I realized today that I’ve never written about the summer I lived in the Spirit of Peace community, a hippy commune.
Probably because I don’t like to remember it much.
Probably because it was, when I drop memories like little bits into a scale and let them tip side to side, bad overall. Some things are better unremembered.
I moved into the commune the summer after my mother died. Rent was cheap and I had nowhere else to go, really. Besides, I liked what SoP stood for: sustainability, organic development, community outreach.
Only… Well. I’m no hippy.
SoP was made of two houses, a large one and a small one. The large contained thirteen people at any given point; folks were always moving in and out, travelers wandering through, voyagers lingering for a few weeks or a few months. The smaller house fit about six.
I was one of six. My little sister, the love of my life, was another.
The people were fascinating for all their complexities. There was a long-haired artist, a smiling gangly boy-man of 17 who disappeared to Maine to work with trees, a girl studying to be a masseuse with the gentlest of voices. Never once did they make me feel unwelcome. Never once were they cruel to me, or sharp or harsh.
On Saturdays, we would take produce donated from Whole Foods and cook up great big masses of vegetarian lunches. Soup, salad, baked apple crumble with vegan topping, we made it all.
I love cooking. Those were the happier memories of mine in SoP, when we cooked, when I stood in the kitchen surrounded by strangers and friends, mixing spices into a pot, cutting up some exotic overpriced vegetable.
We served the food down in Omaha’s Old Market to all sorts of homeless people. It was a free vegetarian lunch.
On Sunday evenings, while the sun would set and the warm fat summer bugs flit through the air, we would sit outside at a picnic table and eat together. Someone would play music. There were always musicians about. A garden, hand-grown, communally nurtured, released the scent of tomatoes and flowers behind us.
Once we even had fresh cake that a loving aunt had dropped by. We ate it with forks from the pan and shared among us a bottle or two of wine.
These things… these things were good about SoP. These things made it amazing.
So why was it bad?
“Danae,” my friend M reprimanded me once, when learning what I had impulsively decided to do, my decision to move in to SoP. “You are NO hippy.”
Well. That’s probably why it was bad. I am no hippy.
For one, I’m too tidy. I can handle India. I can stand roaches wandering around and little bugs and the sticky sweet smell of cow poo in the hot afternoon. I can’t stand the mold of untouched food on kitchen counters, or the layer upon layer of filth in each room, each corner – a filth made from simple communal laziness rather than environmental reality.
I moved in and cleaned the entire kitchen. Twice.
“I’ve never seen it look like this!” Said one of them, a grinning ball of energy. “It won’t last long.” It didn’t.
But I could have handled a little mess. Or a lot of mess. The main issue emerged from the fact that I don’t do drugs. Ironic, I know but I do not do drugs.
Nor does my little sister.
Yet in SoP… well, the substances consumed were not anywhere near natural. And there’s something darkly dangerous about a house that at night becomes another world, with people screaming as they write on the walls, lights flashing and flickering. There’s something frightening about waking up in the morning to find glass crushed on the floor and your friend out in the garden, just staring forward, lost.
“I can’t come downI can’tcomedown I can’t come. Down. I just keep thinking, what if I can’tcan’tcan’t come down?” He had to go to the hospital. He couldn’t come down.
Finally, I like to surround myself with healthy people. I am a social creature, a person who thrives off my friends, who is happiest when around others of the sort. I like love and love love too. I need good people around me.
Instead I got ill. Lots of ill. The people in SoP had issues for all their kindness.
Take Rob. Rob-the-walking-skeleton Rob. Rob had a stomach disease. He couldn’t eat food. He would try and be in all sorts of horrible pain. And for whatever reason – probably because it was cleaner – Rob moved in to the little house.
That meant he lived with me, my sister, and one other person.
Rob needed to go to the hospital. He would lay on the couch in the sweltering summer heat, all bones and tightly pulled flesh, looking like a grinning skeleton with eyes half-shut and face tipped towards the window breeze. He probably weighed 80 pounds, max. Sometimes it hurt to look at him, he seemed so perilously close to an angry death.
“Go to the doctor, please.” We’d admonish, suggest, beg. “Get some help.”
“They can’t help me.” Instead, Rob got a bell, a little bell that he would ring when he wanted something. All at once I found myself a nurse to an invalid who did not want to be doctored, merely maintained.
These things put together made SoP a dark place. I moved out and took my sister with me. I heard a few months later, the building itself was condemned. Mold in the rafters, they said.
So that was the hippy commune. It could have been flowers and light – and indeed, it was, sometimes. It could have been great. But dreams don’t always materialize the way you think they might.
I am not, after all, a hippy. I’m far too a realist for that.