Some time in June, I had to be examined by the TA's doctor to evaluate my condition. I met Ira Slavit outside the building and we went in together. We waited for a long time before the doctor was available. Some time in 1985, when I was living at Jessie's, an English man had wanted to draw my horoscope and after I had given him the data, he gave me an eight page report. Among his notes was a warning that I should be very careful with my knees, that there was the possibility of an injury. So I said that to my attorney, while telling him that I was not an avid consumer of horoscopes. The receptionist asked us to enter the examination room and we waited another fifteen minuts.
While waiting I complained about the arrogant attitude of doctors, who treat patients as ignoramuses and use Latin jargon to fool them. I wish I were able to ridicule them like Molière did, but at this point it was beyond me. What irritated me also was the obvious collusion between doctors and lawyers, the professionals against the lay-person. The lay-person was relegated to the status of a prey they were feeding on without consideration for the person's feelings. I protested that accident victims came from all walks of life, and that personally I had studied Latin and Greek and that I was able to understand the meaning of medical terms by their etymology. I said to my attorney that since he was at the junction of medicine and law, he must be knowledgeable in anatomy. I was just stating my observation but he took it as an attack and said that if there was something he didn't know, he asked his brother who was a doctor. Then I asked if it ever happened that someone sue a lawyer. I said it must be difficult to find a lawyer willing to sue a lawyer, since they are so protective of each other behind the scene. He didn't answer anything significant. Since we were still waiting, I told him a joke I had recently read in the Daily News, from the Broom Hilda comic. When the receptionist hands her the doctor's bill, she says :"That's exactly the amount of my bill to you for the time I spent in your waiting room." Then Dr. Kulak, the doctor who was on the side of the Transit Authority entered, all bubbly.
Instead of starting right away with the exam, he referred to some paper from Dr. Nailor that was illegible, the copy being too dark. He had had the same complaint the first time he examined me about three years ago. Obviously nothing had been done. He asked my attorney a question to which I knew the answer and when I opened my mouth to speak, Ira Slavit raised his head, looked at me and smacked his tongue in disapproval so I said nothing. After a little more professional talk Dr. Kulak finally spent about ten minutes measuring my left leg against my right.
In the afternoon, I went to Prince Street to sell my summer berets. The day was no good. It was not like in the winter when head covering was a necessity. It was getting depressing and also I was harassed by people I supposed had been paid to make me want to quit.
Around 5PM I met Ira Slavit for the examination by "our" doctor. He asked me my age and when I said forty, he let the answer linger, as if he expected me to feel uncomfortable about it. He was dictating his report into a hand held microphone at the same time he was examining me. When he had finished, Ira Slavit approached the examination table and asked me to sit in the tailor's position. He observed to the doctor that my left leg was not descending as much as the right. But this had nothing to do with the injury, I knew, because this was related to the hip joint. Dr. Balensweig looked a little embarassed and smacked his lips, and said "Yes, but it's not because of the injury"... and he let his voice trail, so that I understood that he meant it was because I didn't fuck. He and Slavit had set up this little bit of nastiness together. Finally, the doctor spoke into his microphone, asking his secretary to make a bill for $300. I looked at Ira Slavit with my eyebrows raised in surprise.
I picked up my folding table from the waiting room and we took the elevator downstairs. I asked if we could go next door for coffee, because I had a few questions to ask him. He said he didn't have the time, so we stood in front of the building entrance on the sidewalk while people were passing us on all sides. "If the doctor said I would need knee replacement surgery ten years from now, the cost of the surgery should be covered by the TA." I said. I also said that if there was a surgical procedure that could restore the full flexion of my knee, I would gladly undergo it. But the main question was "What is going to happen between now and the day my account is credited with the money?" He said that after the judgment had been passed, interest was charged until the TA issued a check. The check was a two-party check, and both me and my attorneys would endorse it, and it would be deposited into their escrow account, and after I had signed a release to the TA, that is, a document saying I would not pursue any more claim against them, my attorneys would issue a check to me, keeping their third of the award plus costs.
So he started asking me the questions that had been asked me during the EBT's and would be asked again at the trial.
- Q. How long had you been working as a bicycle messenger before the accident?
- A. Three months.
- Q. What did you do before?
- A. I worked at an antique books dealer. I was a bookkeeper there..
- Q. How long had you been working there?
- A. One year and three months.
- Q. Why did you leave?
- A. Because of a disagreement over money.
I had the impression that he knew James Cummins and the whole story of my work there, and that he was curious about how I would answer that question.
- Q. What is your height?
- A. Five feet nine.
- Q. Well, in the first EBT you said five-nine and in the second you said five ten.
- A. "It's somewhere in-between" I said, a bit impatient that he would stop at such trivia.
- Q. OK, so when they ask you, you say you measure between five nine and five ten. How much do you weigh?
- A. 127 lbs.
- Q. OK now, the first time you said you weighted 135 lbs and the second time 129. How do you explain that?
- A. Well, I suppose I lost some weight. There's nothing unusual about that.
He kept silence for a beat. I felt he was probing to see if my weight was a hot button, if he could make me become flustered and emotional about my weight, but there he was out of luck because if I have many problems, at least my weight is not one of them. I was wondering why he made such an issue of it.
- Q. What is your marital status?
- A. Divorced.
- Q. Do you have children?
- A. No.
- Q. So you're by yourself, in other words. All your family's in France, you told me, and there was nobody around to help you.
- A. No. I had to pay for everything.
He marked a pause as if to let the reality of my lonely situation sink in, to make me feel weak and helpless. Then he asked me about the accident per se. I lied where he had instructed me to lie without batting an eyelash.
- Q. What clothing were you wearing?
- A. I was wearing a helmet, a leather jacket, bicyle shorts, sneakers and gloves.
- Q. Do you still have the helmet?
That was a vicious question because I was not wearing a helmet. "Yes" I said blankly.
I told him I fell to the ground as soon as the bus came in contact with me. My body came to rest on the bus lane. No vehicles were parked on the bus lane. All these untruths, I pretended that I had come to believe them myself, althought I knew that I didn't have and never had a helmet. I made no reference to what actually happened, nor voiced any concern about the credibility of the lies.
He asked me a lot of questions about what happened between my fall and my departure in ambulance to St. Clare Hospital. He seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in making me going through the ordeal once again. He asked questions which were irrelevant so I protested. "It is relevant" he insisted. When he asked if I talked to any police officer while in the ambulance before we left to the hospital, I was so distraught that I took a long pause to avoid crying and finally answered yes in a faint voice.
- Q. Do you still have your bicycle?
- A. No.
- Q. What happened to it?
- A. It was taken to the hospital in the ambulance with me. Then some staff from Quick Track came to visit me and I asked them to bring it back to the office with them but they did not. After I left the hospital, I didn't do anything to get it back.
The third part of the interview concerned the damages, in other words, what inconveniences I suffered as a result of the accident. So I said that I cannot bend my leg at more than a 90 degrees angle and this prevents me from enjoying a lot of physical activities, like hiking, dancing, running etc. "You see, in your statement, you said (and he read from it) Quote: "Number one, I cannot work. I need crutches to walk. I cannot bike, which is how I was making a living. I cannot dance, I used to dance. I cannot run in the park, which was my biweelky activity. A lot of things I cannot do. I cannot walk. I cannot take care of myself, I need help. I cannot cook because to cook you need to stand on your feet and do a lot of small steps. I cannot clean my apartment, I can't make my bed. I could go on and on." Unquote.
"That was very good" he said, closing the transcript. "You need to tell the jury what it is now that you cannot do. If you say you have a weak knee and you can't bend your leg, that's not enough." He wanted me to say "I can't fuck" I know, but I couldn't bring myself to mention it, even rephrased.
"OK," I said. "I'm going to think about it and I'll give you more details next time."
He wanted us to meet on Friday of the same week to go over the routine once again. I would have to do some homework.
Regarding the damages, I mentioned the problem of sexual harassment I had had with Dr. Nailor, which made me switch to Dr. Pflum for the removal of the hardware in my knee. Dr. Pflum in turn had left a staple inside. So I asked what he thought about it. I said I knew it was not his specialty but since these problems had resulted from the accident, the TA was responsible, wasn't it? He said that yes but that it was certainly too late to file a suit against each doctor, and anyway now the trial was imminent and it was time to bring this matter to an end. Then he gave me a garbled speech where only the words "sexual harassment" were meticulously pronounced and recurred several times, as if he wanted to make me feel uncomfortable. And from what I understood, he was saying the exact opposite of what he had previously said, that I would have to pay the legal expenses out of my own pocket. The word "obfuscation" came to my mind. I got up and walked towards the door. I felt exhausted by the emotional drain. Not only because of the re- telling of the accident, but also by his hostile and cruel attitude, this senior lawyer who is supposed to help me, to guide me through the jungle of personal injury law. Obviously he was eager himself for the case to end. He had a hidden stake in it.
"I'll be glad when the whole thing is over." I said. I was supposed to call him the next day or Thursday to schedule an appointment for Friday. But on Friday morning I called to say I was very busy and would prefer to see him the following week. He said he was going to be busy picking the jury and that I should call monday around eleven to re-schedule. So I called and talked to Ira, who told me to come wednesday between 4.15 and 4.30pm. On wednesday around 3.30, Leonard called to say that it wasn't worth coming to see him because the judge and the bus driver were going to be on vacation and that the trial had been switched to August the 16th. I was going to call them myself to say I wouldn't go, because I really didn't feel like it. I wanted to figure out how they were intending to screw me before I saw them next. Apparently he's trying to get me nervous by changing the dates. I would be if I was blinded by greed.
TRUE AND FALSE
I had tried to visualize the false account of the events since Ira, the son, had told me in a matter-of-fact tone, early into the case, that it would be better if I said that I fell as soon as I was hit, instead of saying that I had been sideswiped. But I could never picture how exactly I could have fallen their way, I couldn't get emotional about it. I couldn't tell them about how the survival instinct made me see in a flash that if I fell I would die, and that if the bus touched my bike I would fall, and find a desperate solution to avoid falling by leaning on the bus with my shoulder to stay up.
I know how I would sound if I lied. I would sound like my words were rehearsed. I would stick to my prepared statement like someone on the defensive. Why would an innocent person rehearse? Telling the bare truth doesn't require advance preparation. You can tell the truth many different ways without ever worrying that something is going to slip. The jury would perceive my insincerity and my account of the events would be picked apart, in particular where the fall was concerned.
LEARNING TO LIE
Since infancy I had be taught to lie. I had felt a violation of my ethics long before I could put it in words, being forced to go along with Mother's lies, since she was the source of all I needed. Just like some birds have a built-in compass so they can orient themselves in their travels, our sense of ethics is inborn because we need it for survival. It tells us what acts promote the human species and what acts hinder its harmonious development. That's why we have a perception of right and wrong that precedes any religion. I believe the source of my resentment towards my mother is that she warped my compass, and it made me dysfunctional. Compelled to lie, torment and disappoint, I looked at people who were honest and carefree as I would have a species I didn't belong in. I felt a total fake and looked at the world at one remove, unutterably unhappy. I constantly felt that everybody was better than me and that I didn't deserve to enjoy life like they did. I was very lonely.
How had I become this way I couldnt figure out, but I knew this was not what I had wanted. I had never dreamt I would get lost in such an endless nightmare.
Once in a nightclub in Paris in 1982, I heard a singer and that was so much what I wanted to do that I felt the intense pain of being so far from my goal, of having erred in side streets and back alleys instead of staying on the main road. Instead of being onstage doing what she did, I was a woman in the audience with a head full of cocaine and booze, and a heart full of quashed sobs. I realized I couldn't play music unless I unwarped my soul. During my thirties, which correspond with my ten years in New York, I returned my soul to the smithy and hammered it back into shape, so that I could play music, look at people straight in the eye, and not feel guilty anymore. I think that a basic human right is the right to feel innocent, original sin not withstanding.
So now this lawyer was forcing me to lie and since I had straightened myself out, the whole lawsuit was tainted and I was once again robbed of the comfort of feeling innocent.
After the lawyers first asked me to lie I tried to find some other lawyer to take up the case but gave up after three attempts. Nobody wanted to take the case. So I let it go at that and I went along.
For the EBT of August 7, 1990, and August 28, 1991 Ira Slavit had brough his own court reporter from Diamond Reporting in Brooklyn, explaining that it guaranteed a better accuracy, then he sent me my transcripts. I kept in touch to know if the bus driver had made a statement. It took months of occasional checking before Ira told me that they had received the driver's transcript. Following this phone conversation, I wrote into my computer:
Called L. Slavit. Driver's two testimonies contradictory. Pretends he didn't take any witness' name because bus carried only one passenger, at 1:15 pm on 5th Ave! My testimony hasn't yet arrived. They'll call me as soon as they get it."
It took weeks before I finally had received the driver's transcripts.
So I kept wondering exactly how they intended to screw me, feeling their betrayal and malice threaten me with discomfiture, shame and poverty like the dis-heatening wingspan of a hovering vulture.
To me, the situation looked like this: Every source of income had been rendered inaccessible: my legitimate share of my father's estate was being ripped off me, my personal injury lawyers were intent on making me lose the case, and my efforts at financial independence, whether with the berets or the music, had been countered by harassment and blacklisting. Looking down the line, all I saw for me was poverty, despair and destitution and the ultimate degradation of begging my mother for help.
In the effort to interfere with my sources of income, every area of my life had been inflitrated by my enemies. My mail was tampered with. My apartment had no secrets to my landlord. I was wondering if my phone and my apartment weren't bugged and I felt like the hero in 1984, with a million-eyed Big Brother peering into every corner of my life. I barely dared to talk to my cat and fought to let a squeak out of my throat.
Since the landlord had been a cop in a previous life (he had been expelled for being corrupt) it was not unthinkable that he would use his knowledge of intelligence gathering techniques.
Since the only way to explain how things had turned out with CES was by mail tampering on the landlord's part, it re-inforced my impression that he was my mother's agent, as the ad in the New York Times had indicated. And if he was indeed, then he must have been in touch with the Slavits, just like he had been in touch with my estate attorney, Me. Montalette.
How could I make a living? How could I maintain my dignity? Having an outdated visa, (in other words, being an illegal alien) the only employment I could find would be off the books and at low pay. I knew the routine. The job would take all my time and energy, and I wouldn't have any negotiating power, leaving me vulnerable to all the kinds of abuse I already had suffered.
The check of FF8,000 had still not cleared and I was running up a tab at the bodega next door, which charged outrageous prices. I had started a diet of potatoes, onions and garlic with butter, and they charged a dollar a pound for the vegetables and 89 cents for a stick of butter. A can of cat food cost 59 cents. After seeing me buy a brand of dry cat food, they had asked me what was the name of it again, and had discontinued it. Everyday I was wondering if they were going to demand payment and stop giving me credit and I watched anxiously their poker faces for a sign. If they told me "You have to pay now", I would have to go picking edible weeds in Central Park. (I have done it sometimes, but not out of necessity). But how would I do without beer and cigarettes?
People disrespected me at every occasion, and everybody I tried to commuunicate with seemed to be part of the conspiracy. This was revealed by tiny details, which frightened me more than open acts of hostility would have. Each time these tiny events threw me into my private world of anguish, my loneliness, wondering whether it was maybe, just a co-incidence, in which case I was getting paranoid, an alternative which was no better.
Thoughts of suicide entered my mind. Wouldn't it be too bad to die just when I had recovered my ability to play music, just when I had reached a professional level, when my fingers knew their way around the guitar neck, when my voice finally came out sonorous and rich? To die when I had finally healed my soul, knowing that there was nothing wrong with me. Yet I felt hopeless and tired of fighting. I kept considering the possibility. How would I do it? Would I slit my wrists in the bath tub? Then the last thing I would see would be the ceiling, part of which had fallen off due to water infiltration, leaving a sight of rotten wood. Would I buy heroin on the street, enough to overdose on the first try? However I knew that it was just what they had been working on all these years: pushing me to commit suicide and I didn't want to give them this satisfaction.
I had rescue fantasies. For instance with the owner of the bodega. He's a Jewish-Dominican man in his sixties, well preserved but with a back a little crooked, and a right index fingers whose nail looks like a claw. I pondered for about one week how to approach him. I felt that since the landlord had bought the building from him and was certainly paying him monthly installments, this man, Martial, would take my side and protect me from him.
During the few days I thought it was a good idea, I felt in anticipation the comfort of being protected. I would have to give up something in exchange. I pictured his deformed index finger on my body, in intimate places, his mouth on my mouth and felt a revulsion. But I would take it, with clenched teeth.
So one night I waited until the store was empty near closing time and walked in. He was behind the counter. The local idiot was there too, but I felt he was not dangerous. So I told Martial I would like to ask him a question and asked if he could call me tonight while giving him my phone number, which I had written on a piece of paper.
He didn't call that night nor the morning after, so I knew it wouldn't work. But I had regained some fighting spirit and was ready to keep roughing it alone. In the afternoon I went to the bodega and told him "I got the answer to my question." "What was it?" "Too late now."
While I was enjoying the mirage of safety, bullshitting myself that someone would take care of my problem, I relaxed and spent hours on my bed reading in alternance with writing. Some motherly vision was irrupting into my mind admonishing me to get up and do something, with frowned brows and deep vertical lines in between. I was the little girl and adolescent again, put to public shame with the scarlet letter of L for lazy hanging from my neck. Mom didn't recognize work as such that was not manual. You had to show something for it and soon, or else it wasn't work. Occupations like research, brainstorming or creative daydreaming were derided and labelled as excuses to do nothing. "Don't use your head" was the subliminal message. But since I knew it now, I was able not to panic and resisted the temptation of throwing myself into some mindless occupation, just to quiet the shame of being lazy. Besides, not knowing what to do, I might do something that I would regret. Panic is not a good advisor.
So I read. In an attempt to understand the mental process which had allowed Sherlock Holmes to solve so many baffling mysteries, I re-read the complete works of Arthur Conan Doyle in one volume, all 1122 pages of them. I tried to imprint in my mind the mental process of inference, and apply it to the mysteries of my own life. I enjoyed the author's fine and compassionate perception of women's psychology. But in the last third of the volume I came across the following: "One of the most dangerous classes in the world is the drifting and friendless woman. She is the most harmless and often the most useful of mortals, but she is the inevitable inciter of crime in others. She is helpless. She is migratory. (...) She is lost, as often as not, in a maze of obscure pensions and boarding-houses. She is a stray chicken in a world of foxes. When she is gobbled up she is hardly missed. "
This and Poe's assertion that "The most poetical topic in the world is the death of a beautiful woman", recently quoted in the Style section of the New York Times about the irresistible appeal of the waif, (to people's sadistic tendencies) made me plumb deeper the depth of my helplessness.
All the self-help books I had sought enlightenment from were nearly useless now. In ten years of working on repairing my psyche, I had prepared myself to weather the revelation of exactly what kind of people my family was made of. I had stopped denial. OK, so they were really bad people, and now what? Was I doomed to suffer their persecution for the rest of my life? In my despair I kept clinging to the words of Edward Bach, the discoverer of the Flower Remedies. "Instability, indecision and wakness of purpose result when the personality refuses to be ruled by the Higher Self, and lead us to betray others through our weakness. Such a condition would not be possible had we within us the knowledge of the Unconquerable Invicible Divinity which is in reality ourselves." "Our object in life is to follow the dictates of our Higher Self, undeterred by the influence of others..." "We must earnestly learn to develop individuality according to the dictates of our own Soul, to fear no man and to see that no one interferes with, or dissuades us from, the development of our evolution, the fulfilment of our duty and the rendering of help to our fellow-men..."
Since I had given up my intent of playing the guitar in public for the time being, I was spending all day inside my cramped quarters. I came out only to go to the bodega next door and spent hours at my desk typing, a towel on my neck, a towel on the back of the chair, and my terry-cloth lined beret invention on my head with the hair tucked in. I got nickel bags of pot on credit from three different dealers.
On the way back from such an acquisition, I remembered an episode in my appartment hunting days of the summer of 89, of which I had not written. I had visited a room on West 14th Street, answering an ad in France-Amerique while staying at Sarah's, and had fortuitously seen some abstract Syrian mosaics from the 5th and 6th century A.D. [At the time Syria was a province of the Eastern Roman Empire] It had been one of the most unpleasant encounters in my search. Just thinking about it fleetingly drenched me in utter horror but I couldn't tell why. Would I relate it because I had decided to write a true story, or would I omit it, taking a fiction stance by default, in the middle of a true account?
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