DIARY OF A MARKED WOMAN
Then Alex walked in. "Do you know him?" I asked John. "I've seen him around here." Alex sat down next to me. I said hello. He was somber and didn't speak to me. He talked to a bad looking man away from the bar then came back, took a phone call with the spiral cord extending all the way to the other end of the bar. When I looked at John, he had fallen asleep, his chin against his chest. Alex didn't stay long and didn't drink anything. He got up and said to me: "I'll be at the Tavern, see you there. Don't worry about him, she will take him home at closing time" pointing with his chin to the bartender. I shook John. He moved a little. I put on my coat, hat and scarf and shook him harder. He raised his head. I said that I would come back next Tuesday and left.
There were only two persons at the Tavern with Alex. I sat near the door to his right. To his left were two men. I thought Alex was going to tell me that he had talked to a journalist about me and to arrange a meeting. He introduced me to one of the two men. "Meet my friend Lopsong." and we shook hands. Alex said that Lopsong is Tibetan and that he is a champion bodybuilder. He introduced me: "This is Brigitte, she's French." "Oh, Lopsong said, the French love the Tibetan people!" "Really?" I asked, unaware. "Oh, yes, the French people have helped the Tibetans for a long time, they love the Tibetans. You know Ecully?" "No" I said. "There's a community of Tibetan refugees over there and the French help them. Richard Gere. Do you know what Richard Gere did?" I couldn't care less about Richard Gere. "I don't go to the movies." I said. "But it's not about a movie!" I remembered reading about Richard Gere getting involved with the cause of the Tibetans. "Yes! He did a fund-raise for the Tibetans!" Lopsong said triumphantly.
He said that he had been the Dalai Lama's bodyguard, that he was a bodybuilder, that American championship organizers had sponsored him to compete, that he had won championships.
"You mean, you've competed for the Americans?" I asked. "Yes, he said, they asked me to come to the U.S."
"You'd think that a Tibetan would escape on foot through the mountains," I said to Alex, "but no, America begged this guy to come to America and he came by plane all expenses paid. At what level did you compete?" I asked Lopsong. "National? International?"
"I won the title 'Mr. New York.'" Mr. New York. It sounded ridiculous. "Check this out, Alex said, guiding my hand to Lopsong's arm." I pressed his biceps. Of course it was hard, but Lopsong did not have the muscle mass of a bodybuilder. He was obviously slender, even with his leather jacket on. "Wow!" I said, pretending to be impressed.
They looked at me expectantly. Was I supposed to enter a trance at the touch of a biceps, at the sound of the word "bodybuilder"? Just because I go to a gym and once, in jest, I checked a muscleman's biceps and pretended to be ecstatic? Apparently I was also supposed to be enthralled by the Tibetan just because he said that the French and Richard Gere love the Tibetans.
"How long ago did you compete in bodybuilding?" I asked. He understood that I wasn't impressed by his muscle and he said that it was a few years back and now he was an actor. He had had to lose volume when he started acting. He had acted in many famous films. He dropped names of directors, actors, exotic locales. He was back from Argentina where he had just finished filming with a famous director. He didn't say what film. He didn't say Evita. "Where in Argentina?" I asked. "Well, I took the plane to Buenos Aires and then it was by car so I don't know the name of the place." The guy smelled like bullshit to high heavens but he was ebullient, he gesticulated, talked loud and fast, it was hard to stop him.
I turned to Alex and asked him how long he had known the guy. "About four months." he said, sounding a bit contrite. Then Lopsong introduced me to the guy next to him. He was from Guatemala. Lopsong went to the bathroom and the Guatemalan came toward me and started mumbling, his eyes half-closed. He was getting on my nerves because he stayed planted behind me. I told him he should go home and I would talk to him another time. When Lopsong returned the Guatemalan sat back on his stool and Lopsong put an arm around his neck and spoke low in his ears. Now Lopsong was explaining to me that he was doing body work in Manhattan and that he had a clientele of musicians and actors, that he cared about me, that he knew I needed some body work and that he would like to help me.
The Guatemalan left and the man who makes horses out of wire came in, sat on Alex's left and started to works on a piece that he had just begun. Alex had introduced me to him last summer, just outside the Tavern and I had felt obligated to buy a horse from him. But he gave me a good price and I liked the horse. Before he left I came back out to ask him for a certificate of origin and he made me swear never to disclose the price to anybody, but it was too late because I had already told Alex that I got the horse for forty bucks. There was an article recently in the Home section of the NY Times, about this man who sleeps in the street, an about his wire sculptures. Now a horse costs $600 in some gallery.
Lopsong came to sit on my right. Now I was between him and Alex. The horseman handed to Lopsong a copy of the Times article. Lopsong glanced at it and gave it back. He continued about his body work thing and repeated that he really cared about me. He spoke with his mouth wide open, his teeth bared. He had strong teeth, not pointy but I thought they made him look violent and cruel. Alex had just bought me a second drink and now he finished his beer and got up, saying that he was leaving. I didn't want to be alone with Lopsong so I said I was leaving too and started to put my coat on. Lopsong said that I really needed body work, that what he wanted to do to me would liberate the flow of energy, that it was normal for people who live in New York City to be tense. He asked for my phone number. I said that I couldn't give it to him but I wrote my address down and he wrote his phone number. He said that he lived at 107th and Central Park West so he would walk me home.
103rd Street is exclusively a walkway between Amsterdam Avenue and Manhattan Avenue and we were the only ones out. "Do you have back pain?" "No." "Do you have stomach pain?" "No." Lopsong insisted about the body work. I said that I wasn't interested. He said that it was very simple and that it didn't take a long time and that afterwards I would feel much better. "Let me try something, sit on this bench." He pushed one finger on one side of my neck then on the other. I said ouch because he was pushing hard. Then he pushed in my back between the shoulder blades until I said ouch. "You see!" he said triumphantly, "This is the triangle. It hurts because your energy is blocked in the triangle. What I want to do is remove the tension so you will regain all your energy." I was getting angry because the metal bench was freezing cold through my pants.
I got up and repeated that I was not interested. He said that he charged two hundred dollars to do this work and that he would do it for free just because he cared about me.
"Maybe I'll call you next week to make an appointment."
"But it doesn't take long, it takes only fifteen to twenty minutes."
"I don't want to do it now."
"Come on! Only fifteen to twenty minutes."
"OK", I said, "but I don't want anything sexual." And then I thought, if he wants to have sex, how I am going to avoid it once he's in my place. Better not to let him in. I learned my lesson from Jean-René.
"Other people pay me two hundred dollars for this." His insistence almost made me feel ridiculous for not jumping on the opportunity to save two hundred bucks but I felt he was trying to manipulate me so I refused again.
We arrived at Manhattan Avenue. I told him to keep going, showing him the north, that I wasn't interested and to leave me alone. But he crossed the street behind me. Now he was with me at the bottom of the stoop. "Go home, I'm not interested. I don't want it. What time is it anyway? Three o'clock!" He said it was only a quarter to three as if it made a big difference. I started to climb the stairs. He was following me. Again I asked him to leave but he kept climbing. My mind blanked out. I found my keys in my pocket. Usually I keep them in my bag. If they had been in my bag it would have taken twenty seconds more. I pushed the door. There was some paper stuffed in the lock to prevent the door from locking shut. I pulled the paper off and entered the lobby without opening the door more than enough for me to slip through and I pushed the door closed behind me. Lopsong was just arriving, his arm extended to push the door open after me but the door slammed in his face. He gave a great bang against the door with his fist but I was out of sight.
It had never felt so good to get home. I didn't dare to look out in the street for fear that he would know where my apartment is. I knew the guy had wanted to kill me, and Alex had set me up. I laughed when I thought how furious and disappointed my mother would be when she learned that every step of the plan had worked seamlessly since last August, only to fail at the last stage. It was three in the morning in New York. In France it was nine in the morning. Maybe she knew already. Maybe she had been up since seven to follow the progress. Maybe it had been she on the phone with Alex at Tap a Keg. Once again I had saved myself because I can be pushed only so far.
I imagined what was supposed to happen once Lopsong was in my apartment: he would have asked me to sit on a chair, maybe backwards, and he would have been behind me. I would have let him massage my neck to release the tension. He would have told me to relax. How easy it would have been then for him either to strangle me or to cut my throat! I would have been blamed for my own demise. "She should not have let him in."
What angers me most is not that my mother, in fact my entire family tries to kill me, it's the fact that they want to make it look like it's my fault. Since I was a child my mother was waiting for me at the bend in the road, to use one of her favorite expressions ("attendre au tournant"), lying in wait for me to make a mistake, and when I made it she pounced on me. Then, in an orgy of sadism, she blamed me, derided me, scolded me, even punished me for having fallen into her trap. Since I've known this particular trait of hers, I've had to avoid making mistakes, like letting a guy I met only one hour before into my apartment at three in the morning. She insults my intelligence too, I mean, this is New York!
And then I wondered what I would tell John next Tuesday. If I told him what happened after I left him maybe it would scare him and he wouldn't want to see me again. If we became friends or lovers, maybe some faceless enemy would tell him to stay away from me or else. If I told him nothing, what kind of relationship could we have, me dodging hired killers while he blithely ignored my tragedy? I would play it by ear.
On Tuesday I went to the bar where I met John. He wasn't there. I shot the breeze with a pool player and checked once in a while for John. I refrained from asking the barkeep if she had seen him. Maybe the faceless enemy had already got to him.
Back home I realized that it had not been by chance that I met John. Bill had not come so I could meet John exactly at the same spot at the bar. John had kissed and hugged me to arouse me sexually because Alex knew that I wouldn't want casual sex. The sexual arousal was supposed to make me change my mind about casual sex and then, after meeting Lopsong at the Tavern through Alex, I was expected to have sex with Lopsong, which would have given me the motivation to take him home. And the reason why John was old was to make it plausible for him to fall asleep, giving me a good excuse to leave and join Alex at the Tavern. So the scheme was for Lopsong to kill me on my bed while we had sex and just before I died I would have thought that I'd made a big mistake. And Mom was waiting for me at the bend.
Once at the Tavern I had asked Alex to massage my neck and shoulders so it must have given him the idea to find for me a man who could be credible when he claimed that he was a body-work healer. But what Alex didn't know is that I asked him to do this not because I felt tension in my neck, but only to be touched by a human being, because I couldn't be touched any other way.
Why a Tibetan? Maybe to appeal to my interest in religions, or my compassion for the oppressed, or my supposed sexual curiosity, or all of the above. He was definitely Asian, with Asian eyes and straight longish black hair. His complexion was not "yellow", it was more copper, like the American Indians, and he was about 5"11", so what he was not was Chinese, Korean or Japanese. He might well be Tibetan and probably that was the only speck of truth about him, everything else was lies. First he had been a bodybuilder but when I didn't believe him he was an actor and at the last minute he was a bodywork healer. How could he travel all over the world acting for films and at the same time have a practice in New York to heal people? The typical psychopath manipulator. A grain of verifiable truth in an ocean of lies.
If I had died and the police investigated, of course, nobody at the Tavern that night would acknowledge seeing me there, including the bartender to whom, amazingly, I said that very night that he was my favorite bartender. (It didn't even make him smile.) The people at Tap a Keg who never looked at me and John would say that they didn't remember seeing me. The last one who had seen me would have been John but he had fallen asleep and when he woke up I was gone. He wouldn't know the time.
The operation was successful but the victim escaped.
On the 21st I received a letter from Agnes dated "Nouvel An 97". Several word-processed pages front and back, with random boldface and italics. A crowd of exclamation and interrogation marks. She still puts a space between the last word in a sentence and the ! or ?
First paragraph: "Les Révolutions ne nous attendent pas ! une nouvelle nous emporte, que nous n'avons pas tout à fait assimilé la précédente ! L'emportement de la terre dans le ciel ne doit pas connaître plus d'effervescence que nos folles équipées humaines !"
She still uses words that Mother used in the family without having checked if they really exist. "équipée" is a word that does not exist. And what about “emporte” and “emportement” in two contiguous sentences?
And she teaches people how to write! Speaks about the wonderful surprise when some people have an insight, people for whom that's all it takes for them to take off.
“In April,” she continues with her year-in-review, “there was a grand fiesta to celebrate "Douchka"'s 70th birthday.” That's Mom. "Do you remember all the women on their knees, sewing the long red thread around the white linen all embroidered with love ? the evening full of giggles, of improvised dances, of stories and of songs ? and the charm of the Amfreville castle ? the people singing at the table ? the grandiose chandelier ... and the pleasure of seeing again long-forgotten cousins ... yes, a great happiness that stays in your heart for a long time and makes you want to do it again soon. And we're going to do it again for Rose Anne very soon !"
It took me a while to figure out what she meant by the women on their knees sewing the long red thread. First I thought that she was referring to a folkloric tradition I had never heard of but suddenly I remembered that last year I had received a letter from Agnes where she suggested that for Mother's 70th birthday we all -that is, us women- embroider a piece of fabric and that they would be assembled to form a "chemin de table" (a table runner) on the theme of the celebration of Mom's birthday. She gave the specs: dimensions, fabric quality etc. So "les femmes agenouillées " (the kneeling women) were not subjects in a famous painting I had never heard of, but my sisters and nieces themselves, submissively kneeling while sewing together the little squares and then bordering the piece with red thread while Mother probably was sitting in an armchair, maybe on a platform like royalty, looking down at them. I could never have joined them with my bad knee and besides, how can one be sewing on one's knees, let alone giggle while doing it, is beyond me. Now could she explain how this abject submissiveness jibes with her feminism?
They had had one year to brush-up on their embroidering skills, last used when they were ten years old, to embroider with love. The undercurrent was a fierce competition among my sisters to win the most appreciation from Big Mom, a scrutinizing of her facial expression and her body language to detect approval, a heightened hearing sensitivity to hear the words which would elate or crush, to catch the true meaning of a clearing of the voice, a grunt, a snort, a sigh. And always, at the bottom of their little hearts, the eternal question: Does she love me? It makes me sick just to think about it.
But Agnes has always been like that. It was always she who decided what we would offer our parents for their birthdays or for Christmas, and it was she who organized our games on vacations. She's a leader and an organizer and because she is the eldest of seven, has long had great deal of authority, which doesn't sit well with an independent mind like mine. When Mom gave us some money to buy her and Dad presents, it was Agnes who received it, I never knew how much, and who allocated the funds among us other children. Not only that, but she made a list of presents and told us who should buy what from the list. In fact we gave her the money back and she bought the item in our name to give our parents. And I never liked what she bought in my name. I remember a particular kitchen utensil (some pincers to grab a dish out of the oven), which mother never used and which I saw every time I opened the kitchen drawer where the bread knife, the corkscrew and other things were. And every time I saw it I felt inadequate and sad. Sometimes I think Agnes did it on purpose, to buy a nasty present in my name, because she didn't like for me to be loved by anybody and she wanted all the love for herself. The worst possible scenario is that the money she distributed and then took back had nothing to do with the actual cost of the present. Maybe she spent most of the money on her present and with what was left when it was my turn, she bought a worthless item.
Now that I think of it, there was another embarrassing embroidery. Mom's name day is in the summer, which we usually spent in Brittany. One certain summer before I could read and write, Agnes decided that we would make embroidered doilies to give Mom for her name day. She decided that the theme would be marine life. She obtained navy blue canvas and cut it into rounds about the size of a plate, then she started helping us in decreasing order of birth. My turn to be helped came after the three of them were well into their needlework and they were all doing little fishes in the same shape: an oval for the body and a triangle for the tail. As usual the idea of doing the same thing as everybody else revolted me.
A short time prior to this project, Agnes had read to me, or told me about Two Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Vernes and for the first time in my life I learned about the existence of an animal named Octopus. There was an illustration which made quite an impression on my young mind. And this was a giant octopus. So I decided to embroider an octopus for my mommy. I applied myself to draw curling tentacles but when I was ready to stitch there was not much time left. My sisters meanwhile were almost finished. If I used the "point lancé" like they did for the fish, it would take me forever so I used the same stitch that we used for the border and my beast came out very well. When everything was ready, everybody wrote little notes and affixed them to their doily, except I who could neither read nor write so Agnes did it for me. And what did she write in my name? "For you, dear Mommy, this mean octopus I did while thinking about you. Brigitte." This thing would delight a psychoanalyst. Years later, Mom was still speaking about the note and the octopus but misquoted it by saying "This mean octopus which reminds me of you." In French the word "penser" comes in both instances. What Agnes wrote was "cette méchante pieuvre que j'ai faite en pensant à toi" and Mom's misquote was "cette méchante pieuvre qui me fait penser à toi." When I was in France in 1990 I asked Mother to show me the doily again and I verified that the little note did not have the meaning that Mother was giving to it. But I didn't discuss it with her, it would have seemed like I was desperate to be loved by her and she would have jumped on the occasion to frustrate me. The bottom line is that this present which took me a long time to make, which I made with love and enthusiasm, which was original and looked really pretty, instead of softening my dear mother's heart was like a slap in her face. It was never mentioned that it was Agnes who had decided what to write. And I didn't even know what she had written! Anyway.
Continuing with Agnes’ letter, I read about the marriage of her daughter Eleonore with the American Smith. Eleonore was about three months pregnant when they married. Didn't Agnes teach her about birth control? Did they marry because of the baby? You'd never think we're in 1997. But of course Agnes does not say this. She just says that Eleonore is thrilled and cannot wait to give birth (in January) and the newlyweds stay at Agnes' house waiting for the baby.
Agnes organized everything. Everything was her idea. a "Hutte d'Alliance" (“Hut of Alliance”)) made of driftwood, the decoration, the fertility symbols (the bride’s pregnancy wasn’t enough). They scrubbed a wash pool from the days before electricity, plumbing and hot water, where the "jeunes-filles" (maidens) gathered for the "Geste des Lavandieres" (Saga of the Washerwomen.) What? Everybody gathered around the wash pool for the ceremony. I know, the poetry of washing the family linens by hand in cold water. That's what marriage is all about. And everybody made a print of their hand on the “Marriage Drape”.
In September (1996), she goes on, there was a flurry of cultural activities. "As we enjoy the beautiful fall days, a young friend jumps off the bridge of Bourran and is killed. He was with us the day of the marriage, his name was Dharma and he had made a print of his hand not far from yours ..."
Let the New Year be for all of you good and beautiful !
Handwritten at the bottom: Have you received the notification of a tax adjustment (colossal) regarding the estate? What do you think about the "partage judiciaire"? Are you going to hire a lawyer? Will you come to see a little what's going on? Too bad for us not to have the salt of your presence ! When are we going to see you ? Kisses, from too far away ! Agnes.
There has always be a confusion between "partage judiciaire" and "reglement judiciaire". When I said I wanted a partage judiciaire, Agnes was alarmed that the property of the estate would be sold at auction at a very low price. The partage judiciaire is only a division of the estate supervised by the court. It is the reglement judiciaire that is the occasion for auction fire-sales, and the "reglement judiciaire" occurs only in case of bankruptcy.
Anyway I was stunned to read this stark piece of news at the end of a mellifluous account of the family's various celebrations. Why was she asking me if I would take a lawyer? I didn't do anything wrong. Mother is the executor of the estate, so if there's a problem with the taxes, she is the one to deal with, not me.
I read the postmark. It was dated January the 13th. She had mailed the letter the day after the incident with Lopsong. Actually no. The same day because Lopsong was at my building at 3 am, therefore it was already Monday the 13th. The hour on the postmark was 16:30, meaning 4:30 pm, that is 10:30 am in New York, just seven and a half hours after Lopsong was at my door.