2

With these disturbing thoughts I got in touch with Dr. Teltscher, PhD., a clinical psychologist and graphologist in NYC. Here is his devastatingly accurate analysis of my mother's handwriting: Graphology.

BIG SISTER AGNÈS ÉCHÈNE IS COMING

A year had passed since I moved to Jessie's apartment when, right on the heels of my insight about my camera and the analysis of my parent's handwriting in early May 89, my elder sister Agnès Echène called from France to announce that she and Val, [short for Valentin but his real name is Michel Girot] her husband, would come to New York in June. She stated that the purpose of their visit was to show Val's paintings around and find a gallery that would exhibit his work.

She then asked me what were the measurements of american business cards. I thought it was smart of her to inquire about it, french business cards being bigger, and another proof of her legendary knack for organization. I said I would get back to her with the information. I thought about the printing delays and made it a priority to convert the inches and fractions thereof into centimeters, and when I called neither human nor machine answered the phone. I then called my younger sister Veronique, left a message on her answering machine and asked her to convey the information to Agnes. Later I called twice to make sure Agnes had got the information. When I finally talked to her, she hardly thanked me as if the matter were of no importance.

She told me that they would stay at the apartment on Central Park West and 91st that belongs to the father of a friend of her ex-husband. Just a few blocks from where I lived. She asked if I would pick them up at the Carey bus terminal near Grand Central and I said I would, even though I would have to leave work one hour early at my own expenses.

When I mentioned her upcoming visit to Jessie, she asked how I felt about it. I said I had mixed feelings. I could not help but resent her, chiefly because she had gone to college and not me.

WAITING FOR BIG SIS

On May 31 at 4:50pm, Agnes calls me at work from JFK, saying they have cleared Customs and Immigration and are ready to board the bus. I call the Carey company to ask how long does the trip take. Between 45mn and one hour they say. I arrived early at the Carey terminal and started to watch the arriving buses only around 5:30. This terminal is the worst possible meeting place: there is nowhere to sit or take shelter from the street. One is forced to wait on the sidewalk, choked by the exhaust fumes of the buses that arrive every minute, and at 5:30, people rush out of office towers to take the 5:40 and you better not be in the way. So you have to stand against the wall to let them pass, and read the front of the buses to figure out which is coming from JFK, among the departing ones and those arriving from other points, and then watch the people coming out of the bus in order not to miss your loved ones. Sometimes two or three buses arrived from JFK a few minutes apart and I had to watch three buses simultaneously.

If everything had happened normally, this torture would have lasted no more than a half hour, but I had forgotten, having left seven years earlier, that only the abnormal is to be expected from the Picart family.

At 6:30, after one hour of the watch-noise-fumes and crowd, I was ready to break down in tears, a nervous wreck, feeling totally powerless, trying to understand the cause of my sister's delay, and to find what I had done wrong. Maybe I had misunderstood our rendez-vous and they were waiting for me somewhere else? What to do? A company employee confirmed that it never took more than one hour for the buses to come from JFK. But if I left, how were they going to manage? I decided to wait for the next bus and to leave whether or not they were in it. At 6:40 three buses arrived at the same time. I scrutinized the buses in a desperate frenzy, wishing I had three pairs of eyes when Agnes arrived running and laughing at me because I was watching people coming out of the wrong bus. However we embraced like sisters. Her breath could have killed a hyena. I asked why she was so late and she said that after they had boarded the bus, it had stayed parked for more than one hour. When I told her how stressful the wait had been, she burst out laughing as if she had not heard anything so funny in ages. I was feeling stupid, miserable and humiliated, a deadly combination of feelings I had not experienced in a long, long time.

However my good will was holding up and I showed some virtuosity in finding a taxi in less than three minutes. During the trip, I complained again about the delay, told them that the hour of work uselessly lost was out of my own pocket, but since I was earning so little, I wasn't losing much. I couldn't help saying "These things happen only to me". This was a key-phrase within the family. True, some things, and always misadventures, happened only to me and as a child I used to blame myself for it and now, after all this time away from my country, on the day of my big sister's arrival it was happening all over again.

WE GO TO MY APARTMENT

I thought that we would go directly to the apartment where they would stay but Agnes said that the old gentleman was not aware of the time of their coming and could I call him up and tell him they had arrived. Since I lived only a few blocks away, the obvious thing to do was asking them to my place. Since it was hot and I had nothing to offer them to drink, I said that I was going out and Agnes offered to come with me. It bothered me to leave Val alone in the apartment but I didn't mention it. I bought a sixpack of Beck's for me and Val, and some Orangina for Agnes who doesn't drink alcohol. On the way back, she asked how I called my building. I thought that was a strange question. I don't call it. But to give an answer, I said "the little white one" since the other buildings are grey or red and higher.

Back at the apartment door, the safety chain was on and I couldn't get inside my own place! This gave me an extremely unpleasant feeling. Val peered in the opening and there was nothing friendly in his look but he opened the door right away. I told him it wasn't necessary to barricade himself.

[Agnes asked immediately if she could use the phone and I took her to my bedroom and showed it to her. I thought she would just make a quick call to say they had arrived safely but instead she had a five minutes or so conversation in a very low, conspiratorial tone.]

While we were drinking, they showed me family snapshots and told me [with condescending magnanimity] to take all I wanted. I took a half dozen, including one the twenty year old unsmiling step- brothers together: Mathias, Agnes'son by her former husband, and Raphael, Val's son by his former girlfriend. They insisted that I should feel free to take all I wanted but frankly I wasn't so interested. They gave me a little bottle of body lotion perfumed with Quartz by Molyneux, one cassette and four songbooks which I had requested, plus two more cassettes given by Veronique and Mathias.

I showed them some photographs I had taken myself at a concert, plus some enlargements of my best photos. About my favorite, Val said that it was not good at all. [It was a view of the arched West Side Highway underpass near sunset, where two lonely persons, head downcast, illuminated by the oblique light and casting long shadows had just passed each other, while above one could see a traffic jam on the highway and on the Hudson River a Circle Line boat returning to port.] He showed me some sketches he had made in the plane, as well as some sketches of Veronique's two teen age sons and of our youngest brother Norbert. In all of these, there was a set purpose to uglyfy. Norbert who is already not handsome in real life had been made to look monstrous. My endearing nephews looked retarded. Children, adults in the plane had been savaged. Antipathy and hatred jumped from the sketchbook into my heart like a splatter of toxic mud. I said nothing. Val's words, pronounced in a monotone, confirmed what his sketches expressed.

I asked news from her children. Mathias is one year ahead for his age and is studying advanced Maths ["Math Sup"]. Eleonore is passing her French baccalaureat. Agnes speaks with a total absence of emotion which surprises me and then, in a tone of reproach and regret, recalls that at their age we didn't have access to all the information about studies and careers that teen agers have now. "I didn't even know what Khagne and Hypokhagne meant"... but she omits to mention that in spite of this ignorance, she studied in universities three or four years after the bac and met her future husband on campus. So why does she pretend that she and I are in the same boat, when I had to fend for myself [with a typist- shorthand training] right after I graduated?

THE BURGLARY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH ACCORDING TO BIG SIS

I was burning to ask them about the burglary which had occurred on Friday the 13th of January 1989. Our little sister Veronique lived on the fourth floor with her young teen age sons. Our youngest brother Norbert, then 18, occupied a one bedroom next door. Both apartments communicated by a balcony and French windows. Agnes started to tell the story and very soon let Val continue. Without saying that I had a copy of the Police report, I asked if it was true that the door had been forced at the hinges and Val denied it forcefully. Then he said that the door had been forced without saying where. The boys'toys and favorite clothes had been stolen as well as some stereo equipment. The robbers(s) had entered Norbert's apartment by the balcony and stolen a CD player and a set of keys. I asked where was Norbert at the time. Val answered that he was out with his girlfriend. He had gone out leaving his keys inside! I asked why, in their opinion, a thief would steal keys. Agnes had the answer ready: "So that they could come back!" I said "Ah! it's true that criminals always come back to the crime scene." But isn't it unlikely that a criminal would anticipate that he would be compelled to return to the scene of the crime and make it easier for himself? My impression is that this detail is intended to divert the suspicion from family members, since family members only have to knock on the door to get in.

Val ended the account as follows: "Veronique arrived just after the robbers had left the apartment. She saw them in the street and ran after them but they entered the underground parking lot on the next block and she lost sight of them." At this point Agnes added that some drug addicts live in the parking lot and that Veronique had to learn the hard way that drug addicts must steal to get their drugs. Every answer they gave came out as if it had been carefully rehearsed. To give a "natural" touch, Agnes started to answer and then Val finished, or vice-versa.

INTRODUCING A&V TO THE OLD MAN

Offhandedly, she observed with some surprise that the apartment was very clean.

I called their host who was very friendly and welcoming. However both Agnes and Val looked at their watches frequently with anxious looks, even after I told them that they could come at any time until 11PM.

They decided to leave Val's two giant portfolios at my place and to pick them up the next day after I returned from work. Then we would have dinner at the old man's. I could meet him and make the conversation easier since he doesn't speak French. ..."and", Agnes added in a concerned, motherly tone, "for once you won't have to do your shopping during rush hours." Really, it's a wonder I survived at all for six years without her! [She also said in the same tone that I looked exhausted. No wonder after breathing all these exhaust fumes!]

On the way, I showed them some buildings which I find particularly beautiful, and expressed freely my enthusiasm for the city of New York, happy to be able to cummunicate it to somebody, and also happy to speak French. After introducing them in English to the old man, I was going to leave but both Agnes and Val insisted to accompany me downstairs with an eagerness which sounded insincere, as if they were trying to quiet my suspicion with flattery. In the street, two young men were carrying a couch. I observed in jest that with all the psychiatrists in office in the neighbourhood, it was no surprise to find discarded couches in the street. I added that it was wonderful to have them around, that it made me feel safe. Agnes took me seriously and asked if I was seeing one and I said that I did, though it was not true.

When I started into 91st street, Agnes asked me why I did not take CPW like we did on the way to the old man. I said I had to run an errand, and it seemed safer to return home by Columbus avenue, now that I was alone. But why did she ask?

JUNE 1ST

As soon as I got to work the next day, Tim, the bookseller's assistant asked if everything had gone well with my sister. I said yes to avoid going into the details. Later, Jim asked the same question and I told him she had been an hour and a half late. I was busy all day long and forgot about it when around 4PM it hit me: they had kept me waiting deliberately to "enrage" me, pour me faire enrager (another key phrase from my youth). It was not by chance if these feelings of distress, of guilt, of incompetency, of doubt about my intellectual powers, of humiliation, were triggered so violently when my sister was around. It was deliberate.

I called the Carey bus company and asked to speak to the chief dispatcher but I couldn't talk to him before the following day. But now I was on guard.

Agnes called at 7:30PM. "I'm inside your building but I forgot your apartment number. I asked a very nice person to let me call you from their apartment." [Bad feeling. She was showing me that she could talk her way into somebody's aparment.] "How did you get in, then?" I asked. "Some people were moving out and I could get in". A few minutes later she's at my door, all smiles. No Val couldn't come. He stayed to prepare dinner and keep company to the old man. I thought he could at least have come to fetch his own heavy portfolio. I ask if she could go get some beer and she returns with a sixpack of Bud. I express dismay at the cheap brew and she explains that that's what Val drinks.

Agnes is impatient to leave but I had a hard day and I need to relax a little before going out again. Besides I intend to buy a little cocaine at the building in the corner of 96th and Columbus. We get ready to go out. "Take this one, it's lighter" she says, showing me the smaller of the two giant portfolios. Isn't she nice to her little sister? Truth is, her little sister (four years younger) is one head taller than she is.

At the corner of Columbus and 96th street, I ask Agnes to wait for me in the lobby. I leave with her the portfolio I was carrying and move to the elevator. Instead of being discreet, she puts her elbow on a portfolio, puts her chin in the palm of her hand, sighs loudly and looks exceedingly annoyed. Two women talking next to her don't pay attention but the doorman at his desk looks ill at ease. I return to her and advise her to be discreet if she wants to avoid getting into trouble. I lean the portfolios against the wall, show her a seat and ask her to be patient. I'm back five minutes later.

We have dinner in the kitchen. I don't know where to put my purse. I feel uneasy keeping it at my side like in a restaurant and she doesn't help me. Finally I go put it in her bedroom at the end of the corridor. It's a nasty dinner, not enough food, not really good tasting, and she rinses the peaches before setting them on the table. I hate wet peaches. At the end of the dinner, she lets me clear the table. The old man wants the dishes to be rinsed before putting them in the dishwasher, and I do it.

Then Agnes leaves the kitchen and walks toward her bedroom. I expected that she would have to look in my purse at the first occasion. I follow her and snatch up my purse just as her hands were reaching it.


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