My home workspace, the living room, has a sometimes laptop, a round breakfast table with a Lazy Susan in the center, and an old armchair that was my dad’s when we were kids. He sat in it, too, when he stayed at my house in the summers, away from Florida, his new wife and his new life. The tall back fit his frame, I guess. Or maybe it cradled him in memories – as it does me. The arms are wearing thin and I wonder if I will ever be able to afford to cover them and make them new. For now, it is all good enough. I have a place to sit, to work, to think, to remember.
The white envelope stares at me from atop the closed laptop. Kevin sometimes drops the “ugly” mail there. Mail sorted from the daily collection, usually (unless he’s too busy) separated from the circulars and coupons. The bills with my name on them. The official letters from the IRS and the state of NJ. Someone had to sign for those. They are pushed into a pile of offers for engraved tombstones and pest abatement. They await response, probably prompt response. I ignore them.
After my son’s death, there were cards. Each day brought papery piles of kind words and sweet remembrances. Friends from long ago would sit next to me as I read their words, so glad they had known him and loved him as I had. Tears would slip down my cheeks as I thought of the “him” they knew and imagined how they had learned of his death.
Today there is just one stark white envelope. Puffier than most, full to the brim with information.
I recognize the addressee – Estate of Stephen A. Strauss – peeking out from the cellophane window, mocking me. I hope it is just another form letter, but it looks thicker this time.
I had shoved the last letter into my purse a few weeks ago, promising myself that I would call the man ironically named Steve to ask about the contents.
Our investigator…attempted to obtain information from DMV Search, Criminal Search, JSAS Healthcare can then reach a final decision on this claim. Please contact DMV Search, Criminal Search, JSAS Healthcare and ask the office to respond to the investigator as soon as possible so we can continue to process this claim.
The first line isn’t even a sentence. They can’t even write a sentence?
And I have given their investigator (Steve) every piece of information he required. I don’t know how to contact those places.
So the letter stays shoved in my purse.
The new thick one sits taunting me. I should have responded to the other letters.
I had learned of the policy the way I learned about a lot of things, through my bank statement. It had taken me a while to notice it, truth be told. The debit amount was under twenty dollars, $19.93 to be exact. It didn’t feel like anything. It didn’t compare to the three and four hundred dollar debits he set up to pay a credit card. From my account! Each time it happened and the resulting fees overdrew my account even further, he promised to disconnect it from my account. Each time I believed him.
It didn’t compare to the nine hundred dollar checks he forged and deposited into a separate bank account after they closed the one that had been connected to mine. “Landscaping” or “Painting” would be scratched on the memo line. The only landscaping he did was walking across the lawn to meet a “connect” out in front of the house. The only painting he did was painting the walls in the bathroom with streaks of blood from failed injections (I think).
$19.93 didn’t really even register with me.
Until one day it did.
So I asked him about it.
“Oh, Mom. That is for you. It is life insurance. If something happens to me, I can pay you back at least a little for all I’ve taken from you.”
Did he think it was possible that he would die from all of this? I didn’t. Maybe he was more realistic than I was. Maybe he saw things more clearly than I thought he did.
But I was upset about the $19.93. I couldn’t afford even that.
I didn’t act, though. Maybe I forgot until the next month when the charge showed up again. And so it went for a year or so.
And then he died.
The $100,000 policy entered my mind at some point. I pushed it away. I couldn’t face more disappointment – for him. He thought he was doing something that would help us, pay us back, make things right. I didn’t think so.
Months passed. Several more debits were posted to my account. I had to stop that, at the very least. I finally mustered up the courage to call the bank, to investigate the charge. I got in touch with the insurance company. They took my information.
He had left a beneficiary – Estate of Stephen A. Strauss. That made it more complicated. We would have to set up an estate account for him. For someone who had left nothing but debt and disaster in his wake. I did nothing.
Then the investigator called. He wanted to meet with me. So I went all in. We met; I told the truth – all of it. The inquiries, letters, addresses, mailings, and phone calls followed. He was a nice enough man. Seemed sorry for me that I had lost my son.
I would hear from him periodically. Send another this or that to this place or that place. I complied.
I don’t want to open the puffy white envelope. I don’t want to read the words.
We regret to inform you…
One more loss. One more disappointment.
I never thought we would get anything. But the drawn-out process, the silence when I should have heard “No,” let me believe, just a little bit.
It let me believe that I might be able to pay the IRS debt. The state of NJ debt. The debt to my former boss, to my daughters, even to my husband.
That was cruel. Of all the other things it was, it was cruel.
Because, even though I knew we wouldn’t get that $100,000, it gave me hope. Hope that I could pay my bills. Hope that I could pay my debts.
Hope that I could right the boat, come back to even. Hope that good things could happen to good people. That the world wasn’t as unfair and unjust as it was showing itself to be.
Hope that his wish to make things right would come true.
But it didn’t.
We again wish to extend our sincere condolences on the passing of Stephen Strauss.
(Our company) approved term life insurance … based on the signed application… in which he answered “No” to the following questions:
“In the past 12 months, have you used tobacco or nicotine in any form?”
“In the past 10 years, have you been advised to have treatment for, or have you been treated for, or consulted with a physician…for any of the following?
- Alcohol or drug use?
- Depression, anxiety or other mental or nervous disease?
During our investigation….
The above history found during our investigation was material to the risk, and therefore, (our company) would have declined Stephen Strauss for coverage had he disclosed this information on the application.
As a result, we must deny this claim, rescind the coverage and declare it void from its inception in accordance with the insurance policy.
I had revealed his history at the outset. There was no need for a prolonged investigation to gather information. No need to give me false hope.
I sit in my dad’s chair holding the deflated envelope and the pages within and I think that I’m not so different from my dad. He gave beyond what was reasonable – to me, to my cousin, my grandmother, my uncle’s widow – and he lived out his life counting pennies, depending on others. I had hoped to be more like my mother, independent and solvent.
That puffy white envelope full of air and could-be was heavy.
Heavy enough to crush our dreams.