This is the tenth installment of the account of a journey into and out of scientology — written by one of our long-term readers. I hope you enjoy her insights, humor and style.
Lili also provided a glossary of terms.
Through the Bubble – Lili’s Adventures in Scientologyland
This is my quirky recollection of events. Others may remember things differently. Lingo is italicized on the first mention, capitalized after that. I’ve compressed complexities in the cult to simplify your reading pleasure.
Moonlighting and the Catch-22
A couple of years into our housecleaning business, a pretty married lady on staff with Josh called me up. She wanted to know if I could use her on a couple of morning house cleaning jobs. The morning hours were when Scientology staff members were supposed to learn L Ron Hubbard teachings about administering an organization. If they were caught up on that, they’d study the spiritual stuff like us students. The morning hours down at the Scientology Organization (Org) turned out to be when staff did the outside-the-Org part-time work that paid their rent.
Married Lady was well-spoken, quiet, and the kind of person I looked up to as an example of proof that Scientology worked. Hiring someone for two jobs a week was a guarantee of little profit. Still tons of paperwork, but not enough billable hours if you wanted to make it pay. But maybe she’d be more reliable than some of my other recent hires. I paired her up with stay-at-home-types and retired people because she was so presentable. She kept these jobs for the four years I ran my business until I sold it.
A few weeks into our uneventful arrangement Married Lady called me up. A fellow staff member was in a screaming emergency. She had up and quit her Post because she couldn’t pay her rent. Unlike Married Lady’s cushion of business-owning spouse, Screaming Emergency was single. She needed paying work Monday through Fridays up till noon and all-day Sundays. Sundays were a definite no, but I could figure something out for her during the week.
It took heroic efforts to shazam new jobs and re-schedule old jobs to the needed morning slots. I had to get keys from and bump other staff to yet other miraculously found work. I trained Screaming Emergency, and like Married Lady, she took it in, and bam-spritz-thank-you-ma’am, she was good to go. And she went back to her Post at the Org.
I, however, was reduced to rubble. Between going on course in the evenings, inspecting and fixing jobs, so we didn’t lose the accounts, hiring, training, and firing wrong-headed hires, my regular daily schedule was ridiculous. I’d added hours I didn’t have, to solve Screaming Emergency’s life-on-Post problems. I creaked like a condemned building in a hurricane.
The first sign of trouble was Josh’s guarded look when I complained at dinner about the hoops I’d jumped through for Screaming Emergency. He left a copy of a Bulletin by L Ron Hubbard on my desk the next day for me to find when I landed back in my cramped home office. While he was off at work. I see what you did there, Josh. It was about Moonlighting. According to L Ron Hubbard, Moonlighting meant working another job while you worked full-time for Scientology. I was used to L Ron Hubbard taking everyday words and twisting them to mean things that only made sense in Scientology. I didn’t know Moonlighting had a legit business definition in the English language dictionary. Basically, working that second job.
My understanding was that Moonlighting was getting some sex on the side. But no, L Ron Hubbard wouldn’t write any policy about that. He just lived that definition by marrying his second wife, Sara Northrup, while still married to his first wife, Margaret, “Polly” Grubb. (Who he’d had two children with.) That bigamous marriage resulted in a girl child. Sara threatened to tell the authorities about LRH’s domestic violence against her. And to reveal his episodes of mental illness. He retaliated by kidnapping his girl-child and spiriting her to Havana, Cuba. So yeah, not that definition of Moonlighting.
Turns out, I was aiding and abetting Scientology staff members in breaking a key L Ron Hubbard policy. Groovy. Well, since I’d be going to Hell anyway, er, Ethics, I might as well really deserve it. I quit going to Course. Cold turkey. Didn’t call. No excuses. I just didn’t show up.
I disguised my voice and acted as my own business answering service. This way, I could screen my calls. I could talk to frustrated accounts who couldn’t connect during the day because they were doctors or lawyers and take fake messages for myself from the frantic Course Supervisor. His Bodies-in-the-Shop Statistic no doubt fell off a cliff. I was one of only two students in his upstairs Course Room. But yeah, he’d be looking to verbally behead me over his dismal productivity.
The Scientology executives were in a bind. If they busted me for aiding and abetting, hiss, spit, Moonlighting, I’d be forced to fire Screaming Emergency. And no way she’d stay on staff without an actual paycheck. A few other staff members who’d migrated to cleaning for our business also teetered on the knife edge of homelessness. Good chance they’d depart as well.
The executives saw no Big Win in their desire to punish me. Married Lady called and wanted to know why the execs were bursting into flame when my name was mentioned. I told her of my near nervous breakdown solving Screaming Emergency’s financial problems. And that I quit my course to keep my business afloat. Married Lady said she’d see what she could do.
Our house cleaning business ran smoother than it ever had before. Just because I answered the phone at night. We got new jobs, clients purred, and employees couldn’t leave chicken-shit messages about blowing off their jobs the next day pretending to cough, so they could have a day at the beach. I wanted a day at the beach too. But no, that wouldn’t happen any time soon.
Married Lady had me fill out a Leave-of-Absence request for my course. She stole the Course Supervisor’s pants or something, but she got him to sign off on it, and she filed it in my Ethics folder. Wow, that was way better than bartering good deeds for Up-Stat points. But what about the whole aiding and abetting Moonlighting thing?
It turned out that Married Lady was given praise, acclaim, and a Commendation Chit for Recovering a Blown staff member. To blow, means to leave in Scientology. If you Blow from Scientology staff, it’s a four-alarm nuclear meltdown. But if you Recover a Blown staffer in Santa Barbara, you’re a freaking hero.
It’s a whole nuther level if you Blow from the Sea Org. Scientology-funded Private Investigators and Sea Org security guards whirl into motion to hunt you down, stuff you in a van, and lock your ass behind a fence. No phone, no letters, no hope of leaving. So, plan well, my unfortunate Sea Org victim friends.
Yeah, the stress level went down for me. But not for Josh. While Married Lady was down for the Moonlighting, Josh was supposed to stamp it out per L Ron Hubbard policy. But what organization doesn’t have Catch-22 gumming up the works?
The Hopeless Cottage of Hope Ranch
One day I got a call to bid the bi-weekly cleaning of a cottage for a bachelor in the horse-property-ritzy Hope Ranch neighborhood. I was familiar with the big trees, windy roads, new money, Hope Ranch neighborhood. It was my last official Fuller Brush territory from my short career as a door-to-door salesperson.
The address I searched for didn’t sound familiar, and I was excited to see what kind of big, glossy home this would be. Nope. Moss speckled the roof edge of the dwelling down a leaf-littered driveway. Nestled in a dark tree-shrouded canyon by the creek, it hid from view. I’d driven by it on the road to other, more substantial, brightly lit, sunny homes on the hill, and I’d never noticed it. The cottage felt like it was out of touch with its surroundings from that first visit.
Neighboring homes had marble and granite surfaces. The dinky cottage had Formica countertops and linoleum flooring in the tiny kitchen and little black and white tiles on the small bathroom floor. The clawfoot tub, always a treat to my eyes, failed to lift my somber mood. The ancient thin-rowed oak floors had age-darkened varnish, which sucked light in, leaving the interior dim, even with the old lamps turned on. I wanted to be charmed, but something sad lingered in the walls.
I mentally shook myself and looked over at the bachelor. He shifted from foot to foot, anxious to get back to work. Every two weeks should have cost sixty-five dollars per visit, but I tacked on an extra ten. He accepted with a distracted air and herded me out the door. Once outside, he placed a key from his pocket in my hand. It was a doorknob key, no deadbolts. Interesting. All our other houses had deadbolts.
I sent a newly trained employee to scrub up the cottage. I went to check on her two hours into her cleaning. I called her name. She came out with a tense look on her face. My inspection found no problems, and I said nice things, then left. She called in sick two weeks later on the day she was scheduled to clean the cottage. I did some shifting of employees and sent a team of two women to bang out the job. One of them said, don’t send me there again. I was baffled.
Two weeks later, I checked in on the regular cleaner, and she had music blasting so loud that I could hear it from my parked car. When I went in, she said she’d prefer not to clean this house again. After a couple months of complaints from a revolving roster of cleaners, I began to think of that job as the Hopeless Cottage of Hope Ranch. It was too far to drive, it made their arthritis flare-up, it was too quiet, and my favorite, it was too Dawn of the Dead.
After yet another last-minute flake-out of a cleaner for the Hopeless Cottage, I threw my gloves and apron into the car and drove over to clean it myself. I wished I’d brought a radio, so sound waves could shield me from the surges of fear that made goosebumps rise when the house creaked and popped as if in a stiff wind. I looked out a window, and the trees stood like immobile plastic replicas. I made sure the doors were locked, and the windows closed tight.
The larger and more spacious of the two bedrooms was a disused guest room. For some unfathomable reason, the bachelor slept in the cramped, dampish second bedroom. In the bigger bedroom, my eye was drawn to the lovely oval mirror. Its mottled burl-wood frame glowed in contrast to the dull, fussy, carved-wood headboard below. I stared into the mirror and was drawn to the greenery reflected outside the window. I felt a yearning that tugged in my chest. I wasn’t alone. That wasn’t my emotion. Fascinated, I stared in the mirror and said to the room, “Is someone here?”
Hot tears rolled down my cheek. Someone was indeed here. Someone desperate to tell me their story. I spread my arms out and closed my eyes. “Tell me.” I had an impression of an angry man chasing the woman in my head into this room. I heard little mousy fear noises come out of my mouth. My eyes snapped open. I dove onto the bed, rolled off the other side, ran through the bathroom door, and stopped. My lungs sucked in panting gulps. I felt trapped, but I knew I couldn’t go back out the door. He was in here. With her. And he was going to show her how she made him feel. His anger was this hot, wet blanket that turned muscle to water.
I fell to my knees, my forehead clonking the edge of the clawfoot tub. I heard myself say no, no, I’m sorry, please, no. My mouth opened all the way, but no sound came out. There was no breath for her. I waited. She floated inside the tub. My throat burned, then I gasped in a deep breath. I felt her small hands touch my cheeks.
“I’m so sorry this happened to you,” I whispered.
A wave of warmth filled my chest. I leaned against the wall and cried for the loss of her promise and her dreams. My fists were in front of my mouth. It was her posture and she shared this intimate detail of herself with me.
“You don’t need to stay here anymore,” I said aloud. “You can get a new body and live a better life.” It’s what the Scientologists believed and what I’d believed since childhood.
A tremor started in my chest, then spiked through my body like touching a dog’s bark collar mid-woof. I looked at my shaking hands, then got to my knees and crawled to the guest bedroom. I pulled my uncooperative body up onto the bed. And passed out.
An hour later, my eyes snapped open. The memory was instant. I sat up. “Are you here?” Nothing. The room seemed brighter. I stood up to look in the mirror. The mirror was rectangular, not oval. I thought the oval one was prettier, but this one was safer.
I strolled through the cottage and felt the lightness of an ordinary home. I opened windows and doors. I hummed as I cleaned. Before I left, I wrote a note to the bachelor. “You should sleep in the big bedroom. I changed the sheets.”
The next time I visited, I beelined it into the bigger bedroom. I admired the new Swedish modern bureau. And the cheerful throw tossed around the matching teakwood bedpost. The staffer assigned to the cottage cleaned it without incident for years afterward. I popped by now and then for a lazy inspection and a quick hello. That cottage was never hopeless again.
My Lack of 20/20 Hindsight
The day I faced death in the bathroom from beyond the veil, I knew I’d reshaped the vibe of that little house. I’d ridden the bucking bronco of fear and disbelief until the story was told. I recognized that I’d done this unbelievable thing. When I’d done something unreal in the past, my compulsion was to describe my experience to someone safe, or the out-of-the-ordinary thing I did would start to look like an exaggeration or some kind of delusion. Like I wasn’t allowed to have this break-the-rules incident without permission.
I didn’t need anyone to ooh and ahh about this in-the-cottage experience or write me a permission slip to own it. Inside my heart swirls a memory of the woman-in-the-cottage that sends warmth through my chest if touched.
Looking back down the decades at this memory leaves me in a befuddled mess. I’ve seen how being in Scientology changed my priorities, my goals, and eradicated most of my hippie-dippie ways. And even how it taught me to create false memories in the Auditing chair.
Realistically, I should jettison my belief in my perception of what happened in the Hopeless Cottage. But I can’t. It happened.
My struggle to untangle this knot between the false and the real makes me a suspect witness to my own life.