One-night Mommy didn’t come home, nor did anyone come to take us to a babysitter’s.
“I’m hungry Lissie” five-year-old Maggie whimpered. “Me too,” I said just fourteen months older than she.
I couldn’t remember when Mommy left or when she was coming back and went to the pantry to find something for breakfast. There was a little bit of Puffs of Rice, so I looked in the refrigerator for milk, but there wasn’t any.
I poured the cereal into two bowls and stood on a kitchen chair to get water from the faucet when I saw something move. I blocked my sister’s view and picked out as many of the squirmy things as I could, focusing on the moving ones.
Darkness filled the house as evening set in; still no Mommy. The lights didn’t work, so Maggie and I hid in the bathroom just in case one of Mommy’s friends made a visit.
Crouched with our backs against the cold porcelain bathtub, we held each other tight and watched the darkness become blacker.
Too afraid to move in case a walker happened by, a stream of warm liquid seeped from beneath each of us, merging as one to form a large puddle in the middle of the floor.
Morning found us in pain, still hunkered against the tub. The ringing of the school bell startled us awake.
Not knowing if it was the for breakfast or for class—no longer afraid of a visitor—I found clothes for us, brushed both of our hair, grabbed Maggie’s hand, and ran out the door.
I was glad the school was almost in our back yard because we made it in the nick of time for the free hot breakfast. Maggie cried when they set a bowl before her.
I can’t say for certain what transpired next as there are many accounts of what happened that day; I only remember the details of what became of me and Maggie. This is one version of how they busted Father Divine and the Family.
Responding to allegations of child abuse, illegal drug distribution, and other related issues, dressed in military fatigues and armed to the teeth, ten S.W.A.T officers spread out within a two-block radius and surrounded the suspected commune homes where they knew a notorious cult lived.
Going by a hunch that the leader would be present that day, a team of FBI and DEA agents, along with Child Protective Services, quiet as mice, they surrounded the perimeter and two entrances of the low-income housing project.
Every window in a member’s house had their blinds drawn, making them easy to spot. With their guns drawn, the officers stealthily mounted the stairs and broke down the doors of each duplex; rushing inside, they rounded up anyone within, men, women, and children.
Working catlike from the outermost buildings inwards to the central home of the cult leader, they drove every single member out into the street.
They restrained those not strung out with zip tie handcuffs and made them sit and wait until the other buildings were empty and loaded anyone in an apparent drug stupor into an awaiting ambulance to take them to Harborview.
When they reached the cult leader’s dwelling, they saw it barred, and had to use a battering ram to get inside. They found the thin, long-bearded man sitting Indian style on a floor pillow and reading a Bible as if it were any other day.
As the officers restrained him and read him his rights, he cried out onto deaf ears, “We are not hurting anyone; we are a self-sufficient community, living by God’s principles!”
Shoved out into the street along with his followers, Father Divine assured his Family, “Be calm and have faith my brothers and sisters, God will see us through this trial.”
Police brought the restrained members to their feet and corralled them onto a waiting charter bus. Some of the women collapsed in protest in the stairway in a fit of tears and anguish as they witnessed their children being taken away.
EMTs from four ambulances, the local police and fire department, and neighboring looky-loos, filled the streets of the once sleepy community.
Just as quick as they’d arrived, a convoy of loaded ambulances sped away with their lights flashing and sirens wailing.
Teachers at the nearby elementary school kept the members’ school age children distracted until the entire circus had cleared. Once everything had quieted down and back-to-normal, several CPS workers took up posts alongside a known path to the nearby school and waited for the unsuspecting children’s arrival home.
The last bell rang announcing the end of the school day, Maggie and I crossed the street and climbed the small grassy hill behind our house.
Two strangers met us before we got to the door, a man, and a lady. They stood alongside a large white sedan parked in the driveway, beckoning for us in phony voices like one would call to a stray cat.
She’s done it, just like she said she would so many times before, we had finally gotten on her last nerve; Mommy had given us away.
The condition of the two little girls approaching them surprised both officers. They were so tiny, malnourished for sure, their faded, stained, and filthy shift dresses were at least one size too small, and their hair looked ragged and dirty.
The skin on their arms and legs looked tan at first, but as they got closer, they saw it was only caked-on dirt that gave them their Sunkist look. The scabs from unhealed wounds on their legs was more than they could take, and they made their move.
Fearing their intentions, I grabbed Maggie’s hand, bolted for the house, and cried out for Mommy, but she didn’t answer. The strangers followed us inside, cornering me and my sister.
They lunged for us with barbaric swiftness, capturing us like wild animals, and carried us kicking and screaming to their car, releasing us only when we were inside the security cage of the backseat.
Maggie and I held onto each other for dear life as the strangers got into the front seat. We drove for a long time and didn’t stop until we reached a great big brick building. The lady opened the back door, said our mom was inside, and to come with them.
They took us to a row of chairs and told us to sit and wait.
The frightening chaos surrounding us kept us distracted and entertained.
A bed with wheels, pushed by two policemen, a nurse, and a doctor, barreled through some swinging metal doors. Each one yelling instructions over the other about the man’s condition; he had a knife wound.
“BP’s 140 over 90, tachy at 160; minimal blood loss considering the chest laceration; gave him 300 cc’s of saline” Shouted the nurse to the doctor.
“God, it hurts!” yelled the man in the bed.
“Give him 60 of Toradol, don’t want to mix morphine with beer.” said the doctor.
As they rushed past us, a scruffy old man weaved his way up to a busy desk of ringing telephones and more people giving orders.
“My chest…” The man whispered.
A nurse yelled for someone to get a gurney and then rushed him away.
From somewhere down another hall the fearful vulgar screams of a hysterical woman interrupted my thoughts of where they may have taken the man.
Recognizing the cry, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
Suddenly, the scary woman was before me, escorted on either side by two policemen.
Our eyes locked. “Lissie!” Mommy shrieked. “Help me!”
Her desperate pleas ricocheted off the walls. She kicked and screamed in a relentless, violent struggle for them to let her go.
With outstretched arms and tears streaming down her cheeks, her face contorted in agony, she cried out for me “Lissie!” “Lissie!”
The policemen held her firmly even when she hung limp by her elbows on purpose, fighting harder still to pry herself from the policemen’s hold.
I ran screaming and flailing toward the policemen, “MOMMY!” but a hospital staff intercepted me midflight.
As much as I twisted like a snake, kicked, howled, and screeched an earsplitting “Let me go! Let me go!” I couldn’t break free from my captures.
Blinded by hot tears, I stretched my arms out to her as far as they would go for her to save me.
“MOMMY!” I screamed “MOMMY!” as the mean old policemen dragged Mommy away through a pair of metal swinging doors, just like the kind at the grocery store; the echoes of her cries etched forever in my memory.