Recently I talked with my landlord telling him that I couldn't pay the rent. I lamented the fact that my mother was keeping my money while I was living in this dump. He asked me what was the amount of my share. I rounded up the sum to 2 million francs, and he picked up his adding machine. He asked me what was the exchange rate and I rounded it to 6.25 francs to the dollar. He tapped the numbers and came up to a dollar amount of $32,000. He announced the amount and I knew he had missed a zero. I asked to see his machine. It was solar powered and very dirty and the amount was what he said. I asked him to do it again and he came upn with the same amount. Then I started to get confused myself with the zeros, I asked to make the operation myself on his machine and since there was no space or comma to mark the thousands I didn't know what result I came up with but I knew that the dollar amount was in the six and not the five figures.
Friday 2.04.94 I have less than a quarter in cash and a subway token. I tried to re-sell postage stamps at the post office. That would have gotten me $3.80, a fortune. But I was told that the Department of Health forbids this practice. I had also packed the two lock cylinders which had not prevented somebody from entering my place and I tried to sell them at Jimmy's hardware but he declined. I went to a bodega to try to sell my stamps. I was willing to sell them at 25 cents each instead of their face value of 29. But the owner, after tapping numbers on his calculator with the concentration required for a major deal, finally announced that he would give me $1.50 for the stamps, that is, he would have bought them for less than half price. And then he sells them five cents above the face value. What a shark! I said that I would keep
the stamps and walked home trying hard not to cry.
In the evening I I decide to play the guitar in the subway. Before leaving I read Dr. Bach's thoughts about fear which I try to memorize. Around 10pm I leave and go to Broadway and Lafayette. A crazy black man arrives from uptstairs and walks on the platform saying "One, two, three" then disappears back uptsairs through another stairway. He returns two more times with the same act. Meanwhile people are waiting for the subway, I stay on the platform and try to figure whether I'm gonna play or not. I decide against it and take the next subway to West 4th street. Two Asiatic young men are playing Vivaldi's four seasons. It's beautiful. I envy them. I go to 34th street on the D line. The station has been renovated in dark red colors and the light is much softer than in the white tile stations. But I don't feel up to playing and I return home, having spent my token for nothing.
That night Richie was on guard duty. Richie is employed by Bonarti. He's rather tall, blond and he has a huge belly. Last summer he had let me know that he knew that I use coupons to buy cat food, making me feel that even at the supermarket someone was spying on me. But since I intended to borrow a few dollars from him, I acted friendly. Also the music in the club downstairs was so loud that I wanted to avoid hearing it for a while and chatting with Richie was a solution. He was outside on the porch. "What's happening?" I asked. He started immediately to berate his boss, saying he was a crook. He asked if I had ever seen cops in his office. No I said. Well, when they come, it's to get their money because he's paying them off. He was a cop himself, you know, but he was kicked out because he was crooked. So you see, he's friend with other crooked cops, that makes sense. Then he went inside and I followed him. He started walking back and forth in the small lobby. There was a packet of ketchup on the floor but he didn't step on it. He said that he was tired of working for Bonarti. The pay was lousy and he couldn't afford to move. He lived in a basement room half as big as my own in a building that belonged to Bonarti, and when it rained the place was flooded. He said he was on call twenty four hours and had no time for himself. The way he described his situation was that he couldn't afford to change jobs or move. "That's slavery pure and simple!" I said, indignant. And then he went on and on on the same theme.
He started to explain to me how to live cheap. He said I could buy three cans of beans for a dollar, take advantage of the coupons etc. He said he did the same, he had no choice, and spoke about canned food combinations that disgusted me. I never buy canned food. I felt he had a lot of nerve to tell me what to eat, as if he expected me to resign myself to being poor and eat shit. "You don't look like you're starving" I said. With his pink plump flesh he reminded me of a pig. He lifted his T-shirt and I saw his huge belly. He smiled with satisfaction and passed his hand on his belly. That was gross. Were it not for the loud music I could hear in my room, I would have left but I couldn't stand it and I had to wait outside until it stopped.
Then he started to talk about his mother. He said that she abused him when he was a kid. He opened his mouth and showed me his teeth. They looked okay. He said she had hurt his teeth. I thought about my own dentist sessions at age two. Was he making reference to that knowingly? I thought he did. He said his mother stabbed him in the thighs and locked him in the car trunk. "She's a psychopath" he said. Then he stopped and seemed to be waiting for me to say something. I felt he wanted me to tell him what my own mother had done to me. "Yeah, I said, my mother abused me too but it was mostly psychological." He seemed disappointed.
Then Richie told me that the price of cocaine had gone way down, from $1,000 an ounce to $300. That to make crack you just have to boil cocaine with baking soda, that crack dealers make a fortune and that himself, he had $2,000 saved. It sounded strange that he could have any savings after telling me that he was earning slave wages with the landlord. Then he added that all the policemen around were crooked and were being paid by the landlord. He let me draw the conclusions myself. He made it look like a piece of cake to become a crack dealer. Money to invest, easy and cheap to make, good wholesale price, a ready market, nothing to fear from the police.
I didn't understand right away what he was driving at, and I said that fortunately, I had rid myself of my cocaine addiction a few years ago. He looked disappointed. It seems certain now that if I had taken him up on his veiled offer and become a crack dealer with his seed money, there would come a point where I would have been busted by the police when I least expected it, lulled by the assumption that there was nothing to fear from them. And then from an attempted murder survivor my legal status would move unexpected ly to that of a criminal and I would be prosecuted as such, and my criminal defense would take priority over my personal injury claim.
Richie was standing near the entrance door against the wall across from me. Then he started pacing the lobby back and forth. When he reached my side he avoided the ketchup packet on the floor, turned around and returned to the opposite wall, then he stopped again and resumed his pacing. He talked rather fast in a monotone. He directed the conversation as if following a script.
After a short silence he broached the conversation on my inheritance and in different ways, with different arguments he tried to convince me that my share was not as important as I believed. In the course of our discussion on this subject, althought I doubted strongly his good faith, I told Richie that my family was ripping me off, that my attorneys had been bribed to turn against me. Everywhere I turned for help, the ground crumbled under me. It truly looked hopeless I realized and seeing the sparkle in Richie's eye I knew I hit a nerve. "What are you going to do then?" he asked defiantly, his eyes shining with curiosity. "I'm not going to kill myself that's for sure." I said. A few days before I had called a suicide hotline from a pay-phone down the street. I thought that maybe the phone was tapped and my inquiry about suicide was known to my enemy. Unless it was because a few days earlier, when Jose the super had asked me how I was, I had said "Not too good, there's only so much you can take." This too sounded desperate and maybe he had repeated it to Bonarti. I didn't want to give them false hope. "Yes but what can you do?" he asked smartly, as if the obvious solution was to commit suicide, so it meant in fact, that I was stupid not to do it and solve the problem for everybody. "Nothing. There's nothing I can do." "You see..." "You never know, maybe something will happen." I said, to show that I hadn't lost hope completely. I thought you couldn't never exclude an act of God, or a deus ex machina, which was really the biggest part of any hope I had left. Plus the fact that I would try until my last breath. After all things happened He said that I had misunderstood the law. "What do you know about French law?" I asked. He said that he had worked in France a few years ago in a law office.
After he had spoken about his mother as a psychopath without eliciting any "me-too" anecdotes from me, I said that my mother prevented me to work. I said that it was for her that the French man had videotaped me at Columbus Circle last July. "If you believe that, you must be crazy" Richie said. "No, I'm not crazy, I know it was for her... and she had me raped too, twenty years ago. My mother is a psychopath like yours, only worse." I said and I left. I didn't want to pour out my hart to this guy.
I had never before had any conversation with him and in the space of half an hour he had made heavy references to my problems with my family. Why was he telling me, he and my landlord that my share of inheritance was not as big as I thought? They were trying to convince me that my inheritance could not be a motive for the attempted murder.
I went to bed tortured with the anguish of not knowing how to feed my cat. She would meow incessantly until I fed her. I was horrified that my own mother could let me starve when the mere thought of my cat being hungry drove me off the wall.
Wednesday 2.9.94: Call Mom at 6.15 am. Without waiting to know why I'm calling her she starts on the subject of the estate and how it's my fault if everything is halted. "If you sign for the sale of the Pantin building, you can have your 1,2 million right away" she says. "It's not 1,2 million, it's 1,6 million, according to the statement of the estate". Why does she say 1,2 million? Is it because I told Bonarti about 2 million? I have to interrupt her and tell her that I have a more serious problem and that I need money right away. I explain to her that I have run out of food, that my refrigerator and my pantry are empty, that I have no more butter, no more oil, no more coffee, that I'm starting to starve and -there my voice gets strangled and I hold back tears- I can't feed my cat anymore. I know by the quality of her silence that she enjoys hearing about my suffering. It gives her a feeling of power to know that I'm in this situation because of her.
I add that I owe more than two months rent. I tell her that I need FF100,000 right away. She says that she's going to see what she can do. I ask her to make a cash transfer through the BNP so the money will be available to me in three days. She had something else in mind butI insist that she do it the way I ask to save time. She starts speaking about my father's estate and slips in that mySophie's purchase of a house is the only purchase of real estate that has been made with my father's money after his death. I reply that before his death or after doesn't matter as long as the purchases were made with his money. Until now I had been told that Sophie had bought her home with a bank loan. Mom must have realized that there was no way to prove it and now she was trying to make me believe that my memory was faulty, that nobody had ever said that Sophie had taken a loan to buy her house.
Following up on the theme of bank loan, I ask her how come she had borrowed money from a bank to pay the estate taxes, considering the disgust and contempt she had always expressed about loans. I said that it was possible to pay the government on the installment plan at a rate similar to the banks', if not lower.
-Where did you get this information? she asked, her tone incredulous. This is not the way it is done in France. She inferred that I was mixed up with American laws. I said that I had read it in this booklet about estate matters published by the magazine "Que Choisir", a French magazine that dealt with French legal consumers' issues. She had no answer. My belief was that she had taken a loan, or said that she had, only to get leverage. Every time I had balked to sign for the sale of an apartment, her notaire had faxed me anguished letters about how urgent it was to pay back the loan because the interest was accruing. Now I suspected that there hadn't been a loan at all and that they had just used this to put pressure on me to sign away the properties.
Later I see Bonarti and tell him that I'm going to receive money soon. I add that I have to starve before my mother consents to give me my money. He looks a bit embarrassed and doesn't say anything.
Sunday 2.13: Call Mom to know if she made the transfer. She says she did. FF30,000 the day I called her and another FF30,00 last Friday. She sent me in fact 10 percent above half of what I asked for. She keeps acting poor to discourage me from asking much.
-You never wanted me to have money. First you didn't let me study beyond highschool...
-This is not true, I always did what I could to help you. Put this back in your mouth she says in a tone both hateful and outraged. I hit a nerve. The ways she says this, I can feel the hatred she has of my mouth. It could be enough to make me wear a surgical mask every time I stepped out. She's trying to make me feel ashamed of my mouth. When I hit a nerve she counterattacks viciously.
-All my problems, it's you who caused them. (I'm refering to all the actions of spying, sabotage, theft and assaults since I came to the US and before, which I have traced to her) You make my life hell.
Another brief silence where she enjoys her sense of power. Then she blurts out:
-Your accident that happenend at the time of Dad's funeral (she doesn't say "death"), it was only a coincidence.
I let it pass as if I had not paid attention.
-You have turned all my sisters and brother, all the family against me and you made crooks out of everybody.
-You think you're the only decent girl.
There she has me again. Another vicious counterattack that leaves me speechless. This time she infers that I think I'm better than everybody. That's really a good way to gag a victim. That's a psychological sock in the mouth.
-You know that to start a business one needs money, I continue. When you and Dad were newly married, Mamy -my father's mother- gave you money to help you start your linen business. So why don't you give me my money so I can work?
She doesn't answer the question and stirs the conversation to neutral ground and we hang up.
Mon. 2.14: Call BNP on Park Avenue. They haven't received anything for me.
Tues. 2.15: Call BNP. Still nothing. They advise me to check with the sender. I call Mom collect from a pay-phone. I tell her I have borrowed the remainder of a week's rent from my landlord. While saying this I knew that she knew. By now I had reason to believe that they were in telephone contact quite frequently, maybe several times a week, or any time something noteworthy happened. As landlady and landlord, they understood each other. A mother was asking news of her daughter from her landlord but not for motherly reasons. If only I could take a look at their phone bills.
So I detailed to her what I knew she knew, explaining that I had promised my landlord that I was going to receive money and if I didn't receive the money the day I was supposed to pay him back, I wanted at least to show him that money was on its way. My tone was anxious, inferring that I was afraid that my landlord would throw me out in the street or start eviction proceedings against me. I knew that she would sadistically relish my anxiety. But I knew that Bonarti was making so much money from me besides the rent I paid him, what with the payments he received from my mother to spy on me and harass me, and all tax-free, that he would never do such a thing. In fact the last time I had asked him how many weeks I was in arrears, and it was more than eight, he had said that he didn't know. If he acknowledged that I owed him more than two months rent, how would he explain that he didn't do anything to collect or evict me?
I had to pretend I didn't know about the secret agreement between him and my mother. In fact I wanted to make sure that my mother had actually sent the money. She accepted to fax me her receipts then she attacked.
-The other day you said that Mamy gave us money to your dad and I so we could start a business, but if we hadn't been damn hard workers she would never have given it to us.
-You seem to infer that I'm not a hard worker.
-François told me that your hats, you're not selling them.
I was speechless. She was saying that if I didn't sell my hats it was because I was lazy, when in fact it was lack of money by her own fault that prevented me from selling them professionally. I was tempted to argue and defend myself against her accusation of laziness. I knew this was a hot button of mine. She had brainwashed me since childhood into believing that I was slow and lazy and then shamed me about it. When I had asked her why it took so long for my front teeth to grow, she had answered "It's because the're lazy like you". Now she was doing it again. With her demonic logic, she blamed me for my problem which she created, she blamed me for a shameful character flaw and expected that the shame would prevent me from fighting back. If I defended myself I would dance to her tune. She would smile at my desperate attempts to convince her that I was on the contrary a hard working woman. Unless she counts only labor as work. Either way I lost. By not protesting that I wasn't lazy, she would take it that I accepted the blame. But what shocked me the most was that I wasn't asking her to give or lend me her money, I was asking her to give me mine.
I had the irrepressible need to talk to her as if we had a normal mother-daughter relationship but I checked myself not to say anything that she could use against me. This made me feel very sad. We spoke a little about the weather. I said there had been a lot of snow. She said she had heard about it in the news. I said the snow was all dirty now and added that I didn't complain about the weather. After all, if the weather were the same all the time it would be boring. Besides what do you expect in the winter?
Then she asked me what I had been doing during the days I was broke. I told her I had been baking whole wheat sourdough bread and that it was delicious. There was a silence I knew meant that she was pissed off. We had had disagreements about bread in the past. She bought bad bread. When the supermarket started to sell baguettes in cellophane wrap, that's what she bought. When I complained, she said she didn't have the time to go to the baker's. This bread was so bad! The crust came off in large flakes and the bread had a nasty texture and no taste whatsoever. Of course it was abolutely devoid of nutrients. And at the breakfast table, she made a big show with the toaster, magnanimously insisting that I have another slice, as if I were refusing a delicacy out of politeness. Besides I felt there was something sacrilegious for a baguette to be wrapped in cellophane. It was like an obscene pretense at following tradition. I had said that when the bread was bad in a home, it was bad news for the family. I saw bread as a symbol of food, of life.
I knew that she took my bread-making as a personal affront. I dared not to do like my mother. I dared to disagree with her about my value as a human being, to think that I was worth eating good bread, to think better of myself than she thought of me. Until then, every time we had spoken about cooking, I had said that I didn't feel enough motivation to really cook just for myself but. For twenty years I had avoided the kitchen and in the process of bread-making, I had re-discovered a talent that she had tried to squash, a form of self expression that gave me pleasure and pride. I had changed on her and she felt betrayed.
I knew by now that when she asked what I was doing it was not out of motherly concern but to find a way to sabotage my enterprises. Now she certainly was even angrier because she couldn't spoil my fun. How could she prevent me from baking bread? I was doing it at home all by myself. There was no one to bribe.
A few days later I noticed that a wooden spatula which I was using constantly had disappeared. I also noticed that the pilot lights on the stove went out and I had to lift the stove cover to light them up over and over again.
There was a crucial question I had meant to ask her. When I had asked her to send the money through the BNP, I had meant the way she had done it several times previously, by making the cash available to me at the New York branch on Park Avenue. This required for her to withdraw the money from her account in another bank and send it from a BNP branch in France. This procedure saved one or two days. It went without saying but with my mother you had to check all the dots on the i's and all the crosses on the t's.
When I received the fax I saw that she had gone to the BNP in Evreux and transferred the money to my bank account at Chemical in New York. That didn't make sense.