The Family

The Family by Jeff Sharlet Read Free Book Online

Book: The Family by Jeff Sharlet Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jeff Sharlet
old man smiled. So I asked him why he had done this thing, let himself be put into jail, and do you know what he said?” The brothers did not. “He said, ‘For me it is a form of prayer.’” After the police let Riley go, he took the metro to Arlington and walked to Ivanwald in a driving rain. “At first I was not happy. But then I thought about what that old man said, and the rain began to change, or maybe I did. As I walked home to you brothers, the rain felt like a baptism.”
    The brothers were quiet. Finally, Jeff C. spoke up from across the room. “Thank you, brother.” Murmurs rippled around the circle. Nervous laughter followed. Beau said, “Riley, can we pray for you?” and Riley said yes. Beau then asked Riley if he would lead us in this prayer. He would. So we closed our eyes and prayed with Riley for the old man soaked to the bone and then for the police and for an end to Plan Colombia, at which point the men’s prayers sputtered into confusion; wasn’t military aid between one God-led government and another a good thing? The brothers were relieved when Riley announced he was going back to Wisconsin. He walked into the pouring rain with his backpack and his sleeping bag. It was a mile and a half to the station. Nobody offered him a ride.
    After Riley left, the brothers stood up and started moving furniture. “Okay,” Jeff C. said, clapping his hands. “You ready, brothers?” I looked around. My brothers were blank-faced or smirking, clearing a space on the floor. “Jeff,” Jeff C. said to me, “Andrew”—the other new man, a balding Australian who said he’d come to Ivanwald at the recommendation of a conservative Australian politician named Bruce Baird—“you guys are going to arm wrestle. Think of it,” he said, putting a finger on his chin and mocking a pose of thoughtfulness, “as a test of your manhood.”
    He instructed us to lie down on our bellies. We lay like snakes facing each other and rose up on torsos, gripping hands, awaiting the signal.
    “Fumble!” someone shouted. “Fumble! Fumble!”
    I twisted around to find out what they meant, but not in time—all I saw was a blur of T-shirts and legs flying at me, and then the first man hit, slapping me back to the floor and flattening my lungs into empty airbags. Then the second man landed, and the third, and someone shouted, “Get his arms!” Did they think I was a stratagem of wickedness? Had they decided that the evil in my journalist’s heart could not be overcome even by Jesus? I swung my one free fist and felt it collide with a stomach that remained unmoved because it was being pressed down by the weight of two, three more men, each of them flailing away at my ribs. I felt my face redden and my ears fill with a roar, and if I’d had any breath left, I would have screamed. But then I heard the brothers laughing, and in between blows I felt hands slapping my ass and ruffling my hair, and I understood what was happening. This was scripture in action, the verses we all memorized together (failure to do so meant sleeping in the cold basement): Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one”; Philippians 2:2, “fulfill ye my joy that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” The brothers were of one mind and thirteen bodies, crushing Christ into me, and there was nothing I could do but to give in to their love. They wanted to welcome me. To brotherhood, to Jesus, to the Family. I gasped. A man near the bottom of the pile on top of me squeaked. “I can’t breathe,” someone above me whispered. One more man fell on top of us, jumping from the couch onto the tower. The Australian, who’d somehow escaped full fumble, gave it a push. It tumbled, I was free, and Jeff C. offered me his hand. Ecclesiastes 4:10: “If one falls down, his friend can help him up.”
    “Congratulations, brother,” he said. “You’re one of us.”
    A FEW WEEKS into my stay, David Coe, Doug’s son,

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