In one of my previous entries, I introduced you to Jonathan*, he was part of a chapter of my life that unfolded in the crazy world of Bethel. Today, I pull back the curtain a bit more to reveal the depth of our bond, a connection that was as unexpected as it was intimate.
Jonathan had this innate ability to make me feel free, a sensation that I clung to amid the structured rigidity of our shared world. He was the embodiment of everything I believed I could never be—effortlessly cool, disarmingly charming, and a beacon of light in my otherwise dim existence. His attention was a gift, one that elevated me and made the impossible seem within reach.
“We were just two hearts who loved each other trying to survive”
Our secret moments were simple yet charged with an electricity that was energizing. The lunch times in his room, away from prying eyes, was our private time and escape from the strict rules we lived under. There, with our legs and feet touching as we took a mid day nap, we found solace in our closeness. These were the moments when we could pretend, if only for a a short moment, that we were just two hearts who loved each other trying to survive.
As the days turned into months, our conversations dove deeper, sharing not just words but the very essence of our beings. On the last night we spent in each other’s company, we shared so much of our hopes and fears, we promised each other that we would love each other for eternity. I shared my readiness to leave it all behind, to step out into the truth of who I was. Jonathan, though, stood very distant, not yet ready to take the fall with me.
Navigating our duality—Jonathan’s openness and my caution—was a dance we had grown accustomed to. Bethel’s walls were thick with rules and discipline, yet Jonathan moved through them with a maverick’s grace. He was no stranger to the Bethel offices and those in charge at Wallkill, his conduct was a constant subject of scrutiny. It was clear his path was diverging from the one that was expected of a bethelite, and I admired his courage and carefree attitude, even as it scared me.
Jonathan’s openness and my caution—was a dance we had grown accustomed to.
Our love wasn’t exactly hidden, but in our minds it seemed invisible to everyone but us. On one night, spirits high and inhibitions low, we nearly let our guard down in front of an important Bethel elder. That elevator ride with him was a jarring reminder of the stakes we were playing for. It was a world that demanded perfection, and we were anything but. We were drunk and almost got caught.
Jonathan’s influence on me was a lifeline. He taught me to ride the waves of my own mind, to find peace in the chaos, and to laugh in the face of adversity. He was the antidote to my anxieties, the whisper in the storm that promised calm.
He taught me to ride the waves of my own mind, to find peace in the chaos, and to laugh in the face of adversity.
Our bond was so unique that we had our own language—a way to express the inexpressible. ‘Kemps,’ a word borrowed from a card game, became our silent shout of love, a way to say what we could never voice in public aloud. It was our secret handshake, our hidden embrace, a word that held the weight of all we felt but could never openly acknowledge.
Years have passed since those haunting days at Bethel. As life went on, the whisper of ‘kemps’ came to mind now and then throughout the years, poking my heart. Before I severed my ties with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I reached out to Jonathan one last time. In our final conversation, I uttered the words that encapsulated a previous decades laughter, pain, and bittersweet love. ‘Kemps, Jonathan,’ I said. There was a pause, a moment stuck in time as he absorbed the weight of it. And then, with a voice that carried the echoes of our past, he responded, ‘Kemps, Matt.’”
To be continued…
*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals who may be impacted by high control groups.