I’ve been very closely following a particularly heartbreaking chain of events this week. If you are not familiar with the #notburiedtwice campaign, I strongly suggest you read this post.
In brief: Midwife Christy Collins, currently of Las Vegas, caused the totally preventable death of a baby through what in any regulated health care profession would be gross and obvious malpractice. She ignored a clear indication for immediate induction of labor: absolutely no amniotic fluid in a woman two weeks past her due date. Instead of transferring care, Christy crowdsourced “stories/opinions” via Jan Tritten, editor of Midwifery Today on Facebook. She subsequently delayed care by driving her client 30 minutes to a hospital that has a “midwife friendly” doctor. The baby died, and the midwifery community began to delete all evidence of the entire thing, including trying to hide Christy’s identity.
Luckily, the crowdsourcing led to a great roar of outrage from readers, who got busy screen capping and digging for the truth. As the truth behind Christy Collins’ and Jan Tritten’s lies unfolds, a letter came to light, which I am going to unpack.
For those new to my writing, I was in a cultic abusive relationship for over five years. I had a partner who created a small cult that, at times, would dwindle to me as the only follower. I was young, naïve and trusting, and I was at a major crossroads as a recent college graduate in a new and un fulfilling marriage. My abuser used a variety of brainwashing and manipulation tactics on me until I believed everything he said – which included that he could channel other beings, that my family and friends were the real abusers, that he became other people (including a “doctor”) and more. I ultimately divorced, cut off my family and friends and lived totally in his living fiction until I was able to break free.
After extensive deprogramming and therapy, I became very interested in Munchausen by Internet, a phenomenon detailed by Dr. Marc Feldman. I’ve followed several cases and written about the tactics used in cultic and manipulative abuse. It’s become almost a hobby, deconstructing the carefully crafted doublespeak. It is from that background I draw as I look at the following letter.
The full text of the letter has not been released, so I am making some educated guesses to fill in the blanks. I know this letter was written by Christy Collins, almost certainly to the mother, after the birth and death. I don’t know the identity of the family and do not want to add to their pain, so know that my estimations of the mother’s feelings and reactions is speculative. Nor do I think the baby’s father was unaffected; I am focusing on the mother as the letter appears to be to her. We are missing the introduction to the letter; we jump right in to Christy’s defense.
I wish I could go back in time, and have said stronger words – enough to make you hate me, and fell you had no choice but to go into the hospital the day before.
Right here, Christy is immediately laying the guilt on the mother. She gives an initial illusion of remorse, but immediately shows that she’s placed herself in the power position. This will become more apparent as we go along, but even in this first sentence it’s quite clear. Further, it’s important to note that, for the mother right now, Christy is likely still deeply trusted, so this primes Mom to say, “I could NEVER hate YOU!”
I could’ve lived with you hating me, over this feeling of devastation.
So much in each sentence. It’s really a masterpiece. This is all about Christy and how much the baby’s death hurt Christy so much. And that makes Christy so sympathetic, because she regrets it so. When you’re in any relationship where you are being groomed and manipulated, pain and sorrow felt by the manipulator is YOUR problem. This also prompts a soothing “it wasn’t your fault” response from Mom.
I know we say that we don’t know if it would’ve been any different; maybe he would’ve been very sick, but alive. I don’t know. But I wish I wouldn’t pushed much hard and said the things that we never want to hear the ‘experts’ say…
Translation: there’s nothing we could have done differently, because OBVIOUSLY Christy would have done it. Except it would have made the mother hate Christy. So really, whose fault is it? She’s not saying it outright… yet.
Instead of … telling you to “be prepared that the perinatologist doing the NST is likely to tell you that your baby could die if he doesn’t come out;” those should have been MY words.
Christy tips her hand a bit here. She told the parents that the doctor (or tech or whomever was at the testing facility) would be the bad guy. There is a tremendous pressure within the homebirth/natural childbirth movement to distrust all authority except the midwife, and Christy admits that she prepared the parents to ignore the (potentially lifesaving for the baby) advice. It is essential, though, that Christy acknowledge this if she wants her veneer of regret to stick.
You might have been really pissed at me for pushing you into a corner where you felt you didn’t have a choice, but … I wouldn’t care…
Here the picture of Mom as irrational and truly at fault becomes clearer. Because Christy was protecting herself from this woman who would have HATED her for agreeing with the medical establishment.
I am angry at myself for being the midwife who tried to be as firm but gentle as possible when advising to go in when I could’ve waved the dead baby flag…
Christy could have been the hated hero, instead of the tragically kind friend. There’s a subtle dig at doctors here too – if only OBs weren’t so gung-ho about “playing the dead baby card” and “scaremongering!” It conveniently ignores the scaremongering Christy did in regard to the doctors in the first place.
I wanted so badly to see a change in fluid … while you just wanted time/space to think …
Translation: Remember, YOU wanted to process the information. I just hoped it would be okay since I didn’t dare contradict you.
If I hadn’t agreed, and used the words “your baby could die because of this …”, maybe he would still be here.
Right here, she puts full blame on the mother. “If I had dared to disagree with you, baby might be alive. But YOU wanted TIME.
My back up doctor was amazing and the whole team worked so fast.
So it isn’t THEIR fault, no way. The fact that Christy withheld crucial information from that “amazing” team doesn’t bear mentioning. I bet she wasn’t calling them “amazing” while she was prepping the mother to ignore them.
Then the longest 47 minutes of our lives while they worked on your baby who had clearly been soaking in mec for weeks.
So it couldn’t POSSIBLY be Christy’s fault. Also, the image is devastating and would serve to give a dose of fresh anguish about the baby to distract from “hating” Christy.
Acidosis … bad blood gases … the worst of which had occurred in the last 20 minutes.
If Mom hadn’t been SO INSISTENT on waiting…and yet baby was clearly soaking “for weeks” in meconium. Christy is really underlining who she wants Mom to blame: Herself (and not Christy). Also not mentioned: The 30 minute drive to a hospital where there was a “midwife friendly” OB. 30 minutes, containing those last 20 minutes.
An induction yesterday, just one day after a perfect NST may not have mattered anyhow we were told…
If I hadn’t agreed to your desire to wait he might have lived! But he was doomed, so it’s not my fault! Although Christy pauses to note that they were told that by the scaremongering doctors you aren’t supposed to listen to.
Baby sounded perfect the next morning and we had the same BPP result after you rehydrated. You still wanted more time.
You had no reason to worry, so you wanted to wait, just like I taught you. So it’s your fault.
I said I didn’t feel we had any, and read to you what even other midwives had to say. That I wasn’t the only one who felt a sense of urgency.
This part requires extra unpacking, especially if you haven’t read the initial crowdsourcing post. The first big problem is that the majority of the midwives who replied gave dangerously uneducated answers. This is a situation where there is literally only one correct course of action: go to the hospital and get the baby OUT. Immediate induction or c – section, or else the baby may very well die. As we have seen happen here. Knowing this, and that very few responders gave any “sense of urgency” until after the update stating the baby had died, it is chilling to envision what happened at that computer.
Obviously this is conjecture, but my guess is that Christy read the comments and used tone of voice and careful wording to give mom a clear sense that there was consensus to wait. She could then, after the baby died, use the same words with different emphasis and tone to make mom think there was NOT consensus to wait. This is gaslighting. Mom, who is questioning herself at this point (as anyone would), may ultimately remember the second version of the story instead of the first. False memories are disturbingly easy to create.
Only 20 minutes later, your baby showed distress. And hour later, your baby was out … and gone.
Another dose of grief, make sure Mom can’t think for too long about any one point.
I wish I would’ve been so harsh with my words the day before, that you would’ve hated me.
Christy wants Mom to think Christy’s wracked with unjust guilt, because Mom was clearly so unstable.
Maybe you would be nursing your baby, angry about your induced birth experience, and refusing my visits.
Grief-and-guilt combo. Notice how she keeps making deliberately heartrending references to the loss? Keeping Mom in a high state of anguish prevents critical thinking. Mom can’t stop and remember exactly what happened. Memories recorded in a state of great emotion also can be both less reliable and more vivid.
Instead you and the daddy slept with your dead baby all night in a hospital bed …
This is exactly what I mean. That image us so heartbreaking that it’s where I had to stop reading and cry myself. It’s blunt and heartless and designed to make Mom cry too.
I blame me. I would rather have you hate me for pushing you harder into a bad birth experience … so you could hold a live baby instead.
And back around to Christy reminding Mom that this pain is Mom’s fault. If ONLY it had been SAFE to even SAY anything, but you’d HATE me for it!
Midwifery implies choices. Informed consent. Informed refusal.
A sudden shift to a totally businesslike argument that still focuses only on Mom’s Choice. Throwing “informed consent” and “informed refusal” as sentence fragments additionally helps plant them in Mom’s head (still reeling from the words “your dead baby.”) This letter doesn’t miss a trick in the manipulator manual.
No woman would refuse an induction if she knew what having a dead baby felt like.
Book-ending the buzzwords, Christy is implanting with another round of anguish and the blunt use of “dead baby” again. While in this one case I agree with the words Christy wrote, context is everything. She’s making it clear that Mom refused an induction and implicitly the baby’s death is Mom’s fault.
I’ll say, no mother who has lost a baby is going to feel anything but raw anguish at blunt language like that within mere days of the loss. I have lost a baby (under vastly different circumstances) and words like that, during the rawest phase of grief, sear in a special, terrible way. To have them coming from someone you trust profoundly (as Christy clearly arranged, what with the “you’d hate me” focus) would be indescribable.
In the future, I’ll pressure until my client hates me. I won’t care.
That’s right, if she gets another irrational, unstable mother to be, she will use you as the Goofus to her Gallant and risk being hated. This is also an extra pang of guilt for Mom, and one that could easily slip under the radar: that Mom “ruined” Christy’s caring, gentle nature and MADE her not care. From inside of the manipulation, that is powerful shame to bear.
How is this mother supposed to know what to think, with Christy reframing? It is not coincidental that this letter was rushed out while mom is still deep in the trauma. Every word here is chosen to elicit a specific response. It’s a perfect manipulative attack, and my heart breaks for this mother. It is all the worse because the community that has supported the mother has already turned on her. The midwives who responded to the crowdsourcing are all very adamant that this was ALL MOM’S CHOICE.
It wasn’t. This letter is just one more piece of evidence that it was Christy Collins, CPM and the community supporting her dangerous, manipulative agenda. Trying to blame it on the mother – and make her blame herself – is just the vile icing on a deadly cake.
New content over at Off the Rails:
I still miss Jason. More than you’d think it was possible to miss someone that, technically, you’ve only seen in person three or four times in the last several years. I’m finally coming out of that tunnel of untapped anguish now. Ever since he was killed, I haven’t felt much more than this awful, gnawing, numbing ache. To quote, of all things, Lord of the Rings….”I feel stretched, like butter over too much bread.” And there’s been little to no creativity, at least writing-wise, in that aching nothing.
I’m finally starting to just cry sometimes. Watching the new Half in the Bag (which, ironically, Jason hated) broke through. They were talking about how the best thing about a certain bad movie is watching it with someone who hasn’t seen it yet and watching their reaction to the absurdity. And suddenly the sorrow was loosed, as I remember the last day I saw Jason, days before he left us all. When I sat him (with Diamond) down and made him watch Sharknado. And laughed with joy at his repeated shouts of, “What the SHIT is going ON??!?!? WHAT?!!”
Now that the sadness has broken free, I’m feeling the loss more keenly than ever. But I’m also loosed from that prison of numbness. The words are starting to flow along with the tears.
So the blogging will resume – along with the long, long overdue blog redesign, which I am grateful that Jason got to see. Thank you all for still checking in on me and the various kind condolences I’ve gotten over the weeks. It matters, more than I can say.
My friend died.
I can’t even process it yet. Jason, Shopping Cart Bob, one of my honest-to-god best friends, was killed in a car accident. He was driving home from visiting the northwest. He drove down with Diamond for the day on Monday.
As last visits go, it was pretty fucking perfect. We sat around and laughed. Watched Sharknado and a bunch of Rifftrax Shorts. Had Thai food delivered. Made jokes that nobody else gets. Laughed so hard I ached the next day.
It still says he’s logged in on facebook. His name, little icon of his phone. I don’t feel much of anything yet. I want to write the thoughts that are flooding me, but every time I try I delete it. It’s too raw. He was just here. It keeps welling up.
I miss you, Jason.
One thing I haven’t written about yet is the anger that Andy leaves in his wake. Not really, not with the gutting honesty I usually use. The shame, the fear, the sadness…those things are far easier to admit. The rage isn’t funny. And for a long time I have been very careful to keep it out of my posts, because I didn’t want to be vengeful in words or actions. I didn’t want to bolster Andy’s “bitter ex-girlfriend” defenses, or be carried away by a “tsunami of rage” like Jeanine was.
But the rage is a very real and healthy part of being out of the Cult of Andy – and for anyone who has escaped an abuser. It was in discussing this with a former DAYDian that I realized I had a more appropriate resource – my old LiveJournal, which I started within a month of leaving Andy.
When I got out, the urge to start writing again – for myself instead of as part of my therapy – was very strong. I knew it was essential to find my own voice again. Writing had been a central part of me until it was simply drowned out by Andy’s fantasy world, and it was the first place I knew I could rebuild.
It was hard to get started. I had been without computer for years and felt overwhelmed with these MyFace and SpaceBook things. Worse, I was absolutely terrified that either Andy or Jeanine (who was still fully convinced I was an accomplice) would find me. I didn’t want to be connected to my old handle anyway (Orangeblossom), because I didn’t feel at all connected to my former self. Kumquat was a nickname my childhood best friend gave me, and I was pretty sure that it was obscure enough that no one would know. Since that handle was taken, I added “Writer” and tiptoed back into LiveJournal, starting the long, slow process of reconnecting with the world.
Sharing these old posts isn’t just hubris; Diamond has thanked me more than once for showing her. And the fresh pain in those is a lot more helpful to someone just going through it than my calmer, reasoned, post-therapy writing. Even a year ago, they were far too raw and open to share. But after all the forgiveness and reconciliation that’s come; after so many people have told their stories, it’s time.
I haven’t unlocked the whole thing; I’ve kept private things that were too irrelevant – or too intimate – to ever post publicly. You can read through it chronologically starting here. If you would prefer, the posts I feel are most important are below.
June 5, 2007 This is one of the earliest posts where I was trying to separate myself from Andy’s world.
July 1, 20007 This is the first time I talked about being a victim while most people thought I was nothing but a con artist. A lot of pain and sadness there.
August 2, 2007 A description of an incredibly vivid nightmare I had, ultimately repeatedly for several years. My dreams have always been quite literal.
September 27, 2007 Pain and frustration over yet another attempt on Andy’s part to get me back.
November 19, 2007 Still being contacted but less angry, more distanced. Outside of LiveJournal, I was holding down a full-time job and had bought myself a car.
February 18, 2008 Feelings about Jeanine. This is also after Andy sent me a massive pile of Valentine’s Day stuff. This is also a few months into my relationship with my husband. (link fixed)
February 26, 2008 Final direct contact with Andy, when I called him from my now-husband’s phone to tell him I was never coming back.
I realize that Andy’s defenders (and likely Andy himself) will howl about how that was ever so long ago and he has totally changed this time for real. However, the fact that people contacting me, asking for this kind of help (you know, how to deal with Andy treating them the same way he treated me) means they aren’t irrelevant. These are people who got out within the last three years.
Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures. ~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Andy is far from unique. I was reminded of this today as I watched the excellent documentary The Woman Who Wasn’t There, currently streaming on Netflix. The documentary follows the story of Tania Head, who claimed to be a survivor of 9/11. It’s a harrowing story, very well told, and extremely familiar. I strongly suggest anyone who has followed my story (or any of Andy’s) watch this film. It’s particularly good because much of it is Tania, in interviews before she was unmasked. The rest is told by her victims.
After her story fell apart, her victims discussed the amount of research she’d done on them, plotting out exactly how to become what they would respond to. That hit a chord for me all right, especially when there’s so much discussion and speculation on Andy’s motives and trustworthiness. How much of his “call me when you are at your most vulnerable” routine is genuine desire to help, and how much is calculating?
I’ve struggled for some time over providing a certain piece of evidence that it’s all fucking calculated. I do not want to feed his faux-social-justice martyr complex. However, the truth important. And life-sucking manipulating assholes like Tania and Andy have fewer people to suck in when the truth is told. As my therapist and cult-deprogramer Rory taught me, I will do what I can live with – and I can definitely live with people knowing how coldly, deliberately Andy spins his web. As for the fact that this story is about Andy’s birth identity and gender? Look, I didn’t out him to the internet. I defended it and still refuse to tolerate intolerance regarding his current identification. But the fact is, this is what happened in real life, and I am not going to hide his nature.
This is a segment of yet another sprawling story that Andy was writing. Or rather, Maura Labingi, the real-life actual Frodo Baggins, was writing. It was to be a history of the mindhole (Andy’s channeling ability), told from multiple voices and cumulating in…I don’t know, something that got shuffled aside in favor of more immediate drama. One story was about Tolkien – the man, and how he found the Red Book of Westmarch in the trenches of WWI. One was of the tragically romantic curse that was on Merry (or as we knew him, Kalimac Brandagamba). The intensely creepy Maura-talking-to-Elijah-Wood-in-the-costume-trailer story. After several alternating stories, an fourth narrative came into play – that of Amy Player.
This is from the original file, typed by the body (if supposedly not the mind) of Andy Blake in 2002-2003. I also have hard copies, and Diamond was present during that time (although I can’t remember if she read them). I have made no alterations.
The edge of her lip caught vaguely like rubber between the tips of her teeth, a film of waxen colour and heavy, slick-sticky lipgloss piling on the hard ridge for her tongue to worry over. According to the label, it was supposed to be Rampagin’ Raspberry, a cubist parody of a lumpy purple fruit in holographic sunglasses that had glittered until she had picked them off in some waiting room somewhere. It didn’t taste like any berry she’d ever tasted, though, just a lingering whimper of artificial sweetness buried under garlic butter and that goddamned cinnamon gum.
He always tasted like gum. Big Red. She hated it, but she bought it for him. Always had a pack in her purse. He thought it was sweet of her, tipping his head and blushing and giving in to whatever whim he had been about to balk at. She hated the taste, but you couldn’t ask a better price than twenty-five cents a pack to give the impression of fawning, simpering, sighing, Hallmark card and Meg Ryan movie love.
A shift, a sigh, and his arm was over her now, the smell of cinnamon gum and baked ziti gusting too warm and too damp in her face. Twisting her head and wrinkling her nose only brought his arm tighter around him, and she could feel him against her back now, an uncomfortable cluster of joints and limbs and fur and various things that were too sticky to bear thinking about.
His lips against the back of her neck, nuzzling the short curls, and it was too much. She rolled over, curling her shoulders forward. A bit coquettish, a bit demure, but it did wonders for the fontal topography, so to speak, and more importantly, it kept her breasts away from any part of him. He’d had more than dinner and a movie’s worth of pawing already. A smile, half soft, half scolding, “What do you think you’re up to?”
Long lashes hung listlessly over a thin crescent of hazel, the wetness caught to an unnatural blue in the dim light of the screensaver happily building and destroying walls of something half a copyright lawsuit away from Lego across the room. “Mmm. Sheila.”
“Adrian,” Sharper, the name a rebuke to the guitar-fingered hand that had begun to trill down her waist. She sat up now, groping among the bedsheets until she found soft cotton among crisp linen, tugging the t-shirt over her head in a crackle of red hairspray. “Go back to sleep. Your sheila has to check her email.”
Blink. Grunt. A bitter smile twisted just beneath the surface of her lips. Jesus fucking Christ, you could almost see the neurons fizzling in there. “Three ‘n morning.”
He pushed up on one elbow now, but her hand was in the middle of his chest, pushing him down just hard enough to mean it, but swirling her fingertips just lightly enough across the skin that he didn’t protest. “I know, Angelboy, but there’s this girl I’m talking to, and she’s kind of…” Looking down, biting that spot now stripped bare of wax and left purely with the wet parchment texture of the flesh itself. Her voice lowered in a touch of regretful conspiracy, “…well, I think it’ll be bad if she doesn’t talk to me tonight. She’s really on an edge here.”
The neurons were still struggling valiantly to spark, but at least a handful, she assumed, must have managed to cough in unison, because he seemed reasonably amiable – albeit disappointed – as he tucked himself acquiescently deeper into the bedding. “Just make sure you get some sleep, softie.”
“‘Course I will, love.” A quick kiss to a dark head, and she swung her legs out of bed, hopping delicately across the chill of the wooden floor until she could tuck cold toes beneath crossed knees in the familiar nest of the computer chair’s plastic arms.
She had mail. Of course. She always had mail. A quick spatter of clicks across the now-steady rhythm of slumbering breath, and her fingers were reaching halfway across the globe.
They loved her new story. Nothing new there. Mostly the standard one-liner, but there were a few who seemed particularly generous and specific in their praise. Ones to watch. But she’d get to those later. It was hard enough catching up with people across timelines, and she wasn’t about to let all those ass-numbing hours go to waste. Her fingers rattled with expert speed, her face softening and her eyes widening as a door creaked welcome in the chat program’s narrow window.
Wolfie. Tea, cookies, the full BBC recording of Rings. Sheltered exploratory bisexual with incredible artistic gifts and no self-esteem that needs to be nurtured and pampered into properly liberal blossom before she is sucked into conformity by parental cruelty…
Orangeblossom. Web design, fangirl, possibly a free vacation, need more knowledge of financial situation. Confident artist and benevolent mentor, sensitive, previously abused lesbian with wide-ranging but esoteric knowledge, flirty, amazingly perceptive, lots of insider knowledge…
MsAllegro. Web hosting, action figures, autographs. Exploring heteroflexible with transgender and/or lesbian leanings, sassy, liberal, rampantly slashy, definitely thinks all the boys were doing it, and probably the girls too. Needs a little hand-holding, but given an inch, willing to explore a mile…
MissOverdone. Books, videos, antiques, costume pieces. Resolutely heterosexual but tolerant young Christian, loving fiancée, just peeking out of a conservative shell to reveal a brilliant inner slasher with a limitless well of untapped historical knowledge via a previous life lived as a gay sailor in Nelson’s navy…
Rhythmic chatter of keys punctuated with the falsetto click of the mouse. A chameleon courtesan’s glitter posing sweetly in pixels. Gifts and love and praise pouring through the screen in an opiate haze of approval all the sweeter for the skill called in tatting such delicate little frills of deception.
And she didn’t even have to smell gum on their breath.
*Begit, according to my Westron word list, means “acquire” (verified by this post)
A private note from Jeanine (Turimel), reproduced with her permission.
I’m not the best deliverer of compliments (much better at snark), but dammit, Abbey, I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of another human being (well, besides my kids) as I was of you. I could not IMAGINE any possible way I would ever forgive/believe you, after that extended debacle. So your letter was like a great work of art, or a symphony–one of those things that represents the divine part of human nature (and I’m an atheist too, so I use that word loosely–I think it’s so frigging rare for most people to express anything but base ugliness that we call it “divine” and godly when it happens). One of those things that restores your faith that people just might be a race worth having on this planet’s surface after all.
Don’t get all ego puffy about the praise, though, OK?
Snarkers? I know she got carried away and got a crazy reputation. But if she and I can forgive each other, maybe we can both live down our Wank.
The “About Me” section is now online. I am working on the FAQ page update – thank you to the commenter who sent me a copy from the wayback machine!
Yesterday was the ten-year anniversary of Project Elanor. It feels like it was so long ago, yet it can’t possibly have been an entire decade. I haven’t written about that project until now because it’s easily the most painful to look back on. Even now I am hesitant, because not everyone involved has forgiven me, and there are many who think I have no right to anything about the garden. I understood that, which is why I have not been back to visit it in all this time.
But there’s something about ten years passing. On the day of the event I was still completely involved in the exhilarating upswing. BitofEarth was becoming extremely popular. I was newly divorced, had filled my (already in foreclosure) house with friends and was seeing the fruition of a project I had put my whole heart into. I was elated, joyous, proud, and truly believed I had stepped out of the dull, gray, boring life I’d fallen into since college. This was the new, improved me, better and happier than ever. That was from the inside.
From the outside…I was an immature, irresponsible, vain, selfish child, obsessed with popularity and with my “secret life” with Andy – although he was still Jordan Wood then. Also, I whined a lot. Although I can see the good qualities in what I was doing, mostly I am ashamed and hideously embarrassed at my behavior, and the overtly stupid decisions we were making. I definitely knew we were in over our heads, but I think I was having too much fun to care.
My memories of that day are patchy. I was in a blind panic once we were actually trying to pull things together – the whole day was like a controlled fall. I wish the memories of the day itself were better, because things were already crumbling. Andy’s behavior was distracting and bizarre, and mine was just embarrassing, to the point that both of us got a “talking to.” It is a horrifying experience to have a personal hero and legitimate celebrity pull you in private and chastise you.
Sean Astin came to the project in good faith. He was an incredibly hard worker, kind, generous, gregarious, inspiring… Honestly, he was everything we all thought he would be and then some. And I wish I still had his respect. But I lost it – and not just because of Andy’s lies and manipulations. When Sean pulled me aside and talked to me, it cut right to my heart. He called me out on the more outrageous parts of my attention-seeking, which was the first step on the long road I described in my last post. He also said good things and inspiring things, but those aren’t what stuck with me. Just the intensity of his eyes and the blunt honesty of his words.
It’s funny; Elanor was easily the most legit and successful thing BitofEarth ever did, but it became known as a scam. Well, maybe not “ha ha” funny. More like gut-wrenching and sad. It was successful enough to spur all the other attempted events, but those failures magnified everything wrong with Elanor. I truly wanted to do a good thing, even if there was selfishness in my motivation. I believed in the project. It hurts me to this day that Myrna, who ran the institute where the garden was built, died thinking she’d been scammed. The garden was real. The work was real. The intent was real. It’s just us who fucked the whole thing up with inexperience and lies.
We had the screening of The Two Towers the night before, where I stood in front of the whole theater and said that we’d raised $3000, and that all the proceeds would go to Reading is Fundamental. I know I said proceeds, because even before the screening I knew we were in the red for the garden. Although I do still have some of the paperwork and receipts from the event (including proof that Parr Lumber was, in fact, paid) there isn’t much left. We spent ourselves empty to cover the last of it. The money wasn’t where the lies were – it was the people. The humble retired gardener that planned the garden – that was the “real” Samwise Gamgee, as channeled by Andy. The interview questions written by “Elijah Wood” (again, just Andy). The frantic, hidden conversations with Andy’s various characters. We were the lie, not the project.
I still am not entirely sure who volunteered for what, since I heard so many excuses over the years from Andy. And I’m sure to some, what I’ve written are excuses. I try to tell the whole truth as I remember it – but bear in mind that I was in a relationship/cult with someone who was actively brainwashing me. I don’t use those words lightly; Andy took distinct and recognizable steps, the ones outlined here, to change my thoughts, even alter my memories. It is more than just being gullible – and it’s why I still talk about it, even though I would quite happily bury the more humiliating aspects of my twenties like everyone else does.
Still. I loved that garden and the project from the moment Andy suggested it. I poured my whole heart into it. Elanor was, for me, the best part of all of BitofEarth – it was the one good, real thing we did. And I’m glad that people loved it and cared for it, and that it made people happy. I don’t take credit for that by any means, but at least some good came of it. For a time I’d planned on going back to see it, but o don’t think it would bring anything but pain to anyone.