My dad had patients. They were crazy, and they used to come over to the house. My dad would see them in his study. Actually it was a kitchen. A converted one. One day they took the stove, and then my dad put up a sign: Study.
My dad had this one patient. Her name was Eleanora. She was like me but misspelled with an extra “e.” My dad would spend hours, talking about her. Officially and technically he wasn’t supposed to be talking about her. This was against the Rules. But he’d say stuff, and we’d know. He’d say: She was in a good mood today. Or: She isn’t getting along with her mom. Or: She peed in a cup and threw it at the Chinese food delivery guy when he was delivering the soup, since he was late.
My mom would nod and look Interested. I practiced writing my name—Leonora. Leanora. Eleanora. I drew myself with a net. I looked feisty. I looked like I was trying to catch someone. I tied up my dad’s Eleanora and threw her in the trash. Then I thought: Obvious. This is another thing my dad liked to talk about. In writing/art/miscellaneous you’re not supposed to be direct; you’re supposed to be subtle. So I scooped her out and gently brushed her off, and then I touched her on the hand. But the whole time I was really up to something, something dangerous. If you look closely in the net you can see it: a tiny stolen “e.”
Facts about my dad’s Eleanora: She was 15, five years older than me, and liked Madonna. I made a point of never listening to my dad’s Madonna records—I cultivated a long and lingering interest in Cyndi Lauper. Alone in my room though I would hum the lyrics: Like a virgin (hey!!!)
My theory was that my dad preferred the other Eleanora because a) she was blonde and b) her extra syllable. That if only I’d been born with an extra “e” he would have loved me more. Part of me knew this was absurd, but every time she came over I imagined taking it—reaching inside her and plucking her “e.” I’d wear it around my neck or maybe make a locket from it, and my hair would automatically turn blonde and I’d grow boobs and become an amazing singer. Men from all over the world would fall in love with me.
And one day I’d get a call:
Is this (E)leanora?
Great. This is the Madonna fan club. Are you busy?
I am not.
Great!! Cause we’d like to make you our President. How does that sound?
Wonderful. You’re the President.
My father would tell us stories about Eleanora at the dinner table, which was actually three bean bag chairs. Eleanora, I mean, She had started a new job as a teaching/art assistant where she made clay art in different shapes, promising ones he wanted to examine in his sessions. She had dyed her hair then dyed it back, which was a better look for her. She had adopted a new name, one she told to men at nightclubs. It was a variation on Madonna’s name. She has something called Borderline Personality Disorder.
I immediately made the connection: Borderline P.D. = the song Borderline, from Madonna’s True Blue period. I immediately looked through Cyndi Lauper’s collection for my own disease. There were some, but none quite as compelling. This depressed me. I drew a line in my rug with all my dolls, like in a War, and then I planted myself there. Hello, I said to no one.
I imagined there was not one but several Eleanora’s. There was the Eleanora in my dad’s study. Then there was the one that my dad would write about, later. Then there was the Eleanora in the hallway. After, my dad would walk her through our place, and she’d put her head down or make these soft noises. I tried hearing them, imagining what they were. I imagined scooping my hands around them, feeling their contours, their shapes. She was pale and thin. She had hipbones. Their startling angularity surprised me. I imagined running my finger over them and felt hot, like when I had scarlet fever. It was my Cool Disease (though not like being on the Borderline). I watched her tiny t-shirt and her tiny shorts. I imagined sitting there with her, on the Border. I imagined peeing in my own tiny plastic cups and one time I almost did.
I said (to the dog) you’re very late, and then I held it: right there. She looked at me with her eyes. I imagined it gliding warm and yellow over her, and the sounds she’d make. I stopped. I just sat there. Then I held onto the real Eleanora. She was inside my book. She grinned out at me mouthing Madonna lyrics: True blue baby I love you.
Eleanora’s mom was also a borderline. She tried to kill herself. Eleanora came over to our house more after that. She looked bigger and paler and also waxier. She never looked at me. After I’d have to insert this. I’d write in my diary: She was here today, and then I’d draw the missing Look. It looked like this (eyes) (👀). I’m not doing it justice. You’ll have to trust me on it. There were several Looks and they all made me feel in different ways, like perfume, which She liked to steal. We learned this during beanbag night.
After, I wrote down the names of her favorite scents and then I drew them—Rain. Mint. Cherry. Vampires in the snow. Coral mustang. I imagined them like wet grass after the rain, without the dog poop. I drew dog poop and drew a big X through it. I drew us lying on it, tangled up inside the other.
Image Credit: Remedios Varo, Papilla Estelar (Star Maker) (1958)