bob but he wants me to be quiet so he can watch his sports show.

Over the next few days Tom and Donna read the bible.  They don’t go to work.  Tom is convinced something terrible is going to happen to him.  Maybe he’ll get in a car accident.  Maybe someone the Grandmother knows will maim or kill him for what he’s done to his former fiance.  I’m getting annoyed with them.  When I knock on the door they open it, peering out from a small crack in the door as if I’m an agent sent from Hell.  When Tom goes to the store I talk to Donna trying to convince her the grandmother is getting the better of them because here they sit, like scared children, shivering every time the phone rings or there is a knock on the door.  She is truly convinced Tom is cursed.

This incident leads Donna into the depths of despair.  Their love is doomed.  Forever cursed.  She tells me Tom is a Kennedy, but I know that.  No, she says, a REAL Kennedy, a Massachusetts Kennedy.  And we all know THEY are cursed.  Come on, I say.  Tom is a Kennedy?  Yes, and he has a twin brother.  The Tom that just left for the store is not her Tom.  It is his evil twin brother.  He is keeping Tom away from her.  The Tom who came back that day was not her Tom.  It was his brother.  The Grandmother kept her Tom and sent this Tom in his stead.  And now she is pregnant, but who is the father?  Tom or his brother?  Pregnant?  Yes.  With John Lennon’s child.  John has been dead for months.  This is now the  summer.  She tells me she’s having twins.  A boy and a girl.  She knows this because the nails on her right hand are long; this means it’s a girl.  The nails on her left hand are short; this means one of them is a boy.  I tell her that John is dead.  She smiles and says she knows.  He came from the clouds and impregnated her.  Yoko is jealous.  Tom comes home from the store.  I ask him if he is a Massachusetts Kennedy.  He smiles and makes the crazy sign when Donna isn’t looking.  I go back to my place.  Tell Bob the story.  He says to stay away from them both.  They’re smoking too much pot.

A few days later they’ve packed up and moved.  I don’t know where.  I go to Donna’s mother’s house.  She tells me she’s afraid of Tom.  That Tom has Donna in some house over in Ronkonkoma.  They’re living in the basement.  Tom is back working at Estee Lauder.  Donna isn’t working and is going to be a stay-at-home mom.  Donna’s mother is frantic.  Her daughter is talking nonsense about Tom not being Tom.  She gives me their address.  I go there.  Go around the house to the entrance of the basement.  No Tom.  But Donna is in there.  The door is locked from the outside.  I look in the window.  No furniture.  No nothing but a sleeping bag and a white bible which is on the kitchen counter.  I get Donna’s attention.  She comes to the door but can’t open it.  I force the door.  Walk in.  Donna tells me Tom’s brother is holding her captive.  That there is no food in the house.  That she is hungry.

Donna tells me that Tom’s brother is going to be very mad at me.  I have kidnapped the mother of John Lennon’s children who he is going to make a lot of money on.  I tell her to get in the car.  I bring her to her mother’s house.  Within hours she is in the Central Islip Psychiatric facility.  Over the next week I visit her.  She is malnourished.  Not pregnant and missing the “real” Tom.  The other Tom couldn’t be Tom because Tom would never do to her what the bad Tom did.  Donna’s mother tells me the doctor diagnosed her as manic-depressive.  She seems a little better to me, but she keeps missing Tom.  She insists that he’s looking for her and she hopes that when he finds her that he is the good Tom.

I go to visit her after I leave work, on the 6th or 7th day of her stay at CI, as it was known then.  Donna is gone.  I call her mother from the pay phone.  Her mother tells me Tom found Donna.  He took her out of the hospital.  He has that right because he’s her husband.  They married just weeks before.

I never see her or him again.  Her mother moved to Florida about a year later.  We lost touch.  I can’t remember her last name.  Or Donna’s.  Odd.  One day it will come to me.  Where is she?  What happened to her?  Was Tom Kennedy his real name?  Did he have a twin brother?   Was he a real Kennedy?  Was there a fiance?  A Grandmother?  We’re they cursed?

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5 thoughts on “Santeria or How My Friend Donna Lost It

  1. Yes, I think you are correct about the diagnosis. What bothered me was that he had her locked in the basement and that he took her out of the hospital where she could have gotten help.

  2. What an utterly fascinating story! One has to wonder if she made the whole thing up because she was mentally ill or if her nerves over the “curse” brought on her mental illness (which usually hits early 20s). Manic Depression sounds like the wrong diagnosis, though–schizophrenic sounds more accurate.

    I’m voting for genetic predisposition for mental illness, followed by a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think he’s not a Mass Kennedy. He had no twin. There was a fiance and a grandmother, but I doubt she practiced santeria.

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