Jessica died nine days ago, just after 11 in the morning. Ethan was with her, holding her hand. Renee and I were there. Ethan’s best friends, Tim and Jill were there. Her death itself was peaceful to all appearances. I hope it was easy for her. The last words I spoke to her were, “Don’t be afraid, Jess. You’re going to a better place, and you don’t need to be afraid. You’re just going to get there ahead of us. And I hope you’ll be able to keep an eye on us from there.”
Is Jessica there with you? I don’t pretend to know anything about the afterlife, but I am convinced it exists. You taught me that energy is not destroyed, it merely changes its form. And our thoughts, our very identities, are energy. Just as it’s practically impossible to destroy electronic data, I believe it’s impossible to destroy our souls. Others may disagree, and, of course, if they’re right, none of us will ever know it. I hope Jessica’s where you are, watching over us, and waiting to be there to receive us when it’s our turn.
I have spent the last 82 days writing and editing a single letter to you. By the time this sees print, it will have appeared, chopped up into six pieces. It was all about the history of your time as a victim of scams.
So, while I feel that I’ve spent the past six months—maybe even the past year—getting very little done, especially at your house, I guess it’s time to catch you up on a few things. To start with, Howard County has had two tornadoes—and more tornado warnings—since May.
The second one did not touch the Clarksville area at all, although my co-workers and I spent about half an hour sheltering in the basement of our office building in Marriottsville while it passed us.
It wasn’t long after that that I convinced the rest of the family that it was time to take you in for evaluation for dementia. You had left plenty of evidence lying around to support my case—empty express mail envelopes that probably had contained cash, withdrawal slips for large amounts of cash that had vanished, mysterious notes about conversations with people we didn’t know, laced with terms like “handling fee,” “tax payments,” and the names of various luxury cars, canceled checks to random strangers… In the span of five days, you had written checks totaling over $4,500 to people we did not know, and neither did you.
And, of course, after all of this, you filled out one of those damned sweepstakes forms that arrived by the dozens every day. You faithfully put your new phone number on it, even though we had told you never to do that. In fact, I hadn’t wanted to give you the number, but Mother insisted. She said you had to have it. I assume that was so, if ever you were out running “errands” and needed help, you could call us on your missing cell phone with the dead battery.
“Jeff Williams” was back soon enough. By July, 2013, he was telling you to deal with his attorney, Arlene Friske. He renewed his claim that he was actually an FBI agent, investigating money-laundering. He asked for the routing and account numbers for your checking account, which he needed for “the investigation.” I don’t know if you turned those over, but you did write a large check to Arlene Friske, which the police investigated. You may have believed that this was part of getting a cash prize. Or you may have believed you were paying a cash settlement in order to avoid legal action. In any event, you wrote it against your own credit union account, which didn’t contain nearly enough money to cover it.
I began to work with our local Office on Aging, trying to identify mental health services that might reach out to you. I had been told by a social worker that they had an elder mental health officer who might be able to evaluate you. But I knew age was only part of your mental state. You were also traumatized by the threats and harassment.
You still refused to have the phone number changed, even after all this; but after one of the shouting matches with the Jamacian, you asked Mother to please turn off the phone and leave it off.
This was a refreshing change from the night I came in and found you on the couch, in a lather, with about six cell phones in front of you. “Which one of these damn things works?” you demanded to know. I asked where they had come from. You said you had bought them. Most were un-activated pay-as-you-go phones. I wasn’t about to tell you how to activate them! “I have a working cell phone!” you insisted. It was true, you did. You kept it in your truck, the battery never charged, in case of emergencies. It was gone from your truck. We never found out what happened to it, but my reading had told me that the sudden concern over having a cell phone was because the Jamaican had convinced you that he needed a more private way to contact you, without your family knowing. Case histories said that these scammers often convinced their victims that the reason families were so alarmed by the scam activity was that wives and children wanted the money for themselves. So they gas-lighted the victim into setting up secret methods of contact. You reinforced this belief by growling, “None of your damned business!” when I asked why you suddenly needed a cell phone.
After the go-round with the phone number, things were quiet again for about six months. You stopped answering calls coming from 876 area codes. Mother and I thought things were done, now that you told them you wanted to be left alone. Without a willing participant, they can’t get money. We thought that, eventually, they would give up.
We thought wrong. One day in May, 2013, you answered one of the half-dozen calls you were getting daily; and it all resumed. Once they’d heard your voice again, they became like sharks tasting blood in the water. They swarmed. They called ten times a minute. You couldn’t resist answering. One of them told you he was a Federal agent investigating you for money laundering. You stopped sleeping, we couldn’t stop you from answering the phone, and you started sending them money again. You were still driving, at this point, and you would leave the house unannounced on your quests to purchase VHS tapes at Wal-Mart (the only place retro enough to still sell 10-packs of VHS tapes in 2013) and to send money to Jamaica via Western Union. You just wanted them to leave you alone, and you thought that one day they would have enough of your money that they’d grant you that wish. You didn’t know what I was reading in the papers, that people your age had paid as much as a half million dollars to these scammers, in that same hope of ending the harassment, and still achieved no peace.
I still find them occasionally, as I clean up a corner in the house, or go through a box of papers. Most of them try hard to look like official communications from some government office, or legal documents from an attorney. They often have addresses in New York– God only knows how often I’ve looked up those addresses on Google Maps, to see what was actually there!–and they often have checks inside them, made out for obscenely large amounts.
It’s time to talk about them. It’s time to talk about the scams.
By the next time I write you, you will have been gone for two years. So much has changed, and so little.
This is a huge task you left me–have I mentioned that? I’m really at the point right now of looking at the house and saying, “Wow! I’ll never finish this!” I guess I’ve accomplished a lot, but, everywhere I look, there’s so much left to do. And, as I once pointed out to you, when you take fifty years to build a house, you reach the point where the work you’re re-doing may outpace the work you’re doing for the first time.
I suppose today will be mostly a day for outside work. I’ll be starting late. It was already 10:00 this morning before I was ready to head over to your house. I had read some articles forwarded by Beatrice and read a few pages of the book on Shakespeare that I’m finally about to finish. That was when my therapist texted to remind me I had a noon appointment with her, which I had in my head as 2:00. I had been thinking I’d have a good three hours to empty the truck (it’s full of the rest of my old deck, which I’m storing behind your garage, against the day the wood is needed for projects.) Then I’d spray some roundup around the garage, and get some general cleanup done out there. But there’s little point in driving 20 minutes to your house, just to turn around and leave for a noon appointment. So decided to wait until afternoon.
Backing up–therapist? Yes. Perhaps I’ve sugar-coated life since you left us. And I imagine I will continue to do so. But I’ll point the spray nozzle now and wash away at least some of the sticky coating to say that the work you’ve left me to do has saddled me with depression and made it necessary for me to have someone to talk to about coping strategies, and about whether or not I’m entering mentally dangerous territory.
It’s been another busy week–or how many days?–since I
wrote last. Taxes still loom over me. I have to delay paying until my next
paychecks come tomorrow, and then I have to scrape together enough money to
keep my credit card from maxing out completely. I really hate that I’ve got a
maxed-out card. I don’t think I’ve ever had one. But I didn’t quite expect a
$9,000 tax liability. And Lazarus still needs medical care, even though he’s
healthy for an old man. Two visits this month for antibiotics to kick a
UTI–you can relate!–and he needs a lump removed from his neck. Not helping
lower that debt.
I own your truck now. Did I tell you that? Hard to remember.
I do feel age creeping into my brain. It’s hard to know what I’ve said and what
I haven’t, and I’m often asking people to repeat themselves, not because I’m
hard of hearing, but because I just can’t process what they’ve said to me. I
need to hear it again. Anyway, I just loaded up your truck with about a quarter
of the waste wood from my old deck. I think I’ll hold onto it for a while, as
some of it came in handy building Mother’s ramp. I’m going to drive it over and
store it behind your garage, though.