GOD IS MY SALVATION
Finally, exasperated by my silence, he left, slamming the door behind him, talking to himself as he went down the stairs. I moved to the window, staring out at the Campaniles of the Sacre-Coeur, barely visible against a gray sky. I felt crushed, frustrated; I hated the constant agony of dealing with Maurice. The bond I had with him was immune to love affairs, even my passion for art--everything. I was aware that my efforts to assist my son in his troubled lifestyle, my constant sacrifices for a cause which was probably hopeless, represented a deeper morality, a morality which was beyond my capacity to understand it.
Utter wasn't the only one who thought I was making a damn fool of myself; there were others, including Naly, who believed I was wasting my time on a fool's mission, an expenditure of energy which could be applied to my own painting. He was emphatic in advising me to put Maurice in a private asylum, "a luny-bin," he called it, in order to keep him out of the hands of the system. "If you don't," he warned, "he'll go down the drain like the rest the alcoholics--gone forever!" Max Jacobs, agreed with Naly's assessment, saying: "The State obliterates what it wants to get rid of; you can forget that Maurice even existed; they don't care about people as human beings. He'll be incarcerated with the other crazies and incorrigible criminals; he'll be given the full treatment, and its highly probable that he cannot survive the experience!"
The advice made sense, but the solution they suggested required money: a great deal of it; and money was not easily available for a painter who just managed to scrounge by each month. The struggle to survive was a relentless battle, creditors were always at the door of the flat, banging with their fists on the door, threatening to take physical action, if we didn't pay up. This kind of a situation had my nerves on edge, the rest of my life took a back seat, as usual, to the problems of my son. My world, as long as I could remember, was one crisis after another, an endless series of depressing events which went on and on. I tried to sift the multitude of thoughts about the past, all the insane ups and downs, the anxieties which plagued everything in my life. In thinking about the years of Maurice's childhood, it was true that I had never recovered from the exeriences of those early days, experiences that had defined my son's character as well as my own: his manic-depressive moods, his eventual imprisonment at Saint Anne, were still with me. The stigma of psychiatrists, the insinuations of insanity, the public humilations which had been inflicted on me in so many instances, came flooding back, making the hurt of the present dilemma even worse. I am a born escapist, avoiding confrontation whenever possible, but in my troubled mind, I could not think, I could not make a move; I was frozen in place, anxiety ridden, desperately unhappy. The pleasant prospects of a life dedicated to painting, was as distant as ever, the objectives blurred, lost in the web of contradictions spun by a son who didn't care what happened to me, and a world which was quick to condemn a stray female who had presumed to make decisions for herself stretching beyond the acceptable role prescribed by the social system.
The words asylum, police, headshrinker, authority, were hateful for Maurice; the mere mention of any one of them, made him anxious and fearful. When his terror of the implications involved became irresistable, he would hide in closets, under beds, places where he felt more secure, a practice going back to his childhood. His paranoia, at times, became madness; he believed they were outside every door, waiting to pounce on him the moment he appeared. When, during a recent visit by a group of women to the Rue Cortot for the purpose of convincing me that he should be put away, he hid behind Utter's suits in a back closet, refusing to come out until I assured him that they were gone and that he had nothing to fear. I don't believe Maurice ever did anything, good or bad, without a conscious dread of being punished for it. He assumed he was always wrong: he was most of the time; but the expectation of punishment never lessened his apprehension of how it would be applied.
Any question of his sanity, no matter how delicately put, triggered Maurice; he'd convulse, cry uncontrollably, or use it as a pretext to go on a binge. No doubt some of his reaction was faked, an artifice to gain his ends, but, it is my conviction that, on the whole, his conduct was based on the terrible fear that his sanity was in question. It was apparent, however contradictory it sounds, that Maurice knew pretty well what he was doing most of the time. As Doctor Vallon at Saint Anne had suggested, Maurice was unable to alter the course of his life; it was out of his hands; a way of existence decided by the combination of circumstances which had formed him. This lifestyle could only be corrected by a superior power like the criminal justice system, which, I was convinced, would ultimately kill him, because it denied him his alcoholism.
Maurice was conscious of having reached a decisive phase in his relationship with the authorities; he knew what to expect; but even this was insufficient to prevent the madness of his life from going on at the same brutal pace. Maurice, during periods of extreme stress, usually gave more attention to the Church, praying for his immortal soul, insisting, before God, that he was a different man, cleansed of his sins. When my son turned religious like this, especially following a prolonged drinking bout, he threw himself into a religious fervor: spending whole days at prayer, reading his Catholic Catechism, attending all the daytime services, fingering his rosary beads constantly, rolling his eyes as the priests did solemn rituals, presumably, consulting with the Almighty, and he'd sit on the bench outside the Rue de Clignancourt staring hynotically at a large bronze of Christ for hours at end. Sergeant Gay, worried about him not being in his room above the Cafe Belle Gabrielle, often found him sleeping on the wooden benches outside the Little Church of Saint Pierre near the Place du Tertre. The Church, the oldest in Paris, was just a stone's throw from the Mere Catherine and the Cafe de l'Abreuvoir, a sanctuary for bums when they wanted to sleep off their headaches ....
The clergy who ran this small church took an unfavorable view of drunken bums lying on the wooden benches before the altar, especially Maurice, who had a bad reputation for vandalism when he was in his cups. The Abbe Pontefet, who hated my son, usually ordered a couple of novitiates to throw him out on the street, using whatever force was required. Sergeant Gay told me that these novitiates were pretty tough guys, not easily intimidated, handling their fists as well as anybody. Once, he said, when he was on his way to Saint Pierre to pick Maurice up, his tenant came flying out of the front door, just as he arrived there, ending head over heels in the gutter, where he lay staring at the sky, pondering his next move. As he bent down to assist Maurice, the door of Saint-Pierre opened again, and one of the novitiates threw Maurice's coat at them. "If we see him again," the cleric shouted, "we'll break his bloody neck!" Having gotten this off his chest, he turned back into the church slamming the door behind him. "He's forgotten Christ's charity to the oppressed," Sergeant Gay told me, "I'll remember that when they ask me for money!" Then he winked, smiling broadly, saying, "I wouldn't give the sweat off my ass to those characters!"
At intervals, Maurice attended mass at the Church of Notre-Dame de Clignancourt, lighting candles with trembling hands, kneeling, crossing himself, casting anxious glances at the bronze figure of Christ on the Cross which stood out starkly against the brilliance of the stained glass windows. Religious images within the Church were overwhelming to Maurice; he saw God everywhere, in the statuary, the lofty, intricate vaulting, in the choir sections, in the polished brass crosses, the incense, and it all represented the omnipotence of the ruler of the universe. Maurice worried about this because he believed one false move on his part spelled out big trouble. What the priests saw as a mockery of their faith, was only an effort by Maurice to make a greater impression on God, to demonstrate how sincere he was, how he was ready to atone for the sins of a lifetime.
The religious fervor, during this penance period, was carried back to his room above the Cafe Belle Gabrielle. There, next to the window looking out on the Rue Leval, he constructed a makeshift altar with a broken cafe chair which had previously served as a palette for his painting. On the seat, stained with colored pigments, Maurice had placed two saucers, each supporting burned down candles, surrounded by melted wax that had dribbled over to the chair seat. Matches were scattered everywhere, a testimonial to Maurice's inability to keep the candles lit, some of them leaving dark streaks where they had burned the old planking on the floor. He used the altar regularly after getting up in the morning, at noontime, if he was around, and several times during the night if he awakened.
These penance periods had their bad side with increased tension, fevers, chattering teeth, clearly audible if you were nearby, difficulty in movement, depression; all of which made painting, if he could bring himself to do it, very frustrating. It was a contest between alcohol and religion, a dichotomy of pain, a struggle with the demons which tortured him. The nights were particularly agonizing, long, dark hours when he was unable to escape his suffering. The antidote, of course, was to have a drink, and it was inevitable that this would take place. As he weakened, the praying ceased, he'd sit on the edge of his battered bed sobbing, getting up occasionally to walk the floor or pound the walls, something that invariably brought Sergeant Gay on the run.