Authors: Mary L. Trump;
He left the room, only to wander in a few minutes later to ask, “What's for dinner?”
Gam pulled me onto the porchâan uninviting square of cement on the side of the House just off the library that decades earlier had been used for family barbecues. It had been so long neglected that I often forgot it existed.
“I swear, Mary,” she told me, “he's going to drive me mad.” The chairs that had been left out there and long forgotten were so littered with twigs and dead leaves that we remained standing.
“You need to get help,” I said. “You should talk to someone.”
“I can't leave him.” She was close to tears.
“I would have liked to go home again,” she once told me wistfully. I didn't understand why she couldn't go back to Scotland, but she adamantly refused to do anything that might look selfish.
On weekends, if they weren't at Mar-a-Lago, my grandparents
would drive to one of their other children's country homes: Robert's in Millbrook, New York; Elizabeth's in Southampton; or Maryanne's in Sparta, New Jersey. They would plan to spend the night, and my grandmother would look forward to a quiet, relaxing weekend with other people. As soon as they arrived at their destination, my grandfather would ask if they could go home. He wouldn't relent until Gam gave up and they got back into the car. The idea of a weekend (or day) retreat had been for Gam's benefit, a chance for her to get out of the House and have company. Eventually the visits became just another form of torture. Like so much else in the family that didn't make sense, they continued doing it anyway.
Gam was in the hospital again. I don't remember what she'd broken, but after the hospital stay, she had the option of going to a rehab facility or having a physical therapist sent to her home. She opted for the rehab facility. “Anything to avoid going back to the House,” she told me.
It was better that way. After the mugging, she had had to sleep in a hospital bed in the library for weeks. My grandfather, who'd recovered very well from his hip surgery, hadn't had much to say in the way of commiseration or comfort.
“Everything's great. Right, Toots?” he'd say.
In 1998, we celebrated Father's Day at Donald's apartment at Trump Tower for the first time. It had become too difficult for my grandfather to be in public, so our traditional trip to Peter Luger in Brooklyn was out of the question. It was a family custom to go there twice a year, on Father's Day and my grandfather's birthday.
Peter Luger was a deeply strange, very expensive restaurant that charged extra for bad service and accepted only cash, check, or a Peter Luger charge card (which my grandfather possessed). The menu was limited, and whether you asked for them or not, huge platters of sliced beefsteak tomatoes and white onions arrived, accompanied by tiny ceramic dishes of hash fries and creamed spinach that usually went
untouched. A side of beef was brought out on trays, punctuated with little plastic cows in varying shades ranging from red (still mooing) and pink (almost able to crawl across the table) toâactually, I don't know. All of our little cows were red and pink. Most of us ordered Cokes, which were served in six-ounce bottles; because of the legendarily bad service, that meant at the end of the evening the table was littered with the wreckage of a couple of cow carcasses, dozens of Coke bottles, and plates full of food nobody in my family ever ate.
The meal wasn't over until my grandfather had sucked the marrow out of the bones, which, given his mustache, was a sight to behold.
Since I'd stopped eating meat in college, dinner at Peter Luger had become a challenge. I'd once made the mistake of ordering salmon, which took up half the table and tasted about as good as you might expect salmon from a steak house would taste. Eventually my meal consisted of Coke, the little potatoes, and an iceberg wedge salad.
I wouldn't miss the rude waiters, but I hoped there would at least be something for me to eat at Donald's.
I made the mistake of arriving at the penthouse early and alone. Although Donald and Marla were still married, she was already a distant memory, replaced by his new girlfriend, Melania, a twenty-eight-year-old Slovenian model whom I'd never met. They sat on an uncomfortable-looking love seat in the foyer, a large, undefined space. Everything was marble, gold leaf, mirrored walls, white walls, and frescoes. I'm not sure how he managed it, but Donald's apartment felt even colder and less like a home than the House did.
Melania was five years younger than I was. She sat slightly sideways next to Donald with her ankles crossed. I was struck by how smooth she looked. After Robert and Blaine had met her for the first time, Rob told me that Melania had barely spoken throughout the entire meal.
“Maybe her English isn't very good,” I said.
“No,” he scoffed. “She knows what she's there for.” Clearly it wasn't for her sparkling conversation.
As soon as I sat down, Donald started telling Melania about the
time he'd hired me to write
The Art of the Comeback
and then launched into his version of my “back from the brink” redemption story. He thought it was something we had in common: we'd both hit rock bottom and then somehow clawed our way back to the top (in his case) or just back (in mine).
“You dropped out of college, right?”
“Yes, Donald, I did.” It was exactly how I wanted to be introduced to someone I'd never met. I was also surprised he even knew about it
“It was really bad for a whileâand then she started doing drugs.”
“Whoa,” I said, holding up my hands.
“Really?” said Melania, suddenly interested.
“No, no, no. I've never done drugs in my life.”
He slid me a look and smiled. He was embellishing the story for effect, and he knew I knew it. “She was a total disaster,” he said, smiling more broadly.
Donald loved comeback stories, and he understood that the deeper the hole you crawled out of, the better billing your triumphant comeback would get. Which was exactly how he experienced his own journey. By conflating my dropping out of college and his hiring me to write his book (while throwing in a fictional drug addiction), he concocted a better story that somehow had him playing the role of my savior. Of course, between my dropping out of school and his hiring me, I'd dropped back into school, graduated, and gotten a master's degreeâall without taking any drugs at all. There was no point in setting the record straight, however; there never was with him. The story was for his benefit as much as anybody else's, and by the time the doorbell rang, he probably already believed his version of events. When the three of us rose to greet the new guests, I realized that Melania had said only one word during our time together.
On June 11, 1999, Fritz called to tell me our grandfather had been taken to Long Island Jewish Medical Center, another Queens hospital my grandparents had patronized in recent years. He said it was likely the end.
I drove the ten minutes from my house and found that the room was already full. Gam sat in the only chair near the bed; Elizabeth stood next to her, holding my grandfather's hand.
After saying hello, I stood by the window next to Robert's wife, Blaine. She said, “We're supposed to be in London with Prince Charles.” I realized she was talking to meâsomething she rarely did.
“Oh,” I said.
“He invited us to one of his polo matches. I can't believe we had to cancel.” She sounded exasperated and made no effort to lower her voice.
I could have topped that story. In a week I was supposed to be getting married on a beach in Maui. Nobody in the family knew; they'd always been spectacularly uninterested in my personal life (when necessary, I asked a guy friend to accompany me to any family occasion that required a plus one) and never asked about my boyfriends or relationships.
A couple of years earlier, Gam and I had been talking about Princess Diana's funeral, and when she had said with some vehemence, “It's a disgrace they're letting that little faggot Elton John sing at the service,” I'd realized it was better that she didn't know I was living with and engaged to a woman.
Seeing how serious my grandfather's condition was, I had a terrible feeling that when I got home, I'd have to break the news to my fiancÃ©e that, after months of planning and overcoming several logistical nightmares, our mostly secret wedding would have to be postponed.
I noticed a hush in the room, as if everybody had run out of small talk at the same time. We were reduced for the moment to listening to my grandfather's uneven breathing: a ragged, uncertain inhalation, followed by an unnatural pause for longer than seemed safe until finally he exhaled.
red Trump died on June 25, 1999. The following day, his obituary was published in the
New York Times
under the banner “Fred C. Trump, Postwar Master Builder of Housing for Middle Class, Dies at 93.” The obituary writer made a point of contrasting Fred's status as “a self-made man” with “his flamboyant son Donald.” My grandfather's propensity for picking up unused nails at his construction sites to hand back to his carpenters the next day was noted before the details of his birth. The
also repeated the family line that Donald had built his own business with minimal help from my grandfatherâ“a small amount of money”âa statement that the paper itself would refute twenty years later.
We sat in the library, each with our own copy of the
. Robert was raked over the coals by his siblings for having told the
that my grandfather's estate was worth between $250 million and $300 million. “Never, never give them numbers,” Maryanne lectured him, as if he were a stupid kid. He stood there shamefaced, cracking his knuckles and bouncing on the balls of his feet, just as my grandfather used to do, as if suddenly imagining the ensuing tax bill. The valuation was absurdly lowâeventually we would learn that the empire was probably worth four times thatâbut Maryanne and Donald would never have admitted that it was even that much.
Later we stood upstairs in the Madison Room at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the most
exclusive and expensive bereavement services provider in the city, smiling and shaking hands as a seemingly endless line of visitors passed through.
Overall, more than eight hundred people moved through the rooms. Some were there to pay their respects, including rival real estate developers such as Sam LeFrak, New York governor George Pataki, former Senator Al D'Amato, and comedian and future
contestant Joan Rivers. The rest were most likely there to catch a glimpse of Donald.
On the day of the funeral, Marble Collegiate Church was filled to capacity. During the service, from beginning to end, everyone had a role to play. It was all extremely well choreographed. Elizabeth read my grandfather's “favorite poem,” and the rest of the siblings gave eulogies, as did my brother, who spoke on behalf of my dad, and my cousin David, who represented the grandchildren. Mostly they told stories about my grandfather, although my brother was the only one who came close to humanizing him. For the most part, in ways both oblique and direct, the emphasis was on my grandfather's material success, his “killer” instinct, and his talent for saving a buck. Donald was the only one to deviate from the script. In a cringe-inducing turn, his eulogy devolved into a paean to his own greatness. It was so embarrassing that Maryanne later told her son not to allow any of her siblings to speak at her funeral.
Rudolph Giuliani, New York City's mayor at the time, also spoke.
When the service was over, the six oldest grandchildren (Tiffany was too young) accompanied the casket to the hearse as honorary pallbearers, which meant, as was often the case in our family, that others did the heavy lifting while we got the credit.
All of the streets from Fifth Avenue and 45th Street to the Midtown Tunnel more than sixteen blocks away had been closed to cars and pedestrians, so our motorcade, with a police escort, slid easily out of the city. It was a quick trip to All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, for the burial.
We drove back to the city just as quickly, but with less fanfare, for
lunch at Donald's apartment. Afterward, I accompanied my grandmother back to the House. The two of us sat in the library and chatted for a while. She seemed tired but relieved. It had been a very long day; a very long few years, actually. Other than the live-in maid, who was asleep upstairs, it was just the two of us. I was supposed to be on my honeymoon. I stayed with her until she was ready to go to bed.
When she said she was ready for bed, I asked her if she wanted me to stay or if there was anything I could get for her before I left.
“No, dear, I'm fine.”
I bent over to kiss her cheek. She smelled like vanilla. “You are my favorite person,” I told her. It wasn't true, but I said it because I loved her. I said it, too, because nobody else had bothered to stay with her after her husband of sixty-three years had been put in the ground.
“Good,” she replied. “I should be.”
And then I left her alone in that large, quiet, empty house.
Two weeks after my grandfather's funeral, I was home when a DHL truck pulled up and delivered a yellow envelope containing a copy of my grandfather's will. I read through it twice to be sure I hadn't misunderstood anything. I had promised my brother I'd call him as soon as I knew anything, but I was reluctant to do so. Fritz and Lisa's third child, William, had been born hours after my grandfather's funeral. Twenty-four hours after that, he'd begun having seizures. He had been in the neonatal intensive care unit ever since. They had two young children at home, and Fritz had to work. I had no idea how they were managing all of it.
I hated to be the bearer of more bad news, but he needed to know.
I called him.
“So what's the deal?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I told him. “We got nothing,”
A few days later, I got a call from Rob. As far as I could remember, he had only ever called me before to let me know when Gam was in the hospital. He acted as if everything were fine. If I signed off on the will,
he implied, everything would be great. And he did need my signature in order for the will to be released for probate. Though it's true that my grandfather disinherited me and my brotherâthat is, instead of splitting what would have been my father's 20 percent share of his estate between me and my brother, he had divided it evenly among his four other childrenâwe were included in a bequest made separately to all of the grandchildren, an amount that proved to be less than a tenth of 1 percent of what my aunts and uncles had inherited. In the context of the entire estate it was a very small amount of money, and it must have infuriated Robert that it gave me and Fritz the power to hold up the distribution of the assets.
Days passed, and I couldn't bring myself to sign. In the breadth and concision of its cruelty, the will was a stunning document that very much resembled my parents' divorce agreement.
For a while, Robert called me every day. Maryanne and Donald had assigned him to be the point person; Donald didn't want to be bothered, and Maryanne's husband, John, had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and his prognosis was not good.
“Cash in your chips, Honeybunch,” Rob said repeatedly, as if that would make me forget what was in the will. No matter how many times he said it, though, my brother and I had agreed not to sign anything until we had some idea of what our options were.
Eventually Rob began to lose patience. Fritz and I were holding everything up; the will couldn't go to probate until all of the beneficiaries had signed off. When I told Rob that Fritz and I weren't yet willing to take that step, he suggested we get together to discuss it.
At our first meeting, when we asked Rob to explain why my grandfather had done what he had, Rob said, “Listen, your grandfather didn't give a shit about you. And not just you, he didn't give a shit about any of his grandchildren.”
“We're being treated worse because our father died,” I said.
“No, not at all.”
When we pointed out that our cousins would still benefit from
what their parents were getting from my grandfather, Rob said, “Any of them could be disowned at any time. Donny was going to join the army or some bullshit like that, and Donald and Ivana told him if he did, they'd disown him in a second.”
“Our father didn't have that luxury,” I said.
Rob sat back. I could see him trying to recalibrate. “It's pretty simple,” he said. “As far as your grandfather was concerned, dead is dead. He only cared about his living children.”
I wanted to point out that my grandfather hadn't cared about Rob, either, but Fritz intervened. “Rob,” he said, “this just isn't fair.”
I lost track of how many meetings the three of us had between July and October 1999. There was a brief respite in September while I was in Hawaii for my postponed wedding and honeymoon.
At the very beginning of our discussions, Fritz, Robert, and I agreed that we would leave Gam out of it. I assumed she had no idea how we'd been treated in my grandfather's will and saw no reason to upset her. Hopefully we would be able to resolve everything, and she'd never have to know there had been a problem at all. I spoke to her every day while I was away and, once back in New York, resumed my visits to her. The negotiations, if they could even be called that, also resumed. There was a numbing sameness to our conversations. No matter what Fritz and I said, Rob came back with his clichÃ©s and canned responses. We remained at a standstill.
I asked him about Midland Associates, the management company my grandfather had set up decades earlier in order to avoid paying certain taxes and benefit his children. Midland owned a group of seven buildings (including Sunnyside Towers and the Highlander) that were referred to in my family as “the mini-empire.” I knew very little about itânone of my trustees had ever explained what role it played or how money was generatedâbut I received a check every few months. We wanted to know how or if my grandfather's death would affect the partnership going forward.
We weren't asking for a specific dollar amount or a percentage of the estate, just some assurance that the assets we already had would be secure in the future and if, given the family's enormous wealth, there was anything they could see their way clear to doing as far as my grandfather's estate was concerned. As the executors and, along with Elizabeth, sole beneficiaries, Maryanne, Donald, and Robert had a wide latitude in that area, but Rob remained noncommittal.
At our final meeting, in the bar of the Drake Hotel on 56th Street and Park Avenue, it was clear that Robert had begun to understand that we weren't going to back down. Prior to that, despite the unpleasant things he'd been saying to us, he had maintained an affable “Hey, kids, I'm just the messenger” attitude. That day he reminded us, once again, that my grandfather had hated our mother and had been afraid his money would fall into her hands.
That was laughable, because for more than twenty-five years my mother had lived according to the terms the Trumps had set, following their directions to the letter. She had lived in the same poorly maintained apartment in Jamaica, Queens; her alimony and child support payments had rarely been increased, yet she had never asked for more.
Finally, Fred had disowned us because he could. The people who'd been assigned to protect us, at least financially, were our trusteesâMaryanne, Donald, Robert, and Irwin Durbenâbut they apparently had little interest in protecting us, especially at their own expense.
Rob leaned forward, suddenly serious. “Listen, if you
sign this will, if you think of suing us, we will bankrupt Midland Associates and you will be paying taxes on money you don't have for the rest of your lives.”
There was nothing left to say after that. Either Fritz and I gave in, or we fought. Neither option was a good one.
We consulted with Irwin, who felt like the only ally we had left. He was incensed about how poorly our grandfather had treated us in the will. When we told him how Robert had responded when asked about
Midland Associates and our share in other Trump entities, he said, “Your share of the ground leases under Shore Haven and Beach Haven alone are priceless. If they're not going to do anything for you, you're going to have to sue them.”
I had no idea what a ground lease was, let alone that I had a share in two of them, but I knew what priceless meant. And I trusted Irwin. Based on his recommendation, Fritz and I made a decision.
After all those months, William was still in the hospital, and Fritz and Lisa were feeling overwhelmed. I told him I'd take care of it and called Rob that afternoon.
“Is there anything you guys can do, Rob?” I asked.
“Sign the will, and we'll see.”
“Your father's dead,” he said.
he's dead, Rob. But
not.” I was so sick of having that conversation.
He paused. “Maryanne, Donald, and I are simply following Dad's wishes. Your grandfather didn't want you or Fritz, or especially your mother, to get anything.”
I took a deep breath. “This is going nowhere,” I said. “Fritz and I are going to hire an attorney.”
As if a switch had been flipped, Robert screamed, “You do whatever the fuck you need to do!” and slammed the phone down.
The next day, there was a message from Gam on my answering machine when I got home. “Mary, it's your grandmother,” she said tersely. She never referred to herself that way. It was always “Gam.”
I called her back right away.
“Your uncle Robert tells me you and your brother are suing for twenty percent of your grandfather's estate.”
I felt blindsided and said nothing right away. Obviously Rob had broken our agreement and told my grandmother his version of what we'd been discussing. But the other thing that held me up was that my
grandmother spoke as if our getting what would have been my father's share of the estate was somehow wrong and unseemly. I was confusedâabout loyalty, about love, about the limits of both. I'd thought I was part of the family. I'd gotten it all wrong.
“Gam, we haven't asked for anything. I don't know what Rob told you, but we're not suing anybody.”
“You'd better not be.”
“We're just trying to figure this out, that's all.”