Losing the fear of fear (1 out of 3 life changing incidents)

Updated: Dec 31, 2019

It was April 1985. I had wrapped up my graduate degree in NYC. Reagan’s policies had dealt a severe blow to garment exporters. There was stress around me because my family was affected. I wanted to pursue my post graduation but things looked bleak. The incident I am about to recount happened on a Thursday morning but I can’t remember the exact date.

I lived in a rented apartment in Elmhurst NY. My father would stay with me whenever he needed to visit the US on business. We had a shared office (space) in a prominent building in the Garment District (for those of you who know New York, it was in 1411 Broadway). That Thursday, between my father and me we had about US$10. Of this US$ 3 would be spent for the two of us commuting to Manhattan (to the office) and back; subway fares at that time were US$ 0.75, per person per journey. We had a little food in the house but the biggest concern was paying the weekly wages of the person who worked for us. On Friday she would be due around US$200. The office rent was also due. I had to make arrangements for funds to pay for my post graduation. The situation was dismal. And yet, I remember the day like it was yesterday.

My father asked me to go bathe first; something he never did. He volunteered to pick my bed. In the 2 bed room apartment that we had, I slept on a sofa cum bed while he used the master bedroom. I did this because the one TV in the house was where the sofa-bed was.

I bathed and said my prayers and noticed that my father hadn’t still gone to bathe. He asked me if I was missing any money. I said that I wasn’t, I didn’t have any. He showed me a US$20 bill with a bank’s band intact. He claimed he found it while folding the sofa bed. I examined it carefully and I noticed it had a band (from the bank) with a date on it. 12.19.84. That was the date on which the bank packed the bundle. On the same  band was marked 100 indicating it was a bundle that made up US$100. I could only imagine that in December (of the previous year) I had withdrawn this money from the bank. I remembered vaguely I thought I had lost money while watching the ball drop on 31st December, at Times Square (you can know more about this event at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Times_Square_Ball). I had dismissed it to me being drunk.

Let me also put into perspective the significance of finding the money. It’s very possible that in December I put my jeans on the head of the bed causing the bill to fall between the cracks and rest on the floor. My father was in India at the time. I folded my bed for over 3 months and never saw the money! I wasn’t great at cleaning house but I kept it sufficiently clean. With these thoughts going on in my head, I got dressed. At that time I didn’t think much of it but I knew it was a sign that good things were about to happen.

My father and I silently boarded the subway train and reached the office. We used the US$10 bill to purchase the tokens. We didn’t say much to each other but we were hopeful that today would be a good day. By 5 pm it wasn’t to be. I had waited for some sales or perhaps even inquiries giving me hope that I could get through the week and hopefully plan my future education. We were getting ready to head back home when a mediterranean looking gentleman entered the office. He was dressed in a suit and looked rather business-like. But the wind had gone from our collective sails. He asked for garments that we had in stock. I was mentally exhausted and was about to ask him to come the next day but for some reason, I indulged him. I showed him some of the stuff lying in a warehouse in New Jersey. He started making notes. He asked me prices and units and soon my father too got into the act. He kept asking questions for about 45 minutes. He then asked me to close the office door. I hesitated. He insisted. I closed the door.

He pointed to the racks of clothes and started reciting from his notes. He indicated the stock he wanted and asked my father for the best discount. They bargained and I watched. They struck a deal and I started calculating the value of the sale. It was more than US$ 20,000! This wasn’t happening to me. He then stood up, and from around his waist he removed a cloth money belt. From this he removed 100 dollar bills. He placed 10 of them on the table. This was the down payment for holding the stock for him. He wanted to meet me the at the warehouse the next day. Here he would verify the stock, calculate the amount due to me and pay me.

A stunned father and son took the subway train back home. I don’t remember details of the evening or the next morning that brought me to the warehouse in New Jersey. The one thing that I do remember is feeling overwhelmed at the turn of events. From a week that was steeped in anguish the day ended with hope. I remember standing before my temple and allowing the tears to flow, both in the evening and the next morning. I couldn’t tell if the tears were of joy, sorrow, or sheer relief.

At the warehouse the stocks were verified and the deal concluded. He paid me in 3 parts, one was a banker’s check for a very large amount, the second was some more cash and the third was a promise to pay the warehouse at the time of picking up the stock. I also remember going to the owner of the warehouse and paying some part of the rental, with a promise to square up accounts once the goods were ready to be shipped.

The train ride back from New Jersey to Manhattan was marked by stony silence. I can’t remember anything of that journey. I remember entering the office to find my father and the sales person eagerly awaiting. I told them about the transactions. I handed over the cash and the check to my father. It was lunch time by now and we decided to deposit the check in the bank while going to lunch. I remember we had handmade pizza with a side order of spinach and corn. The reason I remember it so vividly is because when it came time to pay the bill, my father reached for this $20 bill. He looked at it, then looked at me and we both silently agreed we shouldn’t spend it. He put it back in his pocket and paid from the other dollar bills we now had.

That evening the bill with the band was placed in the temple (in my apartment). While I was in the US, this stayed in my temple. Every morning I reminded myself of the day when I didn’t have money to go through the next day. I clung to the belief that there was someone looking after me when I felt I was helpless.

To this day the dollar bill remains intact. In the pictures attached (I clicked them this morning), the dollar bill with the dated band are clearly visible. They rest with me in my house. The same year, my faith was tested again and this time even more severely. But the test forgot that I had lost the fear of fear. I could stay on in the US thanks to this US$20 bill.

Many of my friends are aware of this story and some have seen the note too. I decided to recount this story and post it only because I see a crisis of faith and a fear of fear around me. I think in my own little way, if I am able to help anyone by sharing my experiences, I will count it as time well spent.


The US$20 bill



Close up of the band showing the date


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© 2020 Vivek Mehra