Eleanor: When I was born, I was just a short story, and nobody knew what would happen to me. In the short story, I have a best friend named Antonya. We build a fort and we share our secrets and we are bullies. We are cruel. At least, Antonya is cruel. We make a boy strip naked and we toss his clothes onto the highway so he has to dodge cars and risk being killed just to put his socks back on. This is after we tease him with our young bodies, because we are so frigging sexy, you know? There's more to it than that, but it gives you an idea. We aren't afraid to risk the boy's life for our amusement. Antonya is cruel, but I go along with her cruelty, so I'm guilty as well.
This story is in a locked box. It isn't in the novel. For the longest time, and maybe even now still, I wanted my Biographer to put it into the novel, because I feel guilty about being part of such cruelty. Forget about Antonya. We aren't friends anymore. We aren't friends because she forgot about me, so that's why I say forget about her. Not because she's cruel. Or was cruel.
It's weird being born in a short story that's locked up. It's like all of my baby pictures and videos of my childhood and everything else like that, like things I drew for my Biographer to put on the refrigerator, or things I wrote down, or even things I said -- pieces of dialogue -- well, everything is locked up in the box. My Biographer says it's for the best, but then he says the story is one of his favorites and I don't know if he's being sentimental or really means it. If it's one of his favorites, truly, then why is it locked up? I know he sent it to The New Yorker after he wrote it, and an editor named Deborah Garrison wrote him a really cool letter back and said she really liked the story and everything but that it was too much like other stories about teenaged girls. Like it was too familiar, even if it was a different story from anybody else's. She said she wanted to see more of my Biographer's work. I don't think she said she wanted to see any more of me. Maybe I was the problem, and not Antonya. I've just always blamed Antonya.
These days, everybody is being a bully to everybody else, but when my Biographer wrote the story, there wasn't any Facebook or Twitter or YouTube or things like that for people to talk about how they are being bullied and how they wish it were different but life holds no meaning any longer, or rather it holds too much meaning and that's why it hurts so much and that's why they feel the only way out is to die. Because life means this much. Imagine that! Life is so important that they feel they have to die for it, because by meaning so much, it hurts even more. There's nothing fair about that, and there's nothing that makes sense in that. Nothing in the whole wide world that I know about.
These days I wonder if the me who's in the locked box is really me. She has the same name as I do. She has the same characteristics. She has the same personality. But does that make her me? I mean, have I grown up, or am I still that girl. (Maybe my Biographer has grown up, or maybe not. I know everything about him, I really do. I don't want to sound too vain, but I have more everything to know than he does. You might think this is really crazy, because I am supposed to just be a character. Here's the thing: I stopped being just a character a long time ago. But the kicker is -- I don't know what I am now.)
I've been thinking about this a lot as you can tell. This -- that I don't ever want to be a bully, and if I ever had the choice to be a bully or somebody who gets bullied, I would choose the person who gets bullied. There's less guilt. I could get all beat up. Or some bully could manipulate my mind and make me think I am crazy bad, as in a no-good person. As in, not worthy to even be in existence. My problem, though, is that I don't want to be a victim either. So I'm stuck. Trapped, you know?
When I stopped being just a character and turned into something else, but something less than a real human being because I can't just walk over to that locked box and open it up and find the story and shove it into my Biographer's hands and say, Here, please explain this to me. Because I'm sure that I know everything about who I am, but I don't know this Eleanor. She is so familiar, but I don't know her. So explain that why don't you?
If I am not a bully and I am not a victim, then am I a bystander? Do I really just watch what's going on and not do a damn thing? If I step into the action and beat up the bully, does that make me the bully? Once you taste blood, you want to taste more. I would replace the bully. I would be the hero, so everybody would want to say nice things about me, but they'd want to keep their distance too. You can't get too close to a real hero. A real hero has some quality inside that the rest of everybody else is afraid to find, or even look too hard for, even if everybody else has the same quality inside themselves. Unless they are psychopaths or something and can't feel anything.
Do you think this is the difference? That I can feel things, and that's why I stopped being a character a long time ago? I can feel things even if they don't happen on the page. And of course I feel everything my Biographer feels. If I wasn't so invisible to most people and if I wasn't able to fly about the way I can, light as a feather, I'd be weighted down by all of this. Literally. You could throw me into the river, and I'd drown. Then you would be the bully and I would be a victim. (Why would you do something like that?)
My mind keeps going in circles. It's kind of crazy or a lot crazy, but whatever -- the circles are happening. The honest-to-God truth is I want to be loved and sometimes I want to make people love me so hard I want to hit them over the head with some really good sentences that are the very best of me and see what happens. But it has to be natural. I mean, it has to be organic -- that people love me or don't love me. You can only whack so many people over the head with your best sentences before you begin losing some of your words and then you begin losing your entire self, one paragraph at a time maybe -- or one sentence, or one word, or even one punctuation mark. It sure adds up.
I can't waste my best sentences on perfect strangers.
When my mind goes in circles, I become vulnerable too, and then I have to be very careful. I need to be strong. I need to be strong enough that my sentences survive me, no matter what I do with them. That I can use one sentence again, even if I've already zonked somebody. I'm not sure I am to that level yet.
So I ask my Biographer if my sentences are strong enough. Even though I know everything about him and how his mind works. (I don't know this one.) He says he doesn't know either. He says he can't be the judge of that. He says it for other people to judge me. To judge my sentences. And that creates another mind circle, see? My question then is -- does this make anyone who reads my sentences a potential bully? If the person stops reading, I stop existing. Or the person can just plain not like me. The person could say, this is a really, really fun story -- wow, what fun this is I can almost not take it all in, all of this fun, but you know what? I hate this girl. (And I, Eleanor, can feel the kind of hurt that comes from that, believe me, I can. Love or hate, I can feel it.)
I ask my Biographer to open the locked box and take out that first story when I was a bully, or at least, in cahoots with a bully named Antonya.
It's about the sentences now. It's about whether those sentences are as good as my best sentences. If they are as good, it really doesn't matter if they fit into my life story. You always have to leave something out. Or you leave something out to create some mystery. But I would know, that's the thing.
I would know that I was just as good when I was bad. (I don't think I like the idea of that.)
Here's a riddle for you. What do you call something that used to live on paper -- one pecked-out letter at a time she lived like that. What do you call her now that she is not quite breathing as much as she wants to breathe. To breathe like her Biographer can breathe. And cough, and laugh, and talk, and all of the other things that come with breathing. Like being able to find the key to a lock to a box that holds pages and pages from many years ago. What do you call something which is not really a somebody yet, but is still afraid that she is best at her worst, and because of that, she cries real human tears. (I can't explain the tears. It's part of the transformation, I realize this.)
I know this is a long riddle. I'm sorry. I'll try again.
Okay, here's a riddle for you. What do you call something or somebody who once did something really bad but has such an ego that she wants to know how good she was at being so bad? Does that make for a better riddle?
If you know the answer, please tell me. Because I do not, and I sure wish I did.